Ulysses! Episode Fourteen

Episode Fourteen is a bit like wading through treacle at times and the whole thing isn’t helped by the fact that it is written in a jumble of literary styles that I am not well-read enough to make sense of. There are also a lot of characters knocking about, most of whom are pretty drunk, making them even more incomprehensible than usual. I’ve given it my best shot, though.
We open with the phrase ‘DESHIL HOLLES EAMUS’ repeated three times and all I can get out of that is ‘eamus’ meaning ‘let’s go’ in Latin. So we’re off somewhere, then. Then comes a sentence that is twenty six lines long with very little punctuation, spouting random nonsense about wombfruit and maybe original sin, ancestors and society. It reads like a bad translation of something else and is mostly impenetrable to this gentle reader. The next paragraph is of a medical nature, perhaps referencing medical care for poor women. The text continues on and there is definitely a feel that it is to do with women, birthing, maternity care, midwives and things of that nature. And then it finally hits me – this is a place where women come to give birth – we are in a maternity hospital.
A Jewish man – likely Bloom, of course – arrives at the hospital gates. The prose is now a bit medieval. Someone called A Horne runs the hospital and there are seventy beds full of expectant mothers. A nurse / nun meets Bloom, makes the sign of the cross and invites him in. Bloom asks her about Dr O’Hare and she tells him that he is dead – he died three years ago of bellycrab. Bloom then asks another nurse about Mrs Purefoy and is told that Mrs Purefoy has been in labour for three days and it is proving to be a difficult birth. In fact, it is the hardest birth she has ever seen, but will be over soon. Bloom ponders upon the nature of childbirth and that it is a lot of work for women.
A student doctor, Dixon, appears from a door and invites Bloom inside. Apparently Dixon once treated Bloom after he was attacked by a dragon (I did say it was all a bit medieval) but this seems unlikely, so I’m guessing it might have been a wasp or a bee or something. Maybe a vicious bird. Anyway, Bloom says he wants to see Mrs Purefoy but Dixon insists he wait with him and others in this side room. Bloom relents and is pleased of a sit down. Still keeping with the medieval fantasy-type theme, the table in the room is described as being filled with scary-sounding weapons, which I suppose are medical instruments. There is also quite a bit of talk of magic and demons, no doubt alluding to the work of the doctors and their fight against various ailments. On the table there is a spread of oily fish from ‘Portugal Land’ (sardines?) and some beer. There are other people there too, but we haven’t quite got round to an introduction yet. Dixon pours a drink for Bloom, but he slyly decants it into someone else’s cup. A nun tells them all to calm down. Bloom hears a cry from the room above and wonders if it is a woman or a child.
Lenehan is present (what’s he doing here?) and is apparently the oldest of the group. He remarks upon the length of Mrs Purefoy’s labour. While the others drink, Bloom is described as being a very kind and caring man. We are then introduced to the others in the room, who are trying to get as drunk as possible. There is Dixon of course, and fellow medical students Lynch and Madden. With Lenehan is Crotthers (a Scottish gentleman) as well as Stephen Dedalus and a fellow named Punch Costello. Stephen is the drunkest of all of them. They have been waiting for Buck Mulligan but he hasn’t turned up.
The group are discussing childbirth and whether it is right to save the mother or the baby in such circumstances. It’s hard to ascertain exactly who speaks and what is expressed about this, but Stephen appears to be considering the religious aspect and that the mother should be saved, whereas Madden thinks it’s okay if the mum dies. Lynch points out that there is no legal angle on this matter, but I think he is suggesting it’s better to save the mother. Lenehan suggests more beer, as Madden talks about a previous case of a difficult birth. Stephen bangs on piously about God and possibly contraception and / or masturbation. Sounds like something about the sanctity of the seed, anyway. Dixon and Costello mock Stephen. Crotthers talks about unicorns. Everyone – aside from Bloom and Stephen – laugh and joke. Stephen, getting a feel for this theme, talks about the sins of abortion and lesbianism, as well as other religious stuff. Bloom is asked if he would risk his wife’s life to save the child during birth. He thinks about this carefully, then replies in a roundabout way, avoiding giving a straight answer.
