This one is a bit of a bugger, to be quite frank with you. I found it pretty difficult to follow and, although it has moments as beautiful and funny as any parts of Ulysses, it is quite unpleasant at times also. Still, it mostly takes part in a pub and ends in a fight, so it is exciting, at least. Let’s have a crack at it…
We join an unnamed narrator (let’s call him Narrator, then) chatting in the street when a road sweeper bumps into him and almost takes his eye out with his brush. As the Narrator turns to remonstrate with him, he spots Joe Hynes. Basically, they talk bollocks for a while – the main thrust of which appears to be about a fellow named Michael E Geraghty who either stole some tea or owes money for tea and other sundries to the Jewish moneylender Moses Herzogh, who runs a non-perishable goods store. To confound matters further, the entire conversation is laid out in humorously complex legalese. After this, talk turns to drinking and Joe expresses a desire to go to Barney Kiernan’s to speak with someone known only as the Citizen about the cattle traders’ meeting and their thoughts on foot and mouth disease.
Joe and the Narrator arrive at Barney Kiernan’s pub to find the Citizen sitting in the corner, talking to himself and his dog, Garryowen. The Narrator does not much like the dog and refers to it as a mangy mongrel who once ate a policeman’s trousers. They all greet each other in a rather theatrical manner and talk about current affairs, while the Narrator thinks about getting a drink. The Citizen nearly throttles his dog for some reason. There then follows a great, rambling description of the Citizen by the Narrator, presenting him in the style of a mythological hero. Among other things, we learn that the Citizen is very hairy, has eyes like a good-sized cauliflower and is wearing a necklace made of sea stone, engraved with the likenesses of many Irish heroes. A great list of heroic characters (some most definitely not Irish) is reeled off.
Anyway, Terry the barman brings them three pints. The Narrator sees Bloom walking up and down outside. The Citizen starts reading out the names from the births and deaths section of the newspaper. They all toast the dead people and ‘…quaffed their cup of joy…’ Alf Bergman comes in and joins a drunk and sleeping Bob Doran in the snug. Alf points to Denis Breen outside, passing by wearing his slippers, followed by his wife. They all then talk about the U.P:up postcard and Breen’s intention to take legal action to the tune of £10,000. The dog growls. Bob Doran wakes up and calls out for Alf Bergan. Doran asks what the others are laughing about, but they ignore him. Terry brings more drinks and all aspects of this simple act are elaborately described in a loving fashion – the drinks themselves, the serving of the drinks and the paying for the drinks. There is a definite epic tone developing rapidly.
Referring to Bloom as a Freemason, the Citizen asks what Bloom is up to, prowling about outside. Alf shows them some hangmen’s letters, as you do. Bob Doran asks again who everyone is laughing at. Alf says that he just saw Paddy Dignam and the others are alarmed, what with him having been buried earlier that morning. Alf didn’t know Paddy was dead and can hardly believe it. The Narrator then describes some sort of seance, where Dignam’s spirit is interrogated. We learn that the afterlife is quite good. When asked about having any messages for the living, Dignam’ spirit talks about a true path, something about Mars and Jupiter and that the ram has power. He says hello to his friend, Mr Cornelius Kelleher the undertaker. He also wants to let his son Patsy know that his lost boot in under the commode and to take the boots to be soled only – the heels are still good.
The Citizen again observes Bloom, comes across as quite hostile towards him. Bob Doran – very drunk indeed – rails against Jesus for taking away Paddy Dignam. Alf tries to calm him down, but Bob is having none of it. The Narrator thinks Bob should just go home, before making an unnecessary and unkind remark about Bob’s mother-in-law wandering around in the nude. Bob is now inconsolable about Dignam. Bloom walks into the pub and is growled at by the dog, Garryowen. Bloom is put out, but comes in anyway, keeping an eye on the dog. He then asks Terry if Martin Cunningham has been in. Joe reads out one of the hangmen’s letters – the Citizen makes a grab for it, but Joe holds on and finishes reading it. The Citizen does not like this hangman. Joe remarks that he has bad handwriting. He gives the letters back to Alf and offers Bloom a drink. Bloom does not want a drink, but takes a cigar instead. Alf then talks about hangmen (all barbers from the Black Country, apparently) and hangings in general, including how men have an erection after being hanged. Bloom attempts to explain the biological reasons for this but no one is interested. As Bloom tries to participate in the capital punishment conversation, the dog sniffs him and the Narrator notes that Jews smell funny to dogs. The Citizen then hijacks matters to talk about The Invincibles (still not the famous Preston North End) and other Irish nationalists who were hanged.
