It is now mid-morning as we join Leopold Bloom as he goes about his business, doing not very much but having an awful lot to say about it…
Bloom is off to the post office and on his way sees several people, including a boy with a bucket of offal, a girl with eczema and some kids waiting outside of a pub for their fathers. As he meanders along, he reminisces about an encounter with a lady in the park – ‘In the dark. What a lark.’ Sounds like the police got involved somehow. He bangs on briefly about his ‘tooraloom’ and I don’t even want to know what that is. Eventually, he comes to the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company, where he looks through the window and admires the many teas. Bloom takes off his hat and, while smelling his hair oil, removes the card from the headband and puts it in his pocket. He thinks to himself what a warm morning it is and imagines the Far East as an exotic, intoxicating place where everyone is idle and lethargic, lazing around in their utopia. He also briefly wonders why it is so easy to float in the Dead Sea and the nature of gravity.
Making a baton out of his newspaper and tapping his leg enthusiastically with it, Bloom crosses the road and seems to sneak into the post office. He gives the post mistress his little card and sniffs his newspaper nervously while he waits for his letter. Tantalisingly, he thinks to himself – ‘No answer probably. Went too far last time.’ He is handed the letter and it is addressed to Henry Flower – an alias! The sly old dog. What’s all this about? Bloom puts the letter in his pocket and looks at a poster of soldiers, remarking once again how much women like a man in uniform (and how much they like the women, too). He concludes that he would never dress as a fireman or police officer, but he would dress as a mason.
Leaving the post office, he turns right and starts to open the letter, feeling something pinned to it. But then a chap called McCoy shows up out of nowhere and Bloom is not best pleased. They chat a bit about Dignam’s funeral, but Bloom is very keen to get back to his letter. As McCoy goes on about his friends (one of whom appears to be partaking of a habitual drinking spree), Bloom spots an attractive posh woman across the street. She has a ‘wellturned foot’, which is obviously very exciting. Her husband spots him looking at her, but this doesn’t seem to deter Bloom as he becomes increasingly aroused at the prospect of seeing her white stockinged leg, only to be thwarted by a passing tram blocking his view. He is not happy about this. McCoy enquires about Molly while Bloom reads a newspaper advert for potted meat. Turns out that McCoy’s wife is also a singer and they discuss Molly’s upcoming performance – in fact, it sounds like she might be going on tour. Bloom broods over Boylan’s letter from earlier – he is involved in this tour and likely has amorous intentions towards Mrs Bloom. Mr Bloom is not chuffed. Anyway, McCoy asks Bloom to put his name on the funeral register in case he doesn’t make it – for some reason he is expecting a drowned body to turn up at Sandycove later. McCoy leaves and Bloom is at least pleased about that.
On we go towards Brunswick Street, where Bloom satisfies himself with the fact that his wife is a better singer than McCoy’s. He also worries about smallpox in Belfast and ponders to himself – ‘Wonder is he pimping after me?’ As well one might. Seeing a poster for a play named Leah, he thinks that he would like to see Mrs Bandman Palmer in it as he has previously seen her in Hamlet. This reminds him of his father’s death. Some horses watch him. They are gelded and smell of wee, perhaps they are happy that way. They are greedy, lazy horses and their neigh is annoying. Bloom hides his precious letter in his newspaper and thinks about cabbies.
Finally, our hero finds a quiet spot and opens up his letter – there is a yellow flower inside. It doesn’t smell of anything. It opens with ‘Dear Henry’ and is from Martha. This is quite a cheeky little missive. In the letter, she calls him a naughty boy four times and twice promises to punish him. The postscript asks what perfume his wife wears. Well, well! Martha is right, our Leopold is a naughty boy. He puts the flower in his ‘heart pocket’ and re-reads the letter, appearing to come to some sort of conclusion – ‘Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus is you don’t please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha’s perfume.’ This bares no relation to what the letter actually says, I should point out, but appears to be Bloom’s summary of it.
Regardless, this letter has cheered him up no end and he plans to be even more explicit in his next letter to Martha – although is firm about the fact that he will never meet her, despite her pleas. He is very keen on the aspect of punishment and it looks like the letter will very much reflect that. Blooms throws the flower pin into the road and thinks about how many pins women have in their clothing – ‘No roses without thorns’. (I thought that bit was especially clever). For some reason this brings to mind a picture he saw somewhere of two women, one with a jug on her head and the other preparing supper. He tears up the letter and discards it under a railway arch and wonders how much beer he could get with a million pounds (15 million gallons, apparently).
