Not the easiest of parts to get to grips with, this – like Episode Ten it deploys the tactic of jumping around between events occurring at different locations at the same time and it isn’t always easy to detect until reading on a bit and then going back. The opening section turns out to be a compilation of lines from throughout the episode, cut-and-pasted into a jaunty song-like opener, which of course does not become clear until much further into the piece. And it turns out that this is very appropriate, as episode eleven is all about music! Here is my best shot at understanding this beautiful yet beastly arrangement…
We start off with a cheerful but positively mental poem-song type thing that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but concludes with the phrase ‘Begin!’ So that’s exactly what I shall do. We join two barmaids at the Ormond Hotel bar – Miss Douce (possibly a redhead, often referred to as ‘Bronze’) and Miss Kennedy (likely blonde, similarly referred to as ‘Gold). They are watching the viceregal cavalcade go by and chattering about the various characters that pass by. They particularly discuss the men, and menfolk in general. Meanwhile, Bloom looks in an antique shop window. Someone with loud boots brings the girls some tea and Miss Douce finds him rude. The girls talk about sunburn and skin lotions – I think Miss Douce has recently been on holiday somewhere. As they drink their tea, they discuss Leopold Bloom, deriding him as old and hideous! Which isn’t very nice at all. They laugh.
As Bloom goes about his business, he thinks about virgins, sin and Stephen Dedalus. Back at the bar, the girls continue to laugh before settling down to drink tea. I think they are continuing their conversation about Bloom, talking as they do in mocking terms about being married to the greasy old man. Much more laughing – so much, in fact, that it is very possible that Miss Douce wets herself. Bloom, somewhere, considers finding something to eat (an urgent thing) and also buying violet silk petticoats (but not right now). Blazes Boylan is due to visit Molly at four o’clock and this plays on his mind.
Simon Dedalus strolls into the Ormond bar, picking his nails. Miss Douce flirts with him and teases him, before serving him a whisky. I was interested to note that it was specifically ‘whisky’ and not ‘whiskey’ – the difference being, of course, that the former is Scottish and the latter Irish. Probably irrelevant, but with so much interest and banter over Irish heritage and national pride, you would have thought he might have ordered the local beverage. But anyway. Simon then strokes the barmaid’s hair. Lenehan enters, just as Bloom reaches Essex bridge. Bloom’s plans are to write to Martha (his naughty pen-pal), buy a newspaper and go to Daly’s.
In the Ormond, Lenehan asks Miss Douce if Boylan has been looking for him. She doesn’t believe so, but asks Miss Kennedy to be sure. Miss Kennedy is drinking more tea and reading. Lenehan makes what appears to be an attempt to seduce Miss Douce with a fable about the fox and the stalk and for some inexplicable reason, she just isn’t interested. So he decides to talk to Simon instead. They talk about his son Stephen (Lenehan ran into him earlier) and Simon does not have a lot of good to say about him. Miss Douce tells them about the most brilliant blind piano tuner who was in earlier. The waiter – bald Pat – appears and Miss Douce hands him a lager. While Lenehan is waiting with some impatience for Boylan, Simon tinkers with the newly-tuned piano.
Meanwhile, Bloom buys some notepaper in Hely’s and muses again on the language of flowers, so this must be for Martha’s letter. He notices a poster featuring a mermaid with beautiful hair, smoking a cigarette. Is she lovelorn for Raoul? There is every possibility, I suppose. Bloom spots Boylan in his car and realises gloomily that this is the third time today he has seen the bugger (my words, I hasten to add). He is headed over Essex bridge, towards Ormond quay. Rather than hide, as per previous encounters, Bloom decides to follow him.
Miss Kennedy nods off over her book. Someone in the saloon strikes a tuning fork, left behind by the blind piano tuner. Pat the waiter whispers with Miss Douce. Someone – I am leaning strongly towards Simon – is singing and playing the piano in the saloon. It sounds like a love song. Boylan then enters the bar and is greeted by Lenehan. Bloom is loitering outside the Ormond when he bumps into Richie Goulding – the malingering Uncle Richie, he of the chronic back pain and relation of the Dedaluses – who suggests they both go inside to eat in the dining room.
Lenehan and Boylan, gentleman that they are, lech over the barmaids as Miss Douce pours their drinks. They are passing the time while they await the result of the much-vaunted horse race, which Lenehan is convinced Sceptre will win. Miss Kennedy clears away the tea tray. It is now four o’clock and, as Bloom and Richie seat themselves at a table by the door, Bloom wonders if Boylan has forgotten all about his appointment with Molly. Encouraged by Lenehan, Miss Douce hitches up her dress to flash her thigh and twang her garter. Boylan finishes his drink and announces that he is leaving. Not wishing to be left behind, Lenehan gulps down his and hurries after Boylan, saying he wants to tell him about Tom Rochford’s invention. As they leave, they pass Ben Dollard and Bob Cowley on their way in.
