At four she

In Brief

For all its specificity, Ulysses contains numerous omissions, mysteries, lacunae, silences. One of the more important ones is the question of how Bloom knows that Boylan is planning to visit Molly at 4:00. In Sirens he thinks, "At four, she said." The thought becomes a repeated motif over the next few pages: "At four. . . . At four she. . . . At four he. All said four. . . . At four." The action of Sirens proves Bloom right: Boylan leaves the bar a few minutes after 4:00. But the book does not represent any conversation in which Bloom receives this information from his wife. How does he know?

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In a valuable article, "The Rhetoric of Silence," JJQ 14.4 (Summer 1977): 382-94, Hugh Kenner addresses this and other narrative ellipses, arguing that Joyce intended them just as carefully as he intended the novel's countless precise details. He observes that Calypso ends with the sound of the church bells signifying "Quarter to," leaving fifteen minutes "set aside for a major scene that Joyce does not write at all: the scene in which Bloom takes leave of Molly for the day, in the knowledge that when he sees her again she will have cuckolded him." "It would be callow and un-Bloomlike to just slip out through the front door" after using the jakes, Kenner argues. "And he would have meant to retrieve his latchkey too, from the trousers in the bedroom wardrobe, though given the emotional import of the scene it is not surprising that in fact he forgot it again" (385).

But Joyce provides more than mere speculation to go on. In Lotus Eaters, when Bloom is talking to M'Coy, he thinks of his wife still in bed with her "Blackened court cards laid along her thigh," and "Cat furry black ball. Torn strip of envelope." She had called to the cat to come join her when Bloom left for the outhouse, and the torn strip of envelope from Boylan's letter marks the day, June 16. In Penelope Molly too thinks of laying out her tarot cards "this morning," and she adds another detail: "he said Im dining out and going to the Gaiety." So, Kenner infers, Molly must have told her husband during this final meeting in the bedroom that Boylan was coming at 4, and Leopold must have given her reason to think that he would not interrupt the lovers, by declaring an intention to eat out and then attend a show at the Gaiety Theatre.

Why does Joyce not represent the conversation? It must have been an exceedingly awkward one, and many awkward topics are glossed over by silence in the Blooms' house. Kenner writes, "We ought to observe, in this connection, how much silence pervades such of their conversation as we do hear. They are agreed to pretend that Blazes Boylan is coming to hear Molly sing. They agree to regard the concert tour as a fund-raising project. They are agreed that Molly may put Boylan's letter not quite under the pillow, and that Leopold will see it, and that she will see him see it, and that neither will comment. They agree that 'Mrs Marion' will pass without remark. They are so much agreed on all this that they even agree to let the time of Boylan's arrival be unspecified—a casual drop-in merely?—until (in that hidden interview) either Bloom asks for the time of the assignation or Molly volunteers it, on the shared understanding that Poldy must know how long to stay out of the house. Their conversation is guided by a set of elaborate agreements not to ask, not to comment" (388). (For another brilliant literary representation of the conspiratorial silences in a sexual relationship, see Shakespeare's sonnet 138.)

Bloom's pretext is plausible enough. Lotus Eaters discloses that "Mrs Bandman Palmer" is performing in Leah "tonight," and not only does Bloom appreciate her acting, but the play holds deep meaning for him. In the next chapter, Hades, he thinks that "Martin Cunningham could work a pass for the Gaiety," though in return he would probably "Have to stand a drink or two. As broad as it's long." Near the end of Nausicaa he thinks that it's "Too late for Leah," and in Ithaca he reflects on his having failed "to obtain admission (gratuitous or paid) to the performance of Leah by Mrs Bandmann Palmer at the Gaiety Theatre, 46, 47, 48, 49 South King street." But in Circe, in a fantastized encounter, he tells Josie Breen, "I was at Leah. Mrs Bandmann Palmer." And he tells his wife the same thing at the end of Ithaca. It is psychologically interesting that, even after the cuckolding, Bloom feels compelled to uphold his end of the shared lie.

JH 2014
Tarot Cards. Source: rikpotter.com.
2010 photograph of the front of the Gaiety Theatre, by DubhEire. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The house at the Gaiety Theatre today. Source: canningdesign.ie.