Poor little Rudy

Poor little Rudy

In Brief

In Calypso Bloom's thoughts of the recent death of "poor Dignam" run in tandem with reflections on the death ten years earlier of "poor little Rudy." The loss of his infant son Rudolph only 11 days after birth is more than a source of continuing grief to Bloom. It is also the most significant factor in the sexual dysfunction that is imperiling his marriage. His inability to perform in bed seems to stem not only from a desire to avoid the trauma of further loss, but also from a feeling that he was somehow responsible for Rudy's failure to thrive.

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In Calypso Bloom remembers that Mrs. Thornton "knew from the first poor little Rudy wouldn't live. Well, God is good, sir. She knew at once. He would be eleven now if he had lived." Ithaca supplies the exact dates: "birth on 29 December 1893 of second (and only male) issue, deceased 9 January 1894, aged 11 days." In the "10 years, 5 months and 18 days" since Rudy's birth, "carnal intercourse had been incomplete, without ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ." Actually, the dry spell has been slightly longer that that, the last "complete carnal intercourse, with ejaculation of semen within the natural female organ, having last taken place 5 weeks previous, viz. 27 November 1893."

Lestrygonians makes the connection between the loss of a child and the loss of sexual happiness explicit: "I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I? Twentyeight I was. She twentythree. When we left Lombard street west something changed. Could never like it again after Rudy." The omission of a subject from the verb phrase "Could never like" raises the logical possibility that the lack of sexual passion could be either the husband's or the wife's, but characterizations of the sexual relationship elsewhere in the novel leave no doubt that the problem is Bloom's. It is Molly who is starved for "complete carnal intercourse." It is Bloom who diverts his attention to her backside.

The appearance of a child's funeral cort├Ęge in Hades prompts Bloom to recall some folk nonsense about infant vitality: "A dwarf's face, mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy's was. Dwarf's body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it's healthy it's from the mother. If not from the man. Better luck next time." This poignant reflection may lead the reader into many thoughts about Bloom's feelings of inadequacy.

JH 2017
Victorian postmortem photograph of infant in coffin. Source: www.pinterest.com.
Victorian postmortem photograph of siblings in coffin. Source: www.pinterest.com.