Clongowes Wood College
Bloomsday falls this Saturday, June 16.
Bloomsday is a modern celebration of one of the world’s most famous books, the novel Ulysses by James Joyce, published in 1922. The book is set on June 16 2004.
County Kildare gets a reasonably good mention in the book, mainly because its author went to school for a brief period at Clongowes Wood College outside Clane.
Joyce went to Clongowes as a boarder in 1888, when he was only six years old, and left, aged nine, in 1891, because his father, who was not a good money manager, could no longer afford to pay the fees.
Its then rector, Fr. John Conmee, S.J, one of the good guys for the young Joyce, makes a brief appearance in Ulysses.
There are references to Rathcoffey, Leixlip, Sallins, Clane, the Bog of Allen, Moyvalley, the Maynooth college refectory, the Salmon Leap, and other Kildare spots in the book. The Salmon Leap is not the famous public house in Leixlip but a once famous, now gone, picturesque scene on the Liffey river, removed to facilitate an upgrade to the electricity system.
A critic summed up the attitude of many to Ulysses: “No clean minded person could possibly allow the novel to remain within reach of his wife, his sons or daughters.”
Millions have ignored the advice, but most of us find it difficult to read.
For those with little time, I would recommend the final chapter which is about the thoughts the fictional Marion or Molly Bloom, the wife of the main character, Leopold Bloom. Her character is loosely based on Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s wife.
Molly’s monologue in the final chapter comprises the thoughts of a woman, mostly about her sex life. But she does manage to refer to the Jesuits during her wandering thoughts.
While Bloomsday is celebrated on June 16, the final chapter strays into the early hours of June 17.
As she lay in bed thinking about her own sexual desire and contemplated her sex life up to then, Molly asked what we were give all our sexual desires for other than to enjoy sexual contact.
A woman wanted to be embraced 20 times a day almost to make her look young no matter by who, so she could be in love or loved by somebody if the fellow you want isn’t there, she said.
Her tolerance for Leo’s extra marital affairs and his for hers, including with Blazes Boylan, stand out.
Molly is one of the most openly sexual characters in literature, whose questions go to the heart of the meaning of life. What marks her out is her positive attitude towards life, even as she says “cracked things come into my head sometimes.”
She loved Leo, despite all his sexual wanderings, because she felt he understood or felt what a woman is.
Ulysses is, above all, a hymn to tolerance and human understanding.
Anyone who wants to start on it should spent some time on Molly’s monologue.