Ulysses! Episode Six

An absolutely beautiful episode this, where we join Leopold Bloom and friends as they make their way to the funeral of Paddy Dignam.
Bloom gets into a carriage with Martin Cunningham, Mr Power and Simon Dedalus (Stephen’s dad!) – he gets in last. An old woman looks at them through the window, glad she is not dead. The lemon soap in Blooms trouser pocket is digging into him and he plans to move it at his earliest opportunity. Everyone is very quiet. The horses pull away the carriage follows a ‘traditional route’ through the city. Bloom spots Stephen Dedalus in the street an points him out to Simon, who asks if Buck Mulligan is with him (he isn’t). Simon does not think much of Mulligan – ‘That Mulligan is a contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts.’ Which is fair, in my humble opinion. There is a reference to the aforementioned Uncle Richie and his bad back – apparently it has put a stop to his carousing, which sounds like no bad thing. Simon threatens to write to Mulligan’s aunt to let her know all about his wayward antics. Mr Power and Martin Cunningham are quiet on the matter, so Simon finally shuts up.
In the quiet carriage, Bloom imagines what it would have been like if his son Rudy had have lived – ‘My son. Me in his eyes. Strange feeling it would be.’ He thinks about how he could have helped him along in life and taught him German. He also thinks fondly of his daughter Milly. Martin Cunningham has crumbs on him and it seems that the carriage is in a rather poor state. The men discuss who will be at the funeral. As the carriage stops by the canal, Bloom looks at the gasworks and a dogs’ home and thinks about an old man whose dog Athos pined for him after he died. The weather seems to be changing and Simon remarks ‘It’s as uncertain as a child’s bottom’, which is quite the simile.
The carriage sets off once more and Martin Cunningham starts talking about what a great night he had in the pub the previous evening. Someone – maybe Tom Kernan – is an excellent singer. He brings up a speech by Dan Dawson, which is printed in the morning paper. Bloom offers his newspaper but Simon doesn’t think it is appropriate to read it right now. Bloom reads the obituaries and checks his pocket for Martha’s letter. I thought he tore it up earlier, but looks like that was just the envelope as the letter is safe in his waistcoat pocket. They continue on through the city.
Just as Bloom is musing over Boylan’s visit to Molly that afternoon, they pass him in the street! ‘There he is airing his quiff.’ The other three wave and salute. Bloom inspects his finger nails then considers his ageing body. Mr Power asks Bloom about Molly’s concert tour, perhaps knowing Boylan is involved. Bloom says that all the best singers will be there – ‘And Madame’ adds Power, seemingly disrespecting Molly.
Bloom thinks of Molly at home and what she might be doing, which is probably checking her split ends and dealing with the cleaner. He brings to mind something he once heard about Power’s wife ‘…there is no carnal!’ I think she is a barmaid and is on the verge of being seduced by a fellow named Crofton who is bringing her a pound of rump steak. Can’t say I blame her.
They pass a tall, black-bearded Jewish gentlemen and the others curse at him. They tell a story about how his son nearly drowned and Simon suggests that the boatman should not have saved him. The other three all laugh at this, then remember Paddy Dignam and become more somber. Seems that he died of a heart attack and drinking too much. Bloom says that it was a good death – sudden, but the others just stare at him, silent. A child’s coffin passes by in the street and Bloom thinks again of little Rudy.
Death being the chief subject of conversation, Power declares that suicide is the worst kind on death, shameful and cowardly. Simon agrees but Martin Cunningham cuts in and calls for a more charitable view, without judgement. Bloom approves of this and thinks well of Cunningham for his interjection. He then remembers how suicides used to be treated – ‘They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave. As if it wasn’t broken already’. This section – and the following one, where Bloom remembers his own father’s suicide and inquest, and the note he left for him – are incredibly powerful and poignant, wonderfully written and an absolute masterclass in understated tragedy and pathos. It wouldn’t do to reproduce them here, but if you only intend to dip in and out of this novel, I strongly advise you to seek out these passages.
A drove of cattle hold them up for a bit and Bloom suggests a tram especially for cattle, to avoid such a problem. This goes down well with the others, but they are less keen on his suggestion of a tram for corpses. Martin Cunningham recalls a recent incident of a hearse capsizing and the poor dead chap ending up in the road. Bloom imagines – quite graphically – the same happening to Paddy Dignam.
The carriage again passes the canal and Bloom thinks once more of visiting Milly. They are getting closer to the church now and Power wonders how their friend Fogarty is getting along. There is a tramp with some boots. Power points out a now empty house where a gruesome murder took place. Apparently the murderer is still at large as there was no evidence to convict.
