Episode 4, Calypso – In which we get a break from Stephen, and are introduced to the much more engaging Leopold Bloom, and his wife Molly.
Oh Leopold, Leopold, where have you been for the past 47 pages? Episode 4 heralds in a brand new protagonist, Leopold Bloom, who I am immediately enamored of. Call me a romantic, but the way he dotes on his cheating wife Molly is downright sweet.
The episode opens with Bloom going on his first of many errands of this interminably long day, to obtain some breakfast. Right away he is distinguished from Stephen in his lust for life and embracing of it, and yet as we will find out over the subsequent 635 pages, there are also some parallels between the two.
We get our first glimpse of Dublin through Bloom’s eyes as he steps outside of his door, and yet curiously he is preoccupied with sensations of foreign places that he has never been to:
Somewhere in the east: early morning: set off at dawn, travel round in front of the sun, steal a day’s march on him. Keep it up for ever never grow a day older technically. Walk along a strand, strange land, come to a city gate, sentry there, old ranker too, old Tweedy’s big moustaches leaning on a long kind of a spear. Wander through awned streets. Turbaned faces going by. Dark caves of carpet shops, big man, Turko the terrible, seated cross-legged smoking a coiled pipe. Cries of sellers in the streets. Drink water scented with fennel, sherbet. Wander along all day. Might meet a robber or two. Well, meet him. Getting on to sundown. The shadows of the mosques along the pillars: priest with a scroll rolled up. A shiver of the trees, signal, the evening wind. I pass on. Fading gold sky. A mother watches from her doorway. She calls her children home in their dark language. High wall: beyond strings twanged. Night sky moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of these instruments what do you call them: dulcimers. I pass.
Probably not a bit like it really. Kind of stuff you read: in the track of the sun. Sunburst on the titlepage. He smiled, pleasing himself.
And a short while later, Bloom’s mind wanders again to a far off locale as he considers and re-considers the prospect of a land purchase in Turkey, advertised in a flyer, “Nothing doing. Still an idea behind it.”
I’m not sure if this sort of reverie is meant to mark Bloom as the foreign — a Jew with immigrant origins, dressed in black no less — but very much connected to the soon to be newly independent Ireland, or serves some other purpose. For as much as Bloom is rooted in the current, complete with saucy wife, a profession, a child, a grilled Kidney for breakfast … he is also shown to be a bit dreamy in these passages. He is of the same vein as Stephen. Despite being grounded, or rather immersed in, the messy to-do of life he is also caught up with his own regret and sadness. These passages remind me of the gentle fantasy-making of far off places and romance of exploration that most of us have at some stage or another, whether it be to replace the current doldrums or to take our mind on an adventure.
Joyce himself was writing his masterpiece amid the turmoil of the 19-teens, at a time of world war and revolution, yet set placidly 14-years earlier as the momentum for what was to happen in his own country was taking up steam. In a book that is so specific upon every comma and made-up word choice, I have to think this return to the past had some significance.