ULYSSES pp. 76-81, “The Lotus Eaters”



You can imply a lot of dirty things with a flower.


We left off yesterday anticipating the illicit thrill of Martha Clifford’s love letter. But a Penthouse Letter it ain’t.

First, the tweets:

  • 76. LB disparages M’Coy: A homosexual? Leah is playing tonight, causes Bloom to reflect on dad’s death (suicide).
  • 77. LB bonds w/castrated horses. (Everyone is impotent.) Finds flower pinned to Martha’s letter. Martha’s a bad speller
  • 78. Martha’s letter: “You’re a naughty boy!” Wants 2 meet Bloom & know what perfume Molly uses. LB thinks of manflower, cactus, nightstalk.
  • 79. LB thinks of Mary & Martha. Tears up letter & scatters the shreds. The word ‘bungholes’ also appears on this page.
  • 80. LB enters church, thinks of missionaries in China. The Good News=opium? Wants 2 sit next 2 a woman. Priest administers the sacrament.
  • 81. LB misreads I.N.R.I. & I.H.S. Thinks of Molly’s letter, then ‘crawthumper’ Carey. Wonders: Why not Guinness for the chalice?

Now, Martha’s letter:

It’s a big letdown. Where to begin? How about the spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. “World” should be “word.” “Patience” is singular, not plural. Punctuation is spotty. And the phrase “naughty boy” or some variant appears four times. Martha wants to “punish” Henry? What about the poor reader?

After wondering what Martha pinned to her letter (a photo? hair? a badge?), Leopold discovers it is a flower. (A flower for Henry Flower.) Specifically, “a yellow flower with flattened petals.” It does not have a scent.

After reading Martha’s letter, Leopold begins mentally cataloguing virtually every flower-related sexual innuendo you could imagine. Ulysses Annotated helps steer our imagination:

Tulips: dangerous pleasures; manflower: an obvious pun; cactus: not only the phallus but also touch-me-not; forget-me-not: as the name suggests and also true love; violets: modesty; roses: love and beauty; anemone: frailty, anticipation; nightstalk: in addition to the phallic pun, nightshade; falsehood.

Leopold knows he will not take Martha up on her offer to meet, but he does resolve to “go further next time.” (Maybe suggest something kinky with a kniphofia?)

The pin from Martha’s letter makes Leopold think of a street rhyme about a girl named Mary losing the pin of her drawers, which leads to him contemplating the story of Mary and Martha from the Gospels. Leopold has himself his own Mary and Martha, if we take Molly-Marion = Mary.

Leopold tears up Martha’s envelope, and by extension himself as Henry Flower — he won’t act on his theoretical infidelity. Then he proceeds to All Hallows’ Church where, upon entering, he sees a notice about the African mission. Leopold, who as Lizaanne noted is disengaged from his faith on a spiritual level (but not an identity level), thinks of “Faith as a drug for the natives” (Blamires). Here we get our first taste of religion as an opiate. Leopold imagines the Eucharist as a sort of sedative, lulling the congregants into a stupor ( “Stupefies them first. Hospice for the dying. They don’t seem to chew it; only swallow it down”).

More along this train of thought when we conclude “Lotus Eaters.” Before we get to the essay questions, more examples of this section’s continuing theme of “drugged receptivity and impotence” (Blamires):

  • The horses “with their long noses stuck in nosebags. Too full for words. … Gelded too: a stump of black guttapercha wagging limp between their haunches.” [p. 77] (Did Joyce lift this from Equine Penthouse Letters?)
  • “A wise tabby, a blinking sphinx, watched from her warm sill” [p. 77]
  • “Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic” [p. 78]
  • “A huge dull flood [of Guinness] leaked out, flowing together, winding through mudflats all over the level land, a lazy pooling swirl” [p. 79]
  • Old fellow asleep near that confession box. Hence those snores. Blind faith. Safe in the arms of the kingdom come. Lulls all pain. Wake this time next year” [p. 81]


  • How has Leopold’s father’s suicide shaped him?
  • For those who are rereading Ulysses: What is the significance of the Plumtree’s Potted Meat ad?
  • What word did Leopold use in a previous letter which caused Martha to call him “naughty”? Use your imagination.
  • If you wanted to have an affair with a married man, would you really ask what perfume his wife uses?
  • Is Leopold a perv? He sure has a lot of fetishes: Silk stockings. Erotic correspondences. Churchgoing women. And he seems to have a thing for punishment.
  • Have you ever seen such a stupid pussens as the pussens?

ESSAY QUESTION FOR EXTRA CREDIT! Write your own Ulysses Penthouse Letter using at least a half dozen types of flower. Bonus points for spelling errors and repetitious phrases!

Tomorrow, or probably more like Saturday: pp. 82-86!


5 Responses

  1. I made a note to myself when reading the lines “Language of flowers. They like it because no one can hear” (78) to do a bit of research on the Victorian concept of the language/ meaning of flowers– given that they were *supposedly* used to send messages, esp. between secret lovers. Here’s what I found on this section. Red tulip= declaration of love; cactus= endurance/ heart burns with love (sounds painful to me); forget-me-nots=true love; violets= faithfulness/ modesty; roses ~totally depend on what color they are but generally, you guessed it, have to do with love. The kicker here is that the Lotus = purity, chastity, & eloquence. Oh dear.
    Oh- and a possiblity that the dried flower could be a lime blossom (esp. given the earlier citrus) b/c it = fornication…

  2. Prob. not, though, as that would still carry a scent even when dried & would be more white than yellow. Check Wiki under Language of Flowers to see if you can come up with a better possibility.

  3. This explains why Jerry gave me a cactus every year for Valentine’s Day when we were undergrads. I never knew.

  4. And I’ve kept buying you one every year since. But now I just keep them in my closet. ;(

    For a relatively entertaining source of insight on Joyce and love letters, check out the film Nora. It focuses a lot on the pervy letters between Nora Barnacle and Joyce… the latter being the more unintentionally bad speller.

    And the “potted meats” thing accretes meaning as we proceed through the book. It becomes associated with Marion’s infidelity.

    Is Bloom a perv? You haven’t seen anything yet. But I’ll maintain that he’s a sweet perv.

  5. […] In case you missed them, Wandering Ox explains the erotic allusions; Tulips: dangerous pleasures; manflower: an obvious pun; cactus: not […]

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