For some readers (okay, me), Calypso is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the arrival of Leopold Bloom. This is the chapter that really kicks off the novel for me; meeting Bloom makes me feel grounded in something real, and it’s kind of a relief. As in Telemachus, the beginning is marked by an oversized initial letter: the big M, standing parallel to Bloom’s pensive figure, indicates that this is the beginning not only of a new episode but of the second section of the novel, the Wandering. (Since we’re not using an “L” or a “B,” some people have suggested that the “M” might also refer to Bloom’s wife, Molly.)
Joyce’s book may be a retelling of Homer’s epic, but in a lot of ways I read it as a novel about a marriage; we join the world of that marriage when we meet Bloom in his kitchen at 7 Eccles Street. It might also be worth keeping in mind that this is a middle-aged marriage (remember it’s 1904 Dublin, so 30-ish would be considered middle-aged). According to the Chronicles of Leopold and Molly Bloom, the Blooms were married in 1888; when we meet them, Leopold is 38 and Molly is 33. They have a 15-year-old daughter Milly, who is away working as a photographer’s assistant in Mullingar (about 52 miles from Dublin). Bloom is employed as an ad canvasser for a Dublin newspaper called the Freeman’s Journal, and Molly is a singer who is about to embark on a tour.
After Telemachus, Bloom’s world seems a lot different. Bloom’s taste for viscera and the sensual is a very important part of his character. It sets him almost immediately in direct contrast with Stephen Dedalus, who is all mind and can barely be talked into a breakfast of eggs and milk. The distinction between the two characters and their worlds is captured nicely by the images here, too, particularly the play of light and dark. Bloom’s world feels more spacious, lighter.
It doesn’t necessarily seem like the most important thing for readers to learn about our main character–what he likes to have for breakfast–but I think the way Bloom approaches the world “with relish” is something good to know about him right from the start.