All this causes Bloom to think of women in labour in general, and specifically when Molly gave birth to their son. Rudy only lived for eleven days and Bloom is rueful that he has no heir and that he failed Rudy. In the same breath he feels sorry for Stephen, surrounding himself with ‘wastrels’. Stephen refills everyone’s drinks and shows them some money he earned for writing a song. They seem suitably impressed. There then follows some religious-type talk about women and pregnancy, and Mary, Jesus and Joseph. Punch Costello bangs the table and launches into a rowdy song about a woman getting pregnant by a pirate or something. Nurse Quigley pops her head around the door and tells him off and the others tease him. Bloom is most put out, thinking that this should be a peaceful and respectful place, not a drunken riot.
Dixon (perhaps sarcastically) asks Stephen why he didn’t join the church, as he is so pious. Lenehan suggests that Stephen deflowered a virgin and there is more teasing as Stephen strongly denies this. There is further ribald laughter and discussion about virgins, sex, religious themes, Hamlet, Shakespeare and life and death. Costello is about to sing another song, but a clap of thunder from outside stops him in his tracks. Stephen starts to panic and Costello mocks him for being drunk. Bloom tries to calm Stephen, telling him not to worry about the thunder, it is simply a natural phenomenon. Stephen is still shaken and also very drunk. His mind goes off on a tangent about death and purgatory and a woman who once led him astray, which becomes a sort of allegory for lust and desire in general. Finally, Stephen seems to realise that his companions are not decent people.
It is now gone ten o’clock and a storm is brewing. In the streets, people are taking shelter. In Baggot Street, Buck Mulligan bumps into Alec Bannon. There is some talk of a writer, someone’s cousin and Buck’s brother. Buck is heading to the maternity hospital, while Bannon is off for a drink. Bannon tells Buck about a girl he is seeing ‘…a skittish heifer, big of her age and beef to the heel…’ as he walks with him in the rain to the hospital. There is mention of Bloom’s recent dream about Molly and of Mrs Purefoy in labour – this will be her ninth surviving child, three others died.
Back at the hospital, Lenehan is talking about the foot and mouth letter that has appeared in the gazette. Stephen tells him to sit down. Lenehan is then described as liking horse racing, women and scandal. He frequents rough drinking places and associates with rogues. Lenehan talks with Costello about foot and mouth disease and offers him some tinned fish. There is then a description of Punch Costello, from which he learn that he wasn’t interested in his studies but speaks French like a gentleman. He has been an actor, sailor, gypsy, kidnapper and a thief. He regularly goes off to places and comes back to his father, completely skint. Bloom asks if all the cattle will be slaughtered and suggests that the foot and mouth outbreak is not as bad as people say.
The drunken gentlemen then launch into the telling of a long, rambling story about a celebrated Irish bull of god-like standing, who was descended from a famous Roman bull. All the ladies loved the bull and preferred it to even the most attractive young men, in fact the bull would show off its mighty organ to them while rampaging across the land, or something. A charming tale, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Buck Mulligan arrives with Alec Bannon. Buck hands round business cards declaring him to be a ‘Fertiliser and Incubator’. Dixon invites them to sit and tell them more. Buck explains that he has been very worried that the womenfolk are not getting the attention they deserve from their husbands and he intends to rectify matters personally. He means to set up a national fertilising farm called ‘Omphalos’ and would provide his services free of charge. Buck says he will impregnate women of every class, all women welcome! Everyone engages in a crude banter of sorts.
Crotthers gives Bannon a drink. Bannon opens a locket and shows Crotthers a picture of his lady friend. He is very much taken with her as she is very beautiful and is not shy with her affections. He then talks about buying a cloak to keep out the rain and Crotthers suggests women prefer umbrellas – their conversation sounds very much like a jocular euphemism for contraception. A bell sounds in the hallway and cuts short their discussion.
