Ulysses! Episode Eight

Now, here we have a section that has the main theme of a subject very close to my heart – FOOD! And utterly glorious it is too. There is still plenty of the old stream-of-consciousness malarkey to contend with, making bits of it rather vague and disjointed – but that’s only to be expected, right? Here we go…
Bloom passes a sweet shop and a man from the YMCA hands him a flyer. It is titled ‘Blood of the Lamb’, but Bloom initially misreads it and thinks it’s about him. It seems to be advertising a religious event and all are welcome. He then spots Simon Dedalus’ daughter standing outside Dillon’s auction rooms looking thin and tattered, and he recognises her as she has the eyes of her father. This is not the first time eyes have been mentioned in the sense of hereditary features, so it is likely a significant thing. They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul… but enough of that for now, or I’m going to go off on a stream-of-consciousness patter of my own and this is hardly the time or the place. Anyway, Bloom feels sorry for the Dedalus children as their mother has died and families aren’t the same after that. Simon has fifteen children, which Bloom notes is a very Catholic thing and encouraged by the priests. Which is all very well for them as they don’t have to feed them. While the priests preach piety and rampant reproduction, they themselves get to live a peaceful and hearty life, with full plates every mealtime and only a housekeeper to consider.
As Bloom passes over O’Connell bridge a brewery barge sails beneath and puffs smoke at him. This makes him think that he would like to visit the brewery and see the big fat drunken rats. He sees some seagulls overhead. Looking down into the waters, he remembers the son of the Jewish fellow who nearly drowned and reasons that he must have swallowed a lot of sewage at the time. The gulls are evidently hungry, so Bloom screws up the religious flyer and throws it down into the water. But the gulls are too clever and ignore it. Blooms thinks of poets, Shakespeare and Hamlet. He spies an ‘apple woman’ selling her wares and buys two Banbury cakes to feed to the gulls. They eat them. Bloom thinks about eating a swan. He then decides that the gulls are very ungrateful and also spread foot and mouth disease (no problem, there – a cure for that will be announced in the paper that evening!) Why don’t saltwater fish taste salty? But a pig tastes like a pig.
A rowboat catches Bloom’s eye and he sees that it has an advertisement for trousers on the side. He thinks this is a good idea, then thinks about all the other good places for advertisements. He remembers a book by Sir Robert Ball about the subject of parallax that he didn’t understand and also a man named Ben Dolland who had an ‘appetite like an albatross’. Then, five men in tall white hats pass by – they each have a red letter on their hats and are advertising the stationery shop Hely’s. The chap with Y on his hat is lagging behind and eating bread. They earn three bob a day but don’t bring in any business. Blooms remembers when he used to work for Hely’s and he came up with the idea of putting ladies in a transparent cart, rumbling through the streets with them all writing on Hely’s stationery. He thought it would create quite an interest, but the idea was rejected as the proprietor didn’t think of it himself. There was a nice nun there. Apparently it was a nun that invented barbed wire.
The year he got the job at Hely’s was the year Bloom married and someone died in a big fire. Val Dillon was the mayor. He recalls a feast of some kind, then a choir picnic when Molly was young and Bloom sprained his ankle. They ate rabbit pie. He concludes that he was happier then and used American elderflower soap. Unsure if the two are linked. As he walks on, he tries to remember the name of someone, but can’t. He remembers a concert of Molly’s, it was a blustery night and the wind blew up her skirt. That evening they had lap of mutton for supper and he recalls her getting undressed afterwards.
Bloom’s thoughts are interrupted when he bumps into Mrs Breen, who asks after Molly. Bloom replies that she is super and that Milly has a job at a photographer’s in Mullingar. Mrs Breen has many children. Bloom feels that he must ask after her husband, who is some kind of lunatic. Mrs Breen tells him that he is studying libel law and being a general nuisance. Meanwhile, lovely cooking smells emit from Harrisons, an inexpensive dining establishment, while a barefoot Arab stands over the grate, inhaling them. Mrs Breen rummages through her large handbag. She says that Mr Breen is especially bad on a full moon and last night he woke her up to tell her of his nightmare, where the ace of spades was walking up the stairs. From the depths of her handbag she draws a postcard and hands it to Bloom. It was sent to her husband and is rather cryptic – it has ‘U.P. : up’ written on it. For some reason they assume this is a dastardly insult. Mr Breen intends to sue the sender for £10,000. Bloom observes Mrs Breen and thinks that she used to be a ‘tasty dresser’ but looks a bit shabby now. She has food remnants on her face and clothes. Bloom is hungry. He asks Mrs Breen about Mrs Beaufoy but she mishears and talks about Mina Purefoy instead. Mina also has many children and has been in hospital for the past three days trying to pop out another one. Bloom shows some concern, then touches her funny bone to warn her that a boney man needs to pass them. This fellow is Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell and is another lunatic. Mrs Breen spots her husband coming out of Harrison’s and goes off after him.
Bloom continues on his way, thinking about Breen’s postcard and decides that it must have been written by Alf Bergen or Richie Goulding after a few drinks. He passes by the Irish Times, where he once interviewed for a smart female typist. Lizzie Twigg was an applicant, but her only reference was from the aforementioned mystical poet, A.E, and he decided at the time that she would have had no time to do her hair if she was reading poetry all day. He reminisces about his days at the Irish Times, as well as some horsey women. He pities Mina Purefoy with her Methodist husband and many children. He must look up an advertisement in the National Library. Then he goes back to thinking about the birthing process and the cost involved with bringing up kids. He watches some pigeons. Then he watches a squad of policemen who have just finished their lunch. He thinks they have a good life. Bloom then considers the idea of urinals for women, so they don’t have to keep rushing into cake shops to do their business. Then back to the policemen – they can be brutal, but they have a difficult job to do. Blooms remembers a time when he had been out drinking with medical students and was chased by a mounted police officer. The students had been shouting inflammatory slogans and generally being very silly. Now they are all magistrates and civil servants (and some, you would assume, became doctors). Then, rambling thoughts of Sinn Fein, Parnell, republicanism, the prospect of home rule and the Invincibles being betrayed by an insider, possibly.
A cloud covers the sun and Bloom becomes gloomy. His thoughts swirl around the idea that things go on the same way every day and nothing ever changes and no one is anything – births, deaths, lunatics, trams, police and – unexpectedly – landlords. Bloom hates this hour of the day. The sun comes out again. Charley Boulger has eaten a bag egg. Suddenly there is a two-headed octopus and one head speaks with a Scottish accent.
As he walks on, Bloom sees Geo Russell (who is the poet A.E) with a woman who might be Lizzie Twigg. What does A.E mean? Are they initials? Bloom links the two-headed octopus to something occult. Apparently eating beefsteak will give you nightmares, but eating nut loaf will give you the runs. Lizzie dresses like a poet and policemen don’t know what poetry is. Bloom crosses the street and looks into an optician’s window, thinking that he must either get his glasses fixed or get a pair from the railway station lost property office. He tries out his eyesight on a clock on the roof of the bank, but he can’t see it.
Bloom raises his arm and blots out the sun with tip of his little finger. He thinks again about parallax, physics, the sun and the moon. The moon reminds him of a past romantic walk with Molly. As he notices Bob Doran out on his annual bender (he is sober as a judge the rest of the year), Bloom decides that men drink in order to become more interesting. He recalls the raucous days of his youth, when he was twenty-eight. Was he happier then? Or now? He couldn’t enjoy sex after Rudy died. You cannot bring back time. He looks in the window of a silk shop and considers buying a pin cushion. The scrape on his left forearm is nearly gone. He remembers he needs to go back to the pharmacy at some point and collect Molly’s lotion.
Thinking of lovers and things of that nature, Bloom enters Burton’s restaurant to get something to eat. It is full of men eating like animals. He observes a man with no teeth unable to chew his meat and wonders if he is like that. A hungry man is an angry man (very true, this). The place is filled with unpleasant smells – ‘…men’s beery piss’. He can’t possibly eat here, everyone has such terrible table manners. He decides instead to get a light snack at Davy Byrne’s to keep him going. He had a good breakfast, after all. On the way, Bloom considers the benefits of vegetarianism.
Davy’s is a good, moral pub and Davy is a fine fellow. Bloom enters and is greeted by Nosey Flynn. As he is deciding what to eat, Bloom thinks about cannibals. He plumps for a cheese sandwich – specifically gorgonzola. Flynn is described marvellously by Bloom – ‘Look at his mouth. Could whistle in his own ear. Flap ears to match. Music. Knows as much about it as my coachman. Still better tell him. Does no harm. Free ad.’ Flynn has asked about Molly’s concert tour and while Bloom is cutting up his sandwiches and applying mustard, he mentions Blazes Boylan. This upsets Bloom and he composes himself by looking at the pub clock – it says it is two o’clock, but is five minutes fast. Bloom drinks some wine (burgundy) and confirms that Boylan is organising the tour. A flea bites Flynn. As Flynn talks about a boxing match, Bloom notices some snot that is about to drop into Flynn’s drink. He sniffs it up at the crucial moment. Boylan is a hairy chap. Flynn asks Davy about a tip for the Gold Cup, but Davy doesn’t bet on the horses. As Bloom admires the beautiful wood of the bar, Flynn talks about horse racing. Bloom wonders if he should pass on the tip mentioned earlier by Lenehan. The wine has made Bloom feel much better and he muses at length on all the strange things people eat and consider delicacies.
Two flies stuck to the window pane remind Bloom of the time he and Molly made love on a hillside, watched by a nanny goat. He once again admires the curved wooden bar and compares it to a Goddess. Goddesses are beautiful because they do not eat and poo like mortals. There are probably other reasons, but this is the one we are presented with, so there you go. Bloom thinks that he will visit the Goddess statues in the library museum and look up their skirts. Then, he needs a wee, so off he goes. When he is gone, Flynn and Davy talk about him. They discuss his role in advertising, being a Freemason, his aversion to heavy drinking and how he often helps out those less fortunate. The one thing Bloom will never do, they say, is sign a contract.
Paddy Leonard, Bantam Lyons and Tom Rochford enter the pub and order drinks. As they are all talking about horse racing, Bloom passes by and waves to Flynn on his way out. Bantam Lyons whispers to the others that Bloom have him a racing tip, which seems unlikely, seeing as he was just in the out house.
Bloom walks down the street again and a dog is sick in front of him and he is forced to dodge it. He hums to himself and feels good for the burgundy. He thinks about the Keyes advertisement and considers buying a silk petticoat for Molly. He spots a blind man on the pavement and helps him across the street. Suddenly he remembers the name of the chap he was thinking about earlier – Penrose! As the blind man goes on his way, Bloom thinks about how the disabled are perceived and how the other senses of the blind are greatly heightened. Out of curiosity, he strokes his own hair, then the skin on his cheek. Finally he strokes the skin on his tummy. Then, Bloom spots Sir Frederick Faulkner going into Freemason’s Hall and imagines that he has had an opulent lunch, accompanied by excellent vintage wine.
Arriving at Kildare Street, Bloom decides that he must go to the library, but then – oh no! Blazes Boylan in his straw hat appears suddenly! Panicked, he dives right and through the gates of the museum instead. Nothing for it now but to go and look under the robes of the Goddesses, I suppose. He checks his pockets – purse, potato and eventually his soap – he is safe!


The most obvious and prevailing theme of this episode is, of course, food. There is a bit in the Odyssey where Odysseus and his mates bump up to an island inhabited by cannibals and I’ve got a bit of a feeling there might be parallels here. My classical education isn’t up to much, but those more finely read will no doubt pull them out far better than I can.
There is much talk of food itself, but also how it permeates every aspect of life for all people of every kind. Food is a great leveller, as well as a great divider. Breaking bread brings families and communities together, but the disparity between rich and poor – the have and have nots – shows the huge gulf between the classes. We see Simon Dedalus’ daughter, thin and under nourished, standing outside the auction rooms, possibly auctioning off some furniture, while later Sir Frederick Faulkner strides along, having enjoyed a banquet with vintage wine. The good Catholic families struggle to feed their many children, but the priest is fat and oblivious to their struggles. Food is linked to every aspect of life in some way – religion, family, sex, work, leisure, memories, history – even the act of eating is given significance. In Burton’s there are the gluttonous men, shovelling it in like animals and at the other end of the scale, we have the Goddesses who are truly beautiful because they don’t have to lower themselves to this very human act that is essential to our survival. When we were initially introduced to Bloom, the very first thing we are told is that he is a man who likes eating meat. But the sights and smells of Burton’s must have put off even him as he opts for a cheese sandwich in Davy’s. Good job he had those kidneys earlier, I reckon.
Bloom has been portrayed as something of an outsider and as the book progresses, we perhaps understand why – not only is he a Jew (an unpopular option in Ireland at the time) but we now learn that he is also a Freemason. Freemasonry was (and, often, still is) met with great suspicion by many, so being not only Jewish but also on the square isn’t going to do him many favours. But from Flynn and Davy’s conversation, we do learn that he is seen as a generally good egg (keeping with the food theme, there).
The subject of parallax pops up a couple of times – my understanding of this theory is that things appear different when viewed from different angles or vantage points. This, I think, relates mostly to the area of physics, but is very apt for this novel which has been – and no doubt will continue to be – very much about points of view. And I just wanted to mention the thing about eyes being passed down from parent to child. It has come up several times, certainly when Bloom thinks about Rudy but also when Stephen was musing over ancestors and whatnot in the early episodes. I can’t elaborate much more upon the fact that it feels important, but it does, so I’ve written it down.

Favourite Lines

‘Drink till they puke again like christians.’

Is there another way to drink?

‘Met him pikehoses she called it till I told her about the transmigration. O rocks!’

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

‘He’s a caution to rattlesnakes.’

Mrs Breen describes her unhinged husband.

‘Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity.’

A persuasive argument for vegetarianism.

‘A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain.’

The adorable manner in which Bloom thinks of Molly.

‘Two fellows that would suck whisky off a sore leg.’

A couple of chaps who like a drink!

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