Bernard Benstock, 'On the Nature of Evidence in Ulysses’, in James Joyce: An Joyce International Perspective, ed. Suheil Bushrui & Benstock (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1982), p.46ff.

[ Section heading added - BS ]


The traps of Ulysses are an integral aspect of the novel, where the subjectivity of individual chaarcters provides a plane of evidence unsupported at times and as often unsupportable, and justifies the detective approach to literary criticism undertaken by various commentators, particularly Robert M. Adams in Surface and Symbol [46; …] But Adams and others often err by attributing the errors to the author himself.


Lestrygonians: Burtons or the Bailey?

Time not only heals but reveals, and the persistence of a misreading in Ulysses can almost make it gospel. To equate the Burton restaurant in Lestrygonians with the still-extant Bailey was a reasonable assumption several decades ago, so much so that a pamphlet recording the history of the Bailey actually credits that elegant eatery with being the disgusting pigsty described by Joyce. The street name is, after all, Duke Street, and since the Burton closed its doors quite a while ago, assuming an alliterated substitute seems logical enough - and even artistically skilful. Two pieces of evidence, however, correct the error: the Burton is listed in Thom’s Official Directory of Dublin at 18 Duke Street (external evidence), and Bloom 'turned back towards Grafton street’ (Ulysses, Random House, 1961, p.170) to get from the Burton to Davy Byrne’s at No. 21 - the Bailey is directly across the street at No. 3 (internal evidence). It did not take long for the error to be corrected, but it has taken forever for the correction to supersede it universally.

Molly’s supposed adultery
Of even longer duration is the validity of Molly’s twenty-five extra-marital lovers, one (Mulvey) pre-marital and the remainder adulterous. A sexually promiscuous Molly Bloom has been a commonplace of Ulysses criticism, but within the past two decades the myth has been so totally discredited as to become an embarrassment to anyone who still has it in his possession. One by one critics have chipped away at the list fabricated from what must be taken as jealous suspicions of Bloom’s invention (whether he actually believes in all or any of the items remains a subject for further inquiry): Stanley Sultan, Robert Adams, and Richard Ellmann challenged the roll-call, and David Hayman delivered the coup de gráce. [‘The Imperial Molly’, in Thomas A. Staley & Benstock, eds., Approaches to Ulysses, Pittsburgh UP 1970]. Except for the known Boylan, only Bartell d’Arcy has a [48] claim to sexual intimacy with Molly, and a 'lover’ not on the list, Lieut. Stanley Gardner, the best claim of all. Just as Western society has forced itself to accept the idea of an unhappily married woman racking up twenty-five affairs in almost nineteen years -well within the American national average - critics have had to accept a Molly Bloom almost as faithful as tried-and-true Penelope. Few commentators on Ulysses these days would deny Molly her durability, and even ex-neoFreudians are lining up to recant.

But if Molly has rarely if ever stepped outside the bounds of marital fidelity, what happens to the familiar chestnut that Bloom is a well-known cuckold in Dublin? Too many critics have blithely pointed to Bloom’s horns to credit it as the individual mistake of any single critic, but in itself the error is compounded: Bloom’s traditional role as familiar cuckold, and his present state as cuckold of the day on 16 June 1904. The first contention collapses with the dismissal of the list-of-lovers; prior evidence throughout the day renders it absurd. John Henry Menton and lowly Lenehan confess the extent of their involvement with Molly: Menton’s is negligible ogling (ancient history) and Lenehan’s a case of momentary lightfingerness when Bloom was pointing out constellations (all of us are in the gutter but Bloom is looking at the stars). No one in Dublin ever boasts of having seduced Molly Bloom, and no one is credited by anyone else with the accomplishment. Boylan of course has now succeeded where all others have defaulted, and is entitled to be considered 'the first term of his series’ (U731) - unless the series is really of those who have noticed, glanced at, admired, or desired Molly. And Boylan’s discretion does him credit. There is no indication that the conqueror has told anyone of his intentions, disguising Molly as an 'invalid’ when ordering fruit and port for her (U227), and keeping the inquisitive Lenehan in the dark when hurrying out of the Ormond. Bloom is the only outsider with inside information and is sensitive to any possible leak when anyone asks about the organizer of Molly’s tour ('Who’s getting it up?’ asks the nosey Nosey Flynn - U 172), nevertheless himself making the inadvertant slip about 'the wife’s admirers’ ('The wife’s advisers, 1 mean’ - 11 313). Only the sharp barfly in Cyclops seems to intuit the possibility: 'That explains the milk in the cocoanut and absence of hair on the animal’s chest. Blazes doing the tootle on the flute’ (U319). He cleverly puts the pieces together, yet as far as we can see he keeps his guesswork to himself, and Vaffair Boylan remains a well-guarded secret on 16 June 1904, with only Bloom [49] knowing enough about it to stay away from home at zero hours

