2017 Bloomsday Essay Contest Undergraduate Student Winner: “Consumption of the Intimate”

The first annual Bloomsday Essay Contest invited graduate and undergraduate students in the tri-state area to submit their best essays on Ulysses or another Joyce text. The winners were announced during the Bloomsday celebration on June 16, 2017.

The 2017 award for an outstanding paper written by an undergraduate student was presented to Katie Paulson of Swarthmore College. Katie’s engaging and wide-ranging essay discusses the novel’s complex portrait of women as consumers, as commodities under patriarchy, and as producers of modernity in the ways that they dismantle the distinction between private and public. With the author’s permission, the essay is reproduced below.


Consumption of the Intimate:
The Female Perspective as Product and Producer of the Modern in Joyce’s Ulysses

by Katie Paulson, Swarthmore College

Published in 1922, James Joyce’s Ulysses serves as a cornerstone of modernist literature.  Following the basic structure of Homer’s Odyssey, Joyce’s nearly eight-hundred-page epic takes place in the span of a single day, June 16th, 1904, now hailed as Bloomsday in honor of Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom.  While Bloom, Joyce’s Odysseus, acts as the protagonist and often narrator of the novel, occasionally sharing narrative space with Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s Telemachus, I intend to track the roles of the women to whom Joyce gives narrative priority: Gerty MacDowell, Joyce’s Nausicaa; Molly Bloom, both Joyce’s Calypso and Penelope, although only in the Penelope chapter does Joyce allow readers into her consciousness; and finally, Milly Bloom, Molly and Bloom’s daughter who only makes a brief appearance through a letter she sends her father.  Examining Gerty, Molly, and Milly in the context of capitalist society, I will suggest that the three women market their sexuality as a product of modern consumer culture, permitting the public to enter the intimate sphere through their bodies.  While Bloom, a designer of advertisements, certainly participates in consumer culture as well, he, unlike Gerty, Molly, and Milly, does not map the consumable onto his own body.  While some scholars argue that these three women demonstrate agency in using consumer products to construct identity, I argue that Joyce confines women to a specific branch of consumerism targeted at sexuality that produces an understanding of woman as commodity.  If modernity necessitates the destruction of privacy, the invitation of the public into the intimate moments of our lives, Joyce places the burden of this modern publicity upon the women in his narrative, characterizing women’s bodies as the producers of modern society, and exploiting them for the purpose of this production in his own narrative.

I will track this exploitation of women both diegetically, within Joyce’s novel through his female characters, and extra-diegetically, examining how Joyce gives voice.  Inside the novel, I will consider Gerty MacDowell, Molly Bloom, and Milly Bloom as characters who are consumed by the public, and also Mina Purefoy, whose reproductive capacity becomes almost a public tool.  Ulysses’ Oxen of the Sun chapter and Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere provide an entrance into my extra-diegetic analysis: I will discuss the production of language and speech, and consider the demands that Joyce’s labor of writing places on his female characters as they work to break into the public sphere.  Finally, I will examine the novel as a product that requires consumption and question how Joyce implicates the reader in his work.  My different lines of analysis intersect through their considerations of Ulysses as a work that is highly and consciously entrenched in commodity culture and specifically treats and models the unique roles that women play in this modern society.  In order to analyze Ulysses within this framework, I will begin by exploring these roles.

The rise of consumerism in the twentieth century has become explicitly tied to the image of the modern woman.  Mary Louise Roberts identifies two archetypes into which women in consumer society fall: the prostitute, representing “woman-as-commodity,” and the kleptomaniac, or “woman-as-consumer” (Roberts 817-18).  While prostitution existed long before the rise of consumer culture, kleptomaniacs were born with department stores: they were “predominantly bourgeois and aristocratic women, and they almost never needed what they stole” (Roberts 818).  Psychologists defined them as “hysterics who had little rational control over their desire to consume” (Roberts 818).  Thus the kleptomaniac, like the prostitute, is also the object of consumption: she is “consumed by shopping” (Roberts 818).  Roberts notes that contemporary women’s historians, influenced by Marxist critiques, have denounced consumerism: Victoria de Grazia, for instance, describes consumerism as “an especially totalizing and exploitative force to which women are more vulnerable than men because of their subordinate social, economic, and cultural position” (de Grazia 7).  Roberts’ archetypes of the prostitute and the kleptomaniac exemplify this unique exploitation that women face in consumer society, as women in both roles are criminals, liable to be punished under the law.  While the average woman is neither prostitute nor kleptomaniac but rather somewhere between these two extremes, Roberts’ examination of women in consumer society reveals how the capitalist economy pressures women to consume and be consumed but turns on them if they go too far in either endeavor.  Women become defined and controlled by the economy, a reality in which Joyce participates in Ulysses.

