Here at last we are introduced to the infamous hero of the novel, none other than Leopold Bloom! His day doesn’t get off to an any more comprehensible start than Stephen’s, but let’s have a crack at it, nonetheless.
It is early morning and Bloom is described to us as a man who likes eating various animal innards, including giblets and ‘grilled mutton kidneys’, which apparently taste of wee. The morning air is making him hungry for kidneys, but presently he is making breakfast for his wife and then his cat, to whom he gives a saucer of milk when it enters the kitchen demanding attention. As is the wont of cats, in my experience. Bloom muses on the cruelty of cats in regards to mice and concludes that the mice probably like the attention. He thinks about whiskers, kidneys and the roughness of cats’ tongues (this seems reasonable – cats do have very rough tongues).
Bloom creeps upstairs to where his slumbering wife remains in bed. He is going out to get kidneys, so asks if she wants anything. She replies with a grunt, which Bloom takes to mean no. His wife is from Gibraltar, but no longer speaks Spanish. Back downstairs, Bloom puts on his coat and thinks about stamps. There is a white slip of paper in the band of his hat and he is pleased about it. He realises that he doesn’t have his house key, but does have a potato, which is great news. Choosing not to disturb his wife by looking for his keys, he wedges the door and heads out.
The sun is coming up and Bloom thinks that it will be a nice day, and that he might be too warm in his black clothes. He considers that eating old bread makes you feel young. He then devises a plan to avoid the ageing process by walking around the globe, keeping ahead of the sun – but quickly dismisses this as unworkable. As he walks, he imagines wonderful foreign lands. As he comes to Larry O’Rourkes pub, he remarks to himself that Stephen Dedalus does a good impression of Larry – although from his description of this, it is dubious, quite frankly. Bloom wonders if he should mention Dignam’s funeral to Larry, but doesn’t, he just says hello. With some concern, Bloom wonders how publicans manage to survive when there are so many pubs in Dublin. Then again, there are a lot of drunks as well – but it still is not an easy way to make a living.
Bloom continues on past a school, where he can hear the children through the open windows – ‘Fresh air helps memory’, which may well be true and sounds sensible. I think the kids are reciting the alphabet – ‘Ahbeesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyonvee double you’. (Read it aloud, it does rather sound like it).
Eventually, he arrives at Dlugacz’s – the butchers. He views the sausages with great interest, as one might. Bloom is concerned to see that there is only one kidney left and worries that the woman with chapped hands in front of him might buy it. As she makes her purchases (which luckily do not include the sought-after kidney), Bloom looks at her hips and imagines her whacking a carpet on the washing line. Which is a bit creepy, but not too bad when you consider all the things he could have imagined instead.
While he is waiting, Bloom takes a sheet of newspaper from the counter and reads about a farm, but his mind soon drifts back to the woman in front’s hips and how they might move while engaged in the act of carpet-whacking. She pays and leaves, now Bloom wants to complete his order quickly so he can follow her through the streets and continue watching her hips. She has completely ignored him and he sighs, imagining her partaking in some kind of liaison with an off-duty policeman, possibly in a forest.
Passions unrequited for now, Bloom puts the kidney in his pocket and walks back down Dorset Street, reading the newspaper. The feature on the farm is faintly interesting to him and he thinks of exotic fruit and navvies in soiled dungarees. On his journey home he sees a man whose name he does not remember – but no matter, the man doesn’t see him and is a bore anyway.
A cloud covers the sun and Bloom’s mood darkens, his mind turning to grim things and the awful fate of the Jewish people. He is grumpy now and, perhaps to distract himself, thinks about doing exercises. The houses seem glum and he wonders why number 80 hasn’t been let. He yearns to be back at home with the comforts of tea and breakfast and his wife Molly – especially her ‘…ample bedwarmed flesh’. A girl with golden hair passes him in the street.
Back at home, two letters and a card await him. He has one letter, the other letter and the card are for Molly. He takes them up to her and, as he is opening the window blind, Molly hides the letter under her pillow. Molly reads her card and demands a cup of tea. Being a well-trained husband, Bloom does as he is told, as well as preparing his highly-anticipated kidney, while ignoring the cat. There is some suggestion that the cat might be Jewish, as it won’t eat pork, only Kosher food. He gives his letter a quick once-over, then thinks about his daughter Milly when she was small. This makes him happy.
After checking the breakfast tray with great care, Bloom takes it up to Molly, who complains that he has taken too long. He admires her ample charms and spies the hidden letter. The letter is from ‘Boylan’, who appears to be some kind of musical impresario, and informs Molly (a singer!) that he will be bringing a programme over to her. Bloom again seems to become bad-tempered and, describing Molly as smelling like ‘foul flowerwater’, opens a window. There is some discussion about the funeral Bloom will be attending later that day, then Molly asks him to retrieve a saucy book from down by the chamber pot. Bloom takes this opportunity to ogle her once more, paying particular attention to her drawers and petticoat. Molly has been reading this book and has come across a word she doesn’t understand – ‘metempsychosis’ and wants Bloom to explain it to her. He tries, but she doesn’t understand. Then she wants a book by Paul de Kock as she likes his name, which is as good a reason as any for reading a book, I say. Bloom again tries to elaborate on metempsychosis, using reincarnation as an example, while Molly drinks more tea. He references a painting over the bed depicting a nymph (who looks like Molly but is slimmer – oof!) who turns into a tree in one final attempt to get his point across.
