To the right

In Brief

When Bloom has collected his letter from the post office on Westland Row, the narrative observes that "He strolled out of the postoffice and turned to the right." This detail would be unremarkable were it not that, after three more right turns and a detour through a church, he ends up almost exactly where he started—and then turns left. His meandering steps, circling back on themselves, describe the beginning of a second giant question mark. Scholars have uncovered this pattern, suggestive of extreme distraction and aimlessness, but for the casual reader it is buried beneath a sea of textual details.

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Turning right at the post office door means that Bloom is traveling north along Westland Row, retracing the steps he took a few minutes earlier albeit now on the east side of the street. After an extended conversation with the annoying M'Coy (approximately three pages of text in most editions), he begins "strolling towards Brunswick street" (today called Pearse Street), which runs east-west. We hear that "Mr Bloom stood at the corner, his eyes wandering" over various advertising posters.

After several paragraphs of reflections on stage plays, prompted by the posters, the text reveals that "Mr Bloom went round the corner and passed the drooping nags of the hazard." He is now moving east on Great Brunswick Street, passing just north of the train station where cabs pick up and drop off railway passengers, and thinking, inevitably, about the lives of horses. He passes the cabmen's shelter, and thinks about their lives too: "Curious the life of drifting cabbies. All weathers, all places, time or setdown, no will of their own."

And now Bloom comes to still another street, and turns into it as if he has no will of his own: "He turned into Cumberland street and, going on some paces, halted in the lee of the station wall." Cumberland Street South runs parallel to Westland Row, one block east. Standing in the quiet "lee" of the railway station, sheltered from the noisy comings and goings on Brunswick, he looks at "Meade's timberyard" across the street (shown as "Saw Mill" on the Thom's map featured here), checks to make sure that no one is nearby, and then reads Martha's letter. Thinking about the letter occupies him for another two pages.

A new feature of the cityscape ushers in a new series of reflections. Cumberland Street passes under the railway station by means of a wide stone arch topped by a maze of timber trusses that support the tracks above. As Bloom passes through this short, dank urban tunnel he takes advantage of the darkness and isolation to destroy the evidence of his correspondent's identity: "Going under the railway arch he took out the envelope, tore it swiftly in shreds and scattered them towards the road." As the shreds flutter and sink, he thinks of tearing up checks, and of a Guinness family member cashing a huge check, and how much porter you'd have to sell to make that kind of money.

"He had reached the open backdoor of All Hallows," the church whose front entrance is on Westland Row. "Stepping into the porch," Bloom completes a final right turn pointing him back in the direction of Westland Row. After four more pages spent thinking about Catholic religious practices in the church, he passes "out through the main door into the light." He is now only a few steps from where he began when he left the post office. And, heading off in an entirely new direction, "He walked southward along Westland row."

These meanderings speak volumes about Bloom's state of mind, but Joyce does not make it easy to notice them. He calls no attention to the larger shape that his minute spatial directions are tracing, and he scatters those details across many pages of text. From the moment when Bloom steps out of the post office (line 76 in Gabler's text) to the moment when he emerges from the church (line 458), fully two thirds of the chapter elapse (383 of 572 lines), and those pages are filled with thoughts and experiences far more likely to engage a reader's attention.

Left to their own devices, few readers will pay close attention to the brief stage directions describing Bloom's movements, and unless they are intimately familiar with Dublin's streets they certainly will not realize that he is literally walking in a circle. But such is the nature of Joyce's fiction that attention to tiny things can reveal the largest kinds of design. Like the eaters of Homer's lotos plant, Bloom seems in this chapter to have lost his way.

Charting Bloom's course from the bird's-eye perspective of a city map yields a vivid illustration of the questions that this long section of the chapter raises about his state of mind.

JH 2017
Period photograph, date unknown, of the block on the east side of Westland Row where the post office was located near the entrance to the train station. St. Andrew's church can be seen in the background. Source: www.pinterest.com.
2007 photograph by Peter Gerken of Pearse (formerly Westland Row) Station. The post office below the railway overpass has been replaced by a ticket office for the trains. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Recent photograph by Lisa Cassidy of the "railway arch" over Cumberland Street that supports the train tracks above. Source: builtdublin.com.
Recent photograph of the front entrance of St. Andrew's Church on Westland Row. Source: www.pinterest.com.
Section of a Dublin map constructed for the 1898 Thom's Almanac, modified here to show Bloom's route after he leaves the post office. Source: digital.ucd.ie.