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Read Circe

Bloom and Stephen, accompanied by Lynch, have made their way to Nighttown, the red-light district of Dublin. The hour is late – approximately midnight – and the whores are plying their trade in full voice. Bloom buys a sheep’s trotter and a crubeen (pig’s foot) from a butcher’s shop and is nearly run over by a tram in the street. The bulk of the chapter is taken up with Bloom’s visions, in which he is repeatedly and alternatingly put on trial for obscene thoughts and deeds, and celebrated as a hero – perhaps even the messiah himself. Bloom’s deepest desires and kinks are explored here, as he at one point metamorphoses into a pregnant woman and is sexually humiliated by the powerful madame, Bella Cohen (who herself transforms into a man, Bello, for periods of time). Bloom is also visited by his long-dead father, Rudolph, by Molly, and even by Blazes Boylan. Stephen, meanwhile, plays the piano and indulges a reverie about the end of the world, then of his own perverted (in several senses) religious aspirations and disappointments. Stephen’s vision intensifies into a visitation by his dead mother who prays to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for his salvation as Stephen screams in agony. Finally, he snaps, smashes the chandelier with his ashplant and flees the brothel. Bloom pays Bella for the light and follows him. He finds Stephen in the midst of a knot of people. Stephen has gotten tangled up with Cissy Caffrey (here, a whore) who is in the company of two soliders, Privates Compton and Carr. The soldiers are cross-examining Stephen, who fails to take them seriously enough and announces that he must kill in his mind both priest and king. The apparent threat to the king earns him a punch in the face, and only Bloom’s intervention prevents him from coming to further harm. At this point, the police arrive at the same time as Corny Kelleher, an acquaintance of Bloom’s. Bloom prevails upon Kelleher, who knows the policeman, to have the matter forgotten as mere youthful high spirits. He then wakes Stephen up, gets him to his feet, and unsteadily leads him away from the scene.

“Circe” is written in an expressionist mode, with stage directions and dialogue indicated by the speaker on stage, as it were. It freely intermingles actual action with dramatizations of characters’ thought processes and unconscious patterns of thought. The effect is hallucinatory and at times disturbing as we go well beyond mere stream of consciousness to plumb the unconscious depths of Stephen’s and Bloom’s minds as well.

Read “Circe” now.

Amanda Hansen

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