Skip to main content


This year’s online Bloomsday seminar via Facebook was a global conversation in the privacy of our own screens. Each of the eighteen short films, released online by Bloomsday in Melbourne at the hour set for each episode, were treated as the ‘papers’ to prompt online discussion. Episode 18 included contributions by Bruce Beswick, Steve Carey, Sian Cartwright, Marie-Chantal Douine, Frances Devlin Glass, Elle Rasink, and Janet Strachan, whose initials appear where their thoughts are represented in these analecta.

Molly Bloom speaks to us, but past us with her desires, dreams, and memories.

Every episode of Ulysses has background noise, foreground noise, other voices. Only the end episode of the opening, i.e. Stephen’s walk on Sandymount Strand, and the end of the whole story, i.e. Molly’s hyper-languid thought patterns, are personal testimonies, made in glorious isolation, about the world they know so well. They own their own noise and voices, but their lively existence is inside thinking out, whether on Dublin Bay to the four winds and the world’s imagined corners, or with Bloom ‘home from the sea’ snoring at the end of the bed.

Theorising about Molly is a pleasurable pastime, but the encounter with her creates our own relationship with her. Our own memories of first encounters (where, when, and what happened next) propel the way we understand and appreciate her. What did we make of her then and what do we make of her now? My own memories of Molly start at school, when I read Ulysses for the first time, a Penguin copy found in lost-and-found. I started Ulysses, aged 17, not at the front but the back. What kind of story deliberately has no punctation? There has been plenty of time to work out the answer to that question, and I still don’t have all the answers. It is a permanent to-and-fro, punctuated by yes.   

Questions abound about how to theatricalize Molly, who ranges over her entire life while not moving from her bed. Every fifth thought is seemingly unrelated to those that came before. How to make Molly intimate and direct (Sian) while maintaining the rush of lifetime memories, is a scriptwriting challenge. How to know who she is talking about at any one time is likewise of interest, as for example how to navigate the text referring to both Bloom and Blazes as ‘him’. (Sian)

Molly’s monologue closes the novel on a positive note, so far as the relationship between the Blooms is concerned. (ER) The marriage may be tired and fraught but it’s far from a lost cause. It dwells in that place where romanticism and realism and children must co-exist.

Who is the more romantic, Molly or Leopold? There is a hefty dose of realism in Mrs. Marian. (FDG) She has a hard streak. It can be seen in contrast to Leopold’s propensity for dreamy and tolerated peculiarities, his “melonsmellonous osculation”.  

Ulysses is a comedy. It is comic at the level of incessant straight humour. Simultaneously, it is comedy in the classical sense, a work of art that ultimately presents life as positive, that affirms life, all’s well that ends well. Joyce shifts between ‘Daunty, Gouty, and Shopkeeper’, aware of their use of the word ‘comedy’.  Molly’s monologue is the best evidence of this view. She is romantic, realist, dreamer, hardnose. She knows herself, loves abundantly, goes where the weird logic wends, and survives.

Is Molly incomparable within the female types in the novel? Molly is a realist, but then in what ways is Gertie a realist? We talk of Molly as a real woman and wonder if Joyce is making fun of Gertie. (JS) Age difference matters. Gertie is young, at the age when a girl dreams. (MCD)

It is awkward explaining if and why Joyce is making fun of Gertie. Her sentimentality, influenced by her reading, co-exists with an ingenuousness about sexuality that makes it possible for her to catch Bloom’s gaze. (JS) Molly’s relationship to the author is very different; she evens talks to him at one moment. Her natural, elemental sexuality is mixed with pragmatism (JS). Is she the character Joyce takes most seriously in the whole book?

Yes returns, permeates, punctuates, propels, revives the words throughout. Verbs abound.

Even when Molly is being negative, gets stroppy about something or other, or has some slapdown remark, it is happening at the service of yes. Yes will override all other considerations.

At breakfast on the 16th, as we recall, Bloom’s response to the Titbits story might be understood as an act of literary criticism, but the novel suggests that it’s also inspirational for Bloom. That he might embark on a joint publication with Molly based on her conversation. How much Joyce reveals his preoccupations. (FDG) And in fact Joyce did embark on the publication of most intimate thoughts, his wife’s, his own, and those of others in his life. At the centre of this activity was the desire to have these experiences announced and shared with the world, a refusal to live with personal isolation. This bed thy centre is where all the world’s a stage.


Popular posts from this blog

Why did Dante write The Divine Comedy?

This is one of two short papers given by Philip Harvey at the first Spiritual Reading Group session for 2014 on Tuesday the 18 th of February in the Carmelite Library in Middle Park. He also gave a paper on that occasion, which can be found on the Library blog, entitled ‘A Rationale for Purgatory’ . Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls in one of her books how her husband, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, would say that when reading poetry we can spend a great deal of time discussing what it means, but the first and main question about a poem is not what does it mean, but why was it written. That is the place to start. Here are eleven reasons that I offer quietly to help us think about this poem: Why did Dante write The Divine Comedy? You may have other reasons and these are invited. We will spend most of our time today looking at meanings, but also at why. I wrote these out as they occurred to me, so there is no priority order. 1.      He wrote the poem because of Florence. Many o

The Walk (Seamus Heaney)

This poem was read aloud at Janet Campbell’s funeral in Hamilton in Victoria in December 2006. Janet was a great lover of poetry all her life, a great reader of poetry, and she read everything of Seamus Heaney. Indeed, when she worked in Melbourne or London bookshops Janet would grab hold of Faber pre-publication copies of Heaney if they came into the backroom, and disappear for days, copying lines onto postcards for her friends, transferring lines into her lifetime of diaries. Diaries that were also a lifeline. Janet read everything, but Heaney was one of the regulars. Seamus Heaney keeps a tight line. He is rarely though completely opaque and the way into this poem is the word ‘longshot’. We only find in the second of the two poems that we are being asked to look at two photographs. Or, at least, poems that are like photographs. Or, better still, strong memories that have taken on in the mind the nature of longshots. The two poems in one are reminders of close relationships.

The Poetry of Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams delivers the twelfth John Rylands Poetry Reading last year   This is a paper given by Philip Harvey in the Hughes Room at St Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne on Sunday the 6 th of December as one in an Advent series on religious poets. The original title of the paper was ‘The text that maps our losses and longings’. Everything Rowan Williams says and writes reveals a person with a highly developed sensitivity to language, its force, directness, instantaneousness, its subtlety, indirectness, longevity. A person though may speak three languages fluently and read at least nine languages with ease, as he does, and still not engage with language in the way we are looking at here. Because Rowan is unquestionably someone with a poetic gift. By that I don’t just mean he writes poetry, I mean he engages with the life of words, their meanings, ambiguities, colours, their playfulness, invention, sounds. We find this in those writings of his that deliberate