The Timeline in Wandering Rocks chapter of Ulysses

The tenth chapter (or episode) of James Joyce’ Ulysses, titled Wandering Rocks, takes place between 3 and 4 PM on “Bloomsday, ” June, 16, 1904. Like the whole book in microcosm, it seems to be maddeningly disjointed. Time doesn’t, at first, seem to be sequential. But, as Clive Hart, figured out in 1974, it actually does work. Based on my own frustrating efforts with graph paper, and ultimately with reference to Mr. Hart’s 1974 essay, Here are a few pointers to help put the events of Wandering Rocks in sequence.

First, Wandering Rocks (WR) is divided into 19 sections, Ulysses into 18 episodes. It’s clear that the first and last sections of WR, Father Conmee and the Viceregal Cavalcade, respectively, identify the Church and the State as the forces that frame (or squeeze into a vise) the people of Dublin. The operation of these two forces on Ireland is a large theme of the novel, so to identify those two sections of WR as framework is not difficult. Leaving 17 sections of WR and 17 other episodes of Ulysses. I tried to make one-for-one correspondences and couldn’t do so. But at a minimum, I think Joyce intended us to try. Oh yes, WR is in the middle of Ulysses (it is the tenth episode) and Bloom’s section of WR is in the middle of that episode.

Wandering Rocks timeline

Wandering Rocks timeline

The 19 sections of Wandering Rocks each follow one or two characters briefly during that mid-afternoon hour. Father Conmee, Corny Kelleher, a one-legged sailor, the Dedalus children, etc. Some of them are familiar and appear throughout the book (e.g. Simon Dedalus); others, like the one-legged sailor, donot re-appear at all. The style of the WR sections is generally quite flat and descriptive: subject-verb-object, “Miss Dunne clicked on the keyboard.”  If you skimmed them over, you’d not notice much of anything, except these snippets of daily life of mostly unimportant characters.

But within each character’s section, two noticeable things happen. First, they encounter other characters. Thus Miss Dunne, in her section, speaks with Boylan on the telephone; in his section, we see him asking for a telephone. In Stephen Dedalus’ section, he runs into his younger sister, Dilly, who had already made an appearance in her section. So, with these encounters, a slightly attentive reader realizes that there are some simultaneities and sequences involved.  Take Dilly. We see her getting money from her father on page 238, and then, on page 243, she has purchased a book with the money. Secondly, some narratives “intrude” on the others. In the midst of Ned Lambert’s section, we read “the young woman with slow care detached from her light skirt a clinging twig.” In nearly identical words, we saw her 7 pages earlier, in Father Conmee’s section. So, while she is not physically present with Lambert, we understand that she is removing the twig at the same moment as Lambert is speaking to O’Molloy.

Now it gets really complicated. These simultaneous intrusions appear in all the sections. A really attentive reader soon realizes that it’s all tied together. I should emphasize that in all this it is also very clear, even obvious, that the 19 sections of WR do not follow one after the other sequentially. They are all mixed up.  And the obsessive reader wants to sort them out.

In 1974, the Joycean scholar, Clive Hart, did just that. He went to Dublin, walked the characters’ routes, laid them all out, grid-fashion, and lined them all up. The Wandering Rocks episode does work. Appendix B of his essay is an impressive fold-out spreadsheet, laying out all the times, down to the minute! My own attempts, several times on sheets of graph paper, were less successful. (At this point, I could translate Mr. Hart’s “answer” into the format I had struggled with, but that would merely be transcription.)

At long last, here are the pointers promised above, for those who want to unscramble this puzzle themselves:

There are deliberate traps and pitfalls. When does Simon Dedalus on Ormond Quay bow to the viceregal cavalcade? Hint, many minutes after he parts from Dilly. When the viceregal cavalcade leaves “the gates of the drive,” that is twelve critical minutes before it “passed out the lower gate of Phoenix Park.”

Minutes matter. That is, my efforts failed because I expected to be able to fit events in somewhat generally, for multiple “waypoints” (streets, intersections, or named places) to chew up a lot of time. They don’t necessarily. Lenehan covers 10 or more waypoints in only 8 minutes.

Mostly, the viceregal cavalcade is in view in the second half of the hour. Hart calculated that it left the “gates of the drive” at 3:14, passed the lower gate of Phoenix Park at 3:26, and encountered all those other citizens between then and 4:00PM.

Lenehan’s movements (and the people he encounters) are mostly within the first third of the hour. I puzzled for a long time about when he stopped in to see Miss Dunne; that was “earlier,” but not defined by Clive Hart. Looking ahead to the Sirens episode, we see Lenehan in the Ormond hotel before 4:00PM, butnone of his encounter with other characters occurs after 3:20.

Then there is the infamous “Elijah throwaway,” mentioned three times, as it floated down the Liffey. Allegedly, Joyce consulted with the Dublin Port and Docks board to ensure that its movment was consistent with the actual tidal flow of the river, at 3:30PM on June 16, 1904. I fell into a trap of assuming that it would serve as a primary reference point for events throughout the hour. Apparently it first appears at 3:26, then flows on (at its precisely accurate rate) to a last appearance five minutes later.

Father Conmee and his encounters occur between 2:55PM (“Five to three” is no trick.) and 3:30.

Good luck!