Chapter 15, Part 1
Lecture Eighteen -- Circe of Nighttown, I
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This lecture treats approximately the first half of “Circe,” which is
named for the enchantress who turns the men of Ulysses into
swine. With the aid of moly, a magical plant, Ulysses himself
resists her transformative power, makes her restore his men to their
human forms, and spends a pleasurable year with her before
moving on. The counterpart of Circe in this chapter is Bella
Cohen, mistress of a brothel in Dublin’s Nighttown. When
Stephen goes there with a friend named Lynch, Bloom follows
them in hopes of rescuing Stephen from further dissipation. But
when a whore named Zoe takes Bloom’s potato (his moly) as he
enters the brothel, he becomes helpless against all the fantasies that
swarm through his mind-including the hallucinated experience of
being turned into a pig. This first of two lectures on “Circe” will
consider how Bloom is by turns chastised, glorified, then
immolated before coming out of his trance--and before he meets
I. This chapter is written as a play script of transformations,
hallucinations, and display. Following Stephen into the red light district
of Dublin (Nighttown) in hopes of reclaiming him, Bloom reenacts--
with a number of variations--Ulysses’s experience with Circe.
A. Written in dramatic form, the chapter has been staged as a play and
forms the centerpiece of Joseph Strick’s film of Ulysses.
B. Circe enchants the men of Ulysses, but he resists her
1. When Ulysses’s men come to visit Circe in her palace, she
gives them a potion that turns them into pigs.
2. Going after his men to free them, Ulysses gets a magic plant
called “moly” from Hermes, messenger of the gods.
3. With this, he resists Circe’s transformative power. Then he
makes her restore his men to their human form and enjoys her
bed for a year before sailing on with his men.
a. Thus, he parries the threat of being turned into a pig.
b. He takes command of Circe.
c. He liberates his men from her pigsty.
d. He ends up on the sea, heading home
C. Bloom follows Stephen and his friend to Bella Cohen’s brothel in
Nighttown but soon gives up his potato, making him liable to
various hallucinations and transformations until he recovers the
potato, regains his self-possession, stands up to Bella, and takes
charge of Stephen.
1. Unlike Ulysses, who gets his magic plant before he enters the palace of Circe, Bloom gives up his talismanic potato as he enters Bella’s brothel.
II. Pursuing Stephen in the paternal hope of rescuing him from2. Thus, he suffers the transformation that Ulysses avoided; in
hallucination, he becomes a pig with Bella.3. Eventually, he recovers his manhood and liberates Stephen
from the clutches of both Bella and the police.4. As Ulysses left Circe with his men, Bloom leaves Nighttown
dissipation, Bloom hallucinates an encounter with his father, Rudolph
who reminds him of his own irresponsibility in youth-especially his
abandonment of Judaism.
A. Thinking that Bloom has come to Nighttown simply for his ownpleasure, Rudolph speaks to him as stem father to errant son,wasting his money with “drtmken goy.”
B. In the words ofthe play that Bloom has recalled in chapter 5,Rudolph accuses him of leaving “the god of his fathers.”
C. Ironically, Rudolph has no idea that Bloom is trying to saveStephen from degradation-notjoin him in it.
D. Once again, it’s really the guilt of his own apostasy that Rudolphnow seeks to load on the back of his son.
III. Wearing Turkish trousers as a sign of power, Molly insists that Bloom
call her “Mrs. Marion”-which recalls Boylan’s letter to her arranging
their nyst. Bloom is also menaced by the spectres of all the women he
has ogled, flirted with, or lusted after.
A. Bloom’s old flame Mrs. Breen, once Josie Powell, is shocked tofind Bloom “down here in the haunts of sin.”
B. Martha Clifford, the ditzy lady typist, charges him with breach ofpromise.
C. In a courtroom, Bloom is charged with various sexual offenses.
1. He’s accused of seeking an adulterous tryst with one Woman.
2. He’s accused of making masochistic demands on another.3. He craves punishment partly to expiate his guilt.
IV. In giving up his talismanic potato as he enters Bella Cohen’s brothel,
Bloom gives us his manhood and makes himself vulnerable to a series
A. When a whore named Zoe takes the potato from Bloom’s pocket,she is not only taking his talisman but also symbolically castratinghim.
B. Bloom’s shriveled potato may also signify the history ofthe Irishpotato famine.
C. Without it, he is powerless against all the fantasies andhallucinations that now crowd in on him.
V. In the hallucinations that precede Bella’s appearance on the scene
Bloom is first glorified, then denounced and immolated.
A. When he speaks dismissively of smoking, Zoe urges him to makea “stump speech out of it.” ln hallucination, this speech finallyleads him to become king of his own utopia.
1. He runs for public office and becomes King Leopold the Firstking of Ireland.2. He becomes Moses leading his people into “the newBloomusalem.”3. He becomes another Christ and even god of the world, withpower to realize all his utopian fantasies.B. But the fantasy explodes.
1. Bloom is attacked as “a disgrace to Christian men.”2. He is immolated, then importuned as if he were a Christianmartyr
Vl. Bloom thus rides a roller coaster of fantasies, soaring up to heights of
glory and pitching down to disgrace and immolation.
Kenner, “Circe,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 341-62
Shechner, Ulysses in Nighttown.
Questions to Consider:
1. Why is Bloom in his own fantasies both glorified and vilified?
2. Why does this chapter take the form of a play?