Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon

Curious

Forms

Curious (adj.), Curiously (adv.), Curiosity (n.)

Related Terms

Peer and Pier
Quick

Explication

With a few exceptions, the only character to use curious or any of its variations is Leopold Bloom. Thus, all things curious seem to be associated with his particular mode of thought and exploration of the world. One notable exception is when Stephen uses the word to describe St. Thomas' perspective on incest, a subject he brings up in order to prove that Shakespeare was a Jew: "Saint Thomas....likens it in his wise and curious way to an avarice of emotions. He means that love given to one so near in blood is covetously withheld from a stranger who, it may be, hungers for it. Jews, whom Christians tax with avarice, are of all races the most given to intermarriage" (U 9.778-83). Even here, the word is tied to Bloom through his Jewishness, which is continually and accusingly pinned to him by other characters. Another notable exception is Molly's use of the word to comment (much like Bloom would) on the fact that women have two breasts: "...what are all those veins and things curious the way its made 2 the same in case of twins theyre supposed to represent beauty placed up there like those statues in the museum" (U 18.539-40). Thus, even when curious is not explicitly associated with Bloom, it relates to either his ambiguously Jewish identity or his mode of exploring and rationalizing the world.

These examples suggest a relationship between curious and "foreign" in the context of Bloom's characterization. Bloom is, after all, usually curious about matters of the Catholic faith and the habits of his fellow Irish men. He contemplates what draws women to priests, despite their unavailability, and eventually decides it must be their smell: "And it's extremely curious the smell. Celery sauce. let me" (U 13.1035-1040). While watching Richie Goulding at the bar in "Sirens," Bloom decides that Richie must have kidney disease as a result of his excessive drinking and thinks disapprovingly of the money he and other "curious types" spend to destroy their health (U 11.622). In both of these cases, Bloom acts curious as he questions something central to the Irish identity (see definitions I, IV, and VI), and he frames the subjects of his speculation as curious in the sense of strange and foreign (see definitions III and VII). Bloom's other uses of curious usually apply to animals like his cat's "lithe black form," to women, or to sexuality (U 4.21). He seems equally estranged from the inner workings of a cat's mind as he is from that of a woman or from his own sexuality. The word curious ties all of these disparate estrangements together and might therefore be a significant clue as to why Bloom seems so foreign in all of his interactions.

The question of who has the right to be curious about certain matters is also a recurring theme. The very first use of the word comes from Haines, the Englishman whose desire to know only the most superficial details about Irish history and identity marks him as someone "curious in reference to matters that do not concern" him (see first example of definition I below, OED 5c). Bloom's curiosity could also, in many ways, be considered inappropriate, especially when he contemplates Catholicism in nearly blasphemous ways.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Curiousity, n. (OED n. 5a-c) Desire to know or learn.

    "You pique my curiosity, Haines said amiably. Is it a paradox?" (U 1.553).

    • n. The desire to know or learn about anything, especially that which is novel or strange. (OED 5a)
    • n. Inquisitiveness in reference to matters that do not concern one. (OED 5c)

    "You were going to do wonders, what?...Rich booty you brought back; Le Tutu, five tattered number of Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge; a blue French telegram, curiosity to show:—Mother dying come home father" (U 3.192-199).

    • n. In a blamable sense; undue desire to know and learn. Obsolete. (OED 5a)

    "I wouldn't mind. Curiosity like a nun or a negress or a girl with glasses" (U 13.776-77).

    • Bloom considers whether Gerty's limp bothers him, straddling the positive and negative connotations of curious.

  2. II. Curiously, adv. (OED adv. 1) Carefully, attentively.

    "Mr. Bloom watched curiously, kindly the lithe black form" (U 4.21).

    "His heavy hand took Stephen's firmly. Human eyes. They gazed curiously an instant and turned quickly towards a Dalkey tram" (U 10.356-7).

  3. III. Curious, adj. (OED adj. 16a, OED adv. 6) Deserving of attention due to its novelty or peculiarity; somewhat surprising; in a way that incites interest or surprise.

    "Curious mice never squeal. Seem to like it" (U 4.28).

