Break the news to her

"Break the news to her gently," a phrase heard as Stephen imagines students in their rooms at Oxford, alludes to a popular song of the 1890s, though there are two candidates. This reference in Telemachus is the first of many instances in which the strains of popular songs from the streets, music halls, and drawing rooms waft through the verbal textures of Ulysses. Together with the more exalted strains like operatic arias, they provoke lingering aural resonances in the mind of any reader who knows the tunes. One cannot adequately “read” the novel without hearing these many melodic allusions. 

John Hunt 2011

Cover of the sheet music of Break the News to Mother.

Recording of Break the News to Mother by The Old Man in the Woods, accompanied by magic lantern slides. Source:

A 1921 recording of the same song, on 78 LP. Source:

One verse of the same, sung from memory by a woman who learned it as a girl. Source: