Not the most enthralling of episodes, if I’m perfectly honest, but it does still have its moments. Up until now I had no idea what Leopold Bloom did for a living, but here we find out, sort of – it’s something to do with getting adverts into the local newspaper. And this is where we find him now…
Trams, buses and postmen go about their business, criss-crossing the city. Bloom is collecting an advert for Alexander Keyes, who appears to run a sort of brewery / tea merchants type establishment, from a fellow named Red Murray. As Red is cutting out the advert for Bloom, they both see Simon Dedalus going up the steps to the newspaper offices, looking very solemn, fat and stately – ‘All his brains are in the nape of his neck […] Fat folds of neck, fat, neck, fat, neck.’ He’s got a fat neck! Red thinks he looks like Jesus (well, he uses the term Our Saviour so I’m guessing it’s either Jesus or his mum, Mary) whereas Bloom says he looks like Mario the tenor.
Bloom takes his advert and passes through the counter and into the printing presses, on his way to see the foreman – a gentleman named Nannetti. Hynes is there, Bloom assumes about his article on Paddy Dignam’s funeral. All around, the presses are making a terrific racket and Bloom observes their great power and relentless work – and is reminded of the fat old rat from the cemetery. He also thinks upon how it is the adverts and features that really sell a newspaper, rather than the usually dull local news. Bloom worries about being crushed in the presses. Hynes wants his piece to go in the evening edition and once this is settled with Nannetti, he goes to move off but Bloom blocks his path. He hints to Hynes that he would like to be repaid the three bob he owes him, but Hynes either doesn’t pick up on it, or chooses to ignore it.
With Hynes out of the way, Bloom can now talk to Nannetti about the Keyes advert. The presses are very noisy for the duration of their conversation. Bloom begins to describe how he wants the advert laid out, but stops himself, thinking ‘Better not teach him his own business’. He explains that he wants two crossed keys at the top, because it represents the Isle of Man and the idea of a nation ruling itself. Nannetti seems to like this idea and says he can definitely do it, but needs a copy of the design, which Bloom says he will get. Nannetti also wants confirmation that the advert will run for a minimum of three months. For some reason Bloom thinks about Martin Cunningham and his crushed hat while he listens to the printing machines. Nannetti turns back to his work and Bloom leaves.
On his way out, Bloom passes a typesetter laying out the plates backwards and it reminds him of his father reading Hebrew to him as a child (aha! I knew there was a Jewish connection somewhere!), right to left. He pauses in the hallway and sniffs his handkerchief, scented by the lemon soap wrapped up there. Bloom doesn’t seem very happy with this and moves the lemon soap back into his trouser pocket, where it had been annoying him earlier. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this lemon soap. Bloom briefly considers returning home to catch Molly and Boylan together but thinks better of it. He is better off here. Then, he hears laughter from the Evening Telegraph office nearby and recognises Ned Lambert’s voice, so decides to go in.
In the office, Ned, Simon Dedalus and Professor MacHugh are reading an over-the-top speech from the morning edition, which we eventually find out is Dan Dawson’s speech, mentioned earlier in the carriage on the way to the funeral. Simon really isn’t keen – ‘Agonising Christ, wouldn’t it give you a heartburn on your arse?’ Which would, you have to admit, be unpleasant. MacHugh, who is eating a cracker, doesn’t like it either but Ned insists on reading it. The door opens and the knob hits Bloom, who was standing right by the door. It is JJ O’Molloy, who used to be a talented lawyer but has fallen upon hard times due to his gambling habit. He asks to see the editor and MacHugh informs him that he is in his office with Lenehan. Bloom thinks that newspaper men are not reliable or to be trusted as they say things they don’t mean. Ned Lambert continues with the speech and it is roundly mocked by the others. On the fringe of things as ever, Bloom agrees that it is a bit much when written down, but in his mind he thinks that this sort of thing tends to go down quite well with a live audience.
The newspaper editor – Myles Crawford – comes out of his office and starts raving about Ohio and the North Cork Militia, while Simon and Ned decide they want to go for a drink, which sounds like a very good idea. Off they go. Crawford flosses his teeth and Bloom dives into his office to use his telephone. MacHugh and Crawford are discussing the evening edition when this Lenehan chap comes in with the sports edition and declares that Sceptre (a horse) will win the Gold Cup. Barefoot newsboys run along the hallway screaming. MacHugh grabs one and Crawford instructs him to throw him out. The newsboy and his chums are after the racing special but they are all thrown out and the door slammed shut.
