ULYSSES Readalong week 2, ch 3 & 4


(image from the 1967 film, the re-release reviewed here)

Hello, fellow Ulysses readers. You still with me? I’m not sure I am still with me. I read books 3 and 4, pushing through, fighting sleep, feeling like I understood maybe one word in 100, and those were the ones about snot, boobs, ogling, and poop.

And yet, and yet, I will not give up.

I will edit and lengthen this entry once I do some more research, but for now, let’s get this discussion started.

Chapter 3: Stephen walks on the beach, thinks a lot, and sees a dead dog, then leaves a booger on a rock.

Chapter 4: We meet our protagonist, Leopold Bloom, who is a man who likes his brekkie, and even better, takes care to make a good brekkie for Molly, who is still abed. He likes to eat organ meat, and is kinda pervey, as we learn when he follows a woman out of the butcher shop in order to ogle her. The chapter ends with him having a bowel movement.

Seriously. It is very clear why people give up on this novel. BUT I WILL PERSEVERE. There is lovely language, poetry, but if it doesn’t mean anything, or doesn’t mean anything to me, is it worth it?

Help me to understand, kind readers. What did everyone else think?

EDITED TO ADD: I have now skimmed the Gibbons annotations for 3 and 4, re-read the chapters, plus read the summaries and analyses (starting here) of them at schmoop.com. I feel guilty about the latter, as it seems like it’s cheating, as it’s a Cliffs Notes-y site, and yet, I enjoy their commentary and learn from it, so it floats my boat. Like Wikipedia, though, I take it with grains of salt–I have found some errors in it.

What I’ve learned about book 3: Proteus. Like the god it’s named for, this is a slippery chapter, and Stephen’s mind can’t hold onto one thought for very long. For this entire book, he walks on a beach and thinks. He does not visit relatives, he just imagines what would happen if he did, and what they would say about him. He does not visit a man named Egan, he remembers spending time with him in London. In short, Stephen is brilliant, easily distracted, lonely, isolated, and up in his head.

My favorite line of poetic prose was

These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here.

I think this is iambic heptameter, with alternating stresses, which is why it was fun to repeat aloud. (I had a crap American education in English, it was really light on poetry.)

Book 4, Calypso, stars the hero, Leopold Bloom, who is Jewish and Irish and fears his Molly is having an affair. He’s an earthy guy. The book starts:

Leopold Bloom ate with religh the inner organs of beasts and fowls.

Leopold is a funny guy. He talks to his cat, ogles the neighbor girl, worries about his daughter, and does not keep kosher, witness his pork kidney. Unlike Stephen, Leopod (or, Poldy), is whimsical and clever, but not intellectual, and attached to bodily, not theoretical things. The chapter ends with him having a bowel movement, and it was apparently this, not hot sex scenes, that were part of the outrage and accusation of obscenity when it was released. Also in this chapter, we get the first mention of a potato at 4.73 (57:2), which Gibbon’s notes:

A talisman, symbolic of the continuity of life and, in Jewish tradition, a central dish in the ritual meal after a funeral. The potato is also a reminder of the staple food of the Irish peasant and of the potato blight that triggered the famine.

As in books 1 and 2, we continue to see themes of Irish independence, Dublin “street furniture” (or myriad details about Dublin at the time), and anti-semitism.

Book 3 threw me for a loop this week, but I feel back on solid ground again after the Bloom chapter. My approach of reading, skimming annotations, re-reading, and supplementing with summary and analysis feels like a good one, if time consuming. But then, no one ever said it would be a quick read.

Sorry for lateness of edited post. Hope this helps/entertains.

15 Responses to “ULYSSES Readalong week 2, ch 3 & 4”

  1. crystal Says:

    The only other subject in 3 I could decipher was the drowned man and his forthcoming funeral. Stephen seems to wish it had been him but changes his mind. Also his fear of the dog seems a portent somehow.

    And the flitting memory thoughts seems to foreshadow past being drudged up into present.

    The potty humor in 4 juxtaposed perfectly with the pretentious flowery language. I suppose to show the naked and shameless aspect to private thoughts that would otherwise be obscene said out loud -a voyeuristic quality to it.

    An aside: While reading the outhouse scene in 4, I was reminded of another scene from Pulp Fiction when Vincent is sitting on the toilet reading (besides the one I mentioned in reference to The Bell Jar in book group the other day.) Guess I am on a Pulp Fiction kick of late. ;)

  2. Beth Says:

    All right, here’s my thoughts (note all page numbers are my edition):

    1. Is there an audiobook? *Googles* Oh, hey, there is! Thanks Open Culture:

    It could be useful to listen along and see if it helps with understanding. I’ll give it a listen one day when I’m doing my mindless tasks at work.

    2. 3 was much more confusing to me than 4. Probably because it was very monologue-esque, but I wasn’t quite sure what he was saying. Here’s my takeaway:

    Favorite quote:
    “Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W.” (40)

    Lovely wording:
    “Weak wasting hand on mine.” (44)

    Moby-Dick reference?
    “A school of turlehide whales…” (45)

    3. Section 4 was much easier to understand! And I was super delighted that Leopold Bloom has a cat that he seems to think about quite a bit. ^_^ Like in this careful observation:
    “The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just see how she stalks over my writing-table. Prr. Scratch my head. Prr.” (55)

    And this:
    “They understand what we say better than we understand them.” (55)

    And of course the fact that Leopold meows back at the end of the section.

