Reaching home, drunk and ruffled but not really the worse for wear, Joyce rigorously questions his male heroes before saying goodnight to them. Literally. This chapter is written entirely as a Q&A catechism. If the stolid reader hasn’t grown tired of Stephen and Bloom yet, he or she is about to get a catalogue of their moment-by-moment moods and irreverent talking points. Some of the questions are asked urgently, as if the questioner (the reader? Joyce? an unknown?) is Hamlet’s ghostly father wandering the night. “List! List!” We must hear the details of Bloom’s urination stream, the music that rouses him, the anagrams that Poldy made on his name in youth (“Molldopeloob” was my favorite), and the basics of temperature, height, and stars. By thorough examination, Joyce often succeeds in making me laugh or hesitate over accepted factoids that, through force of habit, I no longer find fascinating. This is a catalogue of a “small” life, a latitudinal and longitudinal map of a body in position. No one else can fill the exact space that Bloom takes up. We overhear his half-hearted late night stratagems to drastically change his life and we shyly watch as he aligns himself top-to-tails with his wife in bed. He kisses her buttcheeks in a bed recently vacated by Blazes and falls asleep. There are many ways of being an individual, and Joyce has finished his attempt to pin one down on paper.
(Bloom and Stephen notice the night sky): “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
Unfortunately for her, Molly Bloom, who now has her husband’s feet in her face, is experiencing insomnia. No doubt her husband’s raucous homecoming woke her up. Molly’s monologue is delivered from the heat of her brain & body in a gush of words–there are no commas, no periods, no punctuation of any kind. This is rambling, beat poet stuff, yet despite those objections I loved it. It’s easy to see why this is the most famous part of the novel. It is, after all, the section most likely to rile the ridges of censors. Apart from that, capping this novel’s thick male choir of voices with a bawdy, sexual MILF’s voice is a novelist’s trick. (Seriously, the professors never mention that Molly is clearly a MILF, although that really doesn’t get close to describing her sensuality.) Sure, we had Gerty’s romantic ingénue voice. But that was parody–Molly’s chapter exhibits Joyce’s real woman, warts and all, tits and tongue. Allowing Molly to speak last forces the reader to reconsider their view of Bloom.
And, perhaps inevitably, I have to read some autobiography into this languorous monologue. It’s hard to imagine that Joyce didn’t plan it that way. The 16th of June, 1904 wasn’t just a random stab at the calendar. Not for Ulysses. It was on that day that Joyce and Nora Barnacle had their first date. Looking into published correspondence between the couple, it is also easy to see that Joyce modeled Molly’s rolling sentences unburdened by punctuation on Nora’s style. Joyce was, let it be said, an odd little man. Reading all of Ulysses can only convince his readers of that. He was terrified of thunder and dogs; not afraid of rejection and pleased to provoke bemused head scratching, even Nora found his writing “obscure and lacking in sense,” which surely gave her something to grumble about. She wished that he had stayed true to his early ambitions to be a singer. He had a fine voice. And even if she found his writing bewildering at best, one hopes that she understood Molly’s monologue for what it is. When we love something, we do our best to understand it. Joyce surely understood and loved his wife’s writing style, which seems indiscernible from speech. There are no intentional frills–Molly is direct and casual at once, comfortably truthful. Yes, it’s obvious that a man wrote this woman’s voice. There’s an element of male fantasy behind Molly, given the fact that she ruminates on sex every other page. And what sex! She seems a little too fascinated by the upturned “hatrack” male member; she even imagines what it would be like to have one of her own so that she could “give it” to a beautiful girl. Nothing, however, seems downright bizarre. Joyce is committed to Molly’s attitude and tone for the whole 40-odd pages and I went along willingly. Overall, Molly’s monologue made me feel more confidant in the Bloom family. Bloom is the sort of man who wants to apologize for things he hasn’t done yet, but he and Joyce love their women. I never said it was going to be a healthy love, but it’s love alright. You can’t fault the romantic sentiment of a man who wrote, “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.” See women, men find farts funny and romantic!
(By the by, here’s the full erotic letter that this quote comes from: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/504662-my-sweet-little-whorish-nora-i-did-as-you-told)
Sure I hated this novel 25% of the time. Joyce desperately needed an editor to fight with. But at the same time, I have to applaud Sylvia Beach and independent publishing for unleashing this gorgeous, uneven mess on the world. I don’t think a publishing house would risk clearing this for print today. Not because of the smut and toilet time, oh no. It would stumble because of its outright pretension and Joyce’s fetish for the obscure reference. But reading it in full made me relish the opportunities of a novel. The idea of limits and rules starts to seem ridiculous when I’m wading my way through Joyce’s exhibition of the futility of all the previous writing styles in English. It’s not that Jane Austen’s delicacies and Charles Dickens’ brashness didn’t have a communicative purpose. It’s just that if we can read and understand Molly–though I would recommend listening to any of dozens of Irish actresses reading excerpts–then surely all the previous confines and barriers of taste were too prescriptive. There is beauty to be found in Molly Bloom and in Ulysses, so pick and choose your chapters from this doorstop. There are many love letters to the English language and the everyday to be found in these pages.
“then I hate that confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan he touched me father and what harm if he did where and I said on the canal bank like a fool but whereabouts on your person my child on the leg behind high up was it yes rather high up was it where you sit down yes O Lord couldnt he say bottom right out and have done with it”
“he wanted to milk me into the tea well hes beyond everything I declare somebody ought to put him in the budget”
“I dont like books with a Molly in them like that one he brought me about the one from Flanders a whore always shoplifting anything she could cloth and stuff”
“yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes”