Preceding series

Preceding series

In Brief

There are a lot of suitors in Odysseus' palace: 108, according to Telemachus, though Homer identifies only 15 by name. In Ithaca Joyce identifies 25 men whom poor Bloom supposes have been somehow involved with his attractive wife.

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The language of Ithaca suggests that all 25 of these men have been in bed with Molly. As he gets into bed with his wife, Bloom imagines other men doing the same: "each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one." The next question in the catechism asks, "What preceding series?" and the 25 names are spit back in response. But it is impossible that all of these men have slept with Molly. One clearly has. Another has engaged her in some heavy petting. Still another has kissed her. At least one more has flirted with her. But some have only gazed on her longingly, or bumped up against her body, or asked leering questions. For many others, the book offers no evidence that anything at all has happened. If the list in Ithaca represents Bloom's thoughts, then it reads like a paranoiac's nightmare. Significantly, though, the list omits at least one man with whom Molly has been romantically and sexually involved, apparently during the time of her marriage: Lieutenant Stanley G. Gardner.

The reader is placed in much the same position as Bloom, forced to peep through closed blinds, drawing conclusions from very limited information. It seems likely that Ithaca is playing with us, sounding authoritative while wrapping fantastic fictional concoctions around a few nuggets of fact. To make sense of the list, readers must become detectives, seeking information from many sources. The best comes from Molly herself, in Penelope. Other details come from Bloom's memories and the testimony of a few other characters. Here is a brief rundown of all 25 supposed love interests, in the order named in Ithaca:

1) "Mulvey": a young officer in the British navy, Molly's first love when she was an adventurous teenager in Gibraltar, before she knew Bloom. She recalls details of their kissing and fondling, which stopped short of intercourse, and remembers a pact to remain faithful until his return: "and if I was married hed do it to me and I promised him yes faithfully Id let him block me." Nausicaa shows that Bloom knows the story of "lieutenant Mulvey that kissed her under the Moorish wall beside the gardens. Fifteen she told me. But her breasts were developed." He doesn't seem to know about the promise to cuckold her future husband, and he does not think about Mulvey coming back into Molly's life.

2) "Penrose": a student who gazed on the undressed Molly from an adjacent apartment when the Blooms lived in Lombard Street West. Bloom tries to recall his name in Lestrygonians: "What was the name of that priestylooking chap was always squinting in when he passed? Weak eyes, woman. Stopped in Citron's saint Kevin's parade. Pen something. Pendennis? My memory is getting. Pen ...? of course it's years ago." Later in the chapter, the thought that the blind stripling has a face like a priest's jogs his memory: "Penrose! That was that chap's name." Molly remembers him looking in the window one day when she was washing her breasts after nursing Milly: "that delicate looking student that stopped in no 28 with the Citrons Penrose nearly caught me washing through the window only for I snapped up the towel to my face." So, for Bloom, another man's voyeuristic interest in his wife is tantamount to adultery.

3) "Bartell d'Arcy": a singer on Dublin's concert circuit. Bloom thinks of him in Lestrygonians as a "Conceited fellow with his waxedup moustache," and Molly unflatteringly compares his affected singing with the natural delivery of Simon Dedalus: "he had a delicious glorious voice Phoebe dearest goodbye sweetheart sweetheart he always sang it not like Bartell Darcy sweet tart goodbye." However, it appears that something has happened between Molly and Mr. d'Arcy: "Bartell dArcy too that he used to make fun of when he commenced kissing me on the choir stairs after I sang Gounods Ave Maria what are we waiting for O my heart kiss me straight on the brow and part which is my brown part he was pretty hot for all his tinny voice too my low notes he was always raving about if you can believe him I liked the way he used his mouth singing then he said wasnt it terrible to do that there in a place like that I dont see anything so terrible about it Ill tell him about that some day not now and surprise him ay and Ill take him there and show him the very place too we did it so now there you are like it or lump it he thinks nothing can happen without him knowing." Actually, this attraction has not happened without Bloom knowing. Like his wife, he has an ability to make highly informed inferences.

