Woods

In Brief

Bloom recognizes the girl standing ahead of him in the butchershop in Calypso—she is "the nextdoor girl"and he knows the name of her employer: "His eyes rested on her vigorous hips. Woods his name is. Wonder what he does." Joyce here took advantage of both the strengths and the weaknesses of his reliance on Thom's directory, reproducing the common urban and suburban phenomenon of knowing a neighbor's name but not his occupation. As the next few paragraphs unfold, Bloom weaves together what he knows and does not know about the family, as well as the imagery of the butchershop, in a lascivious fantasy about a vulnerable young woman.

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Bloom's speculation about Mr. Woods goes straight to his domestic arrangement: "Wife is oldish. New blood. No followers allowed." By his suspicious logic, the servant girl is not at 8 Eccles just to perform domestic chores, but to provide a remedy to the problem of an aging wife. "No followers" was a common Dublin employment condition to keep maids from bringing distracting and possibly felonious boyfriends or suitors to their place of work. Bloom imagines Woods laying down this condition to establish a monopoly of sexual access to his attractive young helper.

He is clearly extrapolating from personal experience. Circe dramatizes the erotic interest he took in a "scullerymaid" named Mary Driscoll, which may have led to a physical advance on his part, and which may have emboldened Mary to steal some oysters from the Blooms. Molly thinks about the events in Penelope, remembering Mary "padding out her false bottom to excite him" and stealing potatoes and oysters, and suspecting that Bloom's complicity gave her some encouragement to act so outrageously.

Bloom's propensity for voyeurism combines with his identification with a fellow employer to make the girl next door an object of erotic longing: "Strong pair of arms. Whacking a carpet on the clothesline. She does whack it, by George. The way her crooked skirt swings at each whack." Bloom clearly has gazed into his neighbor's back yard when the servant girl was working there. He may not have quite imagined himself a carpet, but his appreciation of her aggressive vigor implies some masochistic interest in this young woman. Consistent with his marked anality, he seems also to have been particularly excited by the sight of her "vigorous hips," which he is now staring at again.

Standing in a place where meat is sold, his admiration of the woman's ass becomes translated into the language of commodification and consumption: "Sound meat there: like a stallfed heifer." Bloom remembers his days in the cattle market, when the breeders would walk among the stock, "slapping a palm on a ripemeated hindquarter, there's a prime one, unpeeled switches in their hands." He hopes that his business will be concluded quickly enough "To catch up and walk behind her if she went slowly, behind her moving hams."

The "Brown scapulars in tatters" that the poor girl wears, "defending her both ways," testify to her vulnerability working for low wages in a home far from her own, unprotected by male relatives. As if in recognition of this fact, Bloom's fantasy concludes with the thought that she is not really for Mr. Woods or for himself, but "For another: a constable off duty cuddled her in Eccles lane. They like them sizeable. Prime sausage. O please, Mr Policeman, I'm lost in the wood." Either Bloom has actually seen the girl flirting with such a policeman in Eccles Lane, which runs behind Eccles Street to the hospital, or he has imagined it. Such a hero can rescue a damsel lost in the Woods, he wittily supposes.

Gifford notes that the 1904 Thom's lists a Mr. R. Woods as living at 8 Eccles Street, one door west of Bloom's house, and that "He is listed again under 'Nobility, Gentry, Merchants, and Traders' (p. 2043), but his vocation is not identified." In giving a place in the narrative to someone who actually lived in the neighborhood, Joyce continued the verisimilitude maintained by placing the fictional Bloom in a house that was unoccupied in 1904.

But in fact Thom's was wrong about the person living in the house next door in 1904. "R. Woods" was Rosanna Woods, wife of Patrick, and although the couple had lived together in the house at the time of the national census in 1901, they separated in 1902 and after that Rosanna lived at 8 Eccles Street either alone or with her daughter Mary Kate. For more on the Woods, see the note on the James Joyce Online Notes website.

JH 2017
An English "maid of all work," in the book Living London (1900). Source: visitvictorianengland.blogspot.com.
Detail of map constructed for 1898 Thom's Almanac and Directory, showing Eccles Lane north of Eccles Street. Source: digital.ucd.ie.
Patrick and Rosanna Woods ca. 1880, in a photograpgh reproduced on James Joyce Online Notes by permission of their great-grandson, Paul Duffy. Source: www.jjon.org.