In a recent article John Henry Raleigh manages to clear up a vast number of misconceptions, particularly about Leopold Bloom, although he does perpetuate the canard about Bloom as 'cuckold, and known to be such by others in his community’. [John Henry Raleigh, 'Bloom as a Modern Epic Hero’, in Critical Enquiry, 3 (Spring 1977)] In almost every other case Raleigh is precise in adhering to the given materials of the text, summarizing Bloom as 'the only child of a bankrupt suicide; the sire of only one sickly male infant who died aged eleven days; a husband who has not had normal sexual relations with his wife for almost ten years’, and so forth. Three facts in this capsule are among those most frequently overlooked by Ulysses commentators: that Rudolph Bloom was bankrupt, that Rudy was born deformed, and that the Blooms have been having sex of sorts throughout the past ten years. Most prefer for reasons of their own to believe that Bloom’s father pined away for love of his dead wife, and there is of course justification for the suspicion that he found life unhappy without her. But we have no specific date for her death (her son’s most recent memory dates from High School days, circa 1880 at best - U 413), whereas we do know that her husband’s suicide took place in 1887. Joyce’s scheme in withholding certain 'facts’ encourages speculation and allows variant readings: hints for the sentimental interpretation derive from Molly’s thought, 'his father must have been a bit queer to go and poison himself after her’ (U767), and the fragmentary contents of the suicide note, '… with your dead mother … that is not more to stand … to her’ (U723). Molly is groping for paradigms of the devoted couple, and she may be making assumptions that suit her mood, while the note indicates that the old man anticipates being united with his wife, not that her death necessitates his own. More immediate is the opening phrase (7otnorrow will be a week that I received’), which suggests a foreclosure notice. As is often the case in Ulysses, two possible interpretations evolve from the evidence, neither necessarily cancelling out the other.

Bloom plans Blazes’ visit
here has long been a certain amount of wailing and sighing over the Bloom marriage. Those who describe Bloom as impotent (the single most common word in Ulysses commentary to classify him) apparently sidestep the physiological evidence of his ejaculations in masturbating and interrupted coitus. Those who allow him his biological virility concentrate on his psychological warps, and Bloom certainly has his peculiarities. But psychological manifestations suggest psychological causes, yet even the most committed [50] members of the psychoanalytical school fail to relate the causes to Bloom, preferring to examine James Joyce instead. Whatever the author might have revealed on the couch that he so adamantly refused to occupy need not detract from the evidence he provided for Bloom’s situation. Rudy born unhealthy (a fact for which Ulysses supplies an abundance of clues) managed to alter the sexual appetites of both parents, as both readily admit about themselves. Bloom was obviously the more seriously affected since he harboured the fallacy that the father was biologically responsible for a malformed male child: 'If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not the man’ (U96). And despite his yearning for a male heir, he practised the only kinds of sex with Molly that would preclude another pregnancy.

Wary of venereal disease Bloom usually avoids prostitutes; wary of social stigmas he generally avoids relations with other women. And aware of Molly’s progressively depressed state he has stoically arranged her affair with Blazes Boylan, from the initial introduction to the assurance of a safe house on June 16th. He reveals his anxieties over the arrangements and his regrets, but basically he remains satisfied with the day’s events. In many ways it was the best and safest compromise he could make under the circumstances, and as Raleigh implies, the Blooms have one of the best marriages in Dublin - at least as far as Ulysses is concerned. Which married couple could the Blooms envy - Charlie and Fanny M’Coy? Richie and Sara Goulding? Bob and Polly Doran? Mr. and Mrs. Tom Kernan? The MacDowells? Or before widowhood the Dedaluses, the Dignams? Or perhaps the Purefoys with their nine children? - certainly the sentimental favourite.

