Ah, here we go – this is more like it. This section is just what I was expecting from this eminent tome – we now meander through the thoughts of Stephen Dedalus as he wanders along the beach. This is the barely-penetrable stream of consciousness that Joyce does so well, but unfortunately I do not understand quite so well. I shall do my best, but some of this is a little vague, to say the least.
Stephen walks along the beach, thinking about nonsense and the nature of reality. He listens to the rhythm of the sea and pontificates indistinctly. He sees two midwives coming down the steps, one is called Florence MacCabe and she might have a stillborn baby in her bag. Stephen imagines making a phone call to ‘mystic monks’ – possibly using an umbilical cord? We are informed that Eve has no bellybutton and has a womb of sin. Stephen laments that he also came from sin, made by his parents ‘… the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghost-woman with ashes on her breath.’ Stephen wonders – are he and his father one and the same, in the manner of God and Jesus? Unfortunately, there are no Greek philosophers around at that present moment with which to debate the matter.
As he contemplates the wind and the waves, Stephen remembers that he has to deliver Deasy’s letter to the newspapers, then get to The Ship pub for 12:30. He considers going to visit Aunt Sara and hears his father’s voice talking to Sara, discussing Stephen’s shortcomings – as well as ‘highly respectable gondoliers’, which is interesting. A chap charmingly referred to as ‘skew-eyed Walter’ opens the door to Stephen. Uncle Richie greets him from his bed and we are informed that he was washed his upper body, which is good to know. No mention of his lower half, which is no doubt for the best. Richie has been working on his accounts and reading Oscar Wilde. He calls for whiskey for himself, as well as Stephen and Walter. For some reason they don’t think this is a good idea. There are no chairs to sit on. Richie offers Stephen some food, explaining that they have no fancy food, before finally admitting that the only thing in the house are backache pills (and presumably whiskey). Richie whistles an aria, then he, or possibly someone else, rambles on about someone going mad, priests, naked women and maybe bell ringing. Richie (or still maybe someone else) reminds Stephen of his arrogance as a writer and scholar.
And none of this actually happened, except in Stephen’s head. He is still walking along the sand flats (which smell of sewage) and has missed the road the Aunt Sara’s house, so decides he isn’t going there after all. Which is a shame, because it sounds like it might have been an interesting encounter. Stephen heads towards the pigeon house. Someone says in French – ‘Who put you in this damned position?’ The reply is ‘The pigeon, Joseph’. Joyce spoke fluent French, I do not – there are further musings in French, possibly about being a socialist and denying the existence of God. Stephen appears to be thinking about his father and also wants some puce gloves.
It’s all a bit tricky here but it seems that Stephen is reminiscing about his time in Paris – he mentions being arrested for murder (seems unlikely), being shut out of the post office, shooting someone – but no, they shake hands instead (much better) and a naughty telegram of sorts. His time in France is cut short by his father summoning him home to his mother’s deathbed. Stephen thinks again about whether he killed his mother by not praying for her. Then about a possible exile – Kevin Egan – drinking absinthe in bars and getting up to all sorts with some very accommodating Parisian ladies. Apparently, all have forgotten Kevin, but he has not forgotten them.
Stephen continues walking, realises he has gone too far, so turns back. He again worries himself over the fact that Buck Mulligan has the key to the tower and decides that he definitely won’t go back there tonight. He sits on a rock. He sees a dead dog. Another dog inspects his fallen brethren then runs off. Stephen muses about Vikings, whales and dwarves. He doesn’t seem very keen on the dog, probably the live one but could be the dead one. The live dog runs about sniffing – ‘Looking for something lost in a past life.’ The dog has a wee then digs in the sand – this is where he buried his dead grandmother, so possibly he is related to the fox in the riddle from earlier. The dog’s owners – two cocklepickers – call him back.
Stephen tries to remember a dream he had last night – he was in a street of harlots and a man made him smell a melon then showed him a red carpet. Okay.
The cocklepickers pass by and Stephen is inspired to write a rude-sounding poem about the female cocklepicker. They look at his hat and trudge onwards, seemingly quite a bedraggled and pitiful pair. Stephen possibly imagines them making love, then writes his thoughts on a piece of paper torn from Deasy’s letter about foot and mouth disease.
Still in a reflective mood, Stephen considers his borrowed sandals and also his shadow. Is he being watched? Will anyone read his poem? Thoughts of souls, sins and darkness, before remembering an encounter with a lady in yellow stockings. Now he feels sad and alone. He once wore a woman’s shoe when he was in Paris and possibly felt effeminate.
As the waves crash about the shore and create all manner of shapes and sounds, Stephen – not to be outdone by the dog – has a wee, then recalls lovers, a drowned man and naked ladies. Interestingly, he now refers to ‘Old Father Ocean’, where previously he had expressed it as a motherly figure.
Perhaps sensing the mood of the reader by this point, he decides he needs a drink. He also decides that his teeth are very bad, but he is too poor to see a dentist. He also needs a handkerchief but doesn’t have one about his person, so picks his nose and leaves the resulting treasure on a rock for others to discover. He looks over his shoulder and sees a ship.
This is a rather beautiful chapter, where almost nothing happens, except in the considerably broad mind of Stephen Dedalus. It is difficult to properly pin down exactly what is or isn’t happening because the nature of the text gives you a feeling or sense of events, but no clear definition. Which I really quite like but doesn’t lend itself well to analysis or understanding in the traditional sense. I am aware that Joyce is referencing all number of things of which I have little or no knowledge – history, religion, a great swathe of classical and contemporary literature – and somehow this doesn’t impede my understanding (such as it is) of the narrative. Actually, it probably helps, as I am no doubt far less distracted by these numerous sub-plots than a proper scholar might be.
My overall impression of this section is that Stephen is turning his attentions to his relationship with his father, whereas the first two sections focused on his mother and thoughts and emotions stemming from her. There is a sense of heredity in the part with the midwives and this theme picks up here and there throughout. I get the sense that Stephen is now distant from his father and likely was, even before his mother’s death. His relationship with both parents seems strained, but his father is especially disappointed in him, perhaps because he gave up his medical studies and went off to get up to all sorts in Paris.
There is a great sense of loneliness in Stephen, not just from his family circumstances but also from his reminisce of past loves (or lovers, at least) – the way he observes the cocklepicking couple on the beach suggests he longs for the companionship they have, despite their humble and banal existence. He is also not especially enamoured with his housemates from the tower – Buck Mulligan flaunts his own perceived superiority over Stephen (to the point that he is wearing Buck’s hand-me-down shoes) and Haines comes across as an annoyance. I think as well that Stephen realises that he hasn’t achieved much (or as much as he would would have liked) in his life so far and that he needs to grow up, or find some sort of guidance.
The presence of Kevin Egan is significant and I am fairly certain he is a notable historical or literary figure and readers better educated than I will perhaps find significance or symbolism in his presence. The themes of death and religion feature strongly once more and I suspect this will be the case as we progress through this highly entertaining – if, at times, utterly baffling – day.
‘And in a ladychapel another taking housel all to his own cheek. Dringdring!’
No idea what this is all about but it sounds delightfully mental.
‘You prayed to the Blessed Virgin that you might not have a red nose.’
Well, if you’re going to pray, make sure it’s for something worthwhile.
‘Yes, used to carry punched tickets to prove an alibi if they arrested you for murder somewhere.’
This appealed to me, as there was a time I used to think it was funny to reply to shopkeepers, when they asked me if I wanted a receipt – ‘Yes please, I need an alibi for the time of the murder.’ Who knew all that time I was quoting Joyce?!