Gerty MacDowell, representing Homer’s Nausicaa, the young princess who captures the attention of Odysseus, acts as both the consumer and consumed, exemplifying this double role that Roberts identifies for women in consumer society.  Gerty does not present her perspective in first-person stream of consciousness style like Molly does in the final chapter of Ulysses; nonetheless, her voice and point-of-view are clear and distinctive: Suzette Henke points out that the Nausicaa chapter “mimics the ‘marmalady drawersy’ style of Gerty’s thoughts by using the voce, linguistic patterns and syntax appropriate to her speech” (Henke 136).  However, Joyce utilizes Gerty’s perspective in order to describe her appearance, paralleling the care and attention Gerty puts into the creation of her self-presentation.  Gerty maintains a “slight and graceful” figure prevented from becoming too fragile through the use of “iron jelloids” (Joyce 348).  She follows the advice of Madame Vera Verity from the Woman Beautiful page of the Princess novelette in using eyebrowleine to give a “haunting expression to the eyes, so becoming in leaders of fashion” (Joyce 349).  She wears a “navy threequarter skirt cut to the stride showed off her slim graceful figure to perfection” (Joyce 350).  Given the careful intentionality of her appearance, it is perhaps unsurprising that Gerty basks in the attention of Leopold Bloom, to her merely a handsome stranger on the shore.  She sees “whitehot passion… in [his] face, passion silent as the grave, and it had made her his” (Joyce 365).  Gerty allows Bloom to consume her with his gaze as she has consumed mass-marketed beauty products, and in doing so she becomes “his,” a commodity in his possession.

Jennifer Wicke rejects the idea that “Gerty has succumbed to enslavement by beauty ads, has become a victim of feminine objectification, and, even worse, is seen as allowing her own transformation into a commodity, used and abused by the gazing Leopold Bloom” (Wicke 243).  Wicke claims that this argument depends upon the idea of consumption as “passive enthrallment” (Wicke 243) and that instead, Gerty produces a “recontextualization” (Wicke 244) of consumer objects, displaying her agency by making these objects her own.  Gerty participates in the “self-creating aspects of consumption” (Wicke 244).  According to Wicke, Gerty’s participation in consumerism allows her world to “open out into a fantasy scripted by her, and for her, in the cosmetic vocabulary of eyebrowleine” (Wicke 244).  Gerty’s scripted fantasy is a classic love story in which she and the stranger Bloom star: she imagines marrying him, and consequently, as Bloom masturbates to the sight of her on the rocks, Gerty, eyes following the phallic Roman candle fireworks in the sky, is “trembling in every limb from being bent so far back” (Joyce 366), mimicking Bloom’s orgasm with her own performed version because nothing says true love like simultaneous climax.  However, even if Gerty’s fantasy supports the ideal of self-creation, it also demonstrates that Gerty has adopted the ideals of domesticity that consumerism promotes: her product-spurred fantasy features a traditional marriage.

Furthermore, Wicke does not consider the temporalities of Gerty’s and Bloom’s entrenchment in consumer culture.  Gerty and Bloom regard their moment of connection differently: as Gerty moves away and Bloom discovers that she is lame, he considers her “jilted beauty” and notes that he is “glad [he] didn’t know it when she was on show” (Joyce 368).  Gerty, on the other hand, continues to play out the fantasy as she exits the scene, suggesting that she and Bloom “would meet again, there, and she would dream of that till then, tomorrow, of her dream of yester eve” (Joyce 367).  Gerty’s dalliance with consumption-created fantasy is more than a mere imaginary fling; she indicates that this dream will stay with her after Bloom loses interest at the sight of her disability.  Indeed, in ‘Circe,’ Gerty returns in Bloom’s hallucination and cries, “Dirty married man!  I love you for doing that to me,” referring to Bloom’s observation of her body (Joyce 442).  While the Gerty of ‘Circe’ is arguably not the Gerty of ‘Nausicaa’ but rather a hallucination of Bloom’s, this episode nonetheless demonstrates that some form of Gerty maintains her love for Bloom while Bloom denies ever having seen her.  Bloom, the consumer, holds the privilege of leaving the world of consumerism after it has satisfied him, but for Gerty, the consumed, the world of consumerism is her entire reality, even when she is not actively being consumed by the male gaze, because her fantasies stem from products that focus on her appearance as a product that, if successful in the marketplace, if consumed, will win her the happily-ever-after she imagines.  Even if Gerty succeeds in recontextualizing consumer products for the development of her own identity, she also accepts their creation of her body as a product for the public gaze, indicating that she is more entrapped in the consumer world than Bloom because her role as the consumed leads her to sacrifice more of her intimacy—her future and her dreams as well as her body—to the public than Bloom’s role as the consumer.

