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  • Breaking Up is [Not] Hard to [Not] Do
  • Mary Lowe-Evans
Peter Kuch. Irish Divorce/Joyce’s Ulysses. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. xxviii + 289 pp. $99.99

WHEN MY FATHER, a Protestant, divorced my devoutly Catholic mother in the early 1950s, she was devastated. True to the Church’s mandate, she never remarried. Apparently, Molly Bloom harbored no such religious qualms in 1904 as she considered the prospect of an irreparable breakup with her financially unreliable, sexually detached husband of sixteen years. At least that is the impression with which one is left after reading Peter Kuch’s analysis of Ulysses. Like Molly, Leopold Bloom seems to consider the possibility of divorcing his presumably adulterous wife without seriously concerning himself with the religious consequences. Born to an Irish mother and Jewish father, Bloom converted to Catholicism in order to marry Molly and was baptized on three separate occasions. Yet his understanding of Catholic doctrine and practice was minimal. Even Molly, a “cradle Catholic,” seems not to have been well versed in Church doctrine. Nonetheless she would have been aware of the stigma suffered by a divorced Catholic woman. Notwithstanding the religious impediments to divorce in Catholic Ireland, Kuch contends that obtaining a divorce both would and would not have been particularly difficult for the Blooms.

Predicating his argument on Bloom’s musing about “divorce not now” (revised by Joyce from “divorce not yet”) and Molly’s rumination (“suppose I divorce him”), Kuch insists that divorce is not only “a potential course of action” for the Blooms, but is a fixation pervasive in “all eighteen episodes” of the novel. Yet the word “divorce” does not appear until episode 7, “Aeolus,” and even then is not directly applicable to the Blooms’ relationship. Kuch maintains that references to divorce made out of Bloom’s earshot demonstrate the general interest in the subject throughout 1904 Dublin and contribute to the novel’s “multiperspectivity.” Noting Joyce’s well-known fascination with accounts of divorce cases appearing regularly in the Irish press from 1866 to 1890, Kuch [End Page 550] bolsters his argument by citing in detail an impressive 1,500 divorce proceedings recounted in newspapers Joyce was known to have read. He concludes that rather than the novel of sex, love, and adultery many critics have deemed Ulysses to be, it is equally concerned with divorce and all of its ramifications. Kuch attributes the critics’ neglect of this central theme to the presumption that in Ireland divorce was not only condemned by the Catholic Church, but was also too expensive and complicated a procedure for the average Irish couple to consider. Kuch counters these suppositions with historical corroboration for evidence in the novel that both Bloom and Molly explicitly consider divorce an achievable and realistic choice.

In Bloom, Joyce creates a character who understands English, as well as Irish and Scots divorce procedures. His legal expertise is made clear especially in the “Cyclops” and “Ithaca” episodes. While it is the English system that both Bloom and Molly seem to prefer, Kuch meticulously explains the “seven ways for Irish people to dissolve their marriage” in 1904, as well as the rather intransigent laws pertaining to divorce in turn-of-the-century Scotland. In addition to the numerous divorce cases Kuch cites to illustrate the legal machinations in these three jurisdictions, he provides a detailed glossary explaining such terms as “comity of nations,” “condonation,” “domicile,” “decree nise/decree absolute,” and “restraint on anticipation.” Surprisingly, he neglects to define “annulment,” which seems to me the most likely course of action for the Blooms, given Bloom’s long abstinence from sexual intercourse with his wife. Such avoidance of procreative activity was considered a valid cause for annulment by the Church. The entry on “Divorce, English Jurisdiction,” however, is particularly helpful for clarifying the Blooms’ situation. As Kuch observes, under such English law, Bloom and Molly could divorce without necessarily sustaining legal costs. Rather, Molly’s lover, Blazes Boylan, would be required to pay should he be judged the guilty co-respondent.

Bloom increasingly thinks of marriage—and therefore divorce—as a legal contract rather than a religious or romantic affair. Kuch contends that Bloom’s attitude squares with...


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pp. 550-553
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Will Be Archived 2021
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