Lecture Thirteen -- The Sirens of the Ormond Hotel
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter is named for the enchantresses in The Odyssey who
captivate passing sailors with their singing and lure them to death
on the beaches of their island. By having himself bound hand and
foot to the mast of his ship and putting wax in the ears of his men,
Ulysses manages to hear the Sirens without being lured to disaster.
In this chapter, the Sirens are a pair of sexy barmaids at the bar of
the Ormond Hotel, where Bloom takes a late afternoon meal in the
adjoining restaurant. Like Ulysses, Bloom is tempted by the
seductive power of music, in particular by songs of love and
sentimental nationalism, but he resists its enchanting power and
critically observes its narcotic effect on those around him,
including Stephen’s father, Simon, and uncle, Richie Goulding.
Toward the end of the chapter, Bloom quietly leaves the bar and
then makes-at the very end-a most remarkable comment on
I. This is a chapter about music-a tour de force of musical effects
created in language.
A. Joyce himself called it afuga per canonem-a fugue according torule.1. In a fugue, a basic theme or melody flies from one voice partor instalment to another.
2. A fugue according to rule offers a subject, an answer, acoumter-subject, a climax, and a coda.B. Elements of the fhgue permeate the chapter.1. When Bob Cowley starts to sing an aria and then plays thepiano while Simon Dedalus sings, the aria passes or flies fromone singer to another.
2. The comments and laughter of the barmaids fly back and forthbetween them.
3. The chapter as a whole reveals the structure of a fugue:a. The chatter of the barmaids is the Sirens’ song-thesubject.
b. Bloom’s entry and monologue is the answer to theSubject.
c. Blazes Boylan, who briefly appears at the bar beforeheading off to see Molly, is the counter-subject.
d. The climax comes when Simon Dedalus hits the last highnote of the aria.
C. The chapter begins with what is sometimes called an overture-ae. Bloom sounds the Coda with his final fart.
stream of short sentences, phrases, and sometimes single words
that anticipate the full melody of incidents that follow.1. “Jingle Bloo” anticipates the sound of Blazes Boylan’sjaunting car as Bloom sadly hears him heading off to seeMolly.
2. “One tapped” refers to the blind stripling whom Bloom helpedback in chapter 8 and who returns in this chapter to reclaimthe tuning fork that he used to tune the piano in the bar.D. Joyce mimics in language such distinctively musical phenomena as
the chord, the counterpoint, and the trill.1. Just after Simon finishes singing Lionel’s aria from the operaMartha, we find the name “Siopold”--a chord made of threenames, Simon, Lionel, and Leopold.
2. Counterpoint appears when Richie Goulding’s account ofSimon Dedalus’s singing is interwoven with lines of the song.
3. A trill appears in a special long word used for Molly’s wavyhair.E. Thus, the chapter seems to confirm what We know about Joyce
himself: that he loved music.
II. Paradoxically, this chapter exploits all the resources of music only to
show us-finally-how dangerous, delusive, and mind-numbing they
A. Though music can be soothing in this novel, it has up to nowchiefly signified seduction.1. Boylan’s pretext for visiting Molly today is to discuss theprogram for her concert, which includes a duet of seductionfrom Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
2. Bloom’s daughter, Milly, reports in a letter that a young manhas been courting her by means of a song composed bysomeone named Boylan.
3. Thus, Bloom’s wife and daughter are each targeted forseduction by means of a piece of music tied to Blazes BoylanB. The theme of seduction in music is reinforced by the parallels
between this chapter and the Sirens episode of The Odyssey.1. In Homer’s epic, the Sirens lure passing sailors to disaster bymeans of their song.
2. By having himself bound to the mast of his ship and puttingwax in the ears of his men, Ulysses manages to hear theSirens’ song without being lured to disaster.
