Seaside girls

In Brief

Glancing quickly at the letter from his daughter, Bloom takes in the phrase "Blazes Boylan's seaside girls." When he reads the letter later in Calypso, he sees that Milly has actually written "Boylan's (I was on the pop of writing Blazes Boylan's) song about those seaside girls." But as far as anyone knows no Boylan, Blazes or otherwise, had any responsibility for the popular song Those Lovely Seaside Girls. It was written by Harry B. Norris in 1899 and sung by the cross-dressing performer Vesta Tilley on English music-hall stages. Like the passionate Là ci darem la mano and the sentimental Love's Old Sweet Song, this humorous love song enters the textures of Bloom's consciousness in various ways and reappears often in the novel, shaping readers' impressions of his erotic imagination.

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Until its surprise ending the song presents girls at the seashore as objects of rapturous male desire. Dressed in "bloomers," which gave women more freedom of movement but gave men the impression that they were seeing their underwear; "cycling" down the promenade, which afforded still more openings to the male gaze; and displaying "the latest thing in socks," the decorative side-panel "clocks" that drew attention to barely clad female ankles, these young women make men's heads "whirl":

Down at Margate looking very charming you are sure to meet
Those girls, dear girls, those lovely seaside girls.
With sticks they steer and promenade the pier to give the boys a treat;
In piqué silks and lace, they tip you quite a playful wink.
It always is the case: you seldom stop to think.
You fall in love of course upon the spot,
But not with one girl—always with the lot . . .

(Chorus)

Those girls, those girls, those lovely seaside girls,
All dimples, smiles, and curls—your head it simply whirls!
They look all right, complexions pink and white;
They've diamond rings and dainty feet,
Golden hair from Regent Street,
Lace and grace and lots of face—those pretty little seaside girls.

There's Maud and Clara, Gwendoline and Sarah—where do they come from?
Those girls, dear girls, those lovely seaside girls.
In bloomers smart they captivate the heart when cycling down the prom;
At wheels and heels and hose you must not look, 'tis understood,
But every Johnnie knows: it does the eyesight good.
The boys observe the latest thing in socks;
They learn the time—by looking at the clocks . . .

(Chorus)

When you go to do a little boating, just for fun you take
Those girls, dear girls, those lovely seaside girls.
They all say, "We so dearly love the sea!" Their way on board they make;
The wind begins to blow: each girl remarks, "How rough today!"
"It's lovely, don't you know!"—and then they sneak away.
And as the yacht keeps rolling with the tide,
You'll notice, hanging o'er the vessel's side . . .

(Modified Chorus)

Those girls, those girls, those lovely seaside girls,
All dimples, smiles, and curls—your head it simply whirls!
They look a sight, complexions green and white;
Their hats fly off, and at your feet
Falls golden hair from Regent Street,
Rouge and puffs slip down the cuffs—of pretty little seaside girls.

The letter's mention of the song, which Bloom clearly knows well, makes him think of how his lovely girl's stomach did not whirl when he took her out "round the Kish" on the Erin's King: "Damned old tub pitching about. Not a bit funky. Her pale blue scarf loose in the wind with her hair." But, as his recollection of her flowing clothes and hair makes clear, the song also evokes Milly's sexual attractiveness. The letter says that her "young student," Alec Bannon, sings the song, and there can be little doubt who he is thinking of when he sings it. Indeed, as his "photo girl" Milly would be iconographically associated with both the seashore and sexual attractiveness.

Milly's erroneous attribution of the song to "Boylan" inevitably introduces into Bloom's picture of seaside girls another, still more uncomfortable complex of sexual associations. As lines from the song play in his head, he experiences apprehension about the imminent sexual arousal not only of his daughter but also of his wife: "Milly too. Young kisses: the first. Far away now past. Mrs Marion. Reading, lying back now, counting the strands of her hair, smiling, braiding. . . . Girl's sweet light lips. Will happen too. He felt the flowing qualm spread over him. Useless to move now. Lips kissed, kissing, kissed. Full gluey woman's lips." The song has the effect of fusing Milly and Molly in Bloom's imagination, in keeping with its observation that erotic infatuation leads you to fall in love "not with one girl—always with the lot."

This principle is extended in later chapters of the novel when Bloom experiences the charms of other seaside girls, like Miss Douce in Sirens: "Her ear too is a shell, the peeping lobe there. Been to the seaside. Lovely seaside girls. Skin tanned raw. . . . Your head it simply. Hair braided over: shell with seaweed. Why do they hide their ears with seaweed hair? . . . Find the way in. A cave. No admittance except on business." The teasing promise of sexual access that Bloom sees in Miss Douce is repeated by Gerty MacDowell in Nausicaa: "Didn't look back when she was going down the strand. Wouldn't give that satisfaction. Those girls, those girls, those lovely seaside girls. . . . Did she know what I? Course. Like a cat sitting beyond a dog's jump." A page later, Bloom thinks of the effect that the erotic display had on him: "Lord! It was all things combined. Excitement. When she leaned back, felt an ache at the butt of my tongue. Your head it simply swirls."

Sexual excitement is "all things combined," and it exceeds the limits of relationship to a person. Objects of attraction flow together in the erotic imagination. That is the underlying reason, perhaps, that the archetypal seaside girls of Greek mythology, the Sirens, are a collective embodiment of alluring feminity rather than named individuals. And individuality is extinguished in death as well as erotic excitement. In Hades the seaside girls make a macabre appearance as Bloom thinks about the dead bodies in their graves: "But they must breed a devil of a lot of maggots. Soil must be simply swirling with them. Your head it simply swurls. Those pretty little seaside gurls."

Norris set his song at "Margate," a beach town in Kent in the southeast of England. Like dozens of such Victorian destination resorts, Margate offered holiday vacationers more than just swimming. Beaches were often backed by long, wide promenades so that well-dressed visitors could stroll along the coast. Substantial piers extended far out into the ocean, so that people could walk above the water as well as along it, protected by iron railings and illuminated at night by iron lampposts. The piers and the elaborate pavilions that were often built on top of them offered hot and cold seawater baths, food and drinks, penny arcades, band and orchestral concerts, dancing, theatrical productions, comedians, giftshops.

In Lestrygonians Bloom thinks that Molly could perform on some of these piers: "What about English wateringplaces? Brighton, Margate. Piers by moonlight. Her voice floating out. Those lovely seaside girls." He thinks of the piers also in Calypso: "Swurls, he says. Pier with lamps, summer evening, band." Molly herself has some more frankly carnal thoughts about Margate, based on its scandalous bathing practices.

JH 2017
On the Shores of Bognor Regis, 1887 oil painting by A. M. Rossi. Source: mimimatthews.com.
1895 cotton piqué seaside dress, held in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City. Source: mimimatthews.com.
Colorized print of an 1895 photograph of Margate Pier in Kent, England. Source: fiveminutehistory.com.
Colorized print of an 1895 photograph of the Clacton-on-Sea Pier in Essex, England. Source: fiveminutehistory.com.
Postcard of the Eastbourne Pier in East Sussex, England. Source: fiveminutehistory.com.
Colorized print of photograph of the promenade, pier, and paviliion at Colwyn Bay in Wales, which opened for business in 1900. Source: fiveminutehistory.com.