Despite his consistently clearheaded attention to the factual evidence in Ulysses, John Henry Raleigh does occasionally slip, as when he assumes that Joyce is disdainful of verisimilitude in making Bloom 'the behind-the-scenes philosopher or strategist for Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein movement’. It is not just that reason prevents us from accepting an historical movement founded by a fictional character, but that all the pieces in the puzzle conspire to show that no one is expected to believe this delightful absurdity. Bloom at no time credits himself with any such influence, nor does Griffith make any revealing statement to that effect. John Wyse Nolan’s motivation in his magnanimous gesture is twofold: he is goodheartedly impressed by Bloom’s generous donation to the Dignam orphan fund and he can show himself to be knowledgeable on inside secrets. [.; 51]

Contra Marilyn French
[Continues with an assault on the conception of the spectral narrator of Ulysses promoted by Marilyn French who attributes animus against some characters to the narrator/Joyce.]

The absence of a functioning narrator in Ulysses, the one voice in a conventional novel who can be relied on to give us the hard word on the subject, make the going rough when unreliable information competes with solid facts. That Ulysses has no omniscient narrator comes as a surprise to some and a disappointment to others, certainly to the author of a study that provides so much commentary on tha fictional person. In The Book as World [Harvard UP 1976] Marilyn French is on such intimate terms with this spectre that she comes close to providing name, rank, and serial number, but her glimpses of him are so contradictory as to refine him out of existence. […; p.52.]


Ulysses distinguishes itself from conventional novels in more ways than are dreamt of in the conventional critic’s philosophy. Even segments that are not internalized, dramatized, or given over to governing techniques distinct from “ordinary” narration are nonetheless subject to stylistic determinants dictated by the specific context.


The absence of a functioning narrator robs us of a referee, and the readers must depend on their own powers of observation, even in the fact of inadequate and undefined evidence. [Cites French: ‘Penelope is a coda uttered by a different narrator’] Confabulations like these surely uncover the paucity of a quest for a licensed narrator in Joyce’s Ulysses, compelling the reader to make individual decisions whenever discrepancies arise in the text. […] Language itself is the instrument of possible unreliability. (p.55.)


Circe is a deep, dark well into which so many things are dropped that never reach bottom and never make a sound. Simplistic attempts to separate finitely that which is reality from someone’s presumed hallucination have been pitifully unsuccessful, and it becomes necessary to suspect anything taking place in Circe that cannot be retrospectively proved. [58; especially in regard to the role of Bridie Kelly in Mabbot St., whom Bloom is said to have seduced in the Charles Lamb-sian prose of “Oxen”.]

What happened in Nighttown?
[Reflecting on Bloom’s budget for 16 June 1904:] The Coffee and bun can be discounted as having taken place at the cabman’s shelter (after Circe) and the Tramfare brougt Bloom back from Sandymount (before Circe), but how did he get from Holles Street to Nighttown? He was obviously present at the Westland Row terminus, but no train fare is recorded. If we trust Bloom’s account in Circe, apparently mumbled to himself, he had a third class ticket that he must have bought: ‘nice mix-up. Scene at Westland row. Then jump in first class with third ticket. Then too far.’ (U558). But, along with the ten shillings paid for the privilege of visiting the brothel (U558) and another shilling for the smashed [59] lamp chimney (U585), the train fare has mysteriously been expunged.

Ludicrously enough, what survives from the sojourn in Nighttown is an account of Bloom’s expenditure for food, almost none of which Bloom was witnessed to have actually eaten there. The pig’s foot and the sheep’s trotter were presumably purchased at Olhousen’s just as the pork butcher was about to close up his shop (U434), but the chocolate and bread only moments before. When Bloom first turns up on Talbot Street, he is ‘cramming bread and chocolate into a side pocket’ (U433), but only the chocolate is later apparent: he gives it to Zoe, who then in turn offers him some, which he eats (U525-26). The unkosher meats are surreptitiously disposed of, and the soda bread remains a mystery.

