On this day…12 May

On 12 May 1904 Leopold Bloom weighed himself.

In the ‘Ithaca’ episode of Ulysses, we are told that Leopold Bloom weighed himself on a weighing machine outside Francis Frœdman’s Chemist shop at 19 North Frederick Street on 12 May 1904. He weighed eleven stone and four pounds.

In the pedantic answer to the question “Did he fall?” in ‘Ithaca,’ Bloom’s weight is obscured by the enormous amount of information given about the date on which he weighed himself. May 12 is the Feast of the Ascension in the Christian calendar, celebrating the day on which Christ rose bodily into heaven. By contrast to this bodily ascent, we discover Bloom’s weight because of his bodily descent into the area below ground level at the house at 7 Eccles Street!

In the Rosenbach Manuscript of Ulysses, Bloom’s weight was originally given as ten stone and four ounces, and only later changed to eleven stone and four pounds. The information about the date originally only went as far as the reference to the “Christian era.” The remainder of the information Joyce added later, taking it from Thom’s Street Directory for Dublin for 1904. The only exception was the Roman numerals for the year 1904, which Joyce wrote incorrectly as MXMIV. This mistake was corrected in the Gabler edition of Ulysses of 1984.

According to Joyce’s university friend John Francis Byrne, Bloom’s weight, and his height (five feet nine and a half inches), were not products of Joyce’s imagination, but were taken from Byrne himself. Byrne was living at 7 Eccles Street when Joyce revisited Dublin in 1909. In the course of that visit, they went on a long walk around the city, at the end of which Byrne, at Joyce’s suggestion, weighed himself on a ‘penny-in-the-slot’ weighing machine outside Frœdman’s chemist’s on the corner of North Frederick Street and Dorset Street. It’s Byrne’s weight on that occasion that Joyce later gives to Bloom in Ulysses.

Bloom’s thoughts turn to the weight of bodies, and of falling bodies in particular, several times in the course of Ulysses. In the ‘Lotus Eaters’ episode, Bloom has some confused thoughts about weight and water while thinking about the Dead Sea and the impossibility of sinking in it: “Because the weight of the water, no, the weight of the body in the water is equal to the weight of the. Or is it the volume is equal of the weight? It’s a law something like that…What is weight really when you say the weight? Thirtytwo feet per second, per second. Law of falling bodies: per second, per second. They all fall to the ground. The earth. It’s the force of gravity of the earth is the weight.”

While in Glasnevin Cemetery, watching Paddy Dignam’s coffin being lifted, Bloom recalls his bath earlier in the day and thinks of “So much dead weight. Felt heavier myself stepping out of that bath.” The association between water and weight becomes hopelessly confused in the ‘Sirens’ episode, where Bloom, thinking of the sound of Molly using the chamber pot, imagines “Empty vessels make most noise. Because the acoustics, the resonance changes according as the weight of the water is equal to the law of falling water.”


Sources & Further Reading:

Byrne, JF: Silent Years – An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland, New York: Octagon Books, 1975.

Joyce, James: Ulysses – A Facsimile of the Manuscript, with a critical introduction by Harry Levin and a bibliographical preface by Clive Driver, London: Faber & Faber, in association with the Philip H & ASW Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, 1975.