Unweaving the Wind: Penelope and Claritas in Ulysses

  • William R. Thickstun


In August 1921, while working on the final chapters of Ulysses, James Joyce wrote to Frank Budgen that ‘Penelope is the clou of the book’.1 Marilyn French has observed that ‘paradoxically it is this chapter with its symbolic character that nails the book down to solid earth’,2 but his use of the French ‘clou’ in an English sentence also suggests that Jeems Joker is invoking a characteristic pun: Penelope is both nail and clue to the book as a whole. My goal in this chapter is to suggest how Penelope retrospectively shapes and informs the rest of Ulysses. Like Leopold Bloom, however, I have found that the ‘longest way round is the shortest way home’,3 and before I turn to Penelope itself I would like to explore the evolving formal structure of Ulysses as a whole.


Creative Process Life Process Vital Force Final Moment Artistic Process 
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  1. 1.
    Letters of James Joyce I, ed. Stuart Gilbert (London: Faber & Faber, 1957) p. 170.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    French, The Book as World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976) p. 259.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    But as a consequence of its very difficulties, the realistic perspective has given rise to some of the most probing and illuminating accounts of the novel: Arnold Goldman’s The Joyce Paradox (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966)Google Scholar
  4. David Hayman’s Ulysses: the Mechanics of Meaning (1970, rev. edn. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982)Google Scholar
  5. Marilyn French’s The Book as World (1976)Google Scholar
  6. C. H. Peake’s James Joyce: the Citizen and the Artist (Stanford University Press, 1977)Google Scholar
  7. James Maddox’s James Joyce’s Ulyssess and the Assault Upon Character (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1978)Google Scholar
  8. Hugh Kenner’s Joyce’s Voices (1978) and Ulysses (London: Allen & Unwin, 1980).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Goldberg, The Classical Temper (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961) p. 2.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Rader, ‘Exodus and Return: Joyce’s Ulysses and the Fiction of the Actual’, Univ. of Toronto Quarterly (Winter 1978–79) p. 154.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Odyssey, trans. S. H. Butcher and A. Lang (New York: Collier, 1909) 2:92 ff.; the passage recurrs almost verbatim at 19:137 ff. and 24:128 ff. According to Fritz Senn, Joyce used this translation (Joyce’s Dislocutions [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984] p. 128).Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    See, for example, William York Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959)Google Scholar
  13. Richard Kain, Fabulous Voyager (New York: Viking, 1947, rpt. 1959).Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966) p. 18.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    For other suggestive but incomplete discussions of weaving in Ulysses see R. M. Adams, James Joyce: Common Sense and Beyond (New York: Random House, 1966) p. 168Google Scholar
  16. Fritz Senn, ‘Weaving, Unweaving’ in A Starchamber Quiry: a James Joyce Centennial Volume, ed. E. L. Epstein (New York: Methuen, 1982)Google Scholar
  17. Bonnie Kime Scott, ‘Penelope’s Web’ in Joyce and Feminism (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1984) pp. 156 ff.Google Scholar
  18. 27.
    Eliot, ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’, Dial (1924), rpt. in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (New York: Vanguard, 1948) p. 201.Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    This view was first developed in detail by Stanley Sultan in The Argument of Ulysses (Ohio State University Press, 1964) pp. 431–3, and has since been adopted with some variation by Hayman, Ellmann, French, Peake, Kenner, Maddox, and a variety of other critics. The only serious challenge to the consensus lies, I think, in Molly’s relationship with Gardner, about which very little specific information is given in the novel. But as Sultan and French (p. 254) argue, Molly’s recollections of Gardner are purely romantic, in contrast to her explicitly sexual memories of Mulvey, Bloom, and Boylan; thus while the relationship with Gardner clearly had sexual overtones, it probably did not involve sexual intercourse.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    In the introduction to his useful Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), John Henry Raleigh observes that his sequential ordering of the characters’ memories and experiences gives Molly a role at least equal to Bloom’s; the reader learns as much in Penelope about the characters as in the rest of the book combined (p. 8). This observation helps to confirm that Molly’s experience can simply appear more concisely in the text because her voice emerges unimpeded by the vast web of words generated out of Bloom’s daytime contact with Dublin life. Raleigh also notices that Molly thinks more about the future than her husband; this prophetic element in her character parallels and reinforces the prophetic role of Penelope in the symbolic structure of the novel.Google Scholar
  21. 40.
    Yeats, A Vision (1937; rpt. New York: Collier, 1966) pp. 67 ff.Google Scholar
  22. See also J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), for a discussion of repetition with differences as ‘Nietzchean’, pp. 6 ff.Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    Ernest and Johanna Lehner, Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees (New York: Tudor, 1960).Google Scholar
  24. In Joyce and Dante (Princeton University Press, 1981) Mary Reynolds links this imagery to the heavenly rose at the end of Dante’s Paradiso (see pp. 79, 116, 191).Google Scholar
  25. 49.
    Keats, Selected Poems and Letters, ed. Douglas Bush (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959) pp. 207–8.Google Scholar

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© William R. Thickstun 1988

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  • William R. Thickstun

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