The narrative technique of Episode Fourteen is meant to represent the gestation of the English language. The prose styles of many different time periods, along with the styles of their most famous authors, are replicated and at times parodied in chronological order.
Latinate prose, and then alliterative Anglo-Saxon, situate us at the Holles Street maternity hospital, run by Sir Andrew Horne. Bloom arrives at the hospital gates, having come to check on Mrs. Purefoy. Nurse Callan, an acquaintance of Bloom’s, opens the gate and leads him inside. Their conversation about Mrs. Purefoy, who has been in labor for three days, is described in moralizing medieval prose. The emergence of Dixon, a medical student, from a noisy room down the hall is described in medieval-romance style. Dixon, who once treated Bloom for a bee sting, invites Bloom inside, where Lenehan, Crotthers, Stephen, Punch Costello, and medical students Lynch and Madden are boisterously gathered around a spread of sardines and beer. Dixon pours Bloom a beer, which Bloom quietly deposits in his neighbor’s cup. A nun comes to the door and asks for quiet.
The men discuss medical cases in which the doctor must choose between saving the mother or the baby—Stephen discusses the religious aspect of this question while others joke about contraception and sex. Bloom is somber, thinking of Mrs. Purefoy and of Molly’s labor with Rudy. Bloom considers Stephen, imagining that he is wasting time with these men.
Stephen’s pouring of more beer and consideration of the quibbles of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus are described in Elizabethan prose. Punch Costello interrupts with a bawdy song about a pregnant woman. Nurse Quigley comes to the door and shushes them. The men’s teasing Stephen about the piety of his youth is described in early seventeenth-century prose. A thunderclap erupts. Bloom notices that Stephen is truly frightened at this evidence of God’s anger, and he attempts to calm Stephen by explaining the science of thunder.
Buck Mulligan’s meeting with Alec Bannon on the street nearby is described in seventeenth-century diary style. Alec tells Buck about a girl he is dating in Mullingar (Milly Bloom). The two men walk together to the hospital on Holles street.
The good-for-nothing characters of Lenehan and Costello are described in the prose style of Daniel Defoe. The subject of Deasy’s letter and cattle health is broached. A long, allegorical joke ensues about papal bulls, Henry VIII, and England’s relationship to Ireland. Buck’s arrival is described in Addison’s and Steele’s essay style. Buck jokes about his new occupation as a “fertiliser” for all female comers. A side conversation between Crotthers and Bannon about Milly, and Bannon’s intent to purchase contraception in Dublin, is described in Lawrence Sterne’s style. The men euphemistically discuss different contraceptive methods.