Bloom’s wife Molly offers the second female perspective in the final chapter of Ulysses, based on Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.  Following the tradition of the Odyssey in which Penelope fends off suitors while waiting for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War, Molly considers her various suitors, past and present; unlike Penelope, however, Molly regards her suitors’ interest in her with pleasure, just as Gerty reacts to Bloom’s attraction.  While Molly is not so explicitly aligned with consumerism as Gerty, she too uses clothes to seduce: she suggests that she could seduce a young boy with her garters, noting, “Id confuse him a little alone with him if we were Id let him see my garters the new ones and make him turn red looking at him seduce him I know what boys feel with that down on their cheek” (Joyce 740).  Later, regarding another boy, Molly recalls, “he was looking at me I had that white blouse on open at the front to encourage him as much as I could without too openly” (Joyce 760).  Like Gerty, Molly invites the male gaze to consume her.  Even Bloom recognizes this characteristic in Molly when, after losing his own job, he suggests that she “pose for a picture naked to some rich fellow in Holles street” to make money (Joyce 753).  While Gerty participates in consumerism through her acceptance of mass-produced material products, Molly demonstrates her identity as the consumed through her accounts of how she presents herself to the various men in her life.  This presentation is how she communicates: for instance, when she takes an interest in the boy who lives next door to her in her childhood, she signals to him that she is going out by putting on her gloves and hat “at the window” where he can see (Joyce 757).  This form of communication, through being consumed, inherently opens Molly’s life to the public as she must wait for the gaze she desires in order to guarantee that her message is delivered.

Moreover, Molly’s entire career depends on her identity as a consumable being.  She is a singer: she makes money by performing for an audience, allowing strangers to consume her voice and her appearance.  As Elaine Unkeless notes, “Molly’s singing is almost always connected with her sexuality—in the way she envisions herself on stage… and in its association with men.  Invariably, when Molly sings with someone, flirtation accompanies the performance” (Unkeless 152).  Interestingly, while singing undeniably constitutes a large part of Molly’s identity, Joyce decides to portray her in a moment in which she is not on stage but rather in the privacy of her bedroom.  Additionally, Molly rejects consumption several times during the day: in ‘Calypso,’ it is Bloom who goes out to buy food, not Molly, and when he returns home, Molly opts for a light breakfast of just “thin bread and butter” (Joyce 56), avoiding heavy consumption once again.  These small, private rejections of consumer culture provide a fitting preface for Molly’s later invective against men in ‘Penelope,’ as so many of her experiences with men involve their consumption of her appearance.  Unlike Gerty, Molly recognizes the role she plays as a woman in consumer society and holds men accountable for the privilege they exercise in the world.  While Molly develops herself as a consumable object in order to earn money and to seduce men, her smaller rejections of consumption indicate that she finds the role of the consumed to be frustrating and confining.

In addition to painting Molly as another (unwilling) member of the consumed, Joyce’s Penelope chapter offers insights into Bloom’s intimate personal life that Bloom does not divulge in the chapters from his own perspective.  For instance, Molly reveals that Bloom has participated in extramarital affairs, referring to “night women” with whom Bloom sleeps but whom he does not love, encounters which he hides under “a pack of lies” (Joyce 738-39).  Molly doesn’t omit her own affair either, which we already know about from Bloom’s perspective: she describes sex with Blazes Boylan in detail, commenting even on the size of his erect penis (“big” (Joyce 769)).  In approximately seven-hundred pages written from Bloom’s perspective, Joyce manages to omit key details that allow for insight into Bloom’s personal life; however, in Molly’s single chapter, we learn more intimate details of Bloom’s life than he himself had offered.  Perhaps most telling is the difference in Joyce’s descriptions of Bloom’s and Molly’s orgasms: Joyce describes Bloom masturbating to completion in ‘Nausicaa’ with the metaphor of a Roman candle exploding; Molly’s orgasms, however, are not hidden in metaphor: describing sex, she notes, “youd think they could never get far enough up and then theyre done with you in a way till the next time yes because theres a wonderful feeling there all the time so tender how did we finish it off yes O yes” (Joyce 760).  Joyce develops clear distinctions in the depth of intimacy he will allow from a male versus female perspective.  Only through the points of view of the two women, the consumed class, does he allow for a breakdown in the stringent social norms that dictate the veiling of the private.  Joyce’s women, already allowing the public into their intimate moments by playing the role of the consumed, ultimately work to dismantle the rigid distinction between private and public.