Bloom wanders into a church and reads about the missions abroad – he takes a rather unenlightened view on how the opium-loving Chinese people might take to Christianity. But he does make the astute point that the Buddha had a much easier time of it than Jesus, with all the thorns and crucifixion malarkey. There’s a small amount of unsettling racism that seems a bit much, even for Bloom’s times. Moving swiftly on, Bloom enters the church to join the service. He likes the idea of all the women on their knees, but is less keen on the idea of Holy Communion and likens it to eating corpses. Despite his mocking of this sacred practice, Bloom does at least acknowledge the fellow-feeling and communal aspect of Communion, which makes a great deal of sense, when you think about it. Someone snores near the confession box. Blooms thinks what would happen if he met Martha at church and also about a murderer called Carey.
One thing about Communion that does appeal to Bloom is the wine. He reasons that it has to be wine that is used, any other drink would attract the drunks. He remembers Molly singing in this church once and feels warmly about old, sacred music. He reasons that the Popes of old must have had a fine time of it, surrounded by eunuchs – which is one way to avoid sins of the flesh, he decides. Bloom can slightly remember his last Mass, but thinks it is more fun if you actually understand what is happening. As he considers the idea of confession, his mind wanders back to the more salacious thoughts of punishment from earlier. He ponders the hypocrisy and power of the church, then leaves before the collection plate comes round.
Checking the time, Bloom decides that there is enough time before the funeral for him to collect Molly’s lotion from the chemist. He has left the recipe in his other trousers (along with his keys – these are very important trousers, it seems) but decides that the chemist can look back in his order book for it. As the chemist is going back through his records, Bloom decides that drugs are ultimately not good for you, they age you and make you live ‘A lifetime in a night.’ He considers natural homemade remedies to be much better. At this point, he decides he would like to have a bath. Possibly inspired by Martha’s letter and earlier rigorous imaginings of punishments, Bloom contemplates the possibility of an amorous solo endeavour while in the bath – ‘Combine business with pleasure.’ The funeral will be pretty glum, after all. He contents himself for now with the purchase of some lemon soap, and leaves.
On the way to the baths, Bloom runs into Bantam Lyons who has apparently shaved his moustache and looks all the better for it. Although on closer inspection, the fellow clearly needs a good wash. Lyons is anxious to borrow Bloom’s newspaper to check the details of a horse race, before dashing off. Bloom tuts over the evils of gambling and on heading to the baths, thinks about cricket. As he arrives at the baths, he greets the porter and imagines his own naked body, lathered up and reclining in the water, his flaccid penis like ‘…a languid floating flower’ in the water. And here the episode ends, thank god.
Well, Mr Bloom, you certainly had me going there for a moment! In the last episode, you were the doting husband and concerned father, making breakfast and feeding the cat. Now we find you exchanging sadomasochistic missives with another woman, as well as eyeing up anything in a skirt. But let us take a breath, and reconsider. Is everything as naughty as it seems? Well… probably. But let’s try and be literary about it nonetheless.
I think we have a few things going on here. There is a definite furtiveness about how Bloom collects and finally reads his letter. It is similar in part to how his wife hid her own letter from Boylan earlier on. The difference is that it is fairly certain that Molly will pursue a physical relationship with Boylan (if she hasn’t already, I’m not entirely clear about that) whereas Bloom sees Martha as titillation only. This might not be through choice – without wanting to dwell too much on the trouser area of Leopold Bloom, there is a suggestion of impotence, I reckon. The final line of the episode revealing the reality of matters, over the previous intentions of self-relief in the bath. There was some mention of eunuchs as well and even the bloody horses have had their bits lopped off, so while Bloom remains red-blooded in the mind, the body, perhaps, is unable to oblige.
Through it all, it is clear that he adores Molly and she is frequently on his mind and always referred to most warmly. He is none too pleased about the presence of Boylan, but seems resigned to the fact. Perhaps his good-natured lechery and literary BDSM is a distraction or reaction to this.
Aside from the sexual frustrations, this episode deals wonderfully with religion. The passages where Bloom is sat at the back of the church, observing rather than participating in the service, and his own thoughts and memories of faith are sublime. His expressions around the hypocrisy of the church and its most devoted flock are not bitter or condescending, but whimsical and wry. Wherever you sit on the issues of faith, it is excellent food for thought, beautifully presented.
We end the episode with Bloom nude in the bath, so I shall be delving into what follows with some degree of expectant trepidation…
‘How did she walk with her sausages? Like that something.’
‘Curse your noisy pugnose.’
A fine insult I shall be sure to incorporate into my everyday life.
‘Language of flowers. They like it because no-one can hear.’
I mean, that’s just lovely, isn’t it?
‘He stood up. Hello. Were those two buttons of my waistcoat open all the time. Women enjoy it. Annoyed if you don’t’
Nothing a woman enjoys more than the partially unbuttoned waistcoat of a gentleman, I assure you.
‘The first fellow that picked an herb to cure himself had a bit of pluck. Simples.’