Dr. Matt Huculak’s Guide to the Professions of Ulysses; or What to Read on Bloomsday
Not sure what part of James Joyce’s epic you should read on Bloomsday? Why not read a section based on your work? Here is Dr. Huculak’s Guide to the Professions of Ulysses. (Don’t see your profession? Email me, and I’ll choose something for you).
People in the know (pedants & twits) don’t call the parts of Ulysses “chapters.” We call them “episodes,” but I’m going to use the terms interchangeably below.
Episode 1. Telemachus: Graduate Students & Dairy Farmers
A bunch of poor students wake up, eat breakfast, and try to find money to pay the milk lady. A great choice for those of you with housemates who eat your food in the fridge and routinely wake you up because they’ve locked themselves out of the flat.
Episode 2. Nestor: Historians, Teachers, Schoolboys, and Parents of Ugly Children
Stephen Daedalus teaches grammar school and wonders how a particular mother could love her ugly son. Great for helicopter parents.
Episode 3. Proteus: Philosophy Students, Nose-pickers, and Other Bores
Stephen walks along a beach, thinks a bunch of fancy stuff, and picks his nose. The first dog of the novel appears in this chapter (its name is Tatters–save that one for Trivial Pursuit).
Episode 4. Calypso: Cat Lovers, Butchers, Breakfast Lovers. So basically, Hipsters.
Leopold Bloom makes breakfast. This is a great chapter to read if you’ve never read Ulysses before.
Do you talk to your cats? If so, this is the episode for you–well, at least the beginning. At the end of the episode, Bloom takes the first poop of modernist literature (I’ve got dibs on this section). He has a high fibre diet.
Episode 5. Lotus Eaters: Postal Employees, Florists, Flirts, and Soap Lovers
Bloom buys a bar of soap (yep, that’s important), goes to the Post Office, and picks up a letter from a woman he’s been flirting with under the pseudonym, “Henry Flower.” Feeling flirtatious, read this episode!
Episode 6. Hades: Priests & Undertakers
Bloom attends a funeral and reflects upon life and death. By the end of the episode, he’s committed to living life to the fullest. If you’re feeling a bit melancholy and serious, this is your episode.
Episode 7. Aeolus: Journalists, Editors, Advertising Agents, Cenotaphs, and Brewers
Do you love newspapers? Ever worked in journalism? Bloom visits a newspaper office and places an ad; a commotion happens next store at the brewery. How do you keep the public intoxicated? Sorry, gotta go, the news is on…
Episode 8. Lestrygonians: Waiters, Dentists, Museum Curators
Do you hate it when people chew with their mouths open? In this chapter, Bloom eats lunch, and we’re basically introduced to gross acts of mastication.
And, if you’ve ever tried to avoid the meathead bastard about to cuckold you by running into a museum, this one’s for you.
Episode 9. Scylla and Charybdis: Librarians, Archivists, and Professors
This episode takes place at the National Library in Dublin, and the author makes liberal jokes at the expense of academics–kind of like university administrators.
Episode 10. Wandering Rocks: Baristas, Booksellers, Sailors, Office Assistants, Hangmen, Royalty, Debtors, Romance Novelists, Moneylenders, Patriots, Jewellers, Auctioneers, Bookies, Shopgirls, Missionaries
So, this chapter is like a movie. It’s a bunch of character sketches right out of a Kieślowski film. We see a bunch of people who haven’t necessarily met all crossing paths and doing the things they do in the city. Chances are, if your profession isn’t listed in a previous episode, it is listed somewhere in here.
Episode 11. Sirens: Musicians, Singers, Barmaids
This episode is all about music. I was taught that the chapter follows the motif of a fugue. I’m still not sure what that means.
Episode 12. Cyclops: Bartenders, Sports Enthusiasts, & Cheapskates
Bloom visits the bar, in which everyone mistakenly thinks he’s won a big bet at the racetrack. People get mad when he doesn’t share his “winnings” by buying everyone a pint (Bloom has no idea that this is happening).
In his famous “What is a nation” speech, Bloom gives a beautiful defence of citizenship based on shared humanistic ideals of freedom rather than one based on race, religion or class. A mean, one-eyed nationalist, the Citizen, chases Bloom out of the bar and throws a cookie tin at him. (a great costume prop, btw.)
Episode 13. Nausicaa: Dry Cleaners
So, this is the episode that got Ulysses banned. Bloom does something that is illegal in 49 States and at least two Canadian territories. (Not recommended for “Bloomsday Family Night.”)
Episode 14. Oxen of the Sun: Obstetricians and Hospital Workers
Bloom visits a family friend in the maternity ward and then meets his “spiritual” son, Stephen Daedalus (the nose-picker from the first three chapters).
Episode 15. Circe: Prostitutes, Playwrights, Judges, Lawyers, & Other Theatre Types
Bloom and Stephen get super drunk in the red-light district. Bloom hallucinates that he’s on trial, and issues of sexuality, gender, death, life are explored. This chapter is like a fever dream. If you liked the “literal video” of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” you’ll love this episode.
Episode 16. Eumaeus: Cabbies & Bus Drivers
Bloom and Stephen hide out in a cab shelter. They are drunk, exhausted, and are probably going to have to pay the “clean-up fee” if they ever catch a cab.
Episode 17. Ithaca: Public Works Officials (& Catholics)
Okay, this is my favourite episode in the whole book. The chapter reads like a catechism, and follows topics ranging from astronomy to the parabolas of two men urinating.
Episode 18. Penelope: Everyone
This is the first time the novel is narrated by a woman, and it is a life-affirming trip across Molly Bloom’s life. The novel finishes with one of the most recognizable endings in literature: ” . ” Just kidding:
“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the … breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Postdoctoral Fellow, Digital Scholarship, University of Victoria Libraries; Co-Founder, Modernist Versions Project