3. In this chapter, the Sirens reappear as a pair of sexy barmaidsa. They catch the eye of the viceroy’s aide de camp as theViceroy and his party pass by the bar.
b. One of them--Miss Douoe--teasingly lifts her skirt andsnaps her garter to sound the hour of 4:00 as Boylanlooks on.
c. She also trills a song about a beautiful woman living on a South Sea island.4. The Sirens’ song about the Trojan War has its counterparthere in a song called “The Croppy Boy.”a. In Homer, the Sirens try to lure Ulysses by singing aboutthe Trojan War-an irresistible topic for a veteran of that
b. “The Croppy Boy” is a ballad made to make every Irishnationalist drown in pity.
c. It tells the story of a boy caught up in the doomedrebellion of the Irish against the English in 1798.
d. Having seen his father and all his brothers killed beforehim, the Croppy Boy-a Wexford rebel who cropped hishair-was hanged when he made his confession to a falsepriest (an English captain dressed in clerical robes)
III. Like Ulysses, Bloom contrives to hear the music without getting
captured by it.
A. Although the men in the bar are-as Bloom observes-“all lost inpity for croppy,” he alone cares about the suffering of his owncontemporaries, such as Mina Purefoy in labor and even BenDollard himself, the singer, mined by drink.
B. Bloom recalls in several ways what Ulysses does with the Sirens.
C. Just as Ulysses enlists the help of sailors, whose ears are stuffed
with wax, Bloom asks a deaf waiter to open the door between the
restaurant and the bar so that he can hear the music.
D. He shares Ulysses’s determination to see and hear everything in
the course of his travels.1. He enjoys the “glorious tone” of Simon Dedalus’s voice.
2. He can recognize a minuet when he hears it on the piano.E. He shares Ulysses’s determination to survive and complete the
journey-by using his mind.1. He thinks about the music he’s hearing, as well as about thesingers and piano players generating it.
2. In puns, such as “Tenors get Women by the score,” Bloomcool-headedly judges the seductive power of a tenor voice-and at the same time, shows that the language of this chapternever surrenders its meaning to pure sound.
3. Bloom sees that music can lull the mind into a “kind ofdrunkenness
IV. Joyce himself never allows music to get control of the writing. Even as
he mimics the techniques of music, he reveals and deploys the power
A. When Lydia Douce snaps her garter for the delectation of Boylan,the whole scene shows the disparity between the would-be eroticeffect of music and the snap of an elastic~the cheapest imaginablethrill.
B. The passage recalls the “Aeolus” chapter, in which the “Harp
Eolian” of a headline turns out to be nothing more than a piece of
dental floss twanged by Professor MacHugh.
V. Though Bloom feels pain when Boylan heads off to see Molly, he
withstands both this pain and the seductive power of Lionel’s aria from
A. Because Simon sings Lionel’s aria to Martha at the very momentwhen Bloom is writing a letter to Martha Clifford, he is struck bythe coincidence. We might easily imagine that the lovesick Lionelof the opera might speak for the lonely, long-suffering Bloom.
B. But Bloom thinks more of Molly than of Martha.1. He finds her language ridiculous and is bored by the task ofwriting to her.
2. The sound of a love song makes him think of the night he firstmet Molly-at a musical party.
3. The thought of Molly is one of the ways in which Bloomresists the enchantments of music.
VI. Bloom also makes fLm of music and its effects in this chapter
A. Just after Simon hits the climactic final notes of Lionel’s aria,Bloom plucks his elastic band, making it buzz and twang.
B. He thinks of Molly’s peeing in a chamber pot as “chamber music.
C. By farting at end of the chapter, Bloom “pipes” his critique of the
sentimental nationalism that turned the last words of Robert
Emmet, the doomed patriot, into something like the last words of
Bowen, Musical Allusions
Kenner, pp. 83-92.
Knowles, Bronze by Gold.
Questions to Consider
1. Joyce declared that the act of writing this chapter, which fully explores
and exploits the resources of music in language, destroyed his
enjoyment of music. Does the chapter itself reveal how this could have
2. How does the pity provoked by the singing of “The Croppy Boy” differ
from the sympathy that Bloom often feels for other people?