    • adj. Desirous of seeing or learning; inquisitive. Often with condemnatory connotation. (OED adj. 5a) This interesting phrase is difficult to understand precisely because Joyce has left out the words necessary to distinguish between different meanings of the word curious. It could be "curious [that] mice never squeal" or simply "curious mice never squeal" wherein curious describes the mice. In both situations though, the meanings don't quite seem to fit. Mice are usually not described as curious—cats are—and mice would probably squeal when caught by a cat. The unexpected proposal of the mouse-victim's pleasure relates to themes of masochism in the novel, which is often considered to be a peculiar, condemnably curious fetish (See also definition V).

    "Fifteen yesterday, Curious, fifteenth of the month too" (U 4.415).

    • Bloom's inner monologue seems to find something curious that is not all that surprising. In this case, he is ruminating on his daughter Milly's fifteenth birthday, which happens to have been on the fifteenth of the month.

    "Mansmell, I mean. Must be connected with that because priests that are supposed to be are different. Women buzz round it like flies round treacle...The tree of forbidden priest. Oh, father, will you? Let me be the first to. That diffuses itself all through the body, permeates. Source of Life. And it's extremely curious the smell. Celery sauce. let me" (U 13.1035-40).

    • adj. Used as a euphemistic description of erotic or pornographic works. (OED 16b) It is unclear hear whether Bloom is describing "mansmell" or the soap he has forgotten in his pocket as extremely curious. However, this moment directly follows his masturbation and ejaculation and seems to contemplate the sexual attraction of priests, suggesting that Joyce may be employing this erotic or pornographic meaning.

    "ZOE: How's the nuts? / BLOOM: Off side. Curiously they are on the right. Heavier, I suppose. One in a million my tailor, Mesias, says" (U 13.1299-1302).

    "...what are all those veins and things curious the way its made 2 the same in case of twins theyre supposed to represent beauty placed up there like those statues in the museum..." (U 18.539-540).

    • Molly indulges in a Bloom-like contemplation of her own body and its biological usefulness.

  4. IV. Curious, adj. (OED adj. 5a.) Desirous of seeing or learning; inquisitive. Often with condemnatory connotation.

    "Must be curious to hear after their own strong basses" (U 5.409).

    • Bloom's thoughts on eunuchs in Catholic mass.

  5. V. Curious, adj. (OED adj. 2a-b) Particular; cautious. Also, careful as to the standard of excellence; fastitudious, particular, especially in matters of clothing, food or taste.

    "Time to get a bath round the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage. Dirt gets rolled up in your navel. Nicer if a nice girl did it. Also I think I. Yes I. Do it in the bath. Curious longing I. Water to water. Combine Business with pleasure" (U 5.502-505).

    "Tenderly Bloom over liverless bacon saw the tightened features strain. Backache he. Bright's bright eye. Next item on the programme. Paying the piper...Characteristic of him. Power. Particular about his drink. Flaw in the glass, fresh Vartry water. Fecking matches from counters to save. Then squander a sovereign in dribs and drabs. And when he's wanted not a farthing. Screwed refusing to pay his fare. Curious types" (U 11.614-22).

    "Hitherto silent, whether the better to show by preternatural gravity the curious dignity of the garb with which he was invested or in obedience to some inward voice, he delivered briefly and, as some thought, perfunctorily the ecclesiastical ordinance forbidding man to put asunder what God has joined" (U 14.1005-10).

    • adj. Deserving of attention due to its novelty or peculiarity; somewhat surprising (OED adj. 16a) Joyce takes advantage of the multiple meanings of curious in these passages to address the complex relationship Bloom has with his own sexuality and the way his clothing seems to set him apart from the other men around him as much as his behavior does. This third passage represents the first time that curious has been used to describe Bloom.

  6. VI. Curious, adj. (OED adj. 9) Of actions, investigations, etc. Characterized by special care, accurate, minute.

    "Saint Thomas, Stephen smilingly said, whose gorbellied works I enjoy reading in the original, writing of incest from a standpoint different from that new Viennese school Mr. Magee spoke of, likens it in his wise and curious way to an avarice of emotions. He means that love given to one so near in blood is covetously withheld from a stranger who, it may be, hungers for it. Jews, whom Christians tax with avarice, are of all races the most given to intermarriage" (U 9.778-783).

  7. VII. Curious, adj. (OED adj. 15) Calling forth feelings of interest; interesting, noteworthy. Obscure or archaic.

    "Curious coincidence, Mr. Bloom confided to Stephen unobtrusively (U 16.414).

Related topics

Animals
Judaism
Medicine
Native and Foreign
Questions and Answers
Race and Ethnicity
Religion
Science
Sexuality

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