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"EXCUSE BAD WRITING":
THE LETTERS OF MILLY BLOOM AND MARTHA CLIFFORD
IN ULYSSES

bibliography


"P.S. Excuse bad writing, am in hurry. Byby.

M. "

Thus ends Milly Bloom’s letter to her father, Leopold Bloom, although the significance of this closing line extends beyond a simple close to her letter. Her postscript and the term "bad writing" could equally be applied to the second letter that Bloom receives on 16 June 1904: Martha Clifford’s. This concept of "bad writing" is one crucial way to connect Milly Bloom and the mysterious Martha Clifford. How does "bad writing" apply to Milly's letter? Without access to the actual handwritten note, as Bloom received, instead of a typed replica on the page, the reader cannot determine with certainty whether Milly is referring to her penmanship or the style of her letter when she says " excuse bad writing." However, one can surmise from the many mistakes, not to mention the sexually-laced subject matter of Martha’s letter, that it is indeed a sample of "bad writing" in more than one sense of the word. Furthermore, the description "bad writing" can also be applied to the critical attention given to these two letters over the past twenty years, considering the lack of attention to Milly’s letter and the erroneous criticisms of Martha Clifford’s. Indeed, placing these letters in the context of Ulysses often turns on the errors in them.

In this paper I will discuss the similarities and differences between Milly and Martha’s letters, including the mystery behind the "bad writing" postscript in Milly’s letter and the complete mystery of the 'Martha Clifford' we construct through a vague letter. Three questions seem to be prominent regarding these letters: What does the letter say about the person who wrote it? What does Bloom’s reaction to the letters say about him? And finally, what, if any, connections can be made to Molly? My analysis of these letters will discuss various references to the letters in Joycean criticism as far back as 1977 through the 1990s. I will attempt to show that many critics have not viewed Milly's letter as an important clue into her character, but rather have concentrated on Molly and Bloom's memories of her. In addition, I will discuss how the quest to determine who Martha Clifford is in order to interpret her letter has led to overdrawn character sketches and jumping to conclusions. Instead, I suggest that the most useful way to interpret and examine Martha’s letter is in comparison and contrast to Milly’s.

A basic comparison illustrates that the discovery, reading, and resonation throughout the novel of the letters Bloom receives are strikingly similar. However, the letters of Milly and Martha ultimately represent two separate and distinct worlds. Milly, the apprentice photographer, writes a letter that gives the reader a simple and clearly drawn portrait or snapshot of her life, including details of her work, her social activities and potential love interest. There is also an inherent innocence in the letter: she knows nothing about the inappropriate relationship between Boylan and her mother or why would she ask her father to give Boylan her best respects? However, Martha, the presumed typist, who has answered an ad for "a smart young lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work," creates a letter that seems like it could be pure fiction, with romance novel cliches and practically no personal details (G 8 131:326). In contrast to Milly, Martha's work world deals with words, and there is nothing deeper to the letter than the words on the page.

The intrusion of one world onto the other exists in many different ways. Milly's "bad writing" postscript is one example. In addition, the worlds of Milly and Martha rotate on the same axis: Molly Bloom, as both Milly and Martha’s letters contain elements that reflect back to her and even though both letters are kept from Molly, in some way they are touched upon by her in "Penelope." Finally, in remembering these letters throughout the day, Bloom’s thoughts often move from Milly/Martha to Molly.

As mentioned earlier, Milly’s letter tends to be glossed over in books summarizing Ulysses. In Stuart Gilbert’s guide to Ulysses, the run-on sentence about Bannon and Blazes Boylan is the only part of the letter actually quoted. In addition, the popular New Bloomsday Book and the Ulysses Cliff Notes summarize the letter in just a few sentences. Even in one of the scholarly articles devoted exclusively to an analysis of her character, Milly's letter to Bloom is only briefly mentioned by its author, Tilly Eggers. When discussing Milly's appearance in the novel, she completely ignores the letter:

The final justification for critical attention to Milly is her presentation in Ulysses. The reader gets no more direct look at her than through the thoughts of Molly and Bloom – she is the conception of both – and therefore the images of her is ambiguous (Eggers 390).

Eggers misses the fact that Milly's voice is present in Ulysses as portrayed in her letter. Apparently, she thinks that Milly’s letter does not yield as many important clues to her character as Bloom and Molly’s thoughts of her, as if Milly's reported speech through the memories of her parents can give the reader a better sense of her character than her own first-hand autobiographical account in the letter she writes.

However, other critics have given deeper consideration to Milly’s letter, notably Shari Benstock in her article, "The Printed Letters of Ulysses":

Milly Bloom does not appear in person, as a character in Ulysses on 16 June 1904; we do not meet her nor do we hear her speak. What we know of her voice, of its component vocabulary, speech patterns, and syntax, we know from this letter. This voice establishes an identity for Milly, associated with her through its tone, rhythm, and imagery, recalled to us every time her father remembers portions of the letter ("Excuse bad writing. Hurry. Piano Downstairs"-- U 66). These snatches of prose reflect a certain girlish haste later translated into the novel as Milly (Benstock 417).

Unlike Eggers, Benstock acknowledges that we do hear Milly's own voice and speech patterns through her letter. Instead of accepting Molly and Bloom's recollections of Milly as the only "direct look" into her character, Benstock views these memories as "reinforc[ing] the impression of her that we receive through the letter" (Benstock 418). Thus, the letter remains our primary source of knowledge about Milly.

One possible reason that Milly’s letter has not been the focus of much critical attention could be attributed to the fact that there is ultimately no ambiguity in it, nor any debate of Milly's identity or that she wrote it. It is rather simple, straight-forward and clear-cut, with no unanswered questions or vague references: even the gifts that she thanks her parents for are named. The letter, almost bland in its matter-of-factness, tells the readers all they need to know.

In complete opposition, however, Martha’s letter communicates nothing but mystery, as Benstock summarizes:

What is most troublesome about Martha's letter, however, and what leads Bloom to wonder "did she writer it herself," is the quality of it its voice. The tonal shifts are remarkable. It begins in almost businesslike prose, carefully distanced: "I got your last letter to me and thank you very much for it." As the letter continues, however, the tone shifts radically to chastisement ("I am awfully angry with you. I do wish I could punish you for that"), to sympathetic pleading ("Please tell me what is the real meaning of that word. Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy?"), to sexual ploys ("I have never felt myself so much drawn to a man as you"), to threatened retribution ("Remember if you do not I will punish you. So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty boy, if you do not write"), to promised confession ("then I will tell you all"), to stated confession ("I have such a bad headache today"), to direct requests ("Do tell me what kind of perfume does your wife use. I want to know") (Benstock 418-419).

There is no explanation for why Martha would make so many tonal shifts in such a short letter and without access to the letter that proceeded it (the letter Molly caught Bloom writing two days earlier) it is difficult to speculate. Indeed these abrupt tonal changes illustrate the mystery that is the essence of any characterization of Martha.

Compared to the treatment of Milly’s letter, Martha Clifford’s note to Henry Flower has received slightly more attention from critics. Stuart Gilbert’s analysis contains almost the complete text of her letter and more "popular" guides such as The New Bloomsday Book and the Cliff Notes both devote at least a full paragraph to it. However, the only article dedicated exclusively to Martha Clifford’s letter in the past 20 years of the James Joyce Quarterly prioritizes determining the "real" Martha rather than providing a closer reading or examination of its contents. Yet it is because of this mystery that Martha’s letter is more discussed than Milly’s letter with little on the surface to speculate about.

Assuming Martha Clifford is an alias, the quest of who she "really" is, inevitably, is another enigma to test the cleverness of Joyce scholars. Even Bloom suspects Martha’s address is fake. When considering whether or not Gerty’s name is real, he thinks, "Might be a false name however like my and the address Dolphin’s Barn a blind" (G 13 305:946; ML 372). Michael H. Begnal goes through a litany of possible Martha’s in his 1977 article "The Unveiling of Martha Clifford." He begins by proposing that Martha Clifford is not a pseudonym, then discusses the likelihood that Martha is actually one of other female characters introduced in Ulysses including Miss Dunne, Gerty MacDowell, Molly Bloom, Lydia Douce, Mina Kennedy, Milly Bloom, Josie Breen, Nurse Callan, Cissy Caffrey, Edy Boardman, Bella Cohen, the Whore of the Lane, Mrs Yelverton Barry, Mrs. Bellingham, The Honourable Mrs. Mervyn Talboys, and the servant girl in "Calypso." He concludes, through an analysis of the algebraic equation, that Martha Clifford is actually Ignatius Gallaher (Bengal 401-405).

Ultimately, of course, all the attention on trying to determine who is Martha Clifford is as fruitless as trying to determine who the man in the M’Intosh is. We will never know, and, I believe, it is not crucial to understanding the letter, indeed it may be paralyzing. The reader can conjecture infinitely about who Martha Clifford is, but the bottom line is we can’t know her, characterize her, or even speculate. As Shari Benstock states:

No consistent personality emerges from the language of the letter, in contrast to Milly's note, nor are there outside the letter a Martha Clifford or other persons or situations to reinforce an extra-textual ‘character’ (Benstock 419).

