Reading Ulysses with Richard Brown
Richard Brown, from the University of Leeds, was at the Ransom Center last spring for his ongoing research on James Joyce. I had the opportunity to speak with him.
Sheree, you and I were talking about Eve Arnold's great photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses in that playground or park on Long Island. I wrote Eve some years ago when I was thinking about that photograph -- trying to interpret the photograph -- to ask her about Marilyn's reading of Ulysses. She's posed, as you know, on a playground roundabout conspicuously reading the book, reading the final chapter of the book, perhaps reading the Penelope episode where Molly Bloom talks about her experiences of the day, reminisces about her life. I wrote to Eve wondering really how posed this photograph was, whether Marilyn herself was a serious reader of Ulysses, whether she had time to read Ulysses, what kind of reading of Ulysses she made. Eve responded very interestingly that it wasn't by any means just a prop that was put there for the photograph. It was a copy of a book that Marilyn had borrowed from a friend and was in the process of reading. But she didn't read it sequentially, beginning at the beginning and going through to the end. She read it in episodes. She dipped into places from time to time where fancy took her to different moments in the book. It occurred to me, thinking about that, that is the way we should all read Ulysses. That is certainly something I tell my students when we begin to read Ulysses in class. I don't want them to think of it as a chore -- that you've got to begin on page one and read through to page six hundred and thirty-six. You can pick it up and put it down, of course, as Joyce himself picked it up and put it down as he was writing the book over a period of fifteen to sixteen years. This, in a way, could provide us with a useful model to try and adopt when we come to the book to make it our own through the reading process. I suggest to them that perhaps if Marilyn, with her busy schedule, could manage to read Ulysses, then there's no excuse for them not to read and enjoy it, too.
To read more about Marilyn and Ulysses see Brown's essay, "Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses : Goddess or Post-Cultural Cyborg?" in Joyce and Popular Culture, ed. R.B. Kershner, 1996.