This episode corresponds with the section concerning Nausicaä in Homer’s Odyssey.
In Book Six of the Odyssey, Odysseus is shipwrecked on the coast of the island of Scheria. Nausicaä and her handmaidens go to the sea-shore to wash clothes. Awoken by their games, Odysseus emerges from the forest completely naked, scaring the servants away, and begs Nausicaä for aid. Nausicaä gives Odysseus some of the laundry to wear, and takes him to the edge of the town. Realizing that rumors might arise if Odysseus is seen with her, she and the servants go ahead into town.
In Joyce’s novel, Gerty MacDowell corresponds with Princess Nausicaä, Gerty’s friends Cissy and Edy represent Nausicaä’s handmaidens, and Leopold Bloom is associated with Odysseus. As in the Homeric epic, the scene takes place on the beach and is full of sexuality, which in Joyce’s book is much more overt. Essentially, Bloom masturbates as he watches the girls on the beach.
Early in the episode, Gerty fantasizes about a storybook wedding. Images of fairy tales and being swept away by her Prince Charming abound. It is implied that while she is having these fantasies, Bloom is having his own as he watches. As Gerty notices Bloom watching her, she begins to tease him and play up to his fantasy, positioning herself so he can better see her and steal glimpses up her skirt. She begins moving her leg in a manner evocative of sexual intercourse.
Queen of angels, queen of patriarchs, queen of prophets, of all saints, they prayed, queen of the most holy rosay and then Father Conroy handed the thurible to Canon O’Hanlon and he put in the incense and censed the Blessed Sacrament and Cissy Caffrey caught the two twins and she was itching to give them a ringing good clip on the ear but she didn’t because she thought he might be watching but she never made a bigger mistake in all her life because Gerty could see without looking that he never took his eyes off of her and then Canon O’Hanlon handed the thurible back to Father Conroy and knelt down looking up at the Blessed Sacrament and the choir began to sing Tantum ergo and she just swung her foot in and out in time as the music rose and fell to the Tantumer gosa carmen tum.
(pp. 359 – 360)
What is interesting about this is that while Bloom is fantasizing about Gerty and Gerty is playing up to his attentions, there is a Catholic service happening at a nearby church. This builds a symbolic connection between Gerty and the Virgin Mary. Joyce seems to be criticizing our obsession with virginity and our secret desires for those things which are pure and generally out of our reach. I cannot help but wonder how many men, sitting in a church service, secretly wondered how a statue of the Virgin Mary might look if naked, like classical Greek statuary. Probably more than would be willing to admit.
Undoubtedly, the most memorable scene in this episode is when Bloom reaches orgasm. It happens as fireworks are exploding in the sky over the beach and Joyce employs the image of a Roman candle as a phallic symbol.
She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow the cry of a young girl’s love, a strangled little cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! They were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lively! O so soft, sweet, soft!
(pp. 366 – 367)
It is worth pointing out that Joyce uses the word “rapture” to describe the experience. I get the impression that he is also making the connection between orgasm and a profound religious experience. The image that comes to my mind is that of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
The episode ends on a sad note, with the sound of a cuckoo clock sounding the time.
The implication here is that Bloom was made a cuckold, that his wife Molly and Blazes Boylan have consummated their affair at the same time he was masturbating and fantasizing. So while it’s easy to look at Bloom in this episode and see a pervert jerking off as he watches a young girl at the beach, you can’t help but pity him also. He seems a sad and lonely person.
I’ll post my thoughts on episode 14 in about a week or so.
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