Public Service Warning: My next record features profane language, graphic infidelity, foreskins, explicit ruminations on oral sex, shit, todgers, armpits, semen, analingus*, menstruation, lady gardens, pissing and all the boys in the band.
You would have thought this bad MF of an LP would be stickered all over, wouldn’t you? ‘PMRC: Don’t Fucking listen to this!’, ‘Warning: Contains downstairs bodily functions, fluids and floozies’. But no, not one warning on the whole thing, not even a suggested age rating. 2 Live Crew got pilloried for less**.
They just did things differently back in 1959.
So here we are then, Thursday night and ready to rock!! Ulysses: Soliloquy Of Molly & Leopold Bloom, James Joyce in da house. This 1959 recording is read by Siobhan McKenna and E.G Marshall, released on Wing Recordings and was stolen by me from my dad at some point about 20 years ago.
My dad is big into James Joyce, a literary jump I could never quite follow him over; Ulysses is his favourite book. I remember him reading Finegan’s Wake when I was a child, now that is hardcore^. After warming up on Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and The Dubliners, I read Ulysses when I was about 18. I found it a real labour to be honest, very little stuck with me, every single learned classical allusion and structural device was largely lost on me but, hey, I enjoyed the rude bits though.
I have come back to it occasionally since and have managed to wring more out of it but I will never truly love James Joyce. For all the talk of fluids, I find Joyce essentially a very arid writer.
For a writer grappling with how to portray his characters’ innermost thoughts there can be no better tool than a soliloquy, no better way to give you that character’s voice, straight and (ahem) unadulterated. So on Ulysses (the LP) we are given Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy on the first side and her husband’s soliloquy on the other. Let that consciousness stream!
Molly’s soliloquy is the big ticket draw here, of course, the fact that it leads off the LP point towards Wing Recordings knowing it was exactly where the money (shot) was here. Hailed, variously as a true breakthrough in allowing a woman to voice all manner of impure thoughts and admit to a raw, realistic, almost unbridled female sexuality^^, or as utter filth and deviance, depending on how enlightened a view you took of female sexuality in 1904.
Molly’s soliloquy as originally written comprises 8 sentences, one of which being the longest sentence in the English language at 4391 words long^*. Listening to it on Ulysses is interesting as you struggle to find ear-holds because you naturally listen for pauses and punctuation and so very often the individual words sweep past you
Siobhan McKenna gives a marvellously understated performance as Molly Bloom, resisting any show-stopping actorly devices. Molly gives us her thoughts without drama, but in an entirely heartfelt way. When you get that stream of consciousness it can often be more about the way a character chains their thoughts together than about what they’re actually saying. McKenna gives us the real rhythm of Molly’s speech, which picks up towards the end with the famous iteration and reiteration of the, divine, ‘yes’.
This repetition of the positive is what attracted Kate Bush to the soliloquy when she penned the title cut of The Sensual World, which told of Molly Bloom stepping out and away from the page, being overwhelmed by all the joyous sensuality of real life. When the Joyce estate granted her permission to use the text from Ulysses in 2011 (having denied her in 1987) she rewrote the track as ‘Flower Of The Mountain’ on Director’s Cut.
Listening again I am struck by Joyce’s ability to write so utterly convincingly in Molly’s voice, I like the way she takes ownership of her own sexuality and bridles so strongly against the strictures society places against it. The passage where she reflects on how much of a better job women would make of running the world is the one that chimes strongest with me today.
Leopold Bloom’s soliloquy is brilliantly read by E.G Marshall, there’s a dry menace in his voice. I find it so much more cynical than his wife’s tales, Molly leads with her feelings, her desires are deep – Leopold observes keenly and wryly, but his desires are only about sating his lusts.
Bloom generalises so much more than Molly does, setting out some fairly unpleasant observations, to a listener 115 years after it was penned, on his experiences with Dublin prostitutes and women/girls in general. What saves the speech from being one long creep, is Leopold Bloom’s turn of phrase which can often wring a smile from you and Marshall’s gently expressive delivery.
Ulysses is a good interesting LP, I am always a sucker for a good bit of spoken wordage, preferably and appropriately here, in the dark. I do like the understated delivery of this album too, it certainly does fit the characters’ inner musings well. You get the sense that if both Leopold and Molly could only hear each others’ soliloquies then they would be able to fit as well together companionably as they, occasionally, do physically.
So, is that a yes then Molly?
and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
PS: Not Siobhan McKenna, but brilliant:
*not to be confused with the former national airline of Ireland, for other than humorous reasons.
**rightly so, but for the wrong reasons, they should simply have been utterly pilloried for making shite sexist music.
^I conked out after about 10 pages and I was fairly proud of that effort.
^^albeit a raw, realistic, unbridled female sexuality shaped and penned by a man.
^*subsequently broken by Jonathan Coe, but I don’t count that.