Ulysses, for me, is a man’s book. It is a novel about being a man, by someone who focussed his attention on that issue, because, being a him, it was central to his understanding of himself. He was also, so far as I am aware, a hetero-sexual man – if there is a distinction to be made – and I take this novel to be an insider’s view of that condition. For me, iIMG_7421t is a book about being a hetero-sexual man in relation to women, and to other men.

Molly Bloom’s monologue, therefore, occupies a key position both in the novel, and, I suspect, in our opinion forming in relation to it. Placed at the end of the story it attracts attention because of that placement – and here I find another unusual quality in Ulysses, unusual that is, in relation to the novel form in general. I’m very happy to argue that the fundamental difference between short stories and novels can best be summed up by the analogy with a journey: the novel is about the travelling. The short story is about the destination. Yet here is a forty page tour de force that, on a first couple of readings, seems to be both destination, and culmination of Bloom’s wanderings. Getting back to Molly, in however many ways you want to interpret that idea, is what has driven Bloom throughout the day. She has never left his, or our minds, except temporarily. She is ‘the woman’ in his life, despite all those others that jostle his consciousness, of his own concupiscence, of his own emotions.

I have heard people talk of Molly as some sort of ‘earth Goddess’, a symbolic mother figure, the Alpha and Omega and all that clever elevated stuff. I have heard them also damn the book, because Molly fails some test of credibility or authenticity, from a woman’s perspective, or as an objective presentation of some putative female essence.

But Molly is not some character dreamed up by a committee of Feminists, nor by a laboratory full of scientists, nor an academic Department of Sociologists. She is neither objective, nor representative, of anything except James Joyce’s understanding of his own feelings, transmuted, transmigrated even, into the fictional mind of his fictional character, Leopold Bloom. Molly’s authenticity does not lie in her credibility as a woman, but in the effectiveness of her presentation as a fictional character. Do not look for an explanation of what woman means in a universal sense, in Molly, but rather look to understand what it means to Bloom, and, if you must, through him, to Joyce himself. Compare that with your own understanding, and your own feelings, by all means, but recognise that the differences will not discredit the character created in his imagination – though they may challenge the one forged in your own.

In fact, as I have read the book again I have found progressively that I see Molly more as a reflection on Bloom himself, than on any notion of woman. It is what Bloom thinks about that the mirror is being held up to. It is what we, as men reading a man’s book, as women reading this man’s book, think of him, that is central to our response to the book. The suitors that Molly runs through in her mind are defeated by Ulysses Bloom, by virtue of not being him. Bloom is his own man, warts and all, and Molly’s monologue, for me at least, is part of Joyce’s telling of that story. His Odyssey is not a means of us understanding or perceiving her more clearly. Her monologue is another device for us to get clearer view of Bloom. Her final ‘yes’ confers victory on him.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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