Happy warmth

In Brief

One of the many ways that Ulysses defines Bloom as a fleshly being is his awareness of temperature. From the opening paragraphs of Calypso to his final minutes in Ithaca he registers wellbeing, and particularly sexual wellbeing, as "happy warmth." Although he sometimes appreciates coolness on the hot day of June 16, cold figures in his imagination as a condition of lifelessness. These primal sensations of the reptilian brain color even some of Bloom's more metaphysical thoughts.

Read More

As the day begins, "Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere. Made him feel a bit peckish." The iciness of "gelid" night yields rhymingly to the "gentle" warmth of a summer day and Bloom's juices begin to flow: "peckish" is British idiom for hungry. As he walks the streets in happy warmth, seeking a kidney, thoughts of food and sex cluster around the sensation: "To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes." When he enters the bedroom, "The warmth of her couched body rose on the air, mingling with the fragrance of the tea she poured."

The association of warmth and sexual happiness continues throughout the novel. In Lestrygonians Bloom remembers the warmth of the marital bed at a time, years earlier, when he was "Happy. Happy." The shops on Grafton Street send him into similar reveries: "Sunwarm silk. . . . A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. . . . Perfumed bodies, warm, full." Still later in the chapter, he remembers the sexual rapture of lying with Molly on Howth Hill, and her passing a "seedcake warm and chewed" into his mouth: "Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. . . . Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded."

There are similar images in Wandering Rocks ("Warmth showered gently over him, cowing his flesh. Flesh yielded amply amid rumpled clothes"), Sirens ("She set free sudden in rebound her nipped elastic garter smackwarm against her smackable a woman's warmhosed thigh," "Flood of warm jamjam lickitup secretness," "Fill me. I'm warm, dark, open"), Circe ("The warm impress of her warm form. Even to sit where a woman has sat, especially with divaricated thighs, as though to grant the last favours"), and Ithaca: "the anticipation of warmth (human) tempered with coolness (linen)," "adipose anterior and posterior female hemispheres, redolent of milk and honey and of excretory sanguine and seminal warmth"). Even the darkness of Molly's complexion makes Bloom think of the warmth of her Mediterranean home. In Oxen of the Sun he remembers how she wore some earrings in the shape of cherries, "bringing out the foreign warmth of the skin so daintily against the cool ardent fruit."

Coldness beckons to Bloom from time to time. In Lotus Eaters, "The cold smell of sacred stone" calls him into the church. In Lestrygonians he seeks out the "Cold statues" and quiet of the museum. In Ithaca he relishes "fresh cold neverchanging everchanging water." But he ultimately rejects what Circe calls the "stonecold and pure" demeanor of Greek goddesses, and he registers the coldness of churches as a foretaste of death. In Hades he thinks of the mortuary chapel, "Chilly place this." The grave is similar. The spouse who dies must go "alone, under the ground: and lie no more in her warm bed." It is better to "Feel live warm beings near you. Let them sleep in their maggoty beds. They are not going to get me this innings. Warm beds: warm fullblooded life."

In the astronomical perspective that the book adopts as a cosmographic paradigm of modern scientific thinking, life-producing heat is rare and tenuous. Bloom thinks in Lestrygonians of "Gasballs spinning about, crossing each other, passing. Same old dingdong always. Gas: then solid: then world: then cold: then dead shell drifting around, frozen rock." Oxen of the Sun broods on "the cold interstellar wind," and Ithaca on "The cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero of Fahrenheit, Centigrade or Réaumur." Bloom gets a taste of this life-snuffing deep freeze when Stephen refuses his invitation to stay the night, leaving his host with "bellchime and handtouch and footstep and lonechill."

The revery that Bloom calls up at the end of Lotus Eaters, a vision of tranquility, eternity, and fertility charged with echoes of spiritual fulfillment from both Christianity and Buddhism, centers on "a womb of warmth," with the bath figuring as a kind of inhabiting of the fecund female body. At the contrary extreme, the dark vision of old age and death that afflicts him when the sun disappears in Calypso registers as a loss of vital corporeal heat: "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."

JH 2017
A lizard, a girl, and happy warmth. Source: theslinkylizard.tumblr.com.
Map of cold interstellar clouds of carbon monoxide produced by the Planck space observatory, launched in 2009. Source: www.seeker.com.