4) "Professor Goodwin": a pianist, Molly's accompanist for several years, who was quite old and frail by the end of their association, and not terribly reliable on the piano. In Calypso Bloom thinks, "Poor old professor Goodwin. Dreadful old case." In Lestrygonians he recalls walking on a cool windy night with Bartell d'Arcy while Molly and Professor Goodwin went on ahead of them: "Professor Goodwin linking her in front. Shaky on his pins, poor old sot. His farewell concerts. Positively last appearance on any stage. May be for months and may be for never. Remember her laughing at the wind, her blizzard collar up. Corner of Harcourt road remember that gust. Brrfoo! Blew up all her skirts and her boa nearly smothered old Goodwin." Sirens offers another memory of the old pianist: "Poor old Goodwin was the pianist that night, Father Cowley reminded them. There was a slight difference of opinion between himself and the Collard grand." Circe exaggerates his infirmity: "bent in two from incredible age," the professor "totters across the room, his hands fluttering. He sits tinily on the pianostool ." All in all, it seems that Bloom has little to fear from this man, and Molly's words confirm that. She thinks of the same windy "night after Goodwins botchup of a concert," recalling happily that she made Bloom "spend once with my foot" later that evening. She remembers being unhappily surprised at the door of her house by "old frostyface Goodwin" one day when her appearance was messed up by working in the kitchen; still, she thinks, "he was a real old gent in his way it was impossible to be more respectful." Finally, she advances a theory on why the old man's musical skills had fallen off so badly: "he was a patent professor of John Jameson," i.e. the bottle. The fact that Bloom can fear the courteous advances of an old, shaky, washed-up alcoholic seems to say more about Bloom than about Goodwin.

5) "Julius Mastiansky": a friend, probably Jewish, from the early days of the Blooms' marriage. Bloom thinks of him only in connection with music: "Mastiansky with the old cither. Pleasant evenings we had then." Molly does not recall any romantic involvement with him, but she did have some frank discussions about sex with his wife. Boylan's uncomfortable bulk makes her wish for doggy-style sex, a variation she has apparently never tried: "scrooching down on me like that all the time with his big hipbones hes heavy too with his hairy chest for this heat always having to lie down for them better for him put it into me from behind the way Mrs Mastiansky told me her husband made her like the dogs do it and stick out her tongue as far as ever she could and he so quiet and mild with his tingating cither." Apparently she feels some bemusement that the quiet and mild cither-player liked to practice such an exotic sexual feat—and, quite clearly, he never practiced it with her.

6) "John Henry Menton": an actual solicitor (or lawyer) who was fictionally present at a party at Mat Dillon's house on the evening when Bloom and Molly first met. There, Bloom bested him in a lawn bowling move in front of some watching ladies, one of whom was Molly. Menton barely knows Bloom, but he does remember the lawn bowling incident in Hades: "What is he? he asked. What does he do? Wasn't he in the stationery line? I fell foul of him one evening, I remember, at bowls." Bloom recalls it too: "Yes, Menton. Got his rag out that evening on the bowling green because I sailed inside him. Pure fluke of mine: the bias. Why he took such a rooted dislike to me. Hate at first sight. Molly and Floey Dillon linked under the lilactree, laughing. Fellow always like that, mortified if women are by." The incident probably involved a little more than simple embarrassment in the presence of females. Menton remembers Molly warmly: "I haven't seen her for some time. She was a finelooking woman. I danced with her, wait, fifteen seventeen golden years ago, at Mat Dillon's in Roundtown. And a good armful she was." Bloom's success with her seems to rile him: "In God's name, John Henry Menton said, what did she marry a coon like that for? She had plenty of game in her then." Bloom needn't feel jealous, though, as Molly thinks Menton is a vile lecher and an idiot: "that big babbyface I saw him and he not long married flirting with a young girl at Pooles Myriorama and turned my back on him when he slinked out looking quite conscious what harm but he had the impudence to make up to me one time well done to him mouth almighty and his boiled eyes of all the big stupoes I ever met and thats called a solicitor."

7) "Father Bernard Corrigan": a priest who confessed Molly in such a way as to suggest some prurient interest. Molly's account of the conversation is hilarious: "I hate that confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan he touched me father and what harm if he did where and I said on the canal bank like a fool but whereabouts on your person my child on the leg behind high up was it yes rather high up was it where you sit down yes O Lord couldnt he say bottom right out and have done with it what has that got to do with it and did you whatever way he put it I forget no father and I always think of the real father what did he want to know for when I already confessed it to God he had a nice fat hand the palm moist always I wouldnt mind feeling it neither would he Id say by the bullneck in his horsecollar I wonder did he know me in the box I could see his face he couldnt see mine of course hed never turn or let on." She thinks, "Id like to be embraced by one in his vestments." So Molly has not done anything with the possibly leering Father Corrigan, but she has fantasized about it. She does not recall his first name, but the novel twice mentions a Bernard Corrigan who is Paddy Dignam's brother-in-law.

8) "A farmer at the Royal Dublin Society's horse show": someone that Molly expressed some kind of strong reaction to at a fancy gathering. The reaction sounds like ridicule, but possibly Bloom heard something more in it. He thinks of this man after getting all worked up by Gerty's finery in Nausicaa: "Wonder how is she feeling in that region. Shame all put on before third person. More put out about a hole in her stocking. Molly, her underjaw stuck out, head back, about the farmer in the ridingboots and spurs at the horse show." Does he think that the boots and spurs had the same powerful sexual effect on Molly that Gerty's undergarments have had on him? If so, Molly does not confirm or deny the hypothesis.

9) "Maggot O'Reilly": an unknown. In Circe Bloom mentions him in the course of an incoherent ramble to Josie Breen about things his wife has done: "And Molly was laughing because Rogers and Maggot O'Reilly were mimicking a cock as we passed a farmhouse and Marcus Tertius Moses, the tea merchant, drove past us in a gig with his daughter, Dancer Moses was her name, and the poodle in her lap bridled up and you asked me if I ever heard or read or knew or came across..." Should the reader hear a second meaning in cock? Molly has nothing to say about the man. But this makes two instances of Bloom reading sexual interest into her laughter. Maybe he knows something about the matter?

10) "Matthew Dillon": one of a pair of well-off brothers that both Bloom and Molly knew before they met. A party at Mat Dillon's house in the suburbs brought them together, but Mat was considerably older (we learn in Nausicaa that he already had a "bevy of daughters: Tiny, Atty, Floey, Maimy, Louy, Hetty"), and Molly does not think about him in any romantic way.

11) "Valentine Blake Dillon (Lord Mayor of Dublin)": the other brother, who actually was Lord Mayor in 1894-95. In Nausicaa Bloom remembers a dinner in Glencree at which the "Lord mayor had his eye on her. Val Dillon." Molly remembers it too, with displeasure: "the lord Mayor looking at me with his dirty eyes Val Dillon that big heathen." Another voyeur.

12) "Christopher Callinan": a real-life Dublin journalist who is the brother-in-law of the fictional Ignatius Gallaher, according to Lenehan in Aeolus. Neither Bloom nor Molly recalls any improprities involving him, though he was present on the horsecart ride with Lenehan described below.

13) "Lenehan": a lowlife leech who obsequiously admires the sexual exploits of John Corley in Two Gallants (a story in Dubliners) and Blazes Boylan in Sirens. In Wandering Rocks he tells M'Coy how he took advantage of an after-midnight carriage ride from Glencree to Dublin over the suggestively named Featherbed Mountain to repeatedly bump into Molly's breasts: "She was well primed with a good load of Delahunt's port under her bellyband. Every jolt the bloody car gave I had her bumping up against me. Hell's delights! She has a fine pair, God bless her. . . . I was tucking the rug under her and settling her boa all the time. Know what I mean? . . . The lad stood to attention anyhow, he said with a sigh. She's a gamey mare and no mistake. Bloom was pointing out all the stars and the comets in the heavens to Chris Callinan and the jarvey: the great bear and Hercules and the dragon, and the whole jingbang lot. But, by God, I was lost, so to speak, in the milky way. He knows them all, faith. At last she spotted a weeny weeshy one miles away. And what star is that, Poldy? says she. By God, she had Bloom cornered. That one, is it? says Chris Callinan, sure that's only what you might call a pinprick. By God, he wasn't far wide of the mark." Lenehan was in a fine state of excitement, and it seems that Bloom as well as Molly was aware of it, but she dismisses him in a word: "that sponger he was making free with me after the Glencree dinner coming back that long joult over the featherbed mountain."

14) "An Italian organgrinder": according to Gifford's plausible reading, the "hurdygurdy boy" whom Bloom associates with Molly in Sirens as he thinks of "songs without words." He saw some kind of communication passing between them: "She knew he meant the monkey was sick. Or because so like the Spanish. Understand animals too that way."

15) "An unknown gentleman in the Gaiety Theatre": a "gentleman of fashion" whom Molly remembers was "staring down at me" through his opera glasses from a private box, while Bloom talked to her about Spinoza. Bloom remembers the moment in Sirens (he thinks she was "Hypnotized, listening" to him when in fact she was just preoccupied because her period was starting), but he does not think of the gentleman in that passage. Still another voyeur, simply looking.

