Episode 13

A brief guide to “Nausicaa”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 385-425
2017 edition Ulysses pages 309-340
1922 edition Ulysses pages [331]-365

Thursday 16 June, 1904: 8.00 to 9.00 p.m. (Sunset: 8.27 p.m.), Sandymount strand.


TITLE and SENSE: Nausicaa. The Projected Mirage.
SCENE: The Rocks
HOUR: 8 p.m.
ORGAN: Eye, Nose
ART: Painting
COLOUR: Grey, Blue
SYMBOL: Virgin
TECHNIC: Tumescence, Detumescence

This episode divides in phallic tumescence/detumescence neatly into two parts, both enacted on the profane strand at Sandymount. The first details the “eroticism produced by female exhibitionism” and an attendant male “rite of Onan” (masturbation); the second is taken up with Bloom's reflections on the radiant girl, Gerty MacDowell, and his brutish response to her.

It is all rather cruel and, at once, misogynist and, indeed, androgynist. The girl, we suddenly realize, is crippled, having crashed her bicycle while riding it down Dalkey hill. Bloom, the voyeur par excellence, is at it again, thankful for small mercies received and for his earlier foresight (as luck would have it) in his not having “done it in the bath”. Masturbation, for our hero, is something to be savoured. The girl's superficiality and naivety, as portrayed by Joyce, are a little extreme; and Bloom's indifference to her plight is rather menacing. (In Circe, a ghastly and more realistic Gerty reappears in one of the hallucinations, carrying a rag bloodied in menstruation, shaking it at Bloom and pronouncing: “You did that. I hate you”.) Joyce may be pardoned, perhaps, in that he merely patched the Gerty half of this episode together by collecting snippets of text from popular simple-minded magazines for young ladies of the day and pasting these into his work in progress. But the virile upward thrust, as it were, of the narrative – the twisted eroticism – is entirely Joyce's. It is a curiosity that in the earliest handwritten draft of the episode the script of the climax, when the firework bursts so spectacularly asunder, is highly and indelicately erratic. Joyce was as good a tosser as the next fellow.

It is growing late and twilight thickens. Errant Bloom, with time to spare on his hands, has wandered down in the gloaming to the strand where he encounters a group of young girls out taking the sea-air and playing with a ball while they mind some children. Bloom has been absent from the novel for several hours, during which (we can infer) he has visited the house of mourning at No. 9, Newbridge Avenue, Sandymount, to help Paddy Dignam's widow sort out her insurance claim.

One of the girls does not join in with the play of the others, but rather sits; and, when her companions' attention is elsewhere, knowingly, coyly, slowly, coquettishly exposes the bare tops of her legs and her frilly underwear (where no-one, ever!) to an onlooking (and to her an exotic-looking) Mr Bloom, rapt and wrapped as he is by the rocks. She does so to the pious strains of the Tantum Ergo emanating from the local church where a Mass is in progress.o1

After the grand ejaculatory finale, when the girl limps off to join the others heading off home, a little bat flies back and forth, the clock in the priest's house chimes, and Bloom traces out an unfinished admission in the sand – I. Am. A. – before half-nodding off. Now sexually relieved, and perhaps a little less frustrated, with his natural lechery temporarily in abeyance, he is on his roundabout way back home to the bed of his adulterous wife. By the time he gets to the hospital, when we next encounter him, he is hypocritically extolling the Catholic position of viewing human sexuality as primarily and properly a means towards procreation.

Overall, Joyce is mocking the concept of the Immaculate Conception with Gerty in the role of the Blessed Virgin, Bloom as God, and the bat that flits between them playing the vehicle of impregnation featuring as the dove-like Holy Ghost.

In writing the piece, Joyce, as usual, tried to get his facts right. To this end, he wrote to his aunt Josephine (Letters, I, 135):

Will you please send me a bundle of other novelettes and any penny hymnbook you can find as I need them? All well here except myself. Another thing I wanted to know is whether there are trees (and of what kind) behind the Star of the Sea church in Sandymount visible from the shore and also whether there are steps leading down at the side of it from Leahy's terrace. If you can find out these facts for me quickly I shall be glad.

Nausicaa first appeared in print spread out over three issues of The Little Review. With the exception of a part of Oxen, the serialization of his novel-in-progress then ceased. As Pound put it, “Nausikaa has been pinched by the PO-lice.” Indeed, the July/August issue was not only pinched, but was prosecuted by the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice. Quinn half-heartedly defended The Little Review, but famously lost the case.

Both the church and the priest's house (at No. 3, Leahy's Terrace; in 1904 “O'Hanlon, Very Rev. John, canon, P.P.” lived there) can still be visited, though the strand has altered through landfill in the years since 1904. The Canon O'Hanlon Memorial National School now occupies the exact episodic spot where Bloom sinned.

With Nausicaa Joyce begin seriously to modify his mode of writing. From here on in, he begins to rely more and more heavily on notes and phrases compiled through his reading. He has done this before, using others as a spur to his creativity, but never before to anything like the same extent. A new kind of Joyce has emerged and with this a new kind of deep text (text as texture) fated to culminate in the singular Finnegans Wake.

Writing to Frank Budgen some time towards the end of 1919, Joyce notified him of his progress with the episode:

I have not written a word of Nausikaa beyond notation of flappers' atrocities and general plan of the especially new fizzing style (Patent No. 7728. S.P. E.P. B.P. L.P.)

In a subsequent letter, he elaborates:

Nausikaa is written in a namby-pamby jammy marmalady drawersy (alto là!) style with effects of incense, Mariolatry, masturbation, stewed cockles, painter's palette, chitchat, circumlocution, etc, etc.