Molly’s monologue is often analyzed as a profoundly feminist eruption of speech.  Unlike so many women of history, Molly is not silenced; she acts as a triumph of women’s rights, of free speech, of feminism, even.  Richard Brown argues that Ulysses, in part due to Molly’s chapter, “celebrates the personal strength and sexual desires of women, and… recognizes the depth of sexual and economic exploitation” (Brown 117).  Joyce is, he argues, “presenting a kind of feminism that was compatible with his interests in socialism and with the other kinds of sexual liberation which informed his ideas” (Brown 117).  I will not deny that Molly’s monologue exemplifies the modern freedom of women to speak their minds to the public.  However, I want to explore the relationship between Molly’s outburst of speech and the ways in which Joyce’s other women such as Gerty put themselves out into the world.  Molly’s openness regarding her sex life models a future in which women project their bodies and sexualities into the world like Gerty.  If women’s entrance into the public sphere necessitates their objectification and their consumption by the public, they continue to be exploited and controlled.

Joyce’s Circe chapter further exemplifies this rupture of the private sphere through women.  Taking the form of a script, complete with long and overly detailed stage directions, ‘Circe’ does not offer the same intimacy through female perspective that ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Penelope’ do, but continues the publicization of women through content.  ‘Circe’ takes place in a brothel where Bloom and Stephen both experience multiple hallucinations in the company of prostitutes.  Bloom is put on trial to answer for his various sexual misdoings: a woman named Mary Driscoll, a “scullerymaid,” explains that she had to leave employment at the Bloom household due to Bloom’s suggestive “carryings on” (Joyce 460).  Even Gerty makes an imagined reappearance, a moment which, according to Mark Osteen, reflects “the economics of sex by collapsing distinctions between prostitution and marriage” because she “is offered for sale, while murmuring botched wedding vows” (Osteen 36).  The fact that this exposé takes place in a brothel further indicates that Joyce utilizes scenes in which women are exposed and vulnerable in order to create a collapse of the private sphere.  ‘Circe’ functions as a powerful critique of traditional Irish society, as both Bloom’s trial and Gerty’s sale expose the manners in which women are subjugated.  However, these moments are only made possible through the existence of the brothel and the prostitutes who act in these hallucinations.  Joyce chooses a setting that features women who have already sacrificed their intimacy through prostitution for his critique of the social and economic forces that lead them to do so, demonstrating his unwillingness to expose the intimate lives of his male characters without including an entire brothel full of female characters who have already been exposed by their profession.

‘Circe’ is perhaps the episode in which Bloom is most exposed, treated most like Joyce’s women.  Interestingly, Joyce briefly transforms Bloom into a woman during this chapter.  Buck (Dr.) Mulligan appears and claims, “Dr Bloom is bisexually abnormal” and declares him to be “virgo intacta” (Joyce 493).  Another doctor, Dixon, then explains that Bloom is “a finished example of the new womanly man” (Joyce 493) and that he “is about to have a baby” (Joyce 494).  Then, told through the stage directions, Bloom “bears eight male yellow and white children” (Joyce 494).  This moment of transgenderism is notable because it follows Bloom’s trial and the exposure of his sexual sins; fittingly following this scene, Bloom then takes on more womanly characteristics, most notably the female capacity for reproduction.  Conveniently, all of his children are male and are “immediately appointed to positions of high public trust in several different countries” (Joyce 494).  Bloom’s transformation is not all-consuming: he still exercises a position of power in this hallucinated world, and thus, he, unlike Molly, remarks “O, I so want to be a mother” (Joyce 494).  Ultimately, this moment in ‘Circe’ creates an almost idyllic alternate world in which reproduction is desired and miraculous, contrasting reality in which Molly argues that reproduction is burdensome.  However, this fantasy disappears before long and Bloom becomes “an alienated and exploited sex worker” (Flynn 28), demonstrating the infeasibility of this dream within commodity culture.

