As I’ve reflected on the readings, one thing that keeps returning to my mind is the lemony-scented soap Bloom purchases in Episode 5: The Lotus-Eaters. He seemingly buys it on a whim while picking up Molly’s lotion. At first glance, I assumed it was also for Molly. Perhaps he bought it for himself.
No matter for whom he bought it, the fragrance transports him to his eastern fantasy – citrons, melon fields, an exotic place, a Promised Land. After all, his thoughts are repeatedly drawn back to the east. In one instance, he considers an advertisement for citrus groves in Israel. The New Bloomsday Book mentions that “possession of melonfields in the Promised Land is symbolically connected with happy marriage” (p. 25). Thus, his eastern fantasies are intertwined with thoughts of Molly. In her letter to Bloom (a.k.a. Henry Flower), Martha asks him about his wife’s perfume. Only further reading will confirm my suspicion that it’s a lemony scent.
Bloom carries the soap with him throughout the day, a detail that evokes a strong sensory response for me. Not only does it appeal to one’s sense of smell, but it also appeals to a sense of touch. I can just imagine Bloom shifting it around the pockets of his coat all day long, smelling it, touching it, thinking about it. Something else to consider is that if he can smell it, so can others. It reminds me of a morning I bought a pound of freshly ground coffee at my favorite cafe and had to keep it with me the rest of the day. I couldn’t hide its aroma no matter where I was. Even while stashed in a cabinet in my office, colleagues could detect it there.
One more thought about the lemony soap – it’s not the only thing he keeps in his pocket. Strangely enough, he always keeps a potato in his pocket as a talisman. Inherited from his mother, the shriveled potato serves as an interesting symbol, both of Ireland and the current state of Bloom’s family. In contrast, the adjacent talisman – the soap – represents something else entirely: fertility, renewal, an exotic and other land. Which will prevail?
Finally, the place where Bloom bought the soap – Sweny’s Pharmacy – still exists in Dublin. After closing back in 2009, it’s open again. It should be no surprise that its bestselling item for many years has been lemony-scented soap.