Bob now attempts to play with Garryowen and Alf has to stop him falling off his stool. The Citizen is arguing with Bloom, while the Narrator talks disparagingly about the Blooms and calls Molly a fat heap. He seems to have some inside information on the Blooms through his interestingly-named associate, Pisser Burke. The argument between Bloom and the Citizen – apparently about Sinn Fein and the glory of the dead – continues, with Bloom being reasonable and the Citizen increasingly passionate. Then, a lengthy passage describing with barely-concealed glee the excitement of a public hanging begins. It reads like a salacious tabloid piece and describes various characters and events, including a very unlikely-sounding fight, singing and a marriage proposal. It rumbles on for quite a bit.
The Citizen talks about the Irish language, while the Narrator has concerns that the dog will wee on his leg. The Citizen talks to the dog in Irish and it growls at him. The next bit is a bit unclear – I think the Narrator is talking about teaching dogs to recite verse, but that sounds a bit strange even for this book. Still, best to keep an open mind at this stage. Anyway, Terry brings the dog some water and Joe gets another round in. Bloom once more refuses a drink, saying that he wants to meet with Martin Cunningham to discuss Dignam’s insurance policy. Bloom then talks quite technically about the policy, amusingly confusing Mrs Dignam’s admirers with her advisors. The Narrator mocks Bloom for talking so informedly about mortgages and whatnot. Bob Doran asks Bloom to pass on his condolences to Mrs Dignam. The Narrator is appalled at Doran being so very drunk at five in the afternoon.
Terry brings more drinks – more convoluted toasting and drinking. They talk about someone running for Mayor, someone who Joe saw at the cattle traders meeting. Joe then talks to the Citizen about the cattle traders and their intended action over the foot and mouth dilemma. Bloom tries to join in once again, but it largely ignored. The Narrator cruelly derides Blooms attempts – and bizarrely gives us the information that Black Liz is a hen who loves laying eggs. They all bang on about this foot and mouth business, someone going to London to raise the matter in the House of Commons, as well as the police forbidding Irish games in the park. The section continues in the style of a Parliamentary debate. Joe brings up the idea of an Irish sports revival and this is discussed at length. The Narrator is again aggrieved that Bloom wants to have his say – he moans that he will talk on and on about absolutely anything. Which is a bit rich, if you ask me, coming from someone who rambles for pages and pages about things that haven’t even actually happened. But there you go.
Things move along to talk of a boxing match, where Boylan made £100. Bloom tries to change the subject to tennis, but the others continue with the boxing. We are then treated to an extended description of the match in question by the Narrator, in his now familiar style. Alf and Joe discuss Molly singing in Boylan’s musical tour and the Narrator works out from Bloom’s uncomfortable reaction that Boylan is having it away with Molly. He describes her as ‘Marion of the bountiful bosoms’.
In come JJ O’Molloy and Ned Lambert and O’Molloy buys a round. The Narrator tells us snidely about O’Molloy’s past as a solicitor and his downfall. Alf brings up ‘that bloody lunatic Breen’ and they all laugh about Breen and his postcard. Joe asks Alf if he sent it, but Alf denies it. Alf says that Breen is completely mad and some mornings he has to get his hat on with a shoe horn. While the Citizen berates Breen, Bloom expresses sympathy for Mrs Breen – something that is ignored by the others and sneered at by the Narrator, who makes it plain that he does not like Breen or his wife. As the Breens pass by the window again, O’Molloy offers his legal opinion on the matter, but everyone else is more interested in drinking. They then talk about a judge who will let off anyone with a good sob story. Bloom and Joe discuss a financial matter as the Citizen pursues his favourite theme of Irish nationalism. He begins aiming increasingly xenophobic and anti-Semitic comments at Bloom, but is ignored.