    Okay, all of my comments on section 4 are cat-related. Sorry. My cat-lady is showing.

  3. girldetective Says:

    I found it interesting to look at the online version that shows what’s internal, to see just how much of 3 was Stephen’s inner monologue:


    I also found it interesting that the “title” for 3 is Proteus, the guy who can shape shift, and that keeps changing and changing and is hard to keep hold of, rather like the narrative thread in this section.

  4. Heidi Says:

    What fun this week w/ the contrast btwn episodes 3 and 4! Stephen Dedalus all broody and impenetrable w/ his heady thoughts as he strolls along the strand; then enter Leopold Bloom, all appetites and carnality.

    Knowing I could spend eons on trying to decipher Stephen’s thoughts I spent most of episode 3 enjoying the words and the beautiful evocation of the sea and tides. I did like his observation, “If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door.”

    Episode 4 was pretty fun. I have a suspicion that Mr. Bloom does most everything with relish. Looking forward to exploring Dublin in his company. How cute is it that Joyce included not only Bloom’s cat but thought to give cat some dialogue in rather realistic cat language. “Mkgnao!” “Mrkrgnao!” “Gurrhr!” (Cat Helen likes them!).

    BTW, potato make its first appearance in Ep.4 - “Potato I have.” (ML p. 56)

    Favorite passage, about the seashore (naturally): “Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss ooos. Vehement breath of waters amid sea snakes, rearing horses, rocks. In cups of rocks it slops: flop, slop, slap: bounded in barrels. And, spent, its speech ceases. It flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling.” (Ulysses, ML 1946, p.50)

  5. Janet Says:

    I am already getting behind, due to some scheduling conflicts. Family stuff is really cutting into my “sitting around” time. Will catch up in a day or so…I’m glad I’m not alone in being flummoxed by chapter 3..the words seem so slippery or something. I need some mental velcro I guess!

    Looking forward to reading about the cat…something I can relate to! Maybe I should read it aloud to my cat, maybe that would help me with comprehension. :)

  6. girldetective Says:

    I was behind this week as well, since I ill-advisedly tried to cram David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks in between 1/2 and 3/4, so I was up late on Sunday, trying to finish 4 as I was falling asleep. I skimmed (skam? :) the notes for 3 yesterday–so, so many! and will do so for 4 today, then re-read the chapters whilst awake. At which point I think I’m going to steam ahead to 5/6 and not try to put anything else in the way, though I’m tempted to try to fit in Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler, the next book for Books and Bars. (Don’t do it! Bad moderator! Focus and read Ulysses!)

  7. girldetective Says:

    Chapter 3’s analog in the Odyssey is Proteus, the changing, slippery man, so it makes sense that this chapter is hard to hang onto and make meaning out of.

    Don’t panic on “behind.” The readalongs are like waves–surging and withdrawing, speeding up, slowing down, and we get to the shore eventually, right?

  8. V Says:

    I’ll avoid the temptation to do my comments in stream of consciousness. Might also have to rethink reading at night with this one. Finally in Book 3, I could see some parallels with “The Odyssey.” But understanding? Woah, no. Certainly hungry after Book 4.

  9. V Says:

    Oh, does the trend of challenging odd books, more approachable even books continue? Also totally missed the Bloom BM, so back to revisit and read to the end. And think about the days when personal correspondence came through the post.

  10. girldetective Says:

    V, am I sounding like I’m challenging the difficult odd book in favor of easier ones? Unintended, and I certainly don’t valorize the easy read.

    Though truthfully, I’d rather be reading an easier one, but each and every time we’ve finished one of these bucket-list-y books I’ve been glad I did, and each and every time I’ve complained at the beginning. So, I’m just griping. We should all read books that challenge us and move us out of our comfort zone in one way or another, gets those mental muscles moving and grooving to a different beat. And this one more than most is obviously taunting us to step up our game as readers, no?

  11. Heidi Says:

    Are we still doing “Infinite (Jest) Summer”?

  12. girldetective Says:

    Sigh. Yes. Summer solstice to fall equinox. I’m tired already.

  13. Janet Says:

    “Valorize”..good word.

    I read one theory that reading Joyce aloud actually helps comprehension…so reading to my cat is not a bad idea! haha. I am back on schedule now, and feeling more focused.

    Will let you know about Infinite Jest…

  14. Wilson Varga Says:

    GirlDetective is in good company anent complaining about difficulty: Charity wrote, “[Joseph] Campbell initially hated Ulysses so much that he sought out the publisher to tell her just how much he hated the book and learned to love it as he learned how to read it. I was on the verge of hating the book myself, so I figured this fellow was a good one to read.”
    http://imperfecthappiness.org/2013/12/28/sisters-book-club-ulysses-by-james-joyce/ And Kate (@katek8katek8) in her entertaining Ulysses Chronicles (”Who says pleasure reading can’t be masochistic?” https://funwithulysses.wordpress.com/ ) on 09/05/2009 wrote, ” “Why??” That’s probably a reasonable reaction, given that my two most recent life choices have been to: 1) quit my job; 2) read Ulysses.” May GirlDetective’s blog be as entertaining as Kate’s.

  15. V Says:

    I was literal here, and maybe chapter would have been better than book: Chapters 1 and 3 vs. 2 and 4. Though Ch. 6 was the tougher one for me this time!