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  • Waking up with James Joyce
  • Gabrielle Carey

When my husband and I were courting we spent almost two years reading Ulysses aloud in bed, every Sunday morning after sex. I had always wanted a boyfriend who would read to me, and he had a deep warm voice, a rare and valued bass in the local choir, so every weekend we woke up with James Joyce. I even made our Sunday morning ritual central to my wedding speech, about how we had bonded through Ulysses, how I would never have been able to read it without him.

If Ulysses is a novel of adultery, can I blame Joyce for my own adulterous behavior? Can I invoke that old belief about novels having an immoral influence on women? That the tendency to imagine themselves as romantic heroines like Emma Bovary leads women to self-destruction? Was Molly Bloom the example that led me astray?

The affair started when my husband went to Europe for two months on a work exchange. I continued my routine of going to a Thursday evening yoga class. And that's where I met Emmet. You wouldn't describe it as an instant attraction. If I thought anything at all, it was that he was way too young for me. And a bit Bog Irish. But then one evening I offered him a lift home and then recklessly accepted an invitation to come in for coffee.

His bedroom resembled something from my student share-house days.

"Smoke?" he offered a small luminescent green pipe.

"No thanks."

He put on some music and lit up. So this is what young people do, I thought. Get high, listen to music, have sex. Nothing much has changed. It had been thirty years since I'd smoked weed; it was something I did at fifteen and gave up at sixteen. I wasn't about to go back to being a pothead now, I thought, in my forties.

As I was leaving, Emmet pressed two CDs into my hands. It was to become part of our courting dance. He gave me Sinéad O'Connor and David Byrne; I gave him William Barton and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Later, when I arrived home shamefacedly, yoga mat under my arm, my teenaged daughter, who had recently developed into a fanatically anti-weed wowser, [End Page 9] peered at me suspiciously and sniffed. I looked around at my comfortable house, with its tasteful cushions, and walked over to the stereo to slip on a CD.

This is not my beautiful house; this is not my beautiful home.

My daughter looked at me queerly.

"I didn't know you liked Talking Heads," she said.

________

In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom is the victim of adultery but unlike my husband, Bloom is well aware that he is a cuckold. He knows that his wife has an arrangement to meet her lover. He even vacates the house and wanders aimlessly around Dublin so as to allow her the freedom to make love with the brutish Blazes Boylan. And yet, despite knowing, Bloom still stops at a chemist to buy his wife her favorite lemon soap and then at a bookseller's to select Sweets of Sin, by Paul de Kock (a real French novelist), that he will give to her on his return home.

Bloom's equanimity in the face of the humiliation inflicted by his wife and by his fellow Dubliners is the reason he is considered one of literature's most heroic of anti-heroes. His heroism lies in his ability to retain his civility, even a certain inner serenity, in the face of the ordinary indignities of everyday life, or, as Finnegans Wake puts it, in the face of "a jolting series of prearranged disappointments, down the long lane of generations, more generations and still more generations."

My husband, on the other hand, didn't know I was having an affair and certainly would not have vacated the house to allow it. After he returned from Europe I had every intention of resuming my ordinary married life. I realize now that affairs can be addictive, and addictions are difficult to give up overnight.

Until the affair...

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