Bloomsday, the semi-official holiday dedicated to the celebration of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” has become a favorite festival for both Irish and Jewish folks of the literary persuasion. And why should the holiday, celebrated the 16th of June (when all of main action of “Ulysses” takes place), not appeal to both groups? The novel’s incredibly likable everyday hero, Irishman Leopold Bloom — the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother — has a deeply empathetic outlook on the world and a good comeback on hand to hurl at antisemites (reminding them their Savior was a Jew). He also has an amusing streak of sexual voyeurism and an abiding love for his curvaceous bombshell of a wife, Molly Bloom. Leopold adores Molly even though their marriage is on the rocks. And she loves him too, despite infidelity and tragedy, as revealed by her famous stream-of-consciousness monologue that closes out the novel — and usually closes out Bloomsday readings as well.
Molly Bloom, born Molly Tweedy, is a beloved feminist heroine, an unforgettable character in the literary pantheon and an enigma, since most of the novel is from her husband’s perspective. But what I never realized is that, in the maze-like text of “Ulysses,” there are a few clues that she may be a Jewess too. Apparently it’s a matter of unsettled scholarly debate because Molly’s mother’s name, Lunita Laredo could well be Sephardic.
And yet, throughout the novel Molly identifies Leopold as the Jew and herself as an Irish Catholic. My first thought was, this would be a great joke on Joyce’s part — to have the Catholic Molly actually be Jewish due to her mother’s lineage, while the self-identified Jew Leo has a non-Jewish mother and therefore isn’t considered Jewish by traditional religious law. Joyce, famously finicky and precise, would get a kick out of that. Equally if not more likely, though, the mystery surrounding Molly’s heritage is part of Leopold’s perspective on his wife, and leaving her Irishness and Jewishness in question is a reflection of her semi-estranged husband’s conflicted feelings about her.
Who knows? I don’t pretend to be an expert on “Ulysses,” having gamely made it through the massive novel during a college semester in Ireland, and contented myself with ponderings ever since. But I do love the fact that the Blooms are a couple of heroes who are truly shared. They belong to two cultures that have both been notably successful at turning suffering into art — something the characters themselves, both artistic types who have suffered, would appreciate.
The connection between Molly and the Jews is already sealed by libations, anyway: According to my “Is Molly Bloom Jewish?” Google search, Molly Bloom’s, is the name one of the best Irish bars in Tel Aviv. I’ll raise a pint of Guinness and say “L’chaim” to that.