Chapter 15, Part 2
Lecture Nineteen -- Circe of Nighttown, ll
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter explains what happens in “Circe” after Bella Cohen
appears. Having ridden a roller coaster of hallucinations that send
him up to glory and down to vilification in the first half of chapter
15, Bloom now meets Bella the whoremistress, counterpart of
Homer’s Circe. Bloom has already given up his talismanic potato,
which symbolizes his manhood and recalls the magic plant that
Ulysses used to protect himself from Circe’s transformative power
Bloom is, therefore, powerless to resist all the humiliations and
transformations that Bella inflicts on him--including turning him
into a sow, changing his gender as well as his human form. But
Bloom faces down the worst of his hallucinations, which rise from
the knowledge that Boylan has cuckolded him. Through his ordeal
he gathers the strength to challenge Bella, regain his self-
command, and save Stephen from getting arrested.
I. When Bella appears, Bloom’s fantasies of bisexual potency give way
to a series of assaults on his potency and manhood.
A. ln one of the trances that occurs in the first half of the chapter,Bloom is proclaimed a “new womanly man” and begets eightchildren all by himself
B. As Bello, a mustachioed male, the overbearing Bella subjectsBloom to various forms of humiliation.
1. S/he forces him down on all fours and turns him-nowher--into a sow.2. S/he rides her (Bloom) like a horse.3. S/he makes her dress like a whore and feel all the constrictionof women’s clothes.4. S/he makes her work like a servant by day and a whore bynight.5. She reminds Bloom that his house has been usurped byBoylan.C. ln response to the reminder about Boylan, Bloom becomes anantlered flunky greeting Boylan when he comes to see Molly,looking through the keyhole and masturbating while Boylanploughs her, and cheering him on. Bloom is punishing himself forallowing Boylan to take Molly.
1. Bloom knew for hours beforehand that Boylan was coming tosee Molly but did nothing to stop him.2. Feeling guilty for this failure, Bloom willfully subjectshimself to the worst possible view of his response to Molly’sadultery. A repressed sense of self-loathing prompts Bloom topicture himself as the supreme cuckold.3. In the words of Mark Shechner, Bloom is “canonized by self-affliction.”
II. When the faces of Stephen and Bloom together are reflected in the
mirror as Shakespeare, we are reminded of the parallels between
Shakespeare and Bloom.
A. According to Stephen, Hamlet dramatizes Shakespeare’s struggleto cope with his wife’s adultery, the same problem that hastortured Bloom today. »
B. In chapter 9, Stephen describes Shakespeare as the father of all hisrace; in this chapter, Bloom begins to act like a father withStephen.
1. He intervenes on Stephen’s behalf to save him from beingovercharged by Bella.2. He also takes charge of Stephen’s money.
III. Stephen struggles yet again to vanquish the spectre of his mother and
banish the guilt she would inflict on him.
A. Her spectral conversation with him not only recalls her appearancein chapter l but also balances Bloom’s conversation with his fatherearly in this chapter.
B. Stephen insists that she was killed not by him but by cancer
C. With the spectre of his mother personifying God the devourer,Stephen rejects her pleas for his repentance and smashes thechandelier with his sword, driving the spectre away.
IV. When Bella screams at the breaking of her chandelier and threatens to
call the police, Bloom coolly throws her a shilling and leaves,
demonstrating that he has fully regained his self-possession. He then
rescues Stephen, who-like Bloom-uses words alone to fight his
A. Accused by two privates of insulting Cissy Caffrey (one of GertyMacDowell’s friends), Stephen refuses to tight with his fists. LikeBloom with the citizen, Stephen uses only the weapon of hiswords.
B. When he tells the privates that he “must kill the priest and theking” within him, he reminds us of his sense of servitude to churcland state, but the soldiers take his comment as a literal threat to theking.
C. Like Bloom, Stephen advocates pacifism. Just as Bloom decried“force, hatred, history, all that” as a threat to life itself, so Stephenconjures up in fantasy the Whole history of Ireland’s bloodystruggle against England.
D. Helplessly drawn into that struggle, Stephen is struck in the faceeven as he hallucinates a farcical apocalypse.
1. The would-be ghastly spectacles ofa final immolation includea black mass reminiscent of Mulligan’s morning ritual inchapter 1.2. Just after he’s deserted by his 'friend Lynch, whom he callsJudas, Stephen is struck by Private Carr and falls downstunned.
V. Bloom takes charge of Stephen and saves him from getting arrested bu
comically misunderstands what Stephen wants and finally gets
entranced by a vision of Rudy.
A. With the help of another man, Corny Kelleher, Bloom dissuadesthe police from arresting Stephen, then takes charge of Stephenhimself.
B. In the final scene, where we might expect mutual recognitionbetween Stephen and Bloom, Bloom misunderstands Stephen.
1. Stephen sings fragments of “Who Goes with Fergus,” theYeats poem that earlier he remembered singing to his dyingmother.2. Bloom thinks he’s singing about a girl named Ferguson andsees her as the “best thing could happen to him.”3. As he bends over Stephen, he sees against the wall a vision ofRudy as a little boy dressed in an Eton suit and reading a bookfrom right to left.
a. This recalls what Bloom thought about in the “Hades”chapter, when he imagined Rudy as a boy in an Eton suit.b. Because Rudy is here a Hebrew scholar (reading fromright to left), he recovers the word of Judaism and, thus,returns to the God of the fathers that Bloom abandoned.c. Though Bloom moves once again from thoughts ofStephen to a vision of Rudy, this hardly makes the twosons merge. Bloom’s vision of what Rudy might havebecome is quite distinct from what Stephen is. Bloom willshortly find that Stephen is a puzzle--by turns a kindredspirit and a mystery.
See the readings for Lecture Eighteen
Questions to Consider:
1. If Bella totally humiliates Bloom in his hallucination, how does hemanage to stand up to her when the hallucination ends?
2. Compare Stephen’s altercation with the privates to Bloom’s argumentwith the citizen in “Cyclops”