‘James Joyce’s Ulysses is a supreme literary work. It is a dominant text
of modernism, being radically experimental, difficult, challenging; in its technical and linguistic virtuosity, it is astonishing and sometimes baffling;
and it is also a humorous, humane and moving novel.’ (2010:V)
Ulysses, the title, the word, conjures up so many ideas and images; obtuse, impenetrable, difficult, confusing but also lyrical, wondrous and beautiful. How can one novel generate such polarising opinions, such oppositions? Was Marilyn Monroe really reading that old heavy, hardback in her hand or was she just posing for a famous photograph, trying to break away from her image as the quintessential dumb blonde? Is it, in fact, possible to approach this novel with an open mind, without an immense weight of cultural baggage being dragged behind us; Bloomsday celebrations at the Martello tower in Dun Laoghaire or Senator David Norris reciting passages in his booming, well educated, Anglo Irish accent. Over the next few weeks I intend to find out.
I first came to Joyce through Samuel Beckett, in a former life when I fancied myself a bit of a playwright. After attending a short festival of the Beckett’s work in the Granary Theatre in 2002 I became fascinated with his particular brand of absurdist theatre. I had never seen anything like it on stage before. I read everything I could get my hands on, eventually having a few of my own absurdist pieces preformed in the Granary as past of the New Directors Festival in 2006, to tiny audiences I might add. I devoured Damned To Fame, James Knowlson’s biography of Beckett, picking up on the playwright’s love for Joyce’s work. So for the first time I began to read.
Starting with Dubliners, initially all went well, although A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man impressed me less. By the time I approached Ulysses there was really little encouragement needed to turn away. Which I duly did. Fate however had something entirely different in store for me. It was while on a pilgrimage to Paris to visit Beckett’s grave in Cimetière de Montparnasse (I don’t know. It seemed important at the time.) that something amazing happened. Bloomsday occurred while I was in the city of lights and I found myself sitting in a small Scottish pub while an actress read the famous soliloquy of Molly Bloom from the end of Ulysses. I don’t possess the words to describe how much I was moved by its beauty. Could this be from the same book I struggled with so much in the past before putting it aside? It seemed unlikely. Yet it was.
Coming full circle I am back at the beginning again. Once more starting with Stephen Dedalus on that June morning in the Martello tower. Yet it is Molly Bloom that still holds me. I listen to that sparkling speech over again and feel transcendence through Joyce’s words, knowing that once I finish the novel I will be able to read those lines with true understanding for the first time, or at least that is my hope. Yes. I hope. Yes. Hope. Yes.
James Joyce – Ulysses: Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, The Last 50 Lines.
Knowlson, James. Damned To Fame. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.
Watts, Cedric. Introduction. Ulysses. By James Joyce. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 2010. V. Print.
Arnold, Eve. Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses. 1954. Mycroft.com.au. Web. 13. Oct 2012.
James Joyce – Ulysses: Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, The Last 50 Lines. Youtube.com. 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.