16) "Benjamin Dollard": a burly singer with a resonant bass voice, presently in strained financial circumstances. Both Bloom and Molly remember him coming to visit when they lived in Holles Street, looking to purchase an evening suit to perform in. The Blooms found a suit and gave it to him, but as Bloom recalls in Sirens the pants did not fit well: "Night he ran round to us to borrow a dress suit for that concert. Trousers tight as a drum on him. Musical porkers. Molly did laugh when he went out. Threw herself back across the bed, screaming, kicking. With all his belongings on show. O saints above, I'm drenched! O, the women in the front row! O, I never laughed so many!" Molly still relishes the memory of Dollard "squeezed and squashed into them and grinning all over his big Dolly face like a wellwhipped childs botty didnt he look a balmy ballocks sure enough that must have been a spectacle on the stage imagine paying 5/- in the preserved seats for that to see him trotting off in his trowlers." Other than this amusement at the sight of Ben's crown jewels on display, the novel reveals no sexual interest that Molly has taken in the man, but her concentration on his genitals seems to have been sufficient to alarm Bloom.

17) "Simon Dedalus": Stephen's father, and a very good tenor. Molly sang a duet with him once and relished the coupling: "he had the gift of the voice so there was no art in it all over you like a warm showerbath O Maritana wildwood flower we sang splendidly though it was a bit too high for my register even transposed." And she remembers that "he was always on for flirtyfying too." Bloom listens to Simon sing in Sirens and thinks, "tenors get women by the score" (a bad joke). Simon has qualities that turn Molly off. She doesn't like his alcoholism: "he was always turning up half screwed singing the second verse first." And he is "such a criticiser." But her description of their duet does suggest a certain intimate comfort with him.

18) "Andrew (Pisser) Burke": a fellow lodger whom the Blooms knew when they were staying at the City Arms hotel, as we first learn in Cyclops. Molly's words suggest that Burke may possibly have been eyeing her, but she clearly has contempt for him: "that longnosed chap I dont know who he is with that other beauty Burke out of the City Arms hotel was there spying around as usual on the slip always where he wasnt wanted." Bloom may be threatened by voyeurs, but she is not interested.

19) "Joseph Cuffe": one of the family owners of a cattle-trading business at which Bloom was employed. Molly thinks that her husband "could have been in Mr Cuffes still only for what he did then sending me to try and patch it up I could have got him promoted there to be the manager he gave me a great mirada once or twice first he was as stiff as the mischief really and truly Mrs Bloom only I felt rotten simply with the old rubbishy dress that I lost the leads out of the tails with no cut in it." Bloom, then, conspired to send Molly to flirt with an employer who evidently admired her, essentially pimping her in an effort to keep his job. But he did not keep the job, much less become promoted, so it seems very unlikely that Molly did anything more than talk Mr. Cuffe out of his initial "stiff" formality.

20) "Wisdom Hely": the real-life owner of a stationery and printing shop in Dublin. In Lestrygonians Bloom recalls that he "Got the job in Wisdom Hely's year we married," 1888. But he does not recall anything happening between his employer and his wife. Neither does she.

21) "Alderman John Hooper": a real person in Dublin who fictionally gave the Blooms a wedding present, a stuffed owl. Bloom thinks of the owl in Hades and again in Ithaca, where we see it still standing "on the mantelpiece." Neither he nor Molly, however, thinks of Alderman John making any sexual or romantic advances.

22) "Dr Francis Brady": a physician who gave Molly a "belladonna prescription" to help with the nipple pain she was experiencing as she tried to wean Milly. Apparently Bloom cannot think of that level of physical intimacy existing without some sexual feeling being involved—a not totally unreasonable assumption, but it hardly rises to the level of adultery.

23) "Father Sebastian of Mount Argus": a total mystery, as neither Molly nor Bloom mentions him.

24) "A bootblack at the General Post Office": ditto.

25) "Hugh E. (Blazes) Boylan": quite certainly and emphatically a sexual threat to Bloom, as he achieves multiple orgasms with Molly during the late afternoon and early evening of June 16, and gives her multiple orgasms as well. Molly considers running away with Boylan and becoming his wife, but she does not seem romantically taken with him. She does plan to continue the affair.

The long list, then, begins and ends with men who have been sexually involved with Molly, but most of what comes between seems tendentious and fantastic, almost in the spirit of the long lists of real and (increasingly) unreal names that help make Cyclops and Circe so funny. Interestingly, the names of these men often seem to cluster together in the text. Penrose, Bartell d'Arcy, and Professor Goodwin occur to Bloom in quick succession in Lestrygonians. Val Dillon, Lenehan, and Chris Callinan were all involved in the Glencree dinner. Molly thinks first of Penrose and then of Doctor Brady in connection with her nursing. Ben Dollard, Bartell d'Arcy, and Simon Dedalus run together in her thoughts about singing. It is almost as if certain events or activities have been charged with sexual feeling, and the people connected with those events thereby become objects of alarm for Bloom.

JH 2014
The slaughter of the suitors by Odysseus, Telemachus and Eumaeus, on a red-figure bell-krater, ca. 330 BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.