Having heard Simon’s dulcet tones from outside, Dollard implores him to perform another number. Bald Pat (who we now learn has four corns) takes drinks orders from Bloom and Richie; Power (not sure what that is) for Richie and cider for Bloom. Boylan’s car pulls away and Bloom almost sobs with despair. Miss Douce watches Boylan go and wonders why he left so abruptly.
Simon, Cowley and Dollard reminisce fondly about favourite concerts they have attended in the past. As Simon returns to the bar, they all recall a concert where Dollard did not have the correct attire, so he had to borrow some very tight trousers from Molly Bloom’s secondhand shop. They then discuss Molly very approvingly. Simon smokes his pipe as Pat serves food to Bloom and Richie – Bloom has liver (he likes eating innards very much) and Richie has steak and kidney pie. They eat in silence.
Boylan is on his way to see Molly, while back in the saloon, Dollard is singing. Two men make small talk with Miss Kennedy at the bar. Bloom hears Dollard singing and recalls the same tight trouser incident. Apparently, it amused Molly very much – as I suspect tight trousers might. Bloom notes the accomplished piano playing and concludes it must be Cowley (who has bad breath) on the keys.
George Lidwell – a suave solicitor – enters the bar and greets Miss Douce. Bloom thinks about music and orchestras. Simon is persuaded by the others to sing M’appari and Cowley accompanies him. Richie talks to Bloom about an opera performance he remembers with great affection. Bloom thinks to himself that Richie is a good liar, while Richie whistles mournfully. Bloom thinks upon Richie’s decline, his poor health and drinking.
Simon is singing away in the saloon and Richie recognises his voice. Bloom tries to catch the attention of Pat the waiter, who is hard of hearing. As they listen to the marvellous music, Bloom plays with something like an elastic band. His mind wanders to thoughts of the letter from Martha and Molly waiting at home for Boylan. He reckons that Simon could have earned a decent living from music if it hadn’t been for his drinking (bit of a theme, here). Bloom then realises that Simon has been singing a song called ‘Martha’, just as he was about to start writing a letter to his naughty pen-pal, and considers this a remarkable coincidence. He remembers the night he and Molly met – she wore black lace and they were the last two standing in a game of musical chairs. This, for some reason, he believes must have been fate! Molly sang that night and her bosoms looked fabulous (when don’t they?) Bloom is very moved by the music and as the song reaches its final, rousing crescendo, everyone applauds heartily.
Bloom and Richie – as well as Lidwell, separately – all finish their drinks. Tom Kernan comes in. Richie recounts to Bloom an occasion where he heard Simon give an exceptional vocal performance at Ned Lambert’s house. Richie and Simon are brothers-in-law, but fell out over an unspecified event and no longer speak. While everyone else has a high time of it, drinking, smoking and talking about music and whatnot, Bloom thinks about death, Dignam and the fat rat from the cemetery. He is melancholy. His elastic band snaps. Boylan has reached Dorset Street.
The patrons make varying attempts to chat up the barmaids. Richie bangs on about an opera while Bloom takes out his notepaper. Bloom thinks that music is mostly just mathematics, but if you told people that, they wouldn’t enjoy it so much. The way music sounds depends on your mood, but apparently there is no mood good enough to enjoy the sound of youngsters learning their scales – that is awful. Pat brings an ink pad and pen to Bloom, then clears away their plates. Bloom surreptitiously writes his letter to Martha, hoping Richie won’t see. He seems to get bored with the letter rather quickly. I’ve no real idea what he has written, to be honest, but he does mention about being naughty. Richie asks Bloom what he is doing and he replies that he is answering an ad. As he finishes up the letter, he thinks about Mrs Purefoy and the strange postcard, inscribed U.P:up (although that was sent to Mr Breen, but Mrs Breen had been talking about Mrs Purefoy and her protracted birth-giving at the time she showed him the postcard, so maybe that’s why he connects the two).
Bloom seals the letter in an envelope and tries to call over to Pat, but he doesn’t hear him. Bloom wishes the chaps in the saloon would start singing again, to take his mind off of Boylan. Miss Douce is at the bar, flirting with Lidwell. She passes him a sea shell and he places it to his ear. Everyone in the bar passes it around to have a listen. Meanwhile, Boylan passes by Larry O’Rourkes’s. Cowley starts to play an up-beat number, the minuet from Don Giovanni. This causes Bloom to once again think at length about music, it’s many forms and the music to be found in nature. He cheers himself a little with the thought that McCoy’s wife sings like a squealing cat, while his own Molly has a beautiful (and much celebrated) voice. People seem to celebrate quite a few things about Molly – but Bloom probably doesn’t want to think about that just now. Especially as – Boylan has arrived at the Bloom house! He knocks on the door and there is some wordplay around knock, knocker and cock. Of course there is.
