Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The departing wayfarer

"—I'm going round the corner. Be back in a minute. 
And when he had heard his voice say it he added: 
—You don't want anything for breakfast? 
A sleepy soft grunt answered:
No. She didn't want anything. He heard then a warm heavy sigh, softer, as she turned over and the loose brass quoits of the bedstead jingled. Must get those settled really. Pity. All the way from Gibraltar."
-- Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses
Episode 4: Calypso

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: "The Bed"

Continuing my odyssey to illustrate select episodes of Ulysses using famous works of art, this post addresses the 4th episode of the novel, Calypso, where we first meet Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly.

It's about 8 a.m., and the couple are in their house at 7 Eccles Street in Dublin. Bloom is in the kitchen preparing breakfast for himself and Molly; she remains upstairs asleep in their bed.

Bloom decides to take a short walk around the corner to buy a pork kidney for breakfast. Before he leaves, he stands in the hallway and gingerly asks Molly if she wants anything.  She responds with a plaintive "Mn." Nope, nothing.

Toulouse-Lautrec's painting "The Bed" does a lovely job of illustrating the bedroom scene in Calypso. You can almost sense Molly's "Mn" and hear the jingling of the bedsprings as she turns about.

Coincidentally, the painting's colour palette reflects the mood that Joyce likely intended for this chapter.  To assist his friends in understanding Ulysses, Joyce created two guides (known as schemas) summarizing the structure of each episode. In each schema, he indicates the title of each episode, the time it takes place, the predominant colour of the chapter, and various other bits of information. While these guides are not identical, each schema indicates that the predominant colour of the Calypso episode is orange.

Here are links to the Linati and Gilbert schemas.

Next, Bloom leaves his home and sets out on his first journey of the day. The painting below, "Red Virginia Creeper" by Edvard Munch, portrays an image of a man leaving a house. I particularly like the slightly bewildered expression on the character's face as he begins his trek for the day. In the Linati schema, Joyce identifies the meaning of the Calypso episode as "a departing wayfarer" -- and Munch's Bloom-like character in the forefront of Munch's painting fits the bill.

Edvard Munch's "Red Virginia Creeper"
We get full access to Bloom's interior monologue as he takes a short walk on Eccles Street to Lower Dorset Street.  He greets a friend, sizes up the economics of the street, and makes his way to Dlugacz's butcher shop to buy a pork kidney. Ironically, Dlugacz (the person selling the pork) and Bloom (the person buying the pork) are both of Jewish origin. The incongruity of two Jews transacting pork was not lost on Joyce.  So much for keeping kosher. 

Below is a painting by Vincent van Gogh called "A Pork-Butcher's Shop Seen from a Window" which presents an image that fits beautifully with this episode (the shop is even painted orange - the colour alluded to in Joyce's schema). 

Vincent van Gogh's "A Pork-Butcher's Shop Seen from a Window"
Like the writing style of Calypso, each of the three paintings in this post depict relatively clear imagery -- they are not abstract.  Similarly, the Calypso episode is one of the easiest chapters in Ulysses to understand, and the writing style contains enough narrative commentary to provide context to guide the reader through the events.  While the episode does contain a fair amount of interior monologue (to use a phrase from my previous post, the Joyce-o-scope is "in full bloom") -- Bloom's thoughts are far easier to understand than the complex thoughts of the philosopher-poet Stephen. 

After buying the kidney, Bloom returns home and picks up the mail on his doorstep.  He finds a letter from his daughter Milly, and a letter for his wife from Blazes Boylan, the organizer of an upcoming concert tour featuring Molly.  In a subsequent chapter we learn that Boylan clandestinely returns to 7 Eccles Street later that afternoon to engage in a sexual affair with Molly (but we'll save that tryst for another post). 

Upon his return, Bloom heads up to the bedroom and gives Boylan's letter to Molly, who surreptitiously slips it under her pillow.  Bloom and Molly begin to chat, but their discussion is cut short when Molly smells Bloom's kidney burning. After running downstairs to save the kidney, Bloom sits down to eat his breakfast, reads Milly's letter and retires to his outhouse to scan an Irish magazine called "Titbits" (in an extreme, yet unintended, act of literary criticism, he ultimately tears off a page of the journal to use it as toilet paper).

All in all, Calypso is a very accessible and readable chapter.  Most readers who have made it through the turbulent complexity of the first three chapters find it a welcome respite.   


1 comment:

  1. Stumbled across your blog rather by accident earlier this week and have absolutely enjoyed every minute of it! I'm attempting to read my way through some of the works of Joyce in 2013 and will be getting to "Ulysses" in the next month or so.

    Thanks for your commitment to bringing Joyce scholarship to an accessible and entertaining level! Can't wait to read more!