Writing about the episode in his James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses, Budgen notes (p. 209):

[Gerty is] described in the familiar novelette style of the period, and we must remember that Poppy's Paper and Florrie's Paper, with their yarns about typists and factory hands who get off with the young governor in his sports Bentley, had not yet, in 1904, supplanted the Bow Bells and Heartsease novelettes, where the young governess makes the crowded ballroom floor gasp with her beauty, dressed in a simple white frock and wearing a single white rose. Carefully listening we can hear undertones of Gerty's own Sandymount outlook and dialect in the rich prose of the Heartsease library.

Joyce revisits his obsession of a girl exposing her knickers to a leering man in Finnegans Wake, where Shem tries to guess the colour (heliotrope) of Issy's knickers. Interestingly, the perfume Gerty wafts towards Bloom, waving her handkerchief as she departs the shore, is rose. In an earlier draft it was specified as heliotrope.


Phaeacia = Star of the Sea
Gerty = Nausikaa
Bloom = Odysseus
Gerty's girl friends = Handmaidens .

The projected mirage of Nausicaa is wildly out of sync with the Homeric prototype, where it follows immediately upon the departure from Ogygia, the island of the goddess Calypso.

The entire episode is confined to a narrow space on Sandymount Strand, where we find Gerty MacDowell sitting on some rocks and watching her friends below her play at ball while they are out minding three children.

Bloom lurks nearby, having wandered down to the strand, and quickly notices the girl; and she sees him. As events unfold, coyly at first, then with an onrush of passion, she displays to him her legs and underwear. He gazes, agog, his hand busy meanwhile inside his pocket.

Their unexpected romantic interlude coming spectacularly to an end, with the emission in the sky of bright flecks of light from a long Roman candle, Gerty rises to join the others to go home. It is getting on and the light is failing. As she does so, Bloom notices her limping. He then begins to half-slumber, thinking of many things at once.

Gerty's bicycle, which she crashed, is reflective of Nausicaa's mule-drawn cart. Nausicaa's famed beauty and allure is ascribed here to young Gerty. Both (if privately) have marriage on their minds, and the concomitant relevance of appropriate pre-nuptial clothing. The issue of exposure (of skin, of knickers), while reversed, is prominent.

Gerty's friends, squinty Eddy Boardman and gawky Cissy Caffrey, stand in for Nausicaa's slave girls. These run off when Odysseus pops naked out of his hiding place. The misplaced ball occurs in both texts precisely at the moment when the hero makes his appearance. The time of day, however, is upside down. Nausicaa encounters Odysseus towards noon, whereas Gerty and Bloom meet at sunset.

The subsequent and meeting of Odysseus with Alcinous, Nausicaa's father, is absent in Joyce.o2

THE ODYSSEY, 6-7 (Nausikaa)

Nausikaa (the daughter of Alkinoos)
The Handmaidens
Alkinoos (first of the thirteen princes of Phaeacia)
Arete (the wife of Alkinoos)
Setting: The riverbank, the palace of Alkinoos

Athene journeys to Scherie, the island home of the sophisticated Phaeacians.o3 Taking the form of the daughter of Dymas, a girl of her own age, she visits Nausikaa Leukolenos [of the white hands] in her room, as in a dream, and asks her to come with her at daybreak to wash clothes, so that at this propitious time she can appear resplendent and find a husband.

On waking, Nausikaa goes to her father Alkinoos and relates her dream. He agrees that she should take the palace clothes, stacked folded on a cart drawn by two sturdy mules, down to the river and take her maids with her, that they may wash these and, when that has been attended to, to bathe and eat and afterwards to play at ball, while the clothes dry on the riverbank.

All goes as planned, and the maids, having attended to the washing, bathed and eaten, loosen their hair and play at ball until the ball is thrown into a pool and all cry out. Odysseus, who is sleeping nearby, is wakened by their clamour.

Emerging naked, brine-soaked and wild of appearance from his bed of leaves, Odysseus stands before the young girls. They run off in terror at this sudden apparition, but Nausikaa, fortified as she is by Athene, remains. And Odysseus, deciding against falling before her and holding her knees to his breast, praises instead from afar her other-worldly beauty, and begs her for some rags to cover his nakedness and he requests her to indicate the route to the town, so that he might be about his business.

Nausikaa is happy to help the strange man, but worries that she might be seen in the harbour with a castaway and mocked; so she tells Odysseus to follow behind the yoked mules and, when they draw close to the palace, to slip into the sacred grove there and make his own way to the palace after some time has passed, as if he had walked there unaided.

Once in the grove, Odysseus lurks as bid and a young girl bearing a pitcher finds him. It is Athene again, though he knows it not, and she leads him safely past the locals by hiding him in a mist of invisibility.

When they have come to the incomparable palace, glistening with gold and ivory, and silver trimmings, and blue stones, and have passed the orchard there of eternal fruit, Odysseus makes himself visible. Falling supplicant before the royal pair, he relates his sad tale. The queen, Arete, takes pity on him, and sees to it that he is fed and given wine to drink, and a bed is made in the echoing portico for him to sleep on.

In the morning, by royal command a crew of fifty-two mariners go down to the sea and make a black ship ready and hoist its white sails, so that Odysseus may be returned to his home that very day. But before the stranger leaves, Alkinoos orders a great feast, with twelve sheep, eight ivory-tusked boars and two shambling rams slaughtered for it, and orders with this entertainment a sporting contest and also dancing, for the Phaeacians are the greatest of dancers, and are the greatest of those who row the long-oared ships. In the games that ensue, Odysseus, old as he is, excels at casting the discus.

All this having been done, and the twelve princes of the island requested to provide sumptuous and rare gifts for him, Alkinoos questions Odysseus regarding his history, and begs him to tell him all that befell him since he descended from the Wooden Horse.