Tom Kernan asks Cowley to play The Croppy Boy and Simon supports him in this suggestion. Cowley begins to play and Bloom gets up to leave, but Richie implores him to stay a while longer. The song appears to be a ballad that tells some kind of epic tale of love, war and a suspect-sounding priest. Anyway, it catches Bloom’s ear and he stays to listen. In fact, everyone listens very intently. As Bloom eyes Miss Douce in an ungentlemanly manner, he realises that he is the last of his line, with Rudy gone (there is Milly but she is just a girl, obviously). He is at peace with this. He continues to watch Miss Douce and some salacious sentiments swirl around his mind as she idly caresses the beer pump. Finally, Bloom pulls himself from his reverie and bids a hurried goodbye to Richie. He checks that he has his soap and his letter, before scurrying out through the bar and into the hallway, just as the song ends. He hears the drunken cheering and is glad he missed it. In the bar, everyone congratulates Dollard on his great singing, and generally make merry.
On the way to the post office, Bloom feels gassy from the cider. He must get rid of this letter and post it. A blind man taps his stick along the pavement. Back at the Ormond, someone tells Simon that Bloom has just left. This inspires another discussion about Molly’s talents. There is one headless sardine left. The blind man passes Daly’s. Bloom is thinking about things, not quite sure, but four o’clock, Molly and music are all in there. Also – who was the man in the brown mackintosh at the funeral? Bloom then sees a familiar prostitute and she apparently looks a right state in daylight. He hopes she doesn’t see him. In the Ormond, everyone is having a super time. Bloom looks into an antique shop window to avoid the prostitute. A lonely, unseen youth enters the Ormond. The prostitute passes by and – I can’t be sure about this, but there seems no other explanation – I’m pretty sure Bloom farts.
The main theme of this episode is, of course, music. But there is also the reoccurring theme of Bloom being – if not quite an outsider – then certainly on the periphery of proceedings. For instance, while everyone else is enjoying the music and carousing, he is thinking about death and other such moribund things. During the performance of The Croppy Boy, when the other patrons are solemnly and intently listening to the song, Bloom is eyeing up the barmaid and thinking rude thoughts. Even the shared memory of Dollard borrowing the tight trousers is juxtaposed – Dollard and friends thought it was hilarious, while Bloom was bemused by Molly’s amusement at it. Yet again, he is never quite aligned with his contemporaries. Even his own views on music seem quite at odds – there is no suggestion that he doesn’t enjoy music (especially Molly’s singing) but he takes a pragmatic view of its mathematical structure, which is very different to the jolly and somewhat decadent appreciation enjoyed by the other characters. But, like his realisation that he is the last of his line, he is at peace with that.
There are a couple of other prominent aspects of the text that I thought best to leave until this bit to tell you about. Due to the nature of its structure, it would be difficult to fit it in during my narrative above. Throughout the episode, the text is interspersed with ‘jingle jangle’ and similar phrases, which turns out to be Boylan’s car – when we see this appear, it signifies the progress of Boylan – at first through the city and then later towards the Bloom homestead. About two-thirds or so of the way through, we also get ‘Tap’ gradually increasing to ‘Tap Tap’ and then many taps. I didn’t work it out until right near the end, but this is the blind piano tuner making his way back to the Ormond to collect the tuning fork he left behind earlier (tapping his stick). The increase in taps seems to signify an increased urgency in his progress. Both these things add to the general musical feel of the episode, almost like a rhythm section or bass line repeating and holding the rest of the piece together. Particularly that tapping, building to a crescendo of taps right at the end.
None of this fine book could ever be accused of reading like ordinary prose, but this section does feel very musical in style. It’s difficult to explain, but the whole thing has a more lyrical, sing-song flow about it. It’s bloody clever. Amongst all this, we get to experience the heady atmosphere and vibrant characters of a lively Dublin pub, as well as charming (and more somber) memories both of music and evoked by music. Good to know Bloom still has that soap, too. And no, I’m not going to bring up the fart. A man farts, what possible existential and profound meaning is that likely to have? A fart is a fart.
‘Wait while you wait. Hee hee. Wait while you hee.’
There’s is quite a bit of this sort of thing, aimed at Pat the waiter. Bloom finds the idea of a waiter, waiting to wait on you, really funny.
‘Think you’re the only pebble on the beach? Does that to all. For men.’
A quaint way of telling someone they ain’t so special.
‘Woman. As easy to stop the sea. Yes: all is lost.’
Don’t try to stand in the way of a lady! Woe betide you. (Be-tide – sea – you see? I’ve been spending too much time on this book…)
‘Pwee! A wee little wind piped eeee. In Bloom’s little wee.’
This isn’t the fart bit (you can look that up yourself) but it just made me chuckle.