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  • Molly's Flow:The Writing of "Penelope" and the Question of Women's Language


Descriptions of the style of Molly Bloom's interior monologue by critics, female or male, feminist or patriarchal, seem to be fixated on one particular metaphor, a metaphor usually signaled by the word "flow." Here are a few instances:

The rarity of capital letters and the run-on sentences in Molly's monologue are of course related to Joyce's theory of her mind (and of the female mind in general) as a flow, in contrast to the series of short jumps made by Bloom, and of somewhat longer ones by Stephen

(JJII 376).

If Bloom and Stephen, in their singularity and in their interchange, seem to represent language's two principles, Molly might represent the extreme of language at its loosest and most flowing.

To enter the mind of Molly Bloom after so much time spent in the minds of Stephen and Leopold is to plunge into a flowing river. If we have hitherto been exploring the waste land, here are the refreshing, life-giving waters that alone can renew it. The flow is the flow of Nature. . . .

She has her own laws, which are not man's; the rhythms of her meditation despise man's dams and fences. . . . Joyce has dared to think his way into a woman's mind: it would be dangerous to shape, use the artist's cunning: it is safer to leave the floodgates open and let the dark turgid flow have its will; otherwise the spell might be broken. And so we listen to an incredible torrent of reminiscence. . . .

We are told that the "lack of punctuation symbolizes the lack in Molly's mind of the laws and rules of the 'built' world, and the rhythms flow like water" (French 245); that the "flow of associations is assisted by an absence of punctuation and logical connection, allowing it to pursue its own unimpeded current" (Bolt 145); that the "most striking effect of Molly's utterance is the flow . . ." (Hayman 118); that "[h]er thoughts move like the tide—flowing forward, breaking, rolling back upon one another" (Henke 235); and that "Joyce intends the sentences to be flowing and elusive . . ." (Unkeless 155). Other critics refer to the "formless, flowing monologue that provides the 'last word' of the book" (Lawrence, Odyssey 203), "the long smooth flow of 'Penelope'" (Peake 298), "the words flowing through that mind" (Card 54), "the flow of its language, transgressing the boundaries set by syntax and decorum" (Boheemen 173), "the flow of Molly's consciousness" (Humphrey 27), "a flow of 'discours'" (Gabler 67).

Related metaphors of rivers, streams, and liquids—and of the barriers they pour over—occur in almost every attempt to characterize the style of the episode.1 Interestingly, however, there appears to be no record of a comment by Joyce—who did not hesitate to give metaphoric handles to his readers—that suggests this image. The famous description of the "Penelope" episode that he gave Budgen refers to the earth, not to water, and so does the Ithacan name for the embedded Molly, "Gea-Tellus." Stuart Gilbert's chapter on "Penelope" elaborates on Joyce's "earth-mother" archetype; although he does use the word "flow" in this chapter and draws a connection with a river "whose waters at a certain period of each year flowed reddened as with blood into the sea" (400), he does so in order to describe not Molly but Stephen. The only fluid mentioned in the schemas for this chapter is milk, and it occurs as an adjective under "color" for both "Ithaca" and "Penelope" (Richard Ellmann, Ulysses on the Liffey, Appendix).

This is not to suggest that the urge to use the word "flow" is necessarily erroneous or willful; on the contrary, the fact that it does not appear to have been initiated by Joyce and is not prominent in the early commentators he instructed might suggest that it is a widely-shared response to a specific feature of the text, or, more accurately, a conjunction between [End Page 544] something in...


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