Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



private, privates, privacy

Related Terms



Privacy relates to the theme of keeping secrets in Ulysses; Stephen is inclined towards secrecy in his dealings with others and places a high premium on his privacy. This attitude may be a reaction to the culture of Dublin generally, as characters are given to gossip about the private lives of their neighbors as well as of historical and political figures, while simultaneously claiming to hold the same respect for privacy that Stephen demonstrates in the extreme with his social detachment. Bloom also respects the privacy of others; he is hesitant to pry into the private business of other Dubliners, though this may stem more from his alienation than from a lack of curiosity. Privacy in the sense of exclusive access, on the other hand, is linked more strongly with Bloom, through his fantasies of wealth whereby his attainment of private property or the management of a private company grants him both comfort and prestige (U 17.1497-1550).

The sexual connotation of private allows for punning usages with the aforementioned meanings that play upon the economy of sexuality and the assumption (often proven to be an erroneous one) that sex is a personal matter between two people. Private is also a title, specifically, the one held by the English soldiers who accost Stephen in "Circe" (U 15); this ties Stephen's embarrassing fall at Private Carr's hand to Bloom's emasculation by Boylan earlier in the episode, where he is an accessory to his own cuckolding—which Boylan refers to as "private business" between himself and Molly (U 15.3762-65).

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Private, adj. (OED I) Restricted to one person or a few persons as opposed to the wider community; individual or personal, rather than communal or shared.

    "Bath a most private thing. I wouldn't let my brother, not even my own brother, most lascivious thing" (U 3.238).

    "In point of fact, I have to go down to the county Clare on some private business" (U 6.216-17).

    "I always thought I'd marry a lord or a rich gentleman coming with a private yacht" (U 13.1207-08).

    • adj. Belonging to or forming the exclusive property of a particular individual, company, etc. (OED A.I.5.a)

  2. II. Private, n. (OED I.C.10) An ordinary soldier of the lowest ranks; (in the British Army) a soldier below the rank of lance corporal.

    "PRIVATE CARR: (TURNS AND CALLS) What ho, parson!" (U 15.65).

  3. III. adj. and n. (OED I.C.4) (euphemistic) The genitals.

    "Secret for enlarging your private parts" (U 12.1169).

    • adj. Kept from public knowledge; hidden, discreet, concealed. (OED 6, 13) The use of "secret" to describe these enlarged privates suggests a witty but earnest presence of this subdefinition. However, the connection may actually be satirical, since there is a strong irony between these inconspicuous, subdued values and the goal of "enlarging"—to make the genitals more noticeable, more prominent.

Related topics

Native and Foreign
Union and Division

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