The century since James Joyce published Ulysses has been an era of incredible social reconfiguration, particularly for women’s roles and rights, which Joyce foreshadowed in his major works. The developments and divisions of feminist theory ultimately return to Joyce as an author who attempted an early example of what might be called a “female language,” an alternative mode of expression later recognized by Hélène Cixous and other French feminists. Two oppositional points of view essential to feminist theory, one rejecting and the other embracing gender difference, are similarly essential to the split within feminist Joycean criticism. Given Ulysses’ eventual status within this critical conversation, it is fitting that no character looms as largely from the text in this regard as Molly Bloom. Through Molly, Joyce offers a foundational example of Cixous’ écriture féminine, a female writing that undermines the dominion of masculine literature and masculine forms of knowledge. The critical tradition that has amassed around Ulysses continues to wrestle with the overflowing, encyclopedically referential work, and a particularly virulent subset of Joycean conversation centers around Molly’s emancipated yet confined, overflowing yet sedate representation of a female consciousness. Ulysses acts as a bridge between Joyce’s early phallogocentric writing and his later fluid and experimental style. The text’s prophetic stance between literary and social eras echoes its transitory position within Joyce’s oeuvre. The tension between Ulysses’ dual bastions of influence—masculine and feminine, inherited and experimental, Christian and Judaic—is rooted in the connection between femininity and otherness that classicists note in its Homeric original.
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