Despite the fact that Martha’s letter is so non-descript, it gives us no clear sense of who the author is, many critics have tried to develop a complicated and intense persona for this woman. Suzette Henke in her book, James Joyce and the Politics of Desire, seems to be one of the biggest culprits:

In the persona of Henry Flower, Esquire, Bloom conducts a clandestine epistolary affair with Martha Clifford, a lonely and pathetic working-girl who pines for release from the prison of dreary secretarial duties. Martha complains of boredom and headaches, longs to consummate this illicit liaison with her wold-be lover, and takes curious pleasure in his obscene communications. But, like the virtuous Edwardian lady she was raised to be, Martha protests, "I called you naughty boy because I do not like that other world" (U 5: 244-5). Too exhausted and bleary-eyed to correct her typographical error, Martha fails to recognize the contradictions implicit in her quest for the "real meaning of that word" she does not like. She assures Henry: "I have never felt myself so much drawn to a man as you. . . . O how I long to meet you. Henry dear, do not deny my request before my patience are exhausted. Then I will tell you all" (U 5:249-54). Martha tantalizes her pen-friend with promises of forbidden sexual discourse, but her patience and confidence have, indeed, been misplaced in the cautious married man she unwittingly tries to seduce. Bloom, despite a professed interest in social justice, attributes her depression and physical discomfort to menstrual malady rather than situational angst: "Such a bad headache. Has her roses probably" (U 5: 285). In "Lotus-Eaters," a chapter of flowers, the exhausted Martha is too busy earning her bread to be greatly concerned about the roses denied her -- though she does, apparently, take some kind of masochistic pleasure from the thorns of Bloom's pornographic letters designed to pique erotic curiosity (Henke 107-108).

This critique demonstrates the blind street scholars run into when assuming "facts" about Martha Clifford into evidence. Henke takes words from the letter and distorts them or fabricates evidence in order to come to pre-conceived notions. For example, no where in the letter does Martha claim to be bored or lonely. Complaining of a bad headache today does not give the reader enough to infer that she suffers from constant headaches. Henke has preconceived assumptions that all women working in secretarial jobs in that day and age had pathetic, hellish lives, and she crams "Martha" into this stereotype. She's exaggerating details that are found in the letter to fit into what she wants to say rather than looking at the text and seeing what that leads to.

Just as one can read the letter as an accurate, honest description of Martha's thoughts and feelings for Henry Flower, as Henke appears to do, one can also view it as a part of the "literary work" in which her first reply was in ???. In other words, the letter is merely a calculated move in the romantic exchange between two self-created, fictionalized characters. Just as Bloom has created the persona of "Henry Flower," maybe the "Martha Clifford" of this letter is a similar construction. I'd argue that Martha's letter is intentionally trashy, with clichés and vague references to naughtiness and punishment included as an attempt to playfully goad or excite. It is conceivable that whoever is writing this letter has no intention of ever really meeting her admirer, yet she enjoys the game of receiving and responding to him (and it is quite conceivable Bloom feels likewise).

Henke’s poor analysis of Martha’s letter continues in her book, Joyce’s Moraculous Sindbook, when she argues that the threat of punishment is emblematic of sado/masochism:

Bloom "might be happy" with voyeurism and the titillations of Martha Clifford’s abrasive letter, addressed to "Henry Flower." The epistle is rife with material for sadomasochistic fantasy: "Remember if you do not I will punish you. So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty boy, if you do not write" (p. 78). Martha leaves the specific punishment to Bloom’s imagination, and his flowered reverie soon fills in the blanks: "Angry tulips with your darling manflower punish your cactus if you don’t please poor forgetmenot" (p. 78). Bloom is evidently well-advised to avoid a meeting with Martha, who may have some "naughty nightstalk" waiting in the wings once her "patience are exhausted" (p. 78). Psychologically at least, Martha wants to punish "his cactus." Like the nymph in "Circe," she may have plans to clip Henry’s "darling manflower" in a vengeful act of castration. Bloom remains at a safe distance. He takes pleasure in arousing Martha’s prurient disdain for obscene language, despite the brutality implicit in his lascivious suggestions: "Narcotic. Go further next time. Naughty boy: punish: afraid of words, of course. Brutal, why not? Try it anyhow. A bit at a time" (p. 78). Why not use titillating vocabulary, if the effect produces a sting of sexual arousal? One man’s pain may be another man’s (or woman’s) addiction (Henke 88-89).

Once again, this is an overblown reading of the text into an arena that the letter barely touches; considering the playful tone of the letter, it is difficult to take seriously any evidence of sado/masochism. Martha’s "threats" of punishment most likely in jest. Henke voyeuristically projects kinky sex into the letter without commenting on why, a common error in trendy gender criticism, emphasizing style without substance. Indeed, critical theory can no more "reveal" Martha than standard textual exegesis.

