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“Mr Leopold Bloom
ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick rabbit giblet
soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with
crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys
which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
Joyce, ‘Ulysses’ (pub. 1922)
James Joyce by Djuna Barnes
Today is 16th June, Bloomsday.
Bloomsday is an annual celebration of the work of James Joyce during which the events
depicted in his momentous novel Ulysses - set on 16th
June 1904 - are re-enacted throughout the day as live theatre in and round the
streets of Dublin.
Ulysses chronicles an ordinary Dublin day in the life of its protagonist,
Leopold Bloom. We see him eat breakfast, walk to the newsagent, defecate, drink
in the pub, watch a funeral procession and various other mundane everyday
Leopold Bloom, by James Joyce
Nothing of major significance occurs during Bloom’s day; there
is no Tom Clancy-style ‘Rainbow' task forces rescuing hostages from evil
terrorists at the very last moment; there are no beautiful and personably
vampires with a rich emotional life and pained conscience with whom to fall in
love with; neither are there trolls, hobbits, wizards and orcs.
It is a simply a record of an ordinary day in the life of an
ordinary man living in an ordinary city.
During the course of the eighteen “episodes” of Ulysses, andusing unusual and innovative literary devices, we gradually learn
a very great deal about Leopold, his wife, his children, his sex life, his friends,
lovers and enemies, his fantasies, his religious and political beliefs and all
Leopold, 38, is employed to sell advertising space for
newspapers. He was raised in Dublin by his Hungarian-Jewish father and
Ulysses reveals that although Leopold has a
Jewish heritage he has in fact received three different Christian baptisms, one
of which was to convert to Roman Catholicism so that he could marry Marion
(“Molly”) Tweedy in 1888. We learn he is uncircumcised.
Molly Bloom, by Robert Berry
Leopold and Molly had their daughter Milly in 1889. She is
now 15 years old and works in a photographer’s studio. A few years after
Milly’s birth, they had a son Rudolph (“Rudy”). Sadly, Rudy died in infancy. His
death wreaked emotional devastation on both parents. In the eleven years since
Rudy’s death, Leopold and Molly have not had sex together. They continue to
sleep in the same bed – but positioned such that Leopold has his feet by
Whilst Leopold is having a certain flirtatious correspondence
with Martha Clifford and has almost certainly visited Dublin prostitutes on occasion, Molly is
having an out-and-out affair with Blazes Boylan.
Bloom is aware of Molly’s adultery to some degree or other,
and in fact seems to grant silent and tacit agreement with Molly and Blazes
having sex that very afternoon when Blazes visits her at their home at 4pm.
Stephen Dedalus, by Robert Berry
Some interpreters of Ulysses
have said that Leopold displays cuckold tendencies. This idea is reinforced in
a later episode when Leopold brings home the twenty-something, broody, sullen
and drunken Stephen Dedalus (whom Joyce first introduced us to in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
pub. 1917) after the pubs close and while Molly is asleep upstairs. Stephen
declines Leopold’s offer of a place to stay for the night. Both men urinate in
The final episode of the Ulysses,
and my personal favourite, is formally entitled “Penelope” but has come to be
more commonly known as “Molly’s Soliloquy”.
Molly’s Soliloquy uses the literary technique called
“stream-of-consciousness”. It consists of eight enormous run-on “sentences” –
one alone of which comprises 4,391 words – without any punctuation. The episode
starts and ends with the word “yes” which Joyce once described as “a female
word that indicates acquiescence and the end of all resistance”.
While her husband is in bed beside her, the episode
describes Molly’s private, internal thoughts and fantasies. She recalls her
past and current admirers; she compares Blazes and Leopold; and she considers
Leopold’s possible past infidelities. She (correctly) guesses that Leopold has
masturbated that day.
Molly goes on to ruminate on how she wished she had more
money for stylish clothes and how Leopold should get a higher paid job. She
remembers how Leopold once suggested she pose naked for cash. Her thoughts turn
to the sexual intercourse with Blazes earlier in the day, and the orgasm she
had with him. She intuits the start of her period, confirming she has not been
made pregnant by Blazes.
She gets out of bed to use the chamber pot. On her return to
bed, she fantasizes about having sex with Stephen Dedalus and thinks about
Leopold’s strange sexual habits.
Her thoughts, with inevitability and finality, turn to
Rudy’s death - but she cannot bear to think on it and quickly switches the
subject to avoid depression setting in. She wonders whether to sexually arouse
Leopold when they awake in the morning, and reveal to him her affair with
Blazes whilst so doing.
The book ends with Molly remembering her acceptance of
Leopold’s marriage proposal. It is a wonderful piece of writing that causes me
to experience body streaming and makes me want to cry…
“…and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then
he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms
around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume
yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
For its depiction of the ordinary day of an ordinary man in
an ordinary city, Ulysses is truly
The following embedded videos are adaptations of
Molly’s Soliloquy for screen. Molly is here played by Angeline
Ball who won Best Actress from the Irish Film and Television
awards for this performance.
Happy Bloomsday to you all!
And as for Guinness, I really can't abide the vile stuff!
To my friend Herc who is currently cruising the Greek islands while reading
Homer’s Odyssey(on which Joyce’s Ulysses
was modelled), hugz and kisses and see you on your return!