It was a modest enough proposal. So modest that it could be summed up in four words: What about Molly Bloom?
I’d been approached with the idea by Patsey Roche. Patsey is a minor male character in a book I’d been working on
for yonks for ages and ages for centuries for a bit (let’s not be ageist here: unfinished novels may be decades old but still have feelings too).
“What about Molly Bloom?” I echoed back at him.
“It’s like this you see,” he continued. “I don’t mind the dialogue you’ve given us. The hours are fine, the clothes are grand. But between you and me, some of the characters you’ve added to the team lately are a tad, em, y’know, lightweight.”
“Lightweight? What do you mean?” I asked.
“Too ‘second divisiony’. What we need is a play-maker. Somebody more ‘Premiership’, more ‘Champions League’, someone in the middle of the park who can boss the script and control the game, y’know?”
“A play-maker. Like what? Who? A Messi? A Pirlo? A Wes Hoolahan?”
“No, not literally. Somebody more literary of course. A literary play-maker.”
“No, a literary-character-in-literature kind of play-maker character. A prime mover, a chief protagonist, a…”
“Right. Like Prince Charming. Or Lara Croft.”
“Well, er, actually….”
“Dr Frankenstein then? Rumpelstiltskin? Rumpole of the Bailey?”
“I was thinking more a Molly Bloom.”
But hold on a sec: maybe Patsey’s crackpot idea isn’t so full of pot or crack as it seems. After all, Molly Bloom is a major figure in Irish – indeed world – literature. She’s attractive, literate, she stands for the consummate reader (do I really mean consummate?), she’s the ultimate book devourer, the perfect consumer for the book publishing industry in these times of crises and Kindles, and… and…
And above all Ms Bloom is exceedingly popular. Doesn’t she often feature in those online polls and listicles you see everywhere nowadays, such as Ireland’s Top 10 Most Famous Women Ever Ever, alongside the likes of Constance Markievicz, Edna O’Brien, the Four Marys, Imelda May, Molly Malone, the Floozy in the Jacuzzi and Amy Huberman?
And Molly Bloom is bound to be a gas character, who’d liven up one or two otherwise drab scenes in my book. Might even boost sales in the lucrative transatlantic market of Irish Studies, which has 980 million (est.) potential readers. So hats off to our Patsey!
“Just one thing,” I tell him. “Is she currently available?”
“Course,” Patsey replies. “Why wouldn’t she be? A lot of characters are, what with the current economic climate. They’re either in between jobs, or ‘resting’, or bored out of their tree doing nights in a call centre or…”
“I hardly think Molly Bloom is working in a call centre, Patsey. That’s nonsense. That’s like saying ‘I saw Anne Doyle last week working as a petrol pump attendant in Mullingar’.”
“I dunno. Maybe she’s in opera or something.”
“Molly Bloom. Want me to find out?”
So Patsey makes some discreet inquiries as to Molly’s availability, whether she prefers cheques or strictly cash, whether she could forward her CV if interested (with a link to her LinkedIn page if she has one) and so on.
With any luck, I’m thinking, the streets of Dublin will once more be awash with thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, rashers and sausages and grilled mutton kidneys – a quick reference to Ireland’s rich culinary heritage – and Molly Bloom will get a new lease of life in the literary comeback of all comebacks, and… and…
* * *
Finally, after much research and hard slog by Patsey, Molly’s CV arrives in the ten o’clock post. Neatly typed, two sheets of A4, proper typeface and none of your Comic Sans rubbish:
Name: Molly Bloom, @MarionBloom (née Tweedy)
Employment History: Housewife, Reader, would like to be Opera Singer
Education & Qualifications: See page attached.
Notable achievements: long-time record holder (until that rotter Jonathan Coe in 2001) for the longest sentence in English literature
Other interests: penny dreadfuls, music, Hugh “Blazes” Boylan, long walks in the countryside and other outdoor pursuits, mountaineering, charity work etc.
Contact details: 7 Eccles Street, on 46A bus route
* * *
“1870? That makes her nearly 140 years old!” Patsey says, crumpling up the CV.
“It was your idea, remember?” I reply.
“But think of all the consequences!” he continues. “You’d have to gut the storyline for a start. Half the furniture will have to go. We’ll need a bloody stair-lift – and extra characters to do the meals on wheels.”
After further objections I suggest a compromise.
“How about we get her daughter Milly instead?” I ask. “Says here young Milly was only born in 1889 so that makes her a sprightly… Anyway, she’s training to be a photographer in Mullingar and getting on like a house on fire by all accounts, so that in itself would make her a handy addition to the dramatis personae.”
“And we could get her to do the book’s front cover,” Patsey says, warming to the idea. “Better than all that stock image shite.”
Trouble is: nobody has heard of Milly Bloom. Or her bloomin’ daguerreotypes. Unlike her ma, Milly Bloom has zero literary clout. Zilch. They really should have sent her to Skerry’s Academy to beef up her character. Damn. So it’s back to her mother Molly, mobility scooter an’ all.
* * *
A couple of weeks later our cunning plan to give Ms Bloom a cameo role runs aground once more. Actually that metaphor is not quite right. Our plan runs aground but also leaves us adrift in treacherous up-the-river-without-a paddle kind of waters. Deep, dangerous waters of the legalistical variety.
Seems other prospective novels have sailed into these very same dire-strait-whatchamacallit waters before my one. Many a promising WIP or ARC (work in progress or advance review copy) has been sunk by a slew of copyright lawyers gunning for it from heavily fortified bunkers dotted along the metaphorical riverbank.