In stark contrast to the vagueness of character described through Martha's Clifford's letter, Milly Bloom’s letter, a mere 16 sentences, gives us a clear sense of who she is by describing details of her work, her social life and a potential love interest. Unlike Martha, who appears to be in a fairly common female career of the time, typist/office worker, Milly has been given the opportunity to engage in a more creative and non-traditional form of training, apprentice photographer. In the letter, Milly tells her father about some of her social plans such as an upcoming picnic and a concert, as well as mentioning the name of a young student that could possibly lead to a romantic relationship. Unlike Martha's letter, there is a strong sense of time and place in Milly's letter. Through her descriptions ("I hear a piano downstairs") we are aware of what else is going on in her surroundings while she's writing the letter.

The differences in the amount of detail and attitudes towards sexuality (potential or fantasized) between the two letters exemplifies the idea of two separate worlds. Milly's world as shown in her letter is concrete and any reference to her budding sexuality remains innocent. In contrast, Martha's world is abstract, mysterious and full of sexual allusions.

Despite the inherent differences between these found texts, the similar act and circumstances of Bloom’s receiving and reading the two letters alerts the reader to read the letters in tandem. In terms of placement in the text, the two letters are found and read very early in the novel, within a few pages, and reflections and repetition of text from both letters are present throughout the book.

The first main difference between the letters is the type. Milly presumably hand-wrote her letter whereas Martha typed hers. This difference fits into the idea of two separate and distinct worlds for Milly and Martha. A handwritten letter conveys more of a human touch to Milly’s letter (a letter full of personal details) than the typed appearance of Martha’s more distanced, mechanical production (a document containing practically no personal information).

The reason why Milly describes her letter as "bad writing" is the greatest mystery in her text. Bloom is privileged because he can see Milly’s handwriting and determine whether that is what she is referring to when she says "excuse bad writing." In terms of content and structure, there is not much in Milly’s letter that is "bad" – some repetition, some poor sentence construction. However, there are points in the letter in which her language seems rushed, beginning with the sentence, "Mr Coghlan took one of me and Mrs will send when developed." The sentence seems to be missing a few words to make it quicker and snapper than the alternative, "I will send the photo when it is developed."

Ultimately, Milly’s postscript, "Excuse bad writing am in a hurry. Byby" seems more suited for Martha's letter. With its typographical and grammatical errors, it seems as if she were the one who really was in a hurry. This encroachment of Martha’s "world" into Milly’s is a hallmark of many similarities between the letters.

One initial comparison found by examining the letters together is the time between Bloom's receiving the letter and actually reading it. In the case of Milly’s, Bloom picks it up, Molly calls him from upstairs, he skims the letter ("Thanks: new tam: Mr Coghlan: lough Owel picnic: young students: Blazes Boylan’s seaside girls" (G 51;ML 62)), but doesn’t sit down to read it until after conversation with Molly. A similar chain of events occurs in receiving Martha’s letter. First, he picks up the letter at the postal office, then he gets distracted by his friend M'Coy, only after the conversation does he finally sit down to read the letter hidden inside a newspaper. Another similarity occurs with Bloom’s multiple readings of both texts. Bloom first skims Milly’s letter, then the reader reads the letter along with him and then Bloom rereads it twice more. The reader and Bloom read Martha's letter for the first time together and then Bloom reads it a second time. Although Bloom reads Milly's letter twice as much as Martha's, it is Martha's letter that seems to resonate more in his mind throughout the day (see appendix iv).

In addition, soon after reading each letter Bloom recalls a song. For Milly, it’s "Seaside Girls" (a song she refers to in her letter) and for Martha it is a rhyme about Mairy's lost pin (Martha had attached the yellow flower to the letter with a pin).

All dimple cheeks and curls,
Your head it simply swirls. . . .
Those girls, those girls,
Those lovely seaside girls. (G 55; ML 67)

"O, Mairy lost the pin of her drawers.
She didn’t know what to do
To keep it up,
To keep it up" (G 64; ML 79)

Both of these rhymes have sexual overtones. In the seaside girls song, the details of appearance (curly hair and dimples) represents a female's sexual attraction, thus echoing Bloom's fear of Milly becoming a sexualized young woman. The pin that Mairy loses could be seen as a phallic symbol, the idea of pricking being a euphemism for sex, and the falling of her drawers makes her sexually accessible, a notable allusion to Martha Clifford’s potential intentions.

In terms of the basic structure and format, the letters are strikingly similar. Both letters begin with Dear (although Milly uses Dearest) and consist of only one paragraph and a postscript. Although Milly’s letter contains a fewer number of sentences (16 to Martha’s 23), they take up approximately the same number of lines in the book (Milly 18-21 lines, Martha 21-23 lines, depending on the edition). Both letters are signed off with their names in pure caps followed by a period in the 1922 and Modern Library editions; however in the Gabler edition, both are changed to the first letter only capitalized and a removal of the period. It is difficult to determine what, if any, significance the Gabler changes in signatures means, but it is interesting to note that Gabler also removed the final period after the last sentence in each letter as well.