As Alf and the Narrator look at a naughty magazine Terry has on the bar, Wyse Nolan enters with a sullen-looking Lenehan. The Citizen continues his unpleasant rant of Ireland being ruined by foreigners. The Narrator enquires as to the cause of Lenehan’s mood and we learn that the horse he backed in the Gold Cup – Sceptre – lost. In the end, the race was won by a 20-1 outsider called Throwaway. Lenehan goes to look in the biscuit tin but it is empty. O’Molloy and the Citizen argue about history, with Bloom attempting to make comments here and there. The Citizen says that the whole world has at some point and in some way ripped off Ireland and yearns for the day when his great nation will take revenge and rise again, through the use of violence. John Wyse gets a round in.
The Citizen rails on against the British navy, the British in general, Queen Victoria and the monarchy but also the French and then the rest of Europe. Joe offers another round of drinks while Bloom tells John Wyse that persecution perpetuates national hatred among nations. Wyse asks if Bloom knows what a nation is – ‘A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.’ Everyone then laughs at Bloom, thinking this is nonsense. The Citizen then asks Bloom what he considers to be his nation – he replies that it is Ireland. The Citizen spits and the resulting projectile lands on Joe. Joe takes out a hankie to dry himself, a process that is recounted in usual epic and drawn-out style by the Narrator.
Bloom adds that he also belongs to the Jewish race, one that has been and still is persecuted. Wyse says that the Jews should do more to stand up for themselves. Bloom stands his ground and says that force and hatred is no life for anyone and that love is better. He then announces that he must pop out to look for Martin Cunningham. Once he has gone, they all roundly mock his theory of love. The Citizen takes out his copy of the United Irishman and reads a piece about a Zulu chief visiting England – it is very defamatory to all concerned. Lenehan is still sore about the horse race and thinks Bloom has really gone to the bookies to collect winnings – a misunderstanding from earlier about Bantam Lyons receiving a tip on Throwaway.
The Narrator avails himself of the facilities to relieve himself. He thinks about other things Pisser Burke has told him about the Blooms, none of which are very nice. This little train of thought is interspersed with florid commentary on his urination. When the Narrator returns, the others are still gossiping about Bloom, for example his possible (yet highly unlikely) involvement with Sinn Fein, tax swindles and Irish industry.
Martin Cunningham arrives with Jack Power and a man the Narrator doesn’t know, but suggests his name is Crofter, Crofton or Crawford. There follows a protracted baroque-style account of their arrival. Martin asks after Bloom and Lenehan replies that he is off defrauding widows and orphans. They all continue to debate Bloom’s connections to Sinn Fein, along with making sleights against Jewish people. Martin tells the others that Bloom is a perverted Jew from Hungary whose real name is Virag, his father having changed the family name by deed poll. They then all pile in with general Jew-bashing, then specifically Bloom-bashing, laughing about his dead son and saying he is not the father of his children. Martin then accepts a drink from Ned Lambert and raises his glass blessing all those present, this toast again becoming something of a work of literature all on its own.
Bloom then returns, telling Martin that he was looking for him at the courthouse. The Narrator is annoyed that Bloom has not bought a round. The Citizen is riling up the others and, baring in mind the previous conversation perhaps, Martin senses trouble brewing and suggests that he and Bloom should leave at once. They both hurry out with Jack Power and the other chap, whose name is probably Crofton, to a car outside. The Citizen chases after them, followed by Joe and Alf, trying to calm him down. The Citizen shouts ‘Three cheers for Israel!’ The Narrator is cross with the Citizen for making such a show of himself, which is quite surprising. More Jewish slurs are hurled and Bloom finally retaliates as Jack Power holds him back. Bloom shouts back at the Citizen the names of famous Jews, culminating with Jesus who is, as Bloom points out, the Citizen’s God. This does nothing to help the situation and the Citizen furiously hurls a biscuit tin at the departing car, despite Joe’s best efforts to stop him.
The episode ends with an absurdly intricate passage about the throwing of the biscuit tin and its impact on the vehicle. As the car disappears off round a corner being chased by the dog, the Narrator likens it to Bloom as Elijah, ascending to Heaven in a chariot.