Miss Cullen enters and speaks to Dixon. When she has left, the chaps make crude and salacious comments about her – ‘A monstrous fine bit of cowflesh!’ And so on. Dixon now has to leave as he is wanted on the ward – Mrs Purefoy has given birth to a boy! Bloom knows that the young men have been mocking him, but he rises above it as he is a mature man. He says to himself – ‘the words of their tumultuary discussions were difficulty understood and often not nice.’ He has hit the nail on the head there, I reckon. They are all young, drunk and over-excited, but he finds Costello particularly offensive. Bloom thinks harshly of Costello, even likening him to the ‘missing link’. Bloom does not like men ‘…who create themselves wits at the cost of feminine delicacy…’
Bloom expresses his joy at the birth and the others sort of agree, although someone suggests that the father was not Mr Purefoy. Bloom then moralises at length about respect for women and men who seek to fornicate with other men’s wives. He is mostly ignored, while the men noisily discuss many aspects of childbirth, parenthood, child murder, multiple births, medical issues, a chinless Chinaman (?), deformities and rape. Buck then tells a sort of ghost story, where Haines appears from a secret panel by the chimney, Celtic literature in one hand a bottle of poison in the other. Haines claims to be the murderer of Samuel Childs, a young boy. The ghost of Childs haunts him, so he has turned to drug use to cope. Haines vanishes then reappears, saying to meet him at Westland Row station at ten past eleven.
Bloom remembers himself as a young man, walking to school and then working as a travelling salesman. He thinks of his father in his round horned glasses, reading a European newspaper. Now Bloom feels paternal towards younger men, thinking any of those present could be his sons. He reminisces about a girl – possibly a prostitute – named Bridie Kelly, who he might have got pregnant long ago. He then sadly thinks of Rudy once again. There is then a solemn, trippy passage about parallax (again), mythical creatures of the zodiac and the Dead Sea.
Stephen talks with (I think) Costello about when they were at school together. Lynch says that he hopes Stephen writes something worthwhile soon. Lenehan mentions Stephen’s mother, which upsets him – he doesn’t like to be reminded of her death or his shortcomings as a writer. Stephen considers leaving, but instead stays to discuss the horse race and Lenehan losing money on Sceptre. It was a close-run thing, apparently, with Throwaway clinching it right at the end. Lynch then talks about his girlfriend and how she nibbled his arm. She had been ill but is better now. They had a ‘mad romp’ in a bush earlier and were caught by Father Conmee (in Episode Ten) and a bit of twig caught in her dress. Lenehan goes to pour another drink and Buck tries to stop him, but fails.
There is another description of all the chaps present (this seems to happen when the literary style changes) and the overall impression is a positive one. There then seems to be a scientific-sounding discussion once again on childbirth, conception and infant mortality. Mrs Purefoy’s bravery is lauded, as well as the skill of the doctor. We learn that, following her travails, Mrs Purefoy is now overjoyed, although she wishes that her husband and other children (both surviving and dead) were with her to share the occasion. The baby will be christened Mortimer Edward, after Mr Purefoy’s influential third cousin. Then follows a passage which expresses how a man’s sins will come back to haunt him. It’s all a bit random, but I get the impression that Bloom is watching and thinking about Stephen.
Stephen suddenly shouts ‘Burke’s!’ There is a mad rush of everyone grabbing hats and coats and rushing out past Nurse Callan and a surgeon, to get to the pub. Dixon goes with them. Bloom asks Nurse Callan to pass on his best wishes to Mrs Purefoy and the baby. Outside, it is damp and wet as everyone hurries to the pub, very keen to continue drinking. There is a jumbled mass of talking and joking and the urgency of their mission is felt, particularly as it is almost closing time. As they arrive at Burke’s and get the drinks in, there is a swathe of drunken nonsense, mostly about women. To give an impression of the text at this point, here are some examples of what we are contending with…