Similarities can be found in the content of the letters as well as the format. Both contain a great deal of repetition. Milly repeats the word "lovely" three times and Martha uses the word "naughty" four times. The multiple inclusion of these distinctly different words in the letters also supports the separate worlds of Milly and Martha. Milly’s world of innocence includes the world "lovely," a passionless, yet positive adjective. Whereas Martha’s mysterious world contains the word "naughty," a negative, punishing word with possible sexual implications. The use of repetition rather than a variety of language could also imply "bad writing" for both authors.

Both letters thank Bloom for gifts: Milly’s tam and Martha’s stamps, each with possible sexual overtones. Milly’s tam is a cap that covers similar to a condom. And, there may be more to the stamps than just a favor of return postage. In the "Calypso" episode, Bloom describes stamps as "stickyback pictures" (4 46:67). Later in Nausicaa, Bloom uses the word sticky next to love to seemingly imply some connection between the two.

O sweety all your little girlwhite up I saw dirty bracegirdle made me do love sticky we two naughty Grace darling she him half past the bed met him pike hoses frillies for Raoul de perfume your wife black hair heave under embon senorita young eyes Mulvey plump bubs me breadvan Winkle (G 13 312:1281).

In addition, since a stamp must be licked, another association to sexuality can easily be made.

Sexuality is touched upon in the letters in more than the gift of stamps. For Milly, however, the allusion to sex is only in the peripheral when she discusses Bannon (will this lead to a sexual relationship?). On the other hand, we assume that Martha's letter is supposed to be part of an "erotic" exchange, where the idea of sex dominates. Although, for Bloom, the letter doesn’t seem to meet his expectations since he is glad he didn’t use it as a mastubatory fantasy and waited until the encounter with Gertie MacDowell. "Damned glad I didn't do it in the bath this morning over her silly I will punish you letter" (G 13 301:787).

Perhaps more than just a coincidence, the picnic that Milly has planned for Monday is also the same day that Molly plans to have another tryst with Boylan. The picnic is something other critics have picked up on as being a way to connect Milly and Molly as well as to connect Milly and sexuality.

The simultaneous arrival of Milly’s letter and card and Blazes’ letter establishes the connection between Molly’s and Milly’s sexual affairs. Milly’s references to a picnic and to Bannon’s singing Boylan’s song about "those seaside girls" (U 66) strengthens the mother-daughter identification. The future picnic at lough Owel merges with the past "picnic" on Howth" (Eggers 391).

After delivering Molly’s tea, Bloom eats, and drinks his tea in the kitchen, re-reading the letter three times. He muses about "some young student and a picnic" (U 65), and in the carriage ride to the funeral, "picnic" is equated with sexual intercourse as Mr. Power says, "Someone seems to have been making a picnic party here lately," to which Mr Dedalus replies resignedly, "After all, . . . it’s the most natural thing in the world" (U 89). (Ford 439).

Will Milly's innocence be replaced with experience at this picnic or with her involvement with Bannon? In the passages regarding the picnic and the young student, the sexual world of Martha is sneaking into Milly’s safe, familial, and chaste world.

The inclusion of kisses in both letters further marks the distinction between Milly’s safe, family-oriented world and Martha’s experienced, sexual world. Milly thanks Bloom again for the gift and tells him to "give yourself a big kiss" (G 4 54:405). Similarly, Martha also gives Bloom a kiss in the form of the four xxxx’s at the end of the letter. However, the implications of these kisses are quite different. Milly's kiss to her father represents an open expression of an innocent father-daughter love whereas Martha's kisses denote an attempt at an illicit affair. The sexual implications can also be found in Bloom's thoughts about how both Milly and Martha have changed. After reading Milly's letter, Bloom reflects upon her as a child, then how she will grow up to become a sexual young woman.

Milly too. Young kisses: the first. Far away now past. . . .

A soft qualm regret, flowed down his backbone, increasing. Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can't move. Girl's sweet light lips. Will happen too. He felt the flowing qualm spread over him. Useless to move now. Lips kissed, kissing, kissed. Full gluey woman's lips (G 4 55:446-450).

Similarly Bloom remarks how Martha has "changed since the first letter" (G 64), probably a shift from her initial innocent response to the advertisement to now fully joining the game of erotic exchange, which he would like to take a step even further:

Weak joy opened his lips. Changed since the first letter. Wonder did she wrote it herself.

Doing the indignant: a good family like me, respectable character. Could meet one Sunday after the rosary. Thank you: not having any. Usual love scrimmage. Then running round corners. Bad as a row with Molly. Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic. Go further next time. Naughty boy: punish: afraid of word, or course. Brutal, why not? Try it anyhow. A bit at a time (G 5 64:268-274; the Modern Library edition has "write" instead of "wrote").