Catherine Flynn argues that ‘Circe’ “resists consumption” (Flynn 134).  Flynn uses the phrase “phantasmagoria,” which Walter Benjamin adopted in the Arcades Project to describe the overwhelming possibilities of consumption in capitalist culture, to depict the effect of ‘Circe.’  Interestingly, Flynn points out, Joyce wrote ‘Circe’ in Paris at the same time that Benjamin was beginning work on the Arcades Project.  The phantasmagoria that both authors encountered there, Flynn claims, is presented in their work as “an enormous shifting display of commodities and fashions in which subject and object intermingle irrationally” (Flynn 123).  The explosion of images and commodities in ‘Circe’ leads Flynn to regard the chapter as “out of control, embodying both the promise of capitalist production and its lack of political substance” (Flynn 25).  In short, ‘Circe’ presents the modern world that both Joyce and Benjamin saw in Paris: productive to the point of confusion.  Ultimately, though, Flynn argues that ‘Circe,’ “both in manifesting and critiquing the pervasiveness of commodity culture” acts as “an art of revolt” that has the power to create a “historical consciousness” (Flynn 134).  ‘Circe’ and Ulysses do not attempt to separate themselves from commodity culture but rather to critique consumerism from within.  I contend that while internal critiques are able to identify problems with any system, Joyce also models and upholds a culture which exploits women in its reproduction that requires women to be the exposed subjects.

It is worth mentioning that Joyce includes one other female perspective, though much briefer than Gerty’s and Molly’s.  In ‘Calypso,’ Bloom and Molly’s daughter Milly writes Bloom a letter, offering a short introduction to a third female voice.  Milly, like Gerty and Molly, falls into the industry of being consumed, as she works in the “photo business” (Joyce 66).  She writes, “Mr. Coghlan took one of me and Mrs will send when developed” (Joyce 66), revealing that her entire profession depends upon publicizing her body for others to watch.  Wicke explains that Milly’s prettiness “is commodity used to lure young men on vacation to have a snapshot made of themselves standing on the beach with her, Milly, in a daring bathing costume” (Wicke 236).  Wicke also notes that Joyce, in his many depictions of consumer society, “by no means deplores commodity culture,” especially because Ireland’s previous economic systems—“feudalism, slavery, colonial oppression, or underdevelopment”—are worse (Wicke 236).  However, Joyce does not consider the extent to which women occupy different roles than men in a consumer society, becoming exploited for the production of that same capitalist vision of modernity that oppresses them.  The rise of commodity culture shown in Ulysses both welcomes women into the public sphere but only if they agree to objectification and consumption by others.

Milly’s letter additionally offers a valuable insight into what constitutes modernity in Joyce’s Ireland.  Compared to Molly, Milly and Gerty, the younger generation of women, represent the future, and in particular what life looks like for the modern woman of capitalist society. Joyce locates Molly’s perspective in the house as she considers the outside world, and according to Unkeless, “Though Molly may be content to just lie in bed, her outpouring of words is in part a manifestation of her frustration at not participating in the world outside 7 Eccles Street” (Unkeless 154).  This confinement to the private sphere appears outdated when compared to Milly and Gerty who broadcast themselves to the public.  For Joyce, modernity seems to include a progression of women’s bodies into the public world.  Molly is certainly not the representative of traditional domestic values—she too, through her singing, offers herself to the public for consumption.  However, Molly’s work additionally depends on her talent as a singer, whereas Milly’s work depends only on her physical appearance.  Molly’s occupation invites the consumption of her words, fittingly prefacing ‘Penelope’ in which Molly is all words, to the extent of oversharing; Milly’s occupation, however encourages only the consumption of her body.

In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas discusses the distinction between public and private spheres in bourgeois society, identifying the epistolary novel as opening the private sphere to the public gaze.  While Joyce’s novel follows the working class rather than the bourgeois, Habermas’ insights are still applicable to Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin, particularly because Habermas identifies capitalism as responsible for the growth of a bourgeois class centered in the “patriarchal conjugal family” (Habermas 43), and Bloom, a designer of advertisements, acts as an embodiment of capitalism who, in ‘Penelope,’ reasserts his patriarchal authority in the home by asking Molly to bring him “breakfast in bed” the next morning (Joyce 738).  Habermas describes the private sphere, denoted by the home, as a place of independence where individuals “entered into ‘purely human’ relations with one another” (Habermas 48).  However, Habermas makes a distinction between the private sphere and the “intimate sphere” (Habermas 55), which he defines as the conjugal family, the core of the private sphere.  Interestingly, Habermas identifies the more general private sphere as “the sphere of the market” (Habermas 55), relating the simply private to the possession of private property, while the intimate takes on a more personal, family-oriented definition.  This distinction allows us to separate the ways in which Joyce’s men, Bloom and Stephen, differ from Molly in terms of subjectivity: while Bloom and Stephen provide insight into the private sphere through their often stream-of-consciousness narration, their descriptions focus on what they consume, and so their insights develop an out-of-home location.  Bloom, for instance, spends significant time considering advertisement designs, while Stephen ruminates on the life of Shakespeare.  Molly, however, located inside the house, develops the more intimate perspective of the consumed, offering a view into the personal experiences of the family.

