Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Chapter 18
Lecture Twenty-Three -- Molly Bloom Speaks
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)


This chapter takes its name from the wife of Ulysses, who
remained at home in Ithaca during his twenty-year absence and
who faithfully resisted all her suitors while awaiting his return.
Given that Molly has entertained a lover while Bloom was away
for less than 24 hours, she seems hardly a model of Penelopean
fidelity, and while Penelope speaks of almost nothing but her
longing to see Ulysses again, Molly generates a waterfall of words
Lying in bed with Bloom in the wee hours of the morning, she
thinks of everything she’s ever done or felt and every man she’s
ever known. Nevertheless, her uninhibited and sometimes self-
contradictory monologue finally shows her thoughts returning to
Bloom, whom she clearly prefers to Boylan. Even though she
craves another dose of the sexual excitement Boylan has given her,
Bloom is the only man she’s ever known who fully understood
her, and it is with her memory of their first ecstatic lovemaking
that Molly’s monologue ends.


The key to Molly's wildly flowing monologue is its first and last word
A. Unlike the catechist of chapter 17, who moves by starts and stops,
Molly speaks like a roaring stream.
1. Though the episode consists of eight “sentences,” they
average five pages each.
2. Apart from l\/lolly’s reference to her menstrual period, the
only period we find in this nonstop monologue appears at its
very end.
B. But the first and last word of the monologue is yes, and that is the
key to its life-affirming spirit.
II. Though critics have defended Molly by calling her an earth mother, she
gives precious little evidence of fecundity.
A. Against the charge that Molly has “horrible” thoughts, critics have
argued that she’s an earth mother.
1. At the end of the “Ithaca” chapter, Molly lies on her side “in
the attitude of Gea-Tellus, fulfilled, recumbent, big with
2. Menstmating and urinating, she seems a force of nature, like
earth or rain, “self-befouling, self-purifying.”
B. But she’s not notably fecund.
1. She has just one living child-her daughter, Milly.
2. Her menstruation shows that she’s not pregnant-at which she
seems relieved.
III. Beside being an earth-mother with just one child, Molly is a bundle of
other contradictions.
A. Though known around Dublin as a “gamey mare,” Molly gives no
evidence that she ever had sex with anyone before Bloom or that
she has ever committed adultery before today. In fact, she has long
been celibate.
1. Before Bloom, she mentions just two suitors, and in her frank
account of what she did with them, she makes no reference to
having had sex with either.

2. So far as we know, Molly’s fling with Boylan was her first
complete experience of sexual intercourse in more than ten
B. Though Rudy’s death seems to have touched her as deeply as it did
Bloom, she has nothing good to say about any children, including
her own daughter.
1. She was so traumatized by the death of Rudy that she knew
she would never have another child.

2. She dislikes all children
a. She scorns the nonstop pregnancies of Mina Purefoy.

b. She resents her daughter, Milly, whom she sees as a rival
for Bloom’s attention.
C. Though she speaks up for women, she also disparages them.
1. She thinks the world would be much better off if women were
put in charge of it.

2. But so far from seeking to make common cause with women
against oppressive males, she says that women are “bitches”
and she distrusts nearly all of them.

IV. In spite of her affair with Boylan, Bloom remains Molly’s best friend
A. All the qualities that Molly ascribes to women at their best can be
found in Bloom.

B. In a city filled with drunken good-for-nothings, she appreciates his
thriftiness, good manners, and concern for his family.

C. She’s captivated by his worship of her body.

D. She’s the only one Who understands him.

V. Nevertheless, she no longer admires Bloom’s talent for Ulyssean
A. As a performer herself, she loved to pretend “for fun” and thought
of Bloom as a co-conspirator.
1. Catching up with her in the rain one day for some intimate
fondling, he gave her a story to explain the delay to her father

2. She liked the fact that he could see her desire through the
mask of conventional modesty that she felt bound to wear
B. But having listened to Bloom’s account of his day and night, she
thinks he’s lying.

VI. Feeling sadly that she’s past her prime, she yearns for sexual
adventures to prove that she can still arouse a man’s desire-especially
since she’s had no sex with Bloom for more than ten years. Above all,
she Wants to excite Bloom’s desire.
A. She fantasizes about having an affair with Stephen.

B. She savors the fresh memory of Boylan’s potency. His sexual
score grows every time she thinks about it-from “3 or 4 times” to
“5 or 6 times” in the course of a single visit. So far from feeling
guilty about her affair or wanting to conceal it, she wants Bloom to
know about it.

C. She justifies her adultery by citing Bloom’s sexual neglect of her.

D. Paradoxically, Molly’s urge to punish and humiliate Bloom
springs from her desire for him, her desperate longing to rouse his
desire for her.
Vll. In spite of her eagerness to see Boylan again, she still cares more for
Bloom, whom she clearly finds much more refined and sensitive.
A. She resents Boylan’s coarseness.

B. The final passage of her monologue begins with a series of
negatives about Boylan and ends with her memory of passionately
saying yes to Bloom.

C. She remembers in particular his extraordinary sensitivity: “I saw
he understood or felt what a woman is.”

VIII. But the adulterous estrangement of the two leaves us with
Lmanswered questions about the future of their relationship

Supplementary Reading
Pearce, Molly Blooms.
Questions to Consider:
1. What do Molly and Bloom have in common?

2. Does Molly’s monologue tell you anything new about Bloom-
anything we have not already learned from Bloom himself?

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