Ulysses by James Joyce
published 1922 Section 16
[Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are together late at night in a cabman's shelter]
‘Do you consider, by the by,’ he said, thoughtfully selecting a faded photo which he laid on the table, ‘that a Spanish type?’
Stephen, obviously addressed, looked down on the photo showing a large sized lady, with her fleshy charms on evidence in an open fashion, as she was in the full bloom of womanhood, in evening dress cut ostentatiously low for the occasion to give a liberal display of bosom, with more than vision of breasts, her full lips parted, and some perfect teeth… Her (the lady’s) eyes, dark, large, looked at Stephen, about to smile about something to be admired, Lafayette of Westmoreland street, Dublin’s premier photographic artist, being responsible for the esthetic execution.
‘Mrs. Bloom, my wife the prima donna Madam Marion Tweedy’, Bloom indicated. ‘Taken a few years since. In or about ninety six. Very like her then.’
observations: June 16th is Bloomsday – the date in 1904 when the action of Ulysses takes place (give or take a late night). It was the day of Joyce’s first date with Nora Barnacle, who later became his wife. The book is long, and famously difficult – there is a tradition that aspiring intellectuals take it on holiday every year, but never read it. Joyce originally gave the sections of the book titles, then removed all these hints and helps – but it’s possible to find the plan online, for example here, and as you follow the parallels with Homer, the hours of the day, the parts of the body, the references to flowers – well it all becomes a lot easier. And it is brilliant, a work of true genius, still innovative and breath-taking and extraordinary so long after it was written. And you can read it again and again. The critic Edmund Wilson (in a very helpful chapter on Joyce in Axel’s Castle) says ‘we revisit it as we do a city, where we come more and more to recognize faces, to understand personalities, to grasp relations, currents and interests’, which is exactly right.
And my, Joyce is good on clothes. It is very clear at every stage what everyone is wearing, and he takes his clothes very seriously – wearing black for the funeral, where’s the best place in Dublin to get a suit, what a young girl’s underwear might look like, the dress that is 'mantailored with self-covered buttons' and braided frogging.
Links up with: The Dead from Dubliners featured here – the heroine of that story is mentioned once in Ulysses, as Molly questions Bloom: ‘What had Gretta Conroy on?’ Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare scholar extraordinaire, says the Scylla and Charybdis chapter of Ulysses was useful in writing this book.
The picture is of the American painter Bianca Todd and can be found on Flickr.