Habermas identifies letters, considered an “imprint of the soul” (Habermas 49), and specifically the epistolary novel as well as fiction in general, as allowing for a bridging of this privacy by inviting another individual into one’s mind, one’s subjectivity.  He writes, “the familiarity whose vehicle was the written word, the subjectivity that had become fit to print, had in fact become the literature appealing to a wide public of readers” (Habermas 51).  In Ulysses, the women given voice perform this function of displaying subjectivity, or intimacy, fit to print: while Bloom and Stephen model subjectivity in the form of thought put down on a page and succeed in breaching the private sphere, Molly (and Gerty) provide a window into the intimate sphere, transforming intimacy into an event oriented towards the public by allowing themselves and their bodies to become consumed by male characters as well as readers of Ulysses.  Thus Joyce’s women carry out the function of fiction as Habermas envisions it: opening the private, but more specifically the intimate, to an audience.  In aligning the women of Ulysses with fiction, we can better understand the consumable nature of Joyce’s female narrators: fiction occupies only the role of the consumed in the market world, just as the women of Ulysses intend to be consumed by the male gaze.  Thus Joyce achieves the portrayal of intimacy in his novel by having his female narrators carry out the function of the novel: the breach of the intimate.

Given this appropriation of the female perspective for the exposure of intimacy, we must consider how this role plays into Joyce’s depiction of modern society.  In viewing the female perspective as the entrance into the intimate sphere, we force women into a second role in addition to that of the consumed: producer.  Joyce uses his women to produce insight into their intimate worlds, and through this second role, women take on the responsibility of creating the open, modern society that Joyce depicts.  We can reach this conclusion through more than just this meta-analysis of women as carrying out the function of fiction, as Joyce’s focus on the reproductive ability of women supports this claim as well.  For instance, in ‘Oxen of the Sun,’ during which Mina Purefoy gives birth, Buck Mulligan proposes the idea of a “national fertilizing farm” where he would “offer his dutiful yeoman services for the fecundation of any female of what grade of life soever who should there direct to him with the desire of fulfilling the functions of her natural” (Joyce 402).  Adding to this theory of utilizing women’s bodies for (re)production, Joyce writes his Oxen of the Sun chapter in nine different linguistic styles divided into three trimesters, creating an analogy between the gestation of a fetus and that of the English language.  This analogy supports my analysis of Habermas in examining Ulysses, further characterizing women as the producers of fiction by aligning that which women produce—babies—with language.

This analogy between the production of children and the production of language offers a clue to the level of consideration Joyce gives to his novel as a product.  Paul Saint-Amour argues that Ulysses holds its central seat within modernist canon partly “as a result of its proprietary self-consciousness” (Saint-Amour 13), exemplified through the novel’s copyright page: a carefully constructed document with 25 pages of acknowledgements detailing where it can be reproduced (Saint-Amour 196).  Analyzing the gestation of language through the mimicry of past writers in ‘Oxen of the Sun,’ Saint-Amour argues that the chapter functions as a form of male parthenogenesis in its “all-male chronology of prose parodies: male writers are begotten by, and in turn beget, only male writers” (Saint-Amour 186).  While Mina Purefoy produces a child, male writers produce male writers, an “appropriation of the womb’s issue by male-dominated discourse” (Saint-Amour 187).  Saint-Amour notes that Joyce’s mimicry often verges on plagiarism that might today put him in danger of violating copyright laws; however, Joyce primarily chooses to adopt the languages of writers whose work has passed into the public domain.  The nine linguistic styles that represent the baby’s nine months in the womb classify the womb as a public space, where language is free for all to use; once the baby is born, however, it becomes an individual and, following Joyce’s progression of language, would need to mimic a copyrighted style.  Thus the public domain becomes gendered female, reflecting Joyce’s use of the female perspective in ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Penelope’ to produce intimacy for the public’s consumption.  While Joyce’s depiction of women in the public sphere can be read as progressive, a liberation from domesticity, Joyce builds this entrance upon the destruction of female privacy and the public adoption of women’s bodies.