After a meandering and wonderfully descriptive journey, they reach the church and exit the carriage, Bloom taking the opportunity to move the troublesome soap from his trousers to his waistcoat pocket. He thinks to himself about all the pomp of funerals and sees a man selling simnel cakes – the cakes of the dead, which is quite cheery in a weird kind of way. As the coffin is taken from the hearse, Bloom wonders if the horses know of their macabre cargo they drag through the streets each day. A dishevelled woman and little girl come through the cemetery gates. The coffin is carried into the church, followed by the mourners.
As they go in, Martin Cunningham rebukes Power for talking about suicide in front of Bloom whose father, we now learn, poisoned himself. Power is quite put out and says that this is the first he had heard of it. Bloom asks if Dignam was insured and the general consensus is that he was. He leaves behind five children, for whom Ned Lambert says he will arrange a whip-round. Simon – whose wife is dead – thinks about widows in general and specifically Queen Victoria when she was mourning Prince Albert. Bloom wonders which end of the coffin is the head.
The service is conducted by a fierce-sounding priest, Father Coffey – ‘With a belly on him like a poisoned pup’. Much is made of his rotund appearance and slightly aggressive demeanour. The service is conducted in Latin, because it apparently makes people feel more important. Unsure if this refers to dead people or living people, probably makes little difference. Bloom observes Coffey and wonders why he is so bloated – ‘Looks full up of bad gas’. It might be cabbage – Molly always swells up after cabbage. Bloom’s knee hurts. Quite a bit of thinking about gas.
The service ends and the coffin is carried outside. Simon has a bit of a cry at his wife’s grave and is comforted by Power. Bloom and Kernan discuss the merits of the service. Bloom remarks that the words, however good, are of no use to the dead. Of course, such things are for the living. Bloom then thinks of the dying process and of the internal organs as rusty pumps, all packing up one by one. A fellow named Corny Kelleher – who might be a gravedigger – joins the little group of Martin Cunningham, Mr Power and Simon Dedalus. There is mention again of the ‘tooraloom’, but I am still none the wiser as to what this might be. The group talk about Bloom and his wife Molly – ‘…a good armful she was’ and seem to suggest that she is too good for Bloom. The gravedigger tells a story about two drunks in a graveyard which the men find amusing, but I can’t see it myself. Although drunks are often quite entertaining, come to think of it.
Away from the others, Bloom is thinking about work, getting a shave and what it might be like to live in a graveyard, not to mention the possibility of picking up young widows in graveyards. He decides that it would be better to bury people standing up, so they take up less room and there would be the possibility of their heads popping up out of the ground if there was a landslide of some sort. He also suggests that coffins should be fitted with telephones in case the dead are not quite dead. Then he ruminates on the decomposition of bodies and theorises that the cells themselves live forever, changing into other things in the ground. This is a lot more uplifting than it sounds. Anyway, the general ambiance of the graveyard gives Bloom a sense of power, seeing others die before himself. That isn’t as uplifting as it sounds. He thinks about the gravediggers in Hamlet, and also that the dead might like to hear jokes and dead ladies might want to know the latest fashions.
The mourners gather around the grave and a chap in a mackintosh turns up and Bloom wonders who he is. Standing back from the main group, Bloom counts twelve mourners, with the mackintosh fellow as number thirteen. We shouldn’t be superstitious about the number thirteen. The coffin is lowered into the ground. Apparently, you never see a dead donkey. Bloom idly observes the suits and clothes of the other mourners, thinks about death and dying, and the graves of his mother and Rudy, which are nearby. He turns away as the grave is filled in. The mourners disperse.
A chap named Hynes, who I think might be a reporter of some kind, asks Bloom for his first name. Bloom obliges and asks for McCoy’s name to be noted, as he requested earlier. Hynes then asks about the unknown chap at the graveside, who Bloom also doesn’t know. He refers to him as ‘Mackintosh’, which Hynes takes to be his name, and leaves before Bloom can correct him. Bloom is left all alone. Hynes then speaks to Power about a fellow named Parnell and suggests that he is not in his grave and will return again. Power firmly disagrees.
Bloom walks through the graveyard, thinking there should be gramophone recordings to help remember the dead. There are so many dead people, how can you remember everyone? A fat old rat catches his attention, before squeezing into a small crack in a crypt. A rat like that would make short work of a corpse. A corpse is just meat gone bad – cheese is the corpse of milk. A logical, if unpalatable, observation. Bloom thinks upon other forms of burial – cremation, at sea, quicklime pits – but concludes that one cannot be buried in the air.
Seeing the cemetery gates, Bloom feels himself going back to the world. He just has time to cast his mind over ghosts, haunting and a bit of necrophilia before spotting John Henry Menton, who has hated Bloom ever since Bloom beat him at bowls. His hat is crushed and Bloom tells him so. Menton leaves through the gates with Martin Cunningham, Bloom trailing some way behind.


