Amy Britton reviews Ulysses by James Joyce

Did James Joyce’s creation, Molly Bloom, ever taste her own menstrual blood? Why would this concept even be considered? It is being considered because she probably did…

Ulysses is a novel which sought to challenge boundaries of all kinds, and did so successfully, from its use of the English language to create something new to the uproar its sexual content caused. Furthermore, James Joyce liberated not only language from its restraints but also one of the most studied and analysed figures in the history of literature, Molly Bloom, so extensively analysed due to the famous interior monologue which ends “Ulysses.”

Molly is a sexually liberated woman, considering her affair with Blaize and the act of masturbation which accompanies her interior monologue. But her liberation is about so much more than this basic sexuality. Her interior monologue is almost entirely without punctuation. Most of the restrictions placed on the English language stem from grammar and punctuation; by removing them from Molly’s monologue Joyce frees both himself as writer and Molly as character , allowing his thoughts to follow a free path which mirrors her excited thoughts, captured through this technique. Her thoughts and ideas have all blended into one in a typical Modernist use of stream of consciousness; the asexuality of some of her thoughts, combined with the sensuality of others and the act of masturbation, treats sex as an everyday act which can be combined with more everyday, at times “typically feminine” activities. It is this element of indifference, paradoxically combined with her sexual excitement, which contributes to her liberation. The monologue also gives a full insight into Molly’s mind and thus gives her a full identity (in a novel published in 1922 and set in 1904 this was not the glib action that it would be nowadays) – Brian Moore even wrote the novel “I Am Mary Dunne” in response, in which a woman searches for her own true identity using Molly’s monologue as a starting point. It would appear that she is both everywoman and inspiration.

One of the key things that Joyce does is give Molly the last word. The last word, famously, is “yes.” Like Yeats, Joyce was inspired by cycles. His main influence here is the eighteenth century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico and his theory of the four stage circular process of human time – Joyce saw his own generation as in the final stage which would join up the cycle back to the first stage. But later, in the twentieth century, cycles would gain a new role – in 1970 the publication of The Female Eunuch and a dawning of a new age of liberation would create the idea of the circular woman and cycles became a part of feminism.

Joyce uses the cyclical technique to build an interesting structure in Ulysses, and Molly is the key character to this. Molly’s last word (and the last word of the novel) is “yes” (the ecstasy of Molly’s orgasm) reversing the letters ‘s’ and ‘y’ of the final word ‘statetly’ to build a new beginning – here the woman is placed both on the cusp of a triumphant turn of history but also making her the kind of circular woman which would later interest twentieth century feminists.

Molly is a kind of creatio ex nihilo character who had she been created later could have been seen as a product of the Greer generation. As it stands, Molly is the consummate circular woman, built out of language, who off the page was no doubt tasting her own menstrual blood. Later thought has given new life to one of the most interesting novels of the nineteen twenties.

Amy Britton