Bloom finishes his phone call and rushes out of the editor’s office, banging into Lenehan and hurting his knee. Outside, the newsboys can be heard singing and playing a mouth organ. Bloom informs the others that he is going off to sort out this Keyes advert but no-one is particularly bothered. Bloom exits into the street and the others watch him from the window, seeing the newsboys capering after him, mocking his jaunty walk. Lenehan amuses them with his own interpretation of the walk. Crawford decides he wants to join Simon and Ned in the pub, so looks for his hat and jingles his keys (why is everyone in this book obsessed with keys?!) Meanwhile, MacHugh, O’Molloy and Lenehan have a smoke.
Crawford emerges from his office wearing a straw hat and sings a song at MacHugh. Lenehan calls for silence so they can all hear his ‘…brandnew riddle’, but they ignore him – which is a bit of a theme with this lot. MacHugh talks about words, the sounds of words and the Roman Empire. The Romans were very keen on sewers and the law. Lenehan tries again with his riddle but gets nowhere. Then, a fellow named Mr O’Madden Burke arrives with Stephen Dedalus and introduces Stephen to Crawford. Lenehan, not a man easily deterred, perseveres with his bloody riddle, shouting – ‘Silence! What opera resembles a railway line? Reflect, ponder, excogitate, reply.’ Still no joy. Stephen hands Crawford Deasy’s exciting letter about foot and mouth disease. Crawford notices that a bit has been torn off and suggests it might have been used as toilet paper. Crawford knew Deasy’s wife and his description of her makes Stephen understand a little better why Deasy feels so unfavourably towards the fairer sex. The upshot of all this is that Crawford agrees to print the letter.
MacHugh likens the Greeks to the Irish, seeing them both as downtrodden peoples who nonetheless possess a remarkable and irrepressible culture and spirit. He considers Pyrrhus and his loyalty to lost causes as being quite Irish. Lenehan remains unimpressed, possibly still upset about his riddle, and whispers a limerick to Stephen. He finally forces the others to contemplate his riddle, the answer to which is ‘The Rose of Castille’ – or, rows of cast steel. Lenehan pokes Burke gently in the spleen. That’s what you get for not appreciating a riddle.
The gentlemen discuss their various and varied talents and remark that Bloom’s talent would be ‘The gentle art of advertisement’. Burke mentions Molly’s vocal talents and possibly hints at other talents, too. Crawford implores Stephen to write something brilliant for his newspaper and Burke encourages him. They all recount tales of the greatest reporter of all time, Ignatius Gallaher, who wrote about the Phoenix Park murders, perpetrated by a group named The Invincibles. I’m assuming this wasn’t the 1888-1889 season squad of the famous Preston North End, but that’s the only Invincibles I know, so I’m sort of picturing it. Anyway, the story became world famous at the time, due to Gallaher’s remarkable talent. There is much misty-eyed reverie as they relive the story and go over the crime and its star-studded cast. I particularly like the sound of Skin-the-goat, which is a marvellous name for a member of the criminal underworld – although he probably never played for Preston North End.
Everyone gets very excited and passionate as the conversation leaps about from journalists and lawyers to murders and great speeches. O’Molloy recites a famous speech and, unlike Dan Dawson’s speech earlier, it is met with raucous approval. He then turns to Stephen to tell him that a Professor Magennis was talking about him and was wondering what Stephen made of A.E – a ‘master mystic’. Stephen resists the urge to ask exactly what was said about him. From what I can make out, we never discover what Stephen makes of this A.E fellow. MacHugh bangs on about John F Taylor making the best speech ever at the college historical society, apparently rising from his sickbed for the occasion and looking like death. The general gist of the speech was to draw comparison between the English trying to overrun the Irish in the same way the Egyptians tried to assimilate the Jews.