Bloom’s temporary role as Stephen’s bank vault offers another mysterious element. Both the Debit and Credit columns record it as £1.7.0, so that receiving and returning the money create an even cancellation. Yet events in Circe belie the evenness of the amount, since Bloom actually took £1.6.11 into safe keeping (‘That is one pound six and eleven. One poundseven, say’ - U559), and in Ithaca he repays Stephen the latter amount (‘The former returned to the latter, without interest, a sum of money (£1.7s.0.), one pound seven shillings’ - U695). Stephen in actuality does receive one penny in interest, but that penny would have had to come out of Bloom’s own money and should have shown up as a discrepancy in the balance between debit and credit. If the added penny had been Bloom’s, and the Circe event was real, then another instance of juggled bookkeeping has been practised to excise the brothel scene entirely from Bloom’s account of his night. Determining which is the ’true account’ can be risky, since the events in Circe could have taken place and still not show up on the bowdlerized ledgers. Two overlapping texts exist, therefore, both quite plausible and each in its own way contributing to a facet of the narrative of Ulysses.

Stripping away all hallucinatory matter from the bare bones of the literal narrative of Circe, we have usually agreed on a skeletal plot that can be succinctly summarized as: Bloom follows Stephen and Lynch into Nighttown, locating them at Bella Cohen’s, where drunken Stephen smashes a lamp, runs out into the street, is accosted by Private Carr, and knocked down, having been deserted by Lynch. Bloom rescues him and brings him out of Nighttown. Yet even these time-honoured ‘facts’ will not quite withstand precise scrutiny if we demand corroboration from their residue in the [60] ensuing chapters. Omitted from Bloom’s account of the day’s events to Molly, and therefore solid negative evidence, is any mention of ‘the visit to the disorderly house of Mrs Bella Cohen, 82 Tyrone street, lower, and subsequent brawl and chance medley in Beaver street’ (U729). What he does relate to Molly, and replete with the ‘modifications’ he makes in order to gloss over the unsavoury truths, concerns ‘a temporary concussion caused by a falsely calculated movement in the course of postcenal gymnastic display, the victim (since completely recovered) being Stephen Dedalus’ (U735). From the doctored version advanced and the true account withheld we can verify that Stephen was hurt in conriection with a brawl in Nighttown, although Private Carr’s name is never mentioned after his appearance in Circe. We might be able to disentangle the ‘brawl’ (in Bella Cohen’s establishment) and the chance medley’ (with the British soldiers in Beaver Street), in which case Stephen’s torn coat stems from the former event. In his kitchen Bloom had thought of repairing ‘a fissure of the length of 1 1/4 inches in the right side of his guest’s jacket’ (U677), which was presumably torn when he ran from Bella Cohen’s, as a whore in the doorway so bluntly reported: ’He tore his coat’ (U586).

The ‘chance medley’, usually so vital to a reading of the narrative of the chapter, is nonetheless shrouded in mystification when the evidence from Ithaca is sifted. As they approach Eccles Street Stephen and Bloom are discussing, inter alia, ‘prostitution’ (U666) - but this may merely be an extension of their talk in the cabman’s shelter about the haggard streetwalker (U633) - and ‘Stephen’s collapse’ (U666). Being knocked senseless by an irate Tommy is hardly the same as suffering a collapse, while a chance medley implies a mêlée (in its archaic meanings) and certainly a mingling of more than one (in any of its meanings). The fault once again is with the unreliability of language, which denotes more about the characier of the person using it than the intention of his discourse. Stephen and Bloom have reached a point of euphemistic reference to whatever transpired on Beaver Street, and prefer to debate the causes of what they term Stephen’s collapse. But their disputed causes are unrelated to Private Carr’s fists:

The collapse which Bloom ascribed to gastric inanition and certain chemical compounds of varying degree of adulteration and alcoholic strength, accelerated by mental exertion and the velocity of rapid circular motion in a relaxed atmosphere, Stephen [61] attributed to the reapparition of a matutinal cloud (perceived by both from two different points of bservation, Sandycove and Dublin) at first no bigger than a woman’s hand. (U 667)

Stephen’s resilience may well have been marred by either his physical condition or the influence of a little cloud, while the First Cause of his collapse may still be attributable to the bellicose Harry Carr.

