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Bloom’s vision of Milly on the previous page does two things, both of which play out here. First, she is Hermes, the messenger; there’s an interesting little intersection here between the mythical and the mundane as the allusion to the messenger god becomes an actual delivery of some letters; whether they release Bloom from his Calypso remains to be seen. Second–and this will be important for the next couple of pages–the idealized vision of the young daughter becomes the difficult reality of a sexually mature and vaguely dissatisfied wife. Milly becomes a foil for Molly more explicitly in a bit, but for now, Bloom re-enters his own home and is confronted by another male presence (an Odyssean suitor, if you like) invading his doorway.
More about one of the letters and the card shortly: our focus here is with Bloom’s on the “bold hand.” This is our first encounter with Blazes Boylan, and you should feel free to read any dirty innuendo into Bloom’s characterization of his penmanship. Rob’s made an interesting choice here to zoom in on Bloom’s own hand once he’s bent down to retrieve the letters from the first to the second panel: is Bloom’s hand not bold enough? The masculine handwriting, coupled with the address to “Mrs Marion Bloom,” immediately raise Bloom’s suspicions. In the late 19th-early 20th century, referring to a married woman by her own name (Mrs Marion) as opposed to her husband’s (Mrs Leopold Bloom) was just not done. (Think back to Bloom’s puttering around the kitchen, and our point about how that was a slightly off gender role reversal: Bloom’s “womanly man” qualities.)
The absence of Bloom’s name on the envelope as master of the house is filled in by Molly’s diminutive “Poldy,” called down from the bedroom. Is it an endearment? Is he being summoned, servant-like, to Calypso’s cave? For me, the arrival of Boylan’s letter, accompanied by the jingling of Molly’s quoits, really marks the beginning of the story here. What this letter means, the sound of the bed: these will follow Bloom the rest of the day.
A final point about letters: we probably don’t write them anywhere near as often as people might have in 1904, but they are an important means of sharing character information and plot movement for Joyce because they were such an important part of everyday life in his time. People would have received letters at several points throughout the day, and depended on them for communication. Joyce is also playing with the conventional mystique of the love letter, the epistolary tryst–which I think connects well to Rob’s use of techniques drawn from romance comics here and elsewhere.