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  • Molly's Resistance to the Union:Marriage and Colonialism in Dublin, 1904

What can James Joyce's Character, Molly Bloom, tell us about Anglo-Irish politics at the turn of the century? If we agree with M. M. Bakhtin that the "internal politics of [a novel's] style (how the elements are put together) is determined by its external politics (its relation to alien discourse)" (284), then it is interesting to ask what elements of Molly's soliloquy at the end of Ulysses can act as indexes of the external political situation of women in Dublin in 1904. A soliloquy is not a dialogue, but it can be a form of responsive speech that reacts to and reflects upon other relationships. Seen dialogically, Molly's knowledge, her silence, her biases, and her dissatisfactions can all signal much more than they might if we considered them in isolation. Even her relationships with men can reveal something about the conjugal suppression of Irish women in 1904 as well as the more general civil suppression of the Irish under George Wyndham's Unionist government during this part of her lifetime.

Not surprisingly, Ireland's status as a colonial nation, with England playing "the predominant partner" in the Empire, affected the institution of marriage within Ireland where questions of autonomy within partnership could also be at issue. We might say that the Irish nationalist drive toward Home Rule in the early 1900s left its mark on the ideas [End Page 529] of individual men and women who were faced in the private sphere with home rule issues of their own: to what extent did one cooperate in the success of one's marriage, actively sorting out the differences between reciprocal obligations, legitimate grievances, and oppression? At what point and in what ways did one withdraw from or protest the inequitable demands of union? Ultimately Molly's rambling thoughts and reflections raise a question that is central to all people to whom effective political self-definition is denied: what strategies of resistance can be used when the means of redressing perceived inequities are not immediately at hand?

At first this seems to be a particularly elusive question to answer, for Molly Bloom gives the impression of being apolitical and even hostile to the problems of collective life. She disparages Mrs. Riordan for having "too much old chat in her about politics" (U 738), and although we could read this as a mark of her unhappiness about Mrs. Riordan's former intimacy with Bloom, Molly insists on separating herself from women who speak their minds in public: "Miss This Miss That Miss Theother lot of sparrowfarts skitting around talking about politics they know as much about as my backside" (762).1 Priding herself on knowing "more about men and life when I was 15 than theyll all know at 50" (762), she turns her attention to the lover who has just left her, to the idiosyncracies of her husband and to memories of girlhood, courtship, and the early years of her marriage.

Despite these disclaimers, Molly Bloom is not without knowledge of political life, and, in fact, it is often dislike of what she knows that turns her back to the private sphere and into its implicit possibilities for change and renewal. "I hate the mention of politics" (748), she repeats as she goes into the details of war in the Transvaal: "Pretoria and Lady smith and Bloemfontein where Gardener Lieut Stanley G 8th Bn 2d East Lanes Rgt . . . they could have made their peace in the beginning . . . the old Krugers go and fight it out between them instead of dragging on for years killing" (748-749). It is only later that we learn that Gardner was someone she had once known who was killed in South Africa.

Other parts of her political awareness seem to have come either from reading newspapers (she mentions The Irish Times, Lloyd's Weekly News, Freeman's, Photo Bits, and The Gentlewoman's Chronicle ) or from conversations with her husband about everything from Christ's status as the first socialist (742) to British field marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley's maneuvers [End Page 530] at Khartoum in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 529-541
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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