Before we can find out whether Molly has grasped the meaning of metempsychosis – horror upon horror – the kidney is burning! Bloom races to its rescue, finding it only slightly burned. He makes a cup of tea and gives the bit of charred kidney to the cat, who is not fussy when it comes to such things. He sits down to eat his breakfast and properly read his letter, which turns out to be from his daughter Milly. She thanks him for her birthday present, talks about having her photograph taken and mentions a young man named Bannon who sings one of the aforementioned Boylan’s songs. It seems that Milly turned fifteen yesterday and is now working on a music hall stage. Bloom fondly recounts the morning of her birth (the midwife was Mrs Thornton) and that of his son Rudy who died at birth and would have been eleven now. It is clear that Bloom is quite concerned that Milly is now growing up and that her impending womanhood will bring about amorous incidents of the kind that a father does not want for his daughter (but is okay with when it comes to random women in butchers shops, it seems). He re-reads the letter twice, frets a bit, then considers going to visit her.
The cat wants to go out, but Bloom makes her wait. He needs a poo. No, seriously, he needs a poo. He grabs a copy of Titbits magazine (which sounds like it should be rude, but isn’t) and goes out into the garden. The cat decides to go upstairs to Molly. As he heads towards the outhouse, Bloom considers garden improvements and extols the virtues of chicken droppings and dung. He also wonders where he left his hat. Going into the outhouse, Bloom removes his trousers and sits down to read while nature takes its course. There is a very descriptive passage (probably not the right word to use, given the circumstances) concerning the poo, which I shall leave to the delight of the curious reader. The short story that holds Bloom’s attention during this auspicious moment is called Matcham’s Masterstroke and is written by one Philip Beaufoy of the Playgoers Club in London. He quite likes it and it inspires him to write his own missive, based on conversations he has had with Molly while she was dressing. Fully satisfied with both his poo and the story, he unceremoniously uses said document to wipe his bum, before deciding to find out the time of poor Dignam’s funeral.
From what I can gather, this is a marvellous episode and not too difficult to traverse. Over all, we get the impression of Leopold Bloom as a typical family man, in love with his wife and with the usual concerns we might expect of a man with a young blossoming daughter away from home. As ever, the charm of this prose lies in the beauty of the language and the prosaic nature of the setting – it is an utterly ordinary start to an ordinary day, but recounted in the most extraordinary way. Bloom’s plans thus far are to feed his wife and cat, before securing a kidney for his own breakfast. He has a funeral later in the day, but he isn’t sure what time it is. He goes about his business without the existential torture with which Stephen Dedalus began his day, rather with mostly cheerful musings of exotic lands.
Several times we are treated (if that is the right word) to Bloom’s internal thoughts about the female sex – here his wife, the woman in the butchers and, in a different way, the burgeoning sexuality of his young daughter. Unless we are reading a particular type of literature, this sort of thing is mildly shocking when it pops up unannounced in the normal course of things. But, in reality, it is pretty representative of perfectly normal and common fleeting thoughts that might nip through the mind of any of us during any ordinary day. While Stephen concerns himself with thoughts of his parents, literature, history and religion, Bloom has a more grounded, earthy train of thought – which, if we are honest with ourselves, is the more relatable of the two.
So let us compare Stephen and Bloom a little bit – Stephen agonises over the death of his mother and relationship with his father, while Bloom is a father himself and his concerns and thoughts are of the parental variety. In addition, Stephen has ‘lost’ his father and Bloom’s son died at birth. Stephen is lonely and lingers on past loves, Bloom has an evident passion for his wife. They both begin their mornings with a burnt breakfast, too – as well as minor drama over keys; Stephen surrenders his to Buck while Bloom has left his in some other trousers.
There is suggestion that Bloom has concerns over this Boylan fellow – perhaps that he has been or will become a lover of Molly’s. There is certainly a hint of impropriety, as Molly initially hides his letter from Bloom. And there is a feeling that Molly does not quite return the warmth Bloom shows towards her. When he brings her tea and breakfast in bed, she complains he has taken too long and is more interested in a naughty novel she has been reading.
Now, there is no way that I can avoid the issue of the poo. It is a very nicely – if rather too intricately – written piece, so well written, in fact, that it makes something so seemingly unnecessary become absolutely vital. It’s just a poo, everybody does them, we all know it happens, why does Joyce feel the need to flex such literary prowess about such a matter? I mean, it could be for shock value. But most likely, as with the musings on swaying hips and bed-warmed flesh, it is just a mechanism of showing the ‘everyman’ nature of Leopold Bloom. It is also quite humorous, so maybe there is no more to it than Joyce thinking ‘Teehee, this will be really funny, he is having a poo’. In fact, that is the most likely explanation.
Another somewhat disconnected impression strikes me – Bloom’s relationship with the Jewish race. He laments their travails mournfully, we might think he is Jewish (perhaps his cat is) but his diet doesn’t suggest so. Perhaps he is, as a Jewish friend of mine once said to describe himself, ‘Jew-ish’. Baring in mind headteacher Deasy’s previous anti-Semitic outbursts, I suspect this subject will become ever more pertinent as we proceed.
‘Night sky moon, colour of Molly’s new garters.’
I just like it. That is all.
‘Through the open doorway the bar squirted out whiffs of ginger, teadust, biscuitmush.’
I’ve never personally known a bar to smell like this (and I’ve smelt a few, I tell you) but it sounds a lot better than a few I’ve been in.
‘They like them sizeable. Prime sausage. O please, Mr Policeman, I’m lost in the wood.’
An observation on a woman’s predilection for men in uniform.
‘Hope it’s not too big bring on piles again. No, just right.’
Commentary on having a poo.