Mrs. Wilhelmina Purefoy is an important character in James Joyce’s epic novel, Ulysses, though she is primarily off-stage throughout the book.

The wife of Leopold Bloom’s acquaintance, Theodore Purefoy, Mina is sequestered at the Holles Street Maternity Hospital, where she awaits the imminent birth of her ninth child.

In Chapter 14 of Ulysses, Bloom goes to visit Mrs. Purefoy, and it is this chapter, I believe--more than any other in the novel--that has driven generations of literature majors to switch to something a little easier on the mind. It’s the toughest read in the book, for some very good and interesting reasons.

Joyce intended that his update of Homer’s The Odyssey be, according to his letters:

"an epic of two races (Israel-Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life)...My intention allow each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique."
The technique of Chapter 14 is Embryonic Development, and the episode corresponds to the Oxen of the Sun in The Odyssey. The scene is the Hospital. It is 10 p.m. The corresponding organ of the human body is the womb. The chapter’s significant color is white and its symbol is Mothers.

See Hooverdirt’s very useful Ulysses writeup for a delineation of the schema of the entire book. You will discover, once you apply this key to your reading, that each chapter in the book does indeed have its own technique, which is derived from the logical interplay of symbols, organs, time of day, etc.

The reason Chapter 14 will make you pull your hair out is that Embryonic Development business from the author’s plan. What Joyce did was mimic the development of Mina Purefoy’s baby in her womb by actually using the development of the English language itself as his technique.

It’s the most overtly symbolic chapter in the book as well. Leopold Bloom represents the frantically swimming sperm, the ever-faithful nurse is the ovum. Stephen Dedalus, the developing soul of Ireland and the book, is the embryo, and the Hospital, symbolized by Dr. Horne, is the womb which contains them all.

The chapter begins with an invocation and a sort of preview of conception and birth:


"Send us, bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit. Send us bright one, light one, Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit.

"Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa! Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa."
Which is all very well and good. We sort of understand that Joyce has presented us, in his incredibly erudite way, with an unfertilized ovum.

From here on out, however, the language becomes exceedingly obtuse, progressing through NINE parts—one for each month of a fetus’s development—in EXACTLY the same way the English language itself developed.

Thus, early English to start—monosyllabic, alliterative, dense, practically unreadable-- then in the style of Morte d’Arthur a little further on. Elizabethan Chronicle. Bunyan. Swift. Steele. Addison. Sterne. Junius. De Quincey. Pater. Ruskin. Scientific writing penultimately. And finally, as Mina Purefoy gives birth, we are told via Dickensian prose that her child is a boy—to be christened Mortimer Edward Purefoy. At which point the language degenerates into slang, no style at all really, pidgin English, Cockney, Irish, Scots, Welsh, doggerel, words quite incomprehensible to us because, unlike the characters, we are—one hopes—sober. And not at all in on the joke, except as outsiders. Voyeurs.

Chapter 14 of James Joyce’s Ulysses is a tour d’force of authorship by a man who not only could write like anyone, but wrote better than anyone.

And Mina Purefoy’s bouncing baby boy gives him the means by which to prove it.

Shades of Joyce:

a nice cool glass of Joyce
Anna Livia Plurabelle
Cashel Boyle O'Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell
Finnegans Wake
Finn MacCool
Garry Owen
Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker
Issy the Teenage Rainbow
June 16, 2001
Lucia Joyce
Mina Purefoy
Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress
Shem the Penman
Ulysses is not pornography
Volta Cinema

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.