I found this a difficult section for two main reasons. The first reason is that this mysterious Narrator chap takes stream-of-consciousness to a whole new level and, while it is usually humorous and entertaining, it is frequently distracting from the main narrative, even at times feeling somewhat irrelevant. The second reason is that most of the characters and the views expressed by them are pretty vile, quite frankly. The Narrator himself is a deeply unsympathetic individual, with almost no good to say about anyone or anything. The Citizen is the other obvious unpleasant interloper, becoming increasingly racist and antagonistic throughout the text. Whilst the others are relatively harmless by comparison, they do very little to challenge the Citizen’s behaviours.
Let us start with the Narrator. We don’t learn who he is or his connection with the other characters, but it is obvious early on from his style and patter that he isn’t someone we have met before. As you have gathered by now, he has this habit of talking at length unnecessarily about pretty much everything – and rarely has a good word to say among them all. With him, we have a very clear impression of an arrogant man who loves the sound of his own voice and no doubt considers himself considerably better and more educated than his contemporaries. He has a particular dislike of Bloom, which although isn’t unusual in the book, is far more pointed and vicious than anything we have seen so far. He is quite clearly anti-Semitic, so that’s one angle, but there’s also the references to this Pisser Burke fellow and things he has told the Narrator about Bloom. Unusually, he is also very scathing about Molly – something we haven’t really come across before. People have questioned her honour, but mostly Molly is appreciated for her questionable morals and musical talent. Not to mention the bosoms, obviously. He is also very put out that Bloom will not buy a round – completely ignoring the fact that Bloom won’t accept a drink either. Yet he is equally irked about Bob Doran being so drunk, and he doesn’t buy a round either. And his displeasure at the Citizen’s outburst at the end of the episode is strange – perhaps is it okay to hold and discuss such vile views, but not fight over them. He is not a man who is easily pleased!
The Citizen is a character who will be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time in pubs, especially afternoon drinking sessions. Obviously, being a writer, I have a tentative grasp on such things. There’s always that one person who gets out of hand after one too many. The Citizen starts off as a slightly quirky, proud Irishman, well-versed in the trials and histories of his people. As time wears on and the drinks go down, this national pride turns into xenophobia and racism, culminating in a violent expression of his views. There is a point where he stops interacting with the communal conversation and is entirely focused on his own views, blind and deaf to everyone else. It is an incredibly insightful piece of writing, perfectly executed – yet very uncomfortable to witness. Time and again I feel that this is Joyce’s greatest skill – being able to place you right in the centre of his world, through the use of words alone. It is magnificent and horrifying all at once.
I couldn’t write this up without at least mentioning Bob Doran, by far the drunkest person in the pub. If I remember correctly, he is in the throes of his annual drinking spree, where he is getting as hammered as humanly possible for reasons best known to himself. You cannot help but wonder of the origins of this odd tradition – an anniversary of some tragedy perhaps? A celebration of sorts? Whatever it is, he is giving it his all and bloody good luck to him.
You cannot help but feel for Bloom, here. He really is up against it with these drunken men, who already are not overly well-disposed towards him, emboldened by alcohol and a trouble-making rabble-rouser. His resilience is remarkable, however. He continues to make attempts to join in the conversation, despite repeated rebuttals. And his refusal to engage with the Citizen when he is directing remarks right at him must be admired – although he does finally snap on the way out. Can’t say I blame him. This says a lot about Blooms character, I think. So far we have seen him always just on the edge of things (even his own marriage) but pulling himself along quite nicely, distracting himself from his worries and going about his business. But he isn’t so meek and retiring that he won’t stand up for himself when the situation requires.
It is a rewarding episode, but undeniably a bit of a slog. It’s like being stuck in a pub with people you don’t know very well or like very much for an afternoon. I’m hoping the next outing will be somewhat more agreeable!
‘Ah! Ow! Don’t be talking! I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint.’
This chap really wants a drink.
‘…brought him home as drunk as a boiled owl…’
This is brilliant, I’m going to use this regularly in real life.
‘That explains the milk in the cocoanut and the absence of hair on the animal’s chest.’
Right, well, that explains everything…
‘Cute as a shithouse rat.’
Not a compliment.