Mark Osteen takes a different interpretation of Joyce’s use of the female voice for the production of his work.  Osteen analyzes the culture of gift-giving in Ulysses, noting that “Gerty translates herself into an offering to males that is coded simultaneously as a gift (“flowerlike”) and as a purchasable commodity (“wealth,” “gold”)” (Osteen 33).  Similarly, Joyce’s male characters give gifts to women: Boylan buys gifts for Molly, who “manipulates and commodifies him by managing the gift economy” (Osteen 34-35).  Following this culture of gifts which both gives women private property rights and simultaneously turns them into exchangeable commodities, Osteen views ‘Penelope’ as a “textual gift” that is “in some respects aimed at a specifically female audience” (Osteen 42): by writing from a female perspective, he argues, Joyce indicates that he intends his novel to be read by women as well as men.  Thus, Osteen concludes, “Joyce turns his own work into female property.  Joyce’s textual gift to womankind is not only his love letter, but a submission to and incorporation into hers; as such, it demolishes the gender distinctions that it depicts” (Osteen 42-43).  Osteen views the publicization of women’s interior monologues in Ulysses as a gift that welcomes women into the world of literature, but he does not consider, as Saint-Amour does, how this appropriation of women, this use of women as producers, characterizes women as beings without privacy.  Joyce’s “gift” comes with teeth.

Joyce’s male characters regard the female capacity for reproduction with interest and humor, but Molly, having given birth twice, understands this capacity as a burden.  In reaction to Mina Purefoy’s new child, Molly reflects on birth: “what I went through with Milly nobody would believe cutting her teeth too and Mina Purefoys husband give us a swing out of your whiskers filling her up with a child or twins once a year as regular as the clock always with a smell of children” (Joyce 742).  With the phrase “regular as the clock,” Molly creates a correspondence between women and mass production, and expresses her dissatisfaction with this appropriation of women’s bodies.  Gerty, still young and happy to “daydream of marriage” (Joyce 351), doesn’t consider marriage to a man such a punishment as Molly, who claims, “Id rather die 20 times over than marry another of their sex” (Joyce 744).  Gerty, unmarried and with no children, has not experienced this exploitation of the female body for the production of new bodies, suggesting that one can only understand this burdensome utilization of women once one has born children, or at least married a man who expects children from his wife.  However, reproduction provides a telling backdrop for Gerty’s scene as Cissy and Edy take care of the baby and Tommy and Jacky Caffrey play on the rocks.  Moreover, both Gerty and Molly are menstruating on the day during which Ulysses takes place: Gerty feels “a kind of a sensation rushing all over her and she [knows] by the feel of her scalp and that irritation against her stays that that thing must be coming on because the last time too was when she clipped her hair on account of the moon” (Joyce 361); Molly, in bed with Bloom after having slept with Blazes Boylan earlier that day, notes, “O patience above its pouring out of me like the sea anyhow he didn’t make me pregnant as big as he is” (Joyce 769).  Ultimately, while these two women present their perspectives, Joyce reminds us of their potential for production, indicating that women are held captive by their reproductive abilities in capitalist society.

Molly further expresses the injustice that women experience with her general tirade against men.  She notes that men “can pick and choose what they please a married woman or a fast widow or a girl for their different tastes like those houses round behind Irish street no but were to be always chained up theyre not going to be chaining me up no damn fear once I start I tell you for stupid husbands jealousy” (Joyce 777), and ultimately determines that “itd be much better for the world to be governed by the women in it… she knows where to stop sure they wouldn’t be  in the world at all only for us” (Joyce 778).  However, Molly recalls the moment in which Bloom proposed to her as a more equal environment.  This memory takes place in Andalucía, a land with a history of inclusion of different peoples and religions, which Molly emphasizes by describing the people of Andalucía as “the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe” (Joyce 782).  In this paradisiacal scene, Molly enthusiastically responds to Bloom’s proposal with “yes I said yes I will yes” (Joyce 783), indicating that in their early relationship, Molly did not feel so burdened as a woman.  Her frustration with men develops after her wedding, likely after she began to have children (and lost her infant son Rudy), when she noticed the unequal burden of production placed upon women to produce—children, fictions, modernity.  Given the similarities between Molly’s memory of Bloom’s proposal and Gerty’s fantasies about love and marriage, we can predict that Gerty would have a similar awakening to injustice once personally confronted with the requirements of reproduction.

