Cloud cover

In Brief

Among the many parallels between Stephen’s first three chapters and Bloom’s first three is the similar way in which the two men's moods respond physically to the presence or absence of sunlight. The warm light that greets Stephen on the first page of Telemachus, and Bloom when he leaves his home in pursuit of meat, disappears several pages later when a cloud obscures the sun—an adumbration of the dramatic thunderstorm that will visit Dublin later in the day. The dark chill in the atmosphere produces a similar effect in the psyches of both men, and when the sun returns several minutes later their moods brighten.

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Nearly seven pages into Telemachus (248 lines into Gabler’s lineated edition), “A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, shadowing the bay behind him in deeper green.” A little more than six pages into Calypso (218 lines in Gabler), “A cloud began to cover the sun, slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.” Given the distance between the two men (between five and ten miles), they cannot be seeing the same eclipse at precisely the same instant. But given the close locations of these passages in each episode, it seems likely that they are seeing the same eclipse at very nearly the same instant.

The sense of simultaneity is reinforced by what happens next. Some forty lines after a cloud begins to obscure the sun in Telemachus, Stephen “heard warm running sunlight” on the morning air.  Some twenty-five lines after the cloud begins to cover the sun in Calypso, “Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley Road, swiftly in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath” to greet Bloom.

In both cases, the sun's reappearance coincides with a move away from depressing thoughts. Stephen's gloomy memories of his mother's dying, and the nightmarish dream in which her ghost visited him, give way to Mulligan's cheerful call to breakfast and the thought of being paid today. Bloom's reflection that Palestine is not a utopia but a grey wasteland, and the Jewish people an old exhausted race, gives way to thoughts of breakfast with Molly.

The corporeal basis of these shifting moods is made especially evident in Bloom's case: "Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world. / Desolation. / Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. . . . To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes."

Much later in the book, in Ithaca, the reader learns at last that the two men were indeed seeing the same cloud at roughly the same time: Stephen attributes his collapse in Circe to "the reapparition of a matutinal cloud (perceived by both from two different points of observation, Sandycove and Dublin) at first no bigger than a woman's hand."

JH 2016
Early morning sun in Cyprus. Source: ronnieborr.com.
Source: freebigpictures.com.
Dublin in morning sunlight, in detail of a 2015 photograph by Kaumal Baig. Source: kbaig93.tumblr.com.