Stephen – good lad – suggests going to the pub. Burke agrees. Lenehan suggests Mooney’s. Crawford looks for his keys and Stephen begins telling an obscure tale about two old maids who save up some money so they can go and sit on top of Nelson’s pillar and eat twenty four plums. For those who are interested, the maids are named Anne Kearns and Florence MacCabe – who popped up briefly in an earlier episode when Stephen was thinking about an old midwife. As the group are leaving the newspaper, Bloom rushes up to Crawford to speak to him again about the Keyes ad, but Crawford tells him that Keyes can ‘…kiss my arse’. Which isn’t terribly friendly. Bloom watches them all go off and admires Stephen’s boots. Stephen continues with his story – the two women peer over the railings and fear that the pillar may fall. They pull up their skirts for no apparent reason. Then they spit plum stones through the railings. Stephen laughs, but the others seem unmoved. He calls this strange story ‘A Pisgah Sight of Palestine or The Parable of the Plums’. They all look at Nelson’s pillar.
Where to start with this one, honestly – my thoughts on this are a bit disjointed and vague but I shall do my best, dear reader. I shall begin by saying that I feel that this episode is very much about words – for a start, we find ourselves in a newspaper office and in that newspaper office are a bunch of gentleman who very much like the sounds of their own voices, to say the least. And the vast bulk of their conversations are related to words – speeches, journalism and the like. So let’s start there, shall we?
The episode itself is laid out a bit like a newspaper, with bold headings dividing up the text, cryptically relating to the paragraphs beneath. The offices of the Evening Telegraph are an exciting – and noisy – place to be. Downstairs the unrelenting, enormous printing presses work tirelessly, while upstairs the newspapermen seem to do anything but, yet have plenty to say for and about themselves. Bloom is somewhat intimidated by the sheer size and power of the machinery, worried at several points that he might get crushed or dragged in to their workings. He is no more comfortable upstairs, among men who mostly ignore him and are occasionally rude to him. Yet the newspaper appears to provide a form of employment for him, so it can’t be so bad.
The men themselves are full of self-importance and spend a lot of time speaking a lot but not really saying anything. They don’t appear particularly keen on actually listening to each other, either – except where suggestions of going to the pub are concerned. Lenehan struggles to get the others to listen to his riddle, no one wants to listen to Ned Lambert’s reading of the speech and, as usual, Bloom is mostly ignored by everyone. If I were the philosophical type, I might ponder to myself – what use are words if no one listens to them? But that is a bit beyond my cognitive capacity.
Words themselves have a great deal of importance in this episode – words and the writers of words. There are good speeches and derided speeches, great journalists and lawyers and plays on words throughout. Stephen, who is a writer, shows remarkable disinterest at Crawford’s passionate pleas to get him to write for the paper, despite Burke’s encouragement. So perhaps he is only interested in writing on his own terms, or perhaps is happier not actually writing at all – which is more common than you might think among writers. The relationship between words and writers is a complex one.
It is here finally that my curiosity as to Bloom’s Jewish heritage is finally satisfied, which feels like something of an achievement. We learn that his father was Jewish, even if Bloom himself appears mostly diffident towards religion in general. And again we find Bloom as very much an outsider amongst this contemporaries, and he seems pretty okay with that. I get the impression he is content with being a spectator in life – although he doesn’t extend that to spectating upon the relationship between his wife and Boylan.
Familiar themes arise again – keys, literature, Irish and classical history – and that bastard lemon soap. There is definitely a structure and flow to the work. It might all feel a bit random and haphazard compared to other novels, but there are definite literary rules firmly in place – it’s just that these are ones Joyce has made up himself and we don’t know what they are, which makes things tricky. So yeah, I struggled with this one a bit. But I find that the understanding of Joyce comes more as a feeling than anything you can really put into words. The feeling I get with this episode, then, is this – the pen might be mightier than the sword, but in the mouths of self-important men, all words are worthless.
‘…double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall. Silly, isn’t it? Cemetery put in of course on account of the symmetry.’
Silly? Yes. Brilliant? Most definitely.
‘Justice it means but it’s everybody eating everyone else. That’s what life is after all.’
Eat or be eaten.
‘Lord Jesus! Lord Salisbury. A sofa in a westend club. But the Greek!’
This sounds like a fun night out!
‘The loose flesh of his neck shook like a cock’s wattles. An illstarched dicky jutted up and with a rude gesture he thrust it back into his waistcoat.’
This sounds like something from a Carry On film and I love it.