Where the men in Joyce’s novel exploit women’s bodies for the production of modern society in a physical sense—producing the next generation—Joyce exploits women’s minds for the production of a modern atmosphere, framed by his creation of modernist fiction.  Habermas’ thesis on the function of the novel in opening the private and intimate spheres agrees with the vision Joyce presents of the modern in Ulysses.  Joyce accomplishes this opening of the intimate through solely the female perspective, and if we regard this practice as analogous to Joyce’s male characters’ appropriation of women’s bodies, Joyce’s use of women appears more exploitative than a gift to female readers, as Mark Osteen argues, or simple offering of agency through capitalism, as Jennifer Wicke suggests.  We might even regard Wicke’s thesis as equally naïve as Gerty’s acceptance consumption: both Wicke and Gerty, delighted at the prospect of the expanded choice that modern, capitalist society offers, display a lack of understanding about how women’s role as both the consumed and the producer in this society places undue burden of the creation modern upon them, while the men, primarily consumers of women and what they create, are free to reap the pleasures offered by consumer society.  Women appear as the primary creators of modernity, sacrificing their privacy to do so, but this act of creation continues to entrap them in a cycle of exploitation.

In this production of modernity, Joyce puts us, his readers, in the position of the consumer.  In reading Ulysses, we consume Joyce’s words and his characters’ voices, allowing us to ask: is it Joyce who sacrifices women’s privacy for the sake of production, or do we, the readers, perform this function through our decision to consume Joyce’s material?  Reading and writing do not escape capitalism: they are acts of consumption and production.  As consumers of books, are we inadvertently upholding the very economic system that promotes the exploitation of women’s bodies and privacy?  Obviously, boycotting reading is not a solution to this exploitation; however, it might be worth considering what sort of material we consume.  Today, tabloids and magazines are filled with gossip about women’s intimate lives and pictures of scantily clad women, the very business that Milly Bloom enters in Ulysses.  Thus the consumption of some texts undoubtedly does contribute to this business of exploitation.  I am not suggesting that we should not read Ulysses, but rather than we should critically consider how Joyce’s narrative features women in particular while we consume it.  Gerty, Molly, and Milly are fictional characters and consequently, Joyce’s invasion of their privacy is not a crime that harms actual women; however, his use of women to breach the intimate sphere does set a precedent for the publicization of women in consumer society.  While Catherine Flynn argues that in ‘Circe,’ this acknowledgement of the exploitative nature of consumerism allows Joyce to critique it, I contend that Joyce also, perhaps inadvertently, succumbs to the consumerist portrayal of women as public objects in ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Penelope’ by surrendering the privacy of Gerty and Molly.

In Ulysses, James Joyce sacrifices women’s intimacy for the production of modernity, mimicking his male characters’ exploitation of women’s reproductive abilities for the creation of the next generation.  While Joyce’s male perspectives provide insights into how they consume in the new market society of Ireland, Joyce’s women detail the ways in which they themselves are consumed by the male gaze, their bodies becoming commodities.  Using female perspectives to allow the public into the intimate sphere of the home, Joyce places women in the role of fiction in Jurgen Habermas’ analysis of the novel as rupturing the divide between the public and private or intimate spheres.  Through this opening of the intimate sphere, women essentially become the producers of modernity, just as they physically produce children.  Jennifer Wicke notes that Joyce is “among the first modern writers to link the commodity form with modernity” (Wicke 236); however, Joyce’s presentation of women as both the consumed and the producers of the modern models the exploitation of the female perspective for this creation of the modern, while men, the consumers, are free to enjoy the benefits of this modernity without the burden of producing or the sensation of being consumed.  Ultimately, consumer society might offer an expansion of agency, of choice, but the slanted ways in which Joyce uses women suggest a darker side to this portrayal of modernity, indicating that this expansion of agency, this access to the public, comes with its own chains.

Works Cited

Brown, Richard.  James Joyce and Sexuality.  Cambridge University Press, 1988.

De Grazia, Victoria.  “Introduction.”  The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, edited by Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Flynn, Catherine.  “’Circe’ and Surrealism: Joyce and the Avant-Garde.”  Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 34, no. 2, winter 2011.  121-138.

Habermas, Jurgen.  The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society.  1989.  Translated by Thomas Berger.  MIT Press, 2001. 42-56.

Henke, Suzette.  “Gerty MacDowell: Joyce’s Sentimental Heroine.”  Women in Joyce, edited by Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Joyce, James.  Ulysses.  1934.  Vintage Books, 1990.

Osteen, Mark.  “Female Property.”  Gender in Joyce, edited by Jolanta W. Wawrzycka and Marlena G. Corcoran.  University Press of Florida, 1997.

Roberts, Mary Louise.  “Gender, Consumption, and Commodity Culture.”  The American Historical Review, vol. 103, no. 3, June 1998.  817-844.

Saint-Amour, Paul K.  The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Unkeless, Elaine.  “The Conventional Molly Bloom.”  Women in Joyce, edited by Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Wicke, Jennifer.  “Joyce and Consumer Culture.”  The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, edited by Derek Attridge.  Cambridge University Press, 2004.  234-253.

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