Leopold Bloom's Sexuality in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2010 9 Pages

English - Literature, Works


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Leopold Bloom’s sexuality
2.1 Correspondence with Bloom’s pen pal Martha
2.2 Encounter with Gerty MacDowell
2.3 Leopold Bloom’s opinion of infidelity and marital faithfulness

3. Sexuality as a mental process

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

The topic of sexuality is an essential one in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This novel is full of sexual hints and passages that contain sexual action. The omnipresence of sexuality leads the reader through the novel as a central theme: most of the actions centre on Marion (Molly) Bloom’s four-ò-clock date with Hugh Boylan. This date gives Leopold Bloom’s day a certain structure as there are a lot references towards this time: “Funny my watch stopped at half past four”[1] (U 353) and “He’s coming in the afternoon” (U 89) are only two passages, which refer towards Molly’s date with Boylan and therefore her affair with another man.

Since its publication Ulysses affected great controversies due to its obscene passages, so the book was rated as scandalous and became an object of censorship. This paper is going to examine the obscenity of Ulysses and by doing so concentrate on the character of Leopold Bloom. It will be analysed in what degree the novel can be classified as ‘obscene’ and, furthermore, how the topic of sexuality is presented. Afterwards, these results will be brought into a wider context, concerning the topic of sexuality as a mental process in Ulysses.

2. Leopold Bloom’s sexuality

Leopold Bloom has not slept with his wife Molly Bloom since the death of their son Rudy, which is more than a decade ago. Therefore Bloom is unsure of himself and unsuccessful in having sex with his wife. As an alternative he seeks for little ‘erotic adventures’ in his everyday life. At the butcher’s shop he hopes to get a glance at a woman’s bottom: To catch up and walk behind her if she went slowly, behind her moving hams. Pleasant to see first thing in the morning (U 57). In another passage Bloom watches a good-looking lady on the street while he is talking to McCoy (“ Watch! Watch! Silk flash rich stockings white. Watch! , U 71), until suddenly a tramcar passes by and blocks his view.

The story is full of those little incidents, which are an alternative to Bloom’s former sex-life with Molly. Remembering an intimate moment with his wife Leopold Bloom notices a difference between himself 10 years ago and himself then: Me. And me now.” (U 168). He in a way pities himself and longs for physical affection, which he compensates with masturbation.

Throughout the story the reader discovers several sexual encounters of Leopold Bloom with other women. Those will be analysed in the following.

2.1 Correspondence with Bloom’s pen pal Martha

Leopold Bloom has an erotic correspondence with a woman called Martha, for which he uses the pseudonym ‘Henry Flower”. By reading Martha’s letter one can guess that Martha is longing to meet Bloom, and also that Bloom must have denied this request for several times: O how I long to meet you. Henry dear, do not deny my request before my patience are exhausted.” (U 75). Overall Martha’s letter seems to be very passionate, as she refers to Bloom as naughty (U 74/75). Bloom on the other hand appears to be rather bored, or maybe even annoyed by this correspondence, which can be seen in the passage in which he responds to Martha’s letter. Sitting in a hotel he casually writes his letter, pretending that it is an advertisement and watching out that nobody notices that actually it is not. Thoughts like Yes, yes, will tell you .” (U 268) and La la la ree (U 268) support the impression of boredom with this correspondence. The utterance damned glad I didn’t do it in the bath this morning over her silly I will punish you letter (U 351) after he has masturbated while watching Gerty MacDowell might indicate that Bloom is even annoyed by Martha’s letters.

Nevertheless, Leopold Bloom wants to keep in touch with Martha and tries to keep it up (U 268). Still, he does not want to meet this woman. He might only use this correspondence to push his self-confidence, as Martha adores ‘Henry Flower’. For Bloom it is more or less a nice change and he does not put too much effort in it.

2.2 Encounter with Gerty MacDowell

The 13th episode Nausicaa tells about Bloom being at the beach watching a young girl, called Gerty MacDowell. This episode can be seen as one of the central passages concerning sexuality in Ulysses. It also might have been received as the most ‘obscene’ passage in the novel, as Leopold Bloom watches a young girl, which is probably around the same age as his own daughter, with an erotic connotation. Furthermore, the protagonist masturbates at the beach, which had an offensive character in Joyce’s times.

The chapter is divided into two parts. The first part is told by an omniscient narrator in a female style of writing, which reminds of the style 19th century women’s magazines. The second part of Nausicaa switches again to Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue.

At the beginning of the chapter Gerty is described as extremely beautiful, almost goddess-like: The waxen pallor of her face was almost spiritual in its ivorylike purity though her rosebud mouth was a genuine Cupid’s bow, Greekly perfect (U 333). This girl is spending the afternoon at the beach with two of her friends, until Leopold Bloom appears. Gerty notices and looks at him in a rather romantic and emotional way. She recognises Bloom’s sad face ( […] the face that met her gaze there in the twilight, wan and strangely drawn, seemed to her the saddest she had ever seen , U 340) and feels an attraction to him based on romantic imagination. Gerty asks herself if this man might be married ( There was the allimportant question and she was dying to know was he a married man or a widower who had lost his wife.”, U 348) and therefore thinks about a future life with Leopold Bloom: Dearer than the whole world would she be to him and gild his days with happiness (U 348). Despite the fact that Gerty has a very romantic perspective, she is also aware of her sexual impact on the stranger:


[1] Joyce, James. Ulysses. The 1922 text. Ed. Jeri Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.


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Sexuality James Joyce Ulysses Sexualität Leopold Bloom




Title: Leopold Bloom's Sexuality in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'