(I’m thinking here of the US base upriver from the delta in “Apocalypse Now”. The scene where they play the Very Best of Jimi Hendrix triple album and drop a few tabs just before they’re overrun by the valiant Viet Cong, and Martin Sheen escapes in the nick of time with his crew in the PBR, the boat eventually crashing into CJ and Toby in one of those walking-and-talking-along-a-long-corridor scenes in the West Wing. Or something. Whatever.)
One such copyright skirmish takes place in 2003. A Joycean and novelist called Eloise Knowlton approaches the Joyce estate with what many would regard as a simple request: for permission to publish a fictional version of Sweets of Sin. This is the risqué novel that Leopold Bloom picks up for Molly on page 302 of my 1992 Penguin edition of Ulysses.
Another quick aside: you may also recognise the famous book-buying scene with Bloom (Milo O’Shea) at the Merchant’s Arch by the Ha’penny Bridge in Joseph Strick’s splendid 1967 film adaptation. In New Zealand the movie was originally restricted to “adults over 21” in – wait for it – “gender-segregated audiences”. But at least the poor segregated sods got to see it. The film never had a general release back in Ireland during the century in which it was made.
But Sweets of Sin? Hardly the top secret chocolate recipes of Delia Smith, surely? It’s probably not even half as good as The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk either, or Tales of the Ghetto, or Fair Tyrants by James Lovebirch for that matter (nice name he has).
And another quick aside: Ms Knowlton might have been better off latching onto misc. other works by (Charles) Paul de Kock (1793-1871). De Kock, also mentioned in Ulysses, was a real-life author. He was responsible for such best-sellers as Monsieur Dupont, Le Cocu, La Pucelle de Belleville and Frère Jacques. Instead of having a ding-dong with the guardians of Joyce’s estate, Ms Knowlton could surely have come to an amicable agreement with Monsieur de Kock’s?
Anyway, James Joyce’s grandson and only surviving relative Stephen writes back to Ms Knowlton:
Neither I nor the others who manage this Estate will touch your hare-brained scheme with a barge pole in any manner, shape or form.
See? Barges. Poles. Schemes. Hares. And brains. AND “Estates” with a legalisticaltastically ginormous capital “E”.
Hence I have warned all 28 of my draft novel’s characters to be on their guard at all times. No more slips of the tongue or copyright infringements or mentions of Molly Blooms being about to arrive on the next page. No more “bladderbags”, “biografiends” or “Shut your obstropolos”, or the lot of us could end up in the Four Courts facing a dozen pettifogging barristers from the southside.
* * *
— At it Again! (@BloomsdayDublin) May 6, 2017
So I go back to the writing and lose myself in the distractions and delights of the Twittersphere and SnapFace or whatever it’s called. Let’s face it, I tell myself: any attempt to lure Molly Bloom into a guest appearance would be sunk in the water by the niceties of international intellectual property law before it had even left the dry dock.
You see, Patsey’s research has established that as recently as 1998 the US Congress added another twenty years to the term of copyright. From then on, an author’s work would be protected for not just fifty but at least seventy years after his or her death.
Bugger. By this stage my draft novel was looking jaded and downhearted (if novels can have such feelings). We’d reached 2010. Despite all those European laws – the laws that the “Brexiteers” now frown upon such as those about freedom of movement and the mobility of labour and the Bosman ruling (Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman (1995) C-415/93) – it would be several years yet until Molly Bloom would be able to break out of her highly restrictive employment contract with the Joyce estate, sorry, Estate.
The poor unfortunate woman was in a legal bind, in virtual servitude, holding the cracked lookingglass of a servant, trapped like a trap in a trap (where did that come from?).
It was a bit like one of those Premiership footballers – a pre-Bosman, pre-PS2, overpriced, overpaid, fancy dan kind of player – who falsl out of favour with the Gaffer but is not only not allowed to kick a ball but also refused a club transfer.
Mind you, if the copyright Bill had failed in Washington, think of all those cultural masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s that would have flooded the public domain immediately – everything from George Gershwin to Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Hence critics of the 1998 copyright extension (which Disney lobbied for heavily) dubbed it the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.
By this stage it seemed my draft novel would have no choice but to gird loins and do head-on battle with the Joyce estate. Sorry, I meant Estate.
* * *
Another year flies by. It’s 2011. My unfinished novel is waiting to spring into action, fidgeting around the house in Kevlar body armour and mumbling over and over again to itself: “I dunno. It’s all very Mickey Mouse if you ask me. All Mickey Mouse. All Mickey Mouse.”
I’m about to send my novel over the top and into battle when…
BAAAM!! BREAKING NEWS!!!! JAMES JOYCE IS DEAD! FOR MORE THAN 70 YEARS! Ring churchbells and light bonfires across the land, release the white doves, break out that old bottle of cheap Prosciutto from Aldi at the back of the kitchen press! Actually we meant cheap Prosecco, that’s how excited we are!
You see, our legal team advises us that since it’s now seven decades since Joyce’s death, the copyright on his writings has expired. We are free to sit back and wait for the faction fighting to begin over four or five new editions of Ulysses – the internecine conflicts between the Official Joyceans, the Provisional Joyceans, the Continuity Joyceans and the Real Joyceans (oh – and the breakaway Alternative Realer People Before Joyceans Alliance).
Patsey’s efforts to enlist Molly Bloom in our cast have finally borne fruit, because she is free, free at last.
He emails her without delay two or three days later, asking whether she’d be interested – in principle, no strings mind you, no need to make a commitment right away, we can talk details about contracts, wages and conditions, bonuses and all that at the interview I mean audition – in making a guest appearance in my forthcoming buke.
A short reply comes back from Molly, via the Twitter machine: “yes I said yes I
would will yeah OK so cool pls RT.”