‘Hurroo! Collar the leather, youngun. Roun wi the nappy… Lang may your lum reek and your kailpot boil!… Caraway seed to carry away… Twig? Shrieks of silence… Bold bad girl from the town of Mullingar… Smutty Moll for a mattress jig…’

Everyone is talking at once and although it doesn’t make much sense, there is no doubt that we are experiencing the raucous scene of a city pub just before kick-out. Entertaining, amusing and atmospheric – but a bloody nightmare to interpret. I think someone leaves. A round of absinthe is purchased, which is unlikely to help matters. Someone spots the man in the mackintosh who was at the funeral and they gossip about him – ‘Thought he had a deposit of lead in his penis’ and jokingly call him Dusty Rhodes. The barman calls time and kicks everyone out. Someone throws up. Stephen asks Lynch to go with him to a brothel and, while there is mention of Bloom, it is unclear if he is going with them. But I wouldn’t mind betting that he does.


I found this one a bit of a challenge, I don’t mind telling you. Most of my interpretation above is more of an overall feeling I got for the passages, rather than anything I was absolutely sure about. The same could be said for much of the book so far, but there was definitely a lot more straw-clutching occurring here. The varying narrative styles play a big part in the confusion, as do the number of characters involved. The style does tend to get more modern as it goes on, but the escalation of inebriation in our heroes counteracts any advantage we might have gained from that. Still, all is not completely lost, as some very familiar themes re-emerge to reassure us.
Quite why all these chaps have gathered at the maternity hospital to get wasted while Mrs Purefoy gives birth isn’t clear to me. Perhaps this was normal practice at the time, although I doubt the nuns in attendance (stern beasts that they are) would have been too happy with this level of carousing. Mr Purefoy isn’t even there – although it’s likely he is at home taking care of the millions of other offspring he has sired. Leaving that all aside, though, here we have an episode that returns to the underlying nature of life and death that is prevalent throughout the novel. We are also reacquainted with the subjects of religion, sex and sin and how they intertwine. The complications of birth itself is often graphically presented as a very brutal act of nature – which would no doubt shock gentle Gerty from the previous episode, with her rose-tinted ideals about love, marriage and family life.
The medical students – Dixon, Lynch and Madden – mostly keep to a scientific angle during discussions, whereas Stephen (royally drunk) limits his contributions to the religious aspect. Lenehan and Crotthers are difficult to pin down, but I get the impression they are just along for the ride and a jolly good knees-up. The arrival of Buck Mulligan and Alec Bannon brings a further farcical element to proceedings. We do at least discover that it was Lynch and his missus who Father Conmee happened upon in the bushes from Episode Ten, which was interesting. I also feel that Bannon’s lady friend is important somehow – she isn’t named but she is pretty much his only topic of conversation once he appears.
We find Bloom once again on the periphery of events, mostly ignored by the younger men when they are not mocking him. Which only demonstrates their immaturity and ignorance, as Bloom is the only one among them who is a father and has also lost a child. Unsurprisingly, Bloom dwells on thoughts of Rudy here, but also seems to delight in the miracle of childbirth and holds mothers in great reverence. His fatherly nature emerges towards Stephen especially, as he feels protective and perhaps wanting to offer him some guidance. In previous episodes, characters have made jokes and inferences about Bloom being homosexual and perhaps liking the company of young men – here we see that this aspect of his nature has been greatly (and perhaps unkindly) misinterpreted; it is a paternal instinct at play, likely looking to fill the gap left by Rudy, who he feels he let down. Seeing Stephen’s poor choice of companions, he may feel that he would let down Stephen also by not stepping in to offer the benefit of his wisdom.
There is probably a lot more significance surrounding this subject of childbirth that I am missing, especially since I am not overly conversant with the social history of the time, nor the Catholic faith – which I am aware places great importance on the nature of the sanctity of life. The constant switch between literary styles is too potent to be irrelevant, so that is certainly a thing of interest for the scholars amongst us to delve into further. We do get to revel in the brilliantly transcribed drunken ramblings of young men, however, which is something Joyce does extraordinarily well. It isn’t easy to understand objectively, but the overall sense of the characters and atmosphere present is sublime. It is certainly more fun to read than it is to try and explain, anyhow.

Favourite Lines

‘…the kindest that ever laid husbandly hand under hen…’

A glowing description of Leopold Bloom!

‘Know all men, he said, time’s ruins build eternity’s mansions.’

I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds very profound. A good one to say solemnly after a few pints.

‘In short he and the bull of Ireland were soon as fast friends as an arse and a shirt.’

That’s pretty good friends, I reckon.

‘(The most excellent creature of her sex though ‘tis a pity she’s a trollop)’

Yeah, but the men don’t mind a trollop when it suits them, do they?

‘Demme, does not Doctor O’Gargle chuck the nuns there under the chin.’

I like the sound of Doctor O’Gargle.

‘Beer, beef, business, bibles, bulldogs, battleships, buggery and bishops.’

The makings of a good night out in Dublin!

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