Thus the changes Bloom notices in both women is another example of the mysterious sexual world of Martha encroaching on the innocent Milly.

Much of what I’d term "bad writing" in the way of criticism regarding Martha’s letter focuses on her various "mistakes." The mistakes in Martha’s letter could be blamed on Freudian slips, typographical errors or bad grammar or could result from her being in a hurry, just like Milly. Martha could be writing the letter in haste at work rather than at home. Perhaps she wouldn’t take the time to retype the letter or notice the errors because she never re-reads it before she mails it.

One error that could easily be attributed to a typographical error will instead be read as a grammatical error in order to create a connection between Martha and Molly (who made a tense error in "Calypso"). This occurs in Bonnie Kime Scott’s chapter "Gender, Language and Writing" in her book James Joyce:

Bloom is also a grammarian. Martha has made an error in tense, "So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty by, if you do not wrote’, which Bloom repeats in his "Wonder did she wrote it herself’. He has performed a similar correction in the early scene with Molly, changing her "It must have fell’ to ‘must have slid’, though only the narrator comes up with the ultimate ‘fallen’ (4.326-9). (Scott JJ 126-7)

However, I’d argue that the write/wrote mistake could be a typographical error. The "i" and "o" are right next to each other on the keyboard, so it seems more likely that she could have accidentally typed an "o" instead of an "i" in "write." Thus, this error cannot necessarily be used as evidence that Martha Clifford is not intelligent. Although there is one definite grammatical error in Martha’s letter that Scott fails to mention. In the sentence, "Henry dear, do not deny my request before my patience are exhausted," Martha commits a grammatical error in subject/verb agreement by mistakenly using a plural verb for a singular subject.

Another error not addressed by Scott in her analysis is the incomplete sentence: "I feel so bad about." This interesting omission leaves a mystery what makes Martha feel "bad." Perhaps Martha meant to say, "I feel so bad about it," with "it" thereby referring to the previous sentence in which she describes how she feels drawn to him more than any other man. Or does she feel bad about something that she in unable to name or unwilling to define? There could be numerous explanations for what Martha feels bad about: Martha could feel bad about carrying on this increasingly erotic correspondence with a married man; she could feel bad about her job; or she could just feel bad, in a physical sense, since she does mention having a headache at the end of the letter. Once again, without more details about Martha's true personality, it is difficult to do anything more than speculate.

The most significant mistake in Martha’s letter is the inclusion of "world" instead of "word." There are two issues at stake here: what kind of mistake is this and what is that "other world" that she is referring to? Some critics call this mistake a "slip." Others, including Scott, think that world/word confusion is "more mechanical than grammatical or Freudian" (Scott JJ 126). Gottfried, in his book, Joyce's Iritis and the Irritated Text, concurs:

Martha Clifford’s letter has its prominent confusion of the l dropped from "world" into "word." It too is due to a "mechanical" error, a jump of the hand between two lines of the typewriter, l just below the o. Yet the consequences of so small an error are greatly magnified: a whole universe is at stake, or a value (as l was also used in older typewriters for the numeral one) (Gottfried 35).

However, I’d argue that typing "wrote" for "write" is easier to view as a typo than mistyping "world" for "word." It seems possible that in composing that sentence, Martha thought of "world" instead of "word" and typed it as such. If Martha were to speak this letter instead of to type it, how then would critics explain the mistake? Then it would definitely be viewed as something more like a Freudian slip since one can’t make a mechanical error in speech. However, just because the letter is typed doesn’t mean we should forget the possibility that world was on her mind rather than word.

There has been some debate about the "other world" that Martha doesn’t like. Some critics believe it is "Hell" while others feel that it is Bloom’s push towards more sexual explicitness, including Bonnie Kime Scott:

The world/word disliked by Martha refers to Bloom’s erotic language in his letter to her, and betrays both a timidity toward sexual experience and an alienation from the language of the body. Another suggestion the passage elicits is a female role of inscribing a world rather than the word (Scott JJ 126-7).

There is no reference for one to assume that the character of Martha Clifford is sexually timid or evidence that she fears entering into a world of sexuality. However, Bloom does fear this, that Milly will soon be entering into that sexual world. Bloom’s reaction to the idea of the other world is paramount, not Martha’s interpretation or intention. For Martha, the "other world" could be a meaningless typographical error or a substantial Freudian slip, but we cannot know because we don’t know her character well enough. As Philip Herring notes:

‘I do not like that other world’ tells us nothing about Martha because there is no frame of reference. She does not appear in the novel and Bloom has never met her. Is it then one of Joyce’s private amusements? Is ‘that other world’ Hades our next port of call after "Lotuseaters" (cf.: ‘I pray for you in my other world," 561:16); or a mischievous reference to the Homeric correspondence which the title Ulysses invites us to probe; or is it possibly a subtle call for action to one who is satisfied merely to dream of love? We get nowhere trying to impose limits, but I think we should not hesitate to leave a closed door to which Joyce has the hidden the key (Herring 77-78).

