Nora Joyce, the inspiration for Molly Bloom
Today is Bloomsday, the day lit lovers the world over celebrate James Joyce’s massive masterpiece Ulysses which takes place on June 16, 1904. It is on that same Spring day that the novel’s anti-heroic hero Mr. Leopold Bloom, he “who ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls, ” leaves his modest Dublin home for a walk and some kidneys and encounters, among other things, just about everything.
One of the few things that Bloom does not encounter (even if his thinking returns to her continuously) is his wife Molly Bloom. Molly, for her part, is to cuckold Leopold that very afternoon with one Blazes Boylan, a Dublin dandy, (even as her thinking continuously returns to her husband.)
In between these two events just about everything in the world except the end of it takes place. Some of it is very, very sad. Much of it is very, very funny.
Structurally, Joyce designed Ulysses to contain every literary form in existence but he saved the one that is arguably the most intimate – the soliloquy — for Molly, to whom he gives the last 30, 000 or so words.
This Bloomsday my wife and I had the joyfully exhausting experience of hearing Molly’s soliloquy read by Eunice Wong at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project on Bleeker Street. Wong’s performance was nothing short of magnificent.
The soliloquy, on one level a stream of consciousness recapitulation of Molly’s day, and on another an endless riff on sex, death, menstruation, politics, theology, the female body, the male body, faith, betrayal and, above all, love, is nothing short of symphonic and as such demands an interpreter of enormous emotional courage and breadth to do it justice. Wong, as Molly, pondered, exclaimed, wept, laughed, whispered, whistled, sang, farted, giggled, danced, cooed, and much more throughout, did it justice. She also displayed Olympian level stamina in the process. An Asian American, Wong chose not to employ a Dublin accent, but rather than take away from Molly’s Irishness, her performance heightened the universality of Joyce’s monumental creation: the sublime Molly Bloom.
Wong was humbling to watch. And also hilarious. And also beautiful.
In short, her rendering of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy was art of a very high order and we were grateful to have experienced it.
Mr. Joyce and his guitar