Far more significant for readers of Circe has been the symbolic victory won by Stephen Dedalus in his spirited attack on Bella Cohen’s chandelier: the stage direction insists that ‘He lifts his ashplant high with both hands and smashes the chandelier’, yet the Gasjet utters a rather pathetic ‘Pwfungg!’ (U583). Bella of course maintains that ‘The lamp’s broken’ and claims ten shillings damages, but Bloom relights the lamp, examines the ‘crushed mauve purple shade’, and announces that ‘Only the chimney’s broken’ (U 584), leaving only a shilling in payment. The grandiose gesture and its concomitant symbolic meaning, Stephen’s exorcism of the shade of his dead mother, are deflated even within the context of the Circe chapter, yet the Stephen Dedalus who emerges from the experience seems soberer and calmer. Negative evidence (the curious incident of the dog in the night-time) carries weight, as we observe Stephen in Eumaeus and Ithaca, essentially relieved of the ‘ghoul-andcorpse-chewer’ rhetoric that had characterized him throughout the day.

Perhaps the clue to Stephen’s sense of peace with his conscience can be found in one other carryover from closing moments of Circe to the closing moments of Eumaeus: sentimental Bloom, looking solicitously at the face of the comatose Stephen, muses, ’Face reminds me of his poor mother’ (U 609), and then as they head toward Eccles Street, ’He looked sideways in a friendly fashion at the sideface of Stephen, image of his mother’ (U 663). In the latter instance Stephen and Bloom are discussing music, and in the former Stephen is mumbling the words of ’Who Goes with Fergus’, a song he remembers having sung to his dying mother (U 9). Mrs. Dedalus was undoubtedly a topic of discussion and thought as the two communed over cocoa in the Eccles Street kitchen. Stephen presents himself as ’eldest surviving male consubstantial heir of Simon Dedalus of Cork and Dublin and Mary, daughter of Richard and Christina Goulding’ (U 682), and Bloom mentions his first having met Stephen ’in 1887, in the company of Stephen’s mother, Stephen then being of the age of 5’ (U 680). These reminiscences seem to


evoke no strong reaction in Stephen, although the ‘objectified’ technique of the chapter may be responsible for masking emotional responses. Nonetheless, two significant items break through the restraints of the narrative method and reveal more than can be concealed: Bloom ‘suppresses’ any mention of the death of May Dedalus by considerately avoiding mentioning her funeral (U695), and Stephen has a nostalgic memory of ’his mother Mary, wife of Simon Dedalus, in the kitchen of number twelve North Richmond street in the morning of the feast of Saint Francis Xavier 1898’ (U670), a milestone in Stephen’s early life, when he could still feel the positive force of his religion in saving him from guilt and despair (see Chapter Three of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).

A third significant incident caps the laying of the ghost of May Dedalus, but not without an equivocal aspect. Our last glimpse of Stephen in Bloom’s back garden has him listening to the chimes tolling the hour from St. George’s Church. Although to Bloom they once again echo the death knell for Paddy Dignam in a tone of gentle mockery. ‘Heigho, heigho’ (U70, 704), for Stephen they return the litany for the dead that caused him such anguish in the morning:

Liliata rutilantium. Turma circumdet. Itibilantium te virginum. Chorus excipiat. (U 704, see also U 10.)

But as Stephen fades from view, no invective follows that litany as. did on the tower gunrest that morning (‘Ghoul! Chewer of corpses! / No mother. Let me be and let me live’ - U10). If we read the intaglio for the cameo, and no dog has barked in the night-time, the post-Circean Stephen may have reached a point of stasis in the death-struggle with his mother’s ghost, evidence of an event in Circe that has lasting reverberations throughout the closure of Ulysses. [End.]


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