Episode 18: Penelope, ~pp 723-783

Important Themes of Episode 18

Small Praise Is Enough: Molly intends her soliloquy to be a song in praise of her lovers, but every praise for lovers or damning of her husband turns back to qualified praise for Poldy. He wipes his feet. She knows his voice in a crowded room. Mr. Bloom never climbs into  bed in muddy shoes. He isn’t unlucky like Henny Doyle. Perhaps that’s because he takes off his hat when coming back into the house. He is a man of spunk. He’ll never abandon hot soup. In repayment for his fine habits, she will defend his dignity even when he will not:“theyre not going to get my husband again into their clutches if I can help it making fun of him then behind his back I know well when he goes on with his idiotics because he has sense enough….”  Familiarity apparently does not just breed contempt: “something its all very well a husband (can be fooled) but you cant fool a lover….” Budgen tells us for her the “measure of value for all males is Leopold.” In her words he is “a poor thing but my own.”  As for lovers, she doesn’t need to fool a lover. Her lover isn’t central to her life.

The Bed’s Secret: Only Odysseus and Penelope knew that their marriage bed had been carved from an olive tree in place. This was how Odysseus Psuedoangelos proved his true identity to his wife. Molly’s jingling bed has a secret too, but not the one readers might expect. She doesn’t go to great length to hide her infidelity. She doesn’t change the bedsheets for example. Nor does she flaunt it ( although says she would like him to watch and would take him to see the locations of her early sexual encounters). The secret that Molly holds from her husband is that the bed was purchased second hand from old Mr. Cohen and not a treasure from a great estate. The Bloom marriage allows little secrets to keep things interesting, but the partners know all the important corners of the other’s heart. 

Final Flight of the Celestial Theme: Poldy “orders” a duo of huevos estralladas for his breakfast. These are fried eggs but literally translated “starry eggs.” These may represent Poldy and Molly but more likely the sunny-sided-u.p. masculine pair Stephen and Bloom. Celestial Molly is the Moon and sometimes the Milky Way. “the sun (a star, after all) shines for you…” Bloom told her on Howth.

Hail, Marion : Molly has been depicted as Immaculate Conception, Miraculous Medal, Mary of the Pieta and now as the protector of the youthful Messiah. Stepping in for departed May Dedalus, she volunteers to save Stephen “…hes running wild now out at night away from his books and studies and not living at home on account of the usual rowy house I suppose well its a poor case that those that have a fine son like that theyre not satisfied and I none was he not able to make one it wasnt my fault….” Still she is “the hand that rocks the cradle.”

Among the titles cited in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin are the following and many more:

  • Mother of good counsel
  • Virgin most powerful
  • Seat of wisdom
  • Mystical rose
  • Tower of David
  • Tower of ivory
  • Queen of Angels
  • Queen of Patriarchs
  • Queen of Prophets
  • Queen of Martyrs
  • Queen of Families

Twenty-Five: Adams discusses the lovers of Molly Bloom at some length. He eliminates a few, but never offers his own actual list. He snorts at D’Arcy as her lover. I agree based on his character. He, however, thinks three are probable namely Val Dillon, Simon Dedalus and Professor Goodwin. Older gentlemen, father figures. I wonder how old Adams was when writing this. Adams also allowed his shameful parenthetical comment to remain unedited: “(if one, why not all?)” I would not expect monogamy from a fertility goddess, but in every other aspect of her life Mrs. Bloom has standards. I haven’t yet been able to equivocate my way around Boylan. Hugh Kenner is of the opinion and Brenda Maddox quotes him in her biography of Nora Barnacle Joyce that, besides Boylan, Molly’s lovers number between zero and one. I’d vote “one,” that one being Mulvey, the fictionalization of Nora’s teenaged love Mulvagh. This is not to deny Molly’s appetite. The stuttering theme punctuated with yeses if you’ll allow plays out that most unfertile of gratifications.

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