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A mawkish, clichéd, third-person narrative describes the
summer evening on Sandymount Strand, near Mary, Star of the Sea
church. Bloom stands across the beach from three girlfriends—Cissy
Caffrey, Edy Boardman, and Gerty MacDowell—and their charges: Cissy’s
twin toddler brothers and Edy’s baby brother. Cissy and Edy tend
to the babies and occasionally tease Gerty, who is sitting some distance
away. The narrative sympathetically describes Gerty as beautiful,
and outlines the commercial products she uses to maintain her looks.
Gerty’s crush—the boy who bicycles past her house—has been aloof
lately. Gerty daydreams of marriage and domestic life with a silent,
strong man. Meanwhile, Edy and Cissy deal loudly with the children’s
disputes. Gerty is mortified by her friends’ unladylike obscenity,
especially in front of the gentleman (Bloom). Nearby, at the Star
of the Sea church, a men’s temperance retreat begins with a supplication
to the Virgin.
The toddlers kick their ball too far. Bloom picks it
up and throws it back—the ball rolls to a stop under Gerty’s skirt.
Gerty tries to kick the ball to Cissy but misses. Gerty senses Bloom’s
eyes on her and notices his sad face. She fantasizes that he is
a foreigner in mourning who needs her comfort. Gerty displays her
ankles and her hair for Bloom, knowing she is arousing him.
Gerty wonders aloud how late it is, hoping Cissy and
Edy will take the children home. Cissy approaches Bloom and asks
for the time. Bloom’s watch has stopped. Gerty watches Bloom put
his hands back in his pockets and senses the onset of her menstrual cycle.
She yearns to know Bloom’s story—is he married? A widower? Duty-bound
to a madwoman?
Cissy and the others are preparing to leave when the
fireworks from the Mirus bazaar begin. They run down the strand
to watch, but Gerty remains. Gerty leans back, holding her knee
in her hands, knowingly revealing her legs, while she watches a
“long Roman candle” firework shoot high in the sky. At the climax
of the episode and Gerty’s emotions (and Bloom’s own orgasmic climax,
we soon realize) the Roman candle bursts in the air, to cries of
“O! O!” on the ground.
As Gerty rises and begins to walk to the others, Bloom
realizes that she is lame in one foot. He feels shock and pity,
then relief that he did not know this when she was arousing him.
Bloom ponders the sexual appeal of abnormalities, then women’s sexual
urges as heightened by their menstrual cycles. Remembering Gerty’s
two friends, he considers the competitiveness of female friendships,
like Molly’s with Josie Breen. Bloom remembers that his watch was stopped
at 4:30, and he wonders
if that is when Molly and Boylan had sex.
Bloom rearranges his semen-stained shirt and ponders
strategies for seducing women. Bloom wonders if Gerty noticed him
masturbating—he guesses that she did, as women are very aware. He briefly
wonders if Gerty is Martha Clifford. Bloom thinks about how soon
girls become mothers, then of Mrs. Purefoy at the nearby maternity
hospital. Bloom ponders the “magnetism” that could account for his
watch stopping when Boylan and Molly were together, perhaps the
same magnetism that draws men and women together.
Bloom smells Gerty’s perfume in the air—a cheap smell,
not like Molly’s complex scent, opoponax. Bloom smells inside his
waistcoat, wondering what a man’s smell would be. The scent of the lemon
soap reminds him that he forgot to pick up Molly’s lotion.
A “nobleman” passes Bloom. Bloom wonders about the man and
considers writing a story called “The Mystery Man on the Beach.”
This thought reminds him of the macintosh man at Dignam’s funeral.
Looking at Howth lighthouse, Bloom considers the science of light
and colors, then the day he and Molly spent there. Now, Boylan is
with her. Bloom feels drained. He notices that Mass seems to be
over. The postman makes his nine o’clock round with a lamp. A newsboy
cries the results of the Gold Cup race.
Bloom decides to avoid going home just yet. He reconsiders
the incident in Barney Kiernan’s— perhaps the citizen meant no harm. Bloom
thinks about his evening visit to Mrs. Dignam. Bloom tries to remember
his dream last night. Molly was dressed in Turkish breeches and
Bloom picks up a stray piece of paper, then a stick.
