Ulysses’ Molly Bloom to be brought to life in video at Derry festival

<span>Top left clockwise: Imelda Staunton, James Joyce, Miriam Margolyes, Cush Jumbo and Fiona Shaw. The Yes festival, where the video will be shown, takes place in June.</span><span>Composite: Getty/Alamy/The Guardian</span>
Top left clockwise: Imelda Staunton, James Joyce, Miriam Margolyes, Cush Jumbo and Fiona Shaw. The Yes festival, where the video will be shown, takes place in June.Composite: Getty/Alamy/The Guardian

It is arguably the most staggering piece of writing in James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, stretching over 60 pages and containing only two full stops.

This year, Molly Bloom and her monologue will take centre stage at a celebration of Bloomsday on 16 June – the day Joyce’s novel takes place in Dublin – at an event that is placing the “female gaze” on Joyce’s novel.

At Yes festival in Derry, eight actors – including Fiona Shaw, Cush Jumbo, Imelda Staunton and Miriam Margolyes – will perform “sentences” from Molly Bloom’s sprawling stream-of-consciousness address in a video called The Molly Films.

Seán Doran, the co-curator of the Yes festival, said the fact the passage began and was punctuated with “yes” made it a natural fit; as from 8am on 16 June to 2am on 17 June Derry and Donegal will stand in for the Dublin of Ulysses.

Doran admitted some Joyceans would be scratching their heads at the idea of moving Bloomsday – named after Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce’s novel, which recounts his wanderings around Dublin on a single day, 16 June 1904 – north of the border.

But he argues Joyce himself would have been thinking of Ireland as a whole, not just Dublin when he wrote the Molly monologue, which makes up episode 18 of the novel.

“Joyce was writing this particular episode in 1921. That’s the time when the Government of Ireland Act was being legislated dividing the island into two parts; Joyce was concentrating on the idea of Ireland: north and south,” he said.

“It’s not smashing a sacred cow because Joyce was writing a novella in Trieste in Italy and he basically took characters and scenes from that to put into Ulysses in Dublin – that gave us a validation to be so heretical.”

Tracey Lindsay, a Derry artist who has been commissioned to make a large-scale installation called Molly’s Bed, said focusing on the female protagonist gave a new perspective on a classic text. “I love the depth of Molly’s character: she hints at a lesbian relationship she had and is very comfortable with her sexuality,” Lindsay said.

The screening of The Molly Films is one of dozens of events to celebrate Bloomsday that will be taking place all over the world.

There will be events in Dublin, where thousands of people will retrace Bloom’s steps, but the festival marks the end of a two-year, Europe-wide celebration of Ulysses, which has used elements of the novel to inspire artworks and performance in Athens, Berlin and Marseille, with a total of 18 cities visited since 2022.

The character of Molly Bloom was inspired by Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, and this is not the first time the female gaze has been applied to Joyce’s epic.

Virginia Woolf was not too pleased with what she saw, writing that the novel was “the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples” and that of “a frustrated man who feels that, in order to breathe, he must break all the windows”.

On the very first Bloomsday in 1954, orchestrated by Brian O’Nolan, who wrote as Flann O’Brien, along with fellow writer Patrick Kavanagh, the Limerick-born photographer Elinor Wiltshire was in attendance to capture the chaotic jaunt around the Irish capital, which has inspired many more over the past 60 years.

Other recent Bloomsday celebrations have included the staging of a play about the American obscenity trial the novel inspired; while in 2021 a patrol vessel sailed through Dublin Bay under the Munster flag – fulfilling the wish of the “citizen”, one of the novel’s many characters.