It is doubtful that I can do justice to this mesmerising and beautiful episode, but I shall do my very best to try. Of all the sections so far, this one is the easiest to navigate in the sense of it reading more like traditional prose, although a lot of the time it feels like poetry. It is mostly transparent about what is happening and who is speaking or thinking and the themes explored are, over all, made clear to the reader. The overarching subject is, unsurprisingly, death. But there are a couple of other things going as as well.
Firstly, the carriage ride through Dublin to the funeral is eclectically descriptive; you get a real sense of the city and its people, from the noble grandeur of architecture and well-to-do citizens, to the seamy underbelly of the broken down buildings and wastrels. This is, in itself,  utterly captivating and serves as a rich backdrop to the unfolding events. The scenery ties itself to Bloom and his memories and recollections and the city feels like an extra character, just there on the periphery. Also, it is as part of the scenery that we are briefly reacquainted with Stephen Dedalus and see, fleetingly, the notorious Blazes Boylan for the first time.
There is a real sense throughout this episode of Bloom being isolated, or on the outside, of events. He is the last to get into the carriage with the other men and seems slightly separate to their conversations on the journey – the newspaper he offers is refused, his observations are largely ignored or glossed over and when Power speaks about suicide, it perhaps suggests that he is not part of this closer friendship group as only Cunningham knew about the nature of Bloom’s father’s death. He stands back at the graveside and feels more like an observer than participant of the funeral. But it isn’t that Bloom is portrayed as lonely or adverse to his position on the sidelines, it is just a matter of fact.
And so onto the death! What is most striking about how death is dealt with here, is the realism of it. Mostly in literature, death as a subject results in some strong emotional writing about loss or change, characters are consumed with grief – or perhaps there is relief or joy, depending on the nature of the plot. What Joyce does is take a much more pragmatic approach. We see Simon weeping over the grave of his wife, but the only other time we see any real emotion over a death is when Bloom thinks back to the circumstances surrounding his father’s suicide and the aftermath of that event. It is one of the most powerful passages about death I think I have ever read and despite its brevity and relatively simple language, it somehow strikes right into the very soul. Aside from this, Bloom’s thoughts on death are variously; humorous, practical, ethereal and creative. He recalls his son Rudy, who died at birth, as a series of ‘what-ifs’, is reminded fondly of friends and acquaintances, considers more efficient means of burial and ceremony… and then there is a little bit about necrophilia, which I suppose serves to remind us that sex and death are natural and inevitable and part of the human condition.
Bloom is somewhat detached throughout the funeral service, thinking his many varied thoughts, and it does feel like a much more natural rendition of such an event. There is sympathy for ‘poor Paddy’, of course, but there is certainly the sense of being at an acquaintance’s funeral, with people you know slightly, doing the right thing in giving a fellow a respectful send-off before getting on with the rest of your day. Several times during the text we are reminded that millions of people die every day and you cannot possibly get overwrought about all of them. It is all very human and I like it.

Favourite Lines

‘The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.’

A nice example of the poetry that runs through this episode.

‘Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing.’

Passing by a stonecutter’s yard. Just lovely.

‘That’s the maxim of the law. Better for ninetynine guilty to escape than for one innocent person to be wrongfully condemned.’

Martin Cunningham gives his view on the judicial system.

‘Must be careful about women. Catch them once with their pants down. Never forgive you after. Fifteen.’

Good advice, this.

‘Read your own obituary notice they say you live longer. Gives you a second wind. New lease of life.’

Well, it might, or you might die from the shock of it.

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