Wondering if Gerty will return tomorrow, he begins to write her
a message in the sand—“I AM A”—but stops
as there is not sufficient room. He erases the letters and throws
the stick, which lands straight up in the sand. He decides to have
a short nap, and his thoughts become muddled by sleep. Bloom dozes
off as a cuckoo clock chimes in the priest’s house nearby.
In Episode Thirteen of Ulysses, Gerty
MacDowell corresponds to Princess Nausicaa, who, in The
Odyssey, discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach and tends
to him. Gerty, associated with blue and white, also seems to correspond
to the Virgin Mary. Sounds from the nearby temperance retreat are
interspersed with Gerty’s narrative, creating an ironic parallel
between Gerty and Mary: as Gerty dreams of ministering to a husband
and opens herself to Bloom’s supplicating sexual attention, so do
the men in the church appeal to the statue of the Virgin Mary for
comfort and aid. Episode Thirteen is the first episode of Ulysses that
centers on a female consciousness, and it inaugurates the final
sections of the book, which are more female-centered in their characters
The first half of Episode Thirteen centers on Gerty’s
appearance and consciousness, and we only hear Bloom’s interior
monologue in the second half of the episode. Gerty’s half consists
of several barely distinct narrative points of view and styles.
The narrative is sympathetic with Gerty, and Gerty’s consciousness
slides in and out of the narrative—her interior monologue is sometimes
rendered directly. The narrative’s style borrows from (and parodies)
the prose of both moralizing, sentimental literature and consumer-oriented
women’s magazines. The style is accordingly full of emotional clichés,
effusive diction, and imprecise descriptions. Additionally, the
style of the narrative is such that unpleasant realities and indelicate
details are filtered out. Thus, Gerty’s lame foot is only slightly
alluded to, as is masturbation.
The feminine pleasantries and the focus on sentimental
love in Episode Thirteen seem to be something of a response to Episode Twelve’s
masculine violence and prejudice. This hypothesis fits with the
workings of Ulysses, by which previous perspectives
are tempered by later styles and character viewpoints. Thus, Bloom’s
foreignness—a detriment in Episode Twelve—becomes an attractive asset
for him in Episode Thirteen. Yet Episodes Twelve and Thirteen ultimately
turn out to have straightforward affinities. Excess lacking substance
seems common to both, from the hyperbolic lists of Episode Twelve
to the lush expositions of Episode Thirteen. And both episodes seem
to offer examples of categorical or stereotypical thinking. The
citizen’s logic worked on the seemingly straightforward basis of
race and religion. Gerty’s thoughts offer conventional ideas, while
the narrative of Episode Thirteen invites us to evaluate Gerty as
an entirely typical Irish girl.
Women in Episode Thirteen are defined, in part, by their
perceptiveness about who is looking at them and when. Women become sexual
beings through their ability to present themselves to be looked
at, and Bloom’s erotic moments are voyeuristic. Stephen, in “Proteus,”
experimented with closing his eyes and concentrating on his other
senses. The second half of Episode Thirteen reflects a shift of
emphasis from the eyes to the nose. Bloom’s thoughts hover around
smells and smelling. The distinction between the emphasis on senses
in the two beach episodes seems to lie in the import of Stephen’s
and Bloom’s musings—Stephen seeks to understand how our senses order
our relationship to the physical world, while Bloom’s thoughts dwell
on sight and smelling as ordering relationships between people.
Like the other women whom Bloom has seen and fantasized about
so far in Ulysses, Gerty eventually reminds Bloom
of Molly, suggesting that Bloom’s desire for Molly is often refracted
through another woman. It is in this episode that Bloom notices
for the first time that his watch has stopped, apparently sometime
between four and five o’clock—perhaps at the exact time of Boylan
and Molly’s tryst. Yet our sympathy for Bloom’s sadness at this
thought is tempered by the circumstances of the discovery—Bloom
himself is conducting a tryst at this later hour, albeit an unconsummated
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ulysses!