Love Joyce, Hate Jazz?


Authorities around the world have repeatedly banned James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses, usually because of the literally climactic soliloquy of the character Molly Bloom, who unabashedly cries out, "yes I said yes I will Yes" after detailing her erotic exploits. Now Italian performer Anna Zapparoli has adapted that scene to the stage, performing it for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Sitting atop a grand piano and accompanied by a jazz band, Zapparoli sings lyrics taken from Molly's monologue.

Not everyone's excited about Molly Bloom: A Musical Dream, which the festival's program listed as "adults only." Stephen Joyce, the Irish author's grandson and zealous guardian of his estate, struggled but failed to halt the production.

Joyce says it wasn't the propriety of ditties like "Song of the Big Hole" that rubbed him the wrong way. Nope, he quibbled with the idea of adapting the novel as a stage musical. His grandfather, he said, intended the passage to be the conclusion to a novel, and so it should remain. "The listener/viewer should not have their attention distracted by music [and] Molly lying on a piano," Joyce railed in a letter to Zapparoli, complaining also that she had turned the passage into a "jazz element in a jam session."

But the elder Joyce himself considered adapting Ulysses, among other works, for other media. In James Joyce, biographer Richard Ellman relates that the author spoke with Russian director Sergei Eisenstein and others about turning Ulysses into a film (which it was, in 1967, years after the author's death). And Ulysses itself was informed by Homer's Odyssey, which Joyce presumably read, despite the fact that the blind bard intended it for the oral tradition.

Joyce's grandson wouldn't have looked any more absurd if he had stuck to the simpler explanation he used in May, when refusing an Irish composer's request to use 18 words from Finnegans Wake: "My wife and I don't like the music."