What They Are Saying, Episode 13
Mysteries peer from around every Dublin corner. Among Ulysses’ puzzles are: Who wrote the postcard that UPsets Denis Breen? Where is Martha Clifford? Who is the old man exiting the Forty Foot Hole? And was Bloom filthy at the Turkish bath?
Elsewhere among our discussions, we found a good option for the meaning of U.P. and the text offers a possible identification of the postal provocateur who sent the card. Gifford and Seidman suggest Miss Dunne, Boylan’s assistant and reader of romance, as Martha’s identity. Elsewhere I have seen it suggested that Mina Douce might be Miss Clifford. Spelling and vocabulary could indict Molly too (Do Mr. and Mrs. Bloom “like Pina Coladas and walks in the rain?”). There is another and better suspect, but she will remain hidden for a few hours.
Another mystery is why Gilbert’s matrix shows “The Baths” as the locale of “Lotus Eaters.” Bloom anticipates a bath in the final words of the episode. Little, if any, of “Lotus Eaters” occurs there. It’s not clear if Bloom’s bath is just mental cleansing and not an actual dousing. It might suffice. Poldy’s mind is his dirtiest part of all. Did he physically bathe then, and did he commit the “sin of Onan” while bathing?
Earlier we read that Bloom did bathe. A question remains about the timing. Hugh Kenner convincingly argued that Bloom left Eccles Street late, having returned to the bedroom. Otherwise, he could not know Boylan’s visit would be at 4 PM. The section describing the bath might be anticipation, not narration, but there is more suggestion that he may have had a bath. In “Nausicaa,” Bloom says he’s glad he didn’t do “it” in the bath. Furthermore, the funeral party is ten minutes late, leaving for the cemetery, according to Powell. Perhaps a Turkish bath could be completed in less than twenty-five minutes.
“Onan’s sin” avoids procreation. This from a Biblical era when population expansion was necessary for the survival of a vulnerable human species. Joyceans, including Budgen and Maddox muse that Ulysses describes every biological function except copulation, no matter how unpleasant. However, Bloom is unable to affirm life, heartbroken since Rudy’s death, so copulation was omitted.
Joyce himself was struggling psycho-sexually, financially, legally and with ongoing issues over ocular health as he wrote this episode in March 1919. The Spanish flu was still afoot. Zurich teemed with former prisoners of war roaming the streets sick with fever. Budgen lost his job with the British Ministry of Information in Switzerland as public contact became inadvisable. Censors meddled in the publication of the excerpts of Ulysses promised to The Little Review. Above all, Joyce seemed disturbed by sexual feelings for his daughter Lucia. In February, he may have had a tryst with Martha Fleishmann, although he never confessed it to Budgen (Ellmann). Could this have been a way of purging thoughts about daughter Lucia’s sexuality?
Bloom and Joyce thirty-eight and thirty-seven years old respectively were living unsettled lives without the comfort of Plumtree Potted Meats. No wonder they felt the need to bathe.