Friday, 15 June 2012

Bloomsday: Guinness Is Good For You!

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.
-         James 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 occurrences.
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, and using 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 the rest.
Leopold, 38, is employed to sell advertising space for newspapers. He was raised in Dublin by his Hungarian-Jewish father and Irish-Catholic mother.
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 Molly’s head.
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 backyard.
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 remarkable.
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!
PS: 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!

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