However, we can infer by comparing the two letters what Bloom reads into this idea of "that other world." Bloom is afraid of "that other world" because he is afraid of Milly's budding sexuality -- he does not want to see the childish and innocent Milly turning into Martha (or, perhaps, Molly).

As mentioned earlier, both letters end with a postscript. Milly's postscript, "Excuse bad writing, am in a hurry. Byby" contains two mysteries that link it to Martha's letter. I have already discussed possible reasons why Milly may qualify her writing as "bad," but why is Milly in a hurry? Is she writing her letter at work? If so, this could be something else that connects her and Martha, since Martha's letter is typed, it can be assumed that she is also composing the letter in her office rather than at home.

In contrast to Milly's mysterious postscript, Martha’s, "Do tell me what kind of perfume does your wife use. I want to know," asks for concrete information, something that is almost completely lacking in her letter, yet present in Milly's. I believe that Martha, who asserts herself as an active participant in the language of flowers by enclosing a daisy symbolizing "innocence" with her letter, asks for the kind of perfume Molly’s uses so that she can read the unwritten meaning behind her choice of fragrance and therefore know more about her (G 11 297-98). Molly indeed is a flower herself, and her scent "is also her voice" (Saldivar 401). Bloom remarks that Molly wears a combination of opoponax and jessamine: "Why Molly likes opoponax. Suits her, with a little jessamine mixed. Her high notes and her low notes" (G 13 306:1011). According to the various 19th century lists of meanings of flowers, Jessamine (depending on the type) means transient joy, amiability, or grace; elegance (various sources from the Language of Flowers website). Molly also uses a face lotion that includes orange blossom which signifies "your purity equals your loveliness" and "chastity" (Eastman 292; Language of Flowers website). All these meanings could easily be applied to Milly Bloom as well as her letter, thus connecting Molly and Milly.

Molly Bloom is a central connection between the two letters. Both Milly and Martha seem to take on characteristics of Molly in their writings. As Bonnie Kime Scott describes in Joyce and Feminism, Milly’s sentence about men (which mentions Blazes Boylan, her mother's lover, as well as Bannon, her own potential lover) is similar to Molly’s style of thinking in the "Penelope" episode:

Only in the letter’s most intimate news do the sentences run together. The effect is to associate her boyfriend, Bannon, with Molly’s Boylan, and to confuse and combine men, as Molly does in her monologue (Scott J&F, p. 165-66).

In addition, Martha requests Bloom to "Please tell me what is the real meaning of that word," just as Molly asked for a definition of "metempsychosis" earlier in the morning. Unfortunately, since Bloom gives us no indication of the content of his last letter to Martha, the reader cannot know what word she wants defined. Finally, as mentioned early, both Martha and Molly make an error in tense (Molly: "It must have fell down," Martha: "patience are exhausted") thus allowing a further connection between the two women. But what do the letters, and Molly's reactions to them, tell us about Molly and Bloom's relationship?

These letters represent the two sides of Molly: the ideal, young side (Milly) versus the promiscuous, bland, dumb side (Martha). And, in some respect, both Milly and Martha are Molly’s rivals. They are threats representing the marital troubles between Bloom and Molly. This is evident by the fact Milly sends Bloom a letter, but sends Molly a card, which leaves Molly feeling some bitterness, according to James H. Maddox in his book, Joyce's Ulysses and the Assault upon Character:

There is resentment (and another mention of letters) in her first mention of Milly: "only his letter and the card from Milly this morning see she wrote a letter to him" (758). There is a quickness to take offense here which springs from Molly’s awareness that Milly, no longer simply a daughter but now a sexual rival as well, has begun to usurp Bloom’s attention. There is even more of this resentment in one of Molly’s most defensive thought-sequences in the chapter: "But if there was anything wrong with her its me shed tell not him he cant say I pretend things can hi Im too honest as a matter of fact I suppose he thinks Im finished out and laid on the shelf well Im not no nor anything like it well see well see" (766). Molly is seldom so plainly insecure as she is here. Her jealous reaction to Milly’s preference for Bloom . . . (Maddox 216).

Milly's letter to Bloom represents the difference between what could have been versus what is for Molly by encapsulating elements of Molly's past versus the potential of Milly's future.

Although Molly doesn’t know of Martha Clifford by name, or that Bloom received a letter from her today, she did witness him writing a letter to her two days earlier and also thinks about that in the early hours of 17 June:

. . . if they only knew him as well as I do yes because the day before yesterday he was scribbling something a letter when I came into the front room to show him Dignams death in the paper as if something told me and he covered it up with the blottingpaper pretending to be thinking about business so very probably that was it to somebody who thinks she has a softy in him because all men get a bit like that at his age especially getting on forty he is now so as to wheedle any money she can out of him no fool like an old fool and then the usual kissing my bottom was to hide it . . . . (G 18 609:45-53).

Even though Molly talks like she doesn't care about what she views as evidence of Bloom's infidelities, it seems apparent that there is some jealousy on her part. In fact, later on she does admit, "I wish somebody would write me a loveletter" (G 18 624:734-735). Quite possibly Molly wishes she were the recipient of the letter Bloom writes and hides from her. And, perhaps this is part of the future Bloom fears for Milly with her inevitable entrance into the world of sexuality and its disappointments.

In this paper I've shown that a comparison of Milly Bloom and Martha Clifford's letters is imperative to a better understanding of both characters and their place in Ulysses. These letters have provoked "bad writing" on the part of critics, that is, there has been little attempt to show how each echoes the other. In terms of Joycean criticism, the substance of these two letters is almost a footnote: in the case of Milly, some critics find that Bloom and Molly's thoughts of Milly tell more about who she is than a letter written in her own words; and for Martha more critical attention has been spent on trying to determine who she is rather than examining what she says.

The letters of Milly Bloom and Martha Clifford represent two worlds. These conflicting worlds/words reflect Bloom's conflicts that day: Martha being the unknowable, abstract, sexual object and Milly the knowable, concrete picture of innocence. Yet, Milly's blooming sexuality (Martha’s world) is of concern to Bloom and thus is an example of Martha's world encroaching into Milly's. What also ties these two letters together is Milly's postscript apologizing for "bad writing," and their connections to Molly. By reading the letters in tandem, one can find the implications of their parallels as well as discover the significance of their differences.


TEXTUAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THREE EDITIONS OF ULYSSES

 

Dearest Papli[,] 1

Thanks ever so much for the lovely birthday present. It suits me splendid. Everyone says I am [I'm] 2 quite the belle in my new tam. I got mummy's lovely box of creams and am writing. [,] 3 They are lovely. I am getting on swimming in the photo business now. Mr Coghlan took one of me and Mrs[.] [W]ill 4 send when developed. We did great biz yesterday. Fair day and all the beef to the heels were in. We are going to lough Owel on Monday with a few friends to make a scrap picnic. Give my love to mummy and to yourself a big kiss and thanks. I hear them at the piano downstairs. There is to be a concert in the Greville Arms on Saturday. There is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon his cousins or something are big swells he sings Boylan's (I was on the pop of writing Blazes Boylan's) song about those seaside girls. Tell him silly Milly sends my best respects. Must now close with fondest love[.] 5

Your fond daughter[,] 6 [MILLY.] 7

Milly

P.S. Excuse bad writing[,] am in a hurry. Byby.

M.

1. The Gabler edition does not contain a comma after Dearest Papli as both the 1992 and Modern Library editions do.

2. The Gabler edition has "I am quite the belle" whereas the 1992 & ML editions have "I'm quite the belle.

3. The 1992 text as "and am writing," with a comma at the end whereas the ML and Gabler editions have a period.

4. The Gabler edition has a period after "took one of me and Mrs." whereas the 1922 and ML editions have no period.

5. The Gabler edition does not have a period after "with fondest love" whereas both the 1922 and ML editions have a period.

6. In the 1922 and ML editions Milly's signature is represented as MILLY. (with a period) whereas in the Gabler edition it is Milly with no period.

7. In the Gabler edition there is no comma after "Excuse bad writing" whereas the 1922 and ML editions have a comma.

TEXTUAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THREE EDITIONS OF ULYSSES

 

Dear Henry[,] 1

I got your last letter to me and thank you very much for it. I am sorry you did not like my last letter. Why did you enclose the stamps? I am awfully angry with you. I do wish I could punish you for that. I called you naughty boy because I do not like that other world. Please tell me what is the real meaning of that word.[?] 2 Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy? I do wish I could do something for you. Please tell me what you think of poor me. I often think of the beautiful name you have. Dear Henry, when will we meet? I think of you so often you have no idea. I have never felt myself so much drawn to a man as you. I feel so bad about. Please write me a long letter and tell me more. Remember if you do not I will punish you.[no period] 3 So now you know what I will do to you, you naughty boy, if you do not write. O how I long to meet you. Henry dear, do not deny my request before my patience are exhausted. Then I will tell you all. Goodbye now, naughty darling,[.] 4 I have such a bad headache.[no period] today.[no period] 5 and write by return to your longing

Martha [MARTHA.] 6

P.S. Do tell me what kind of perfume does your wife use. I want to know.

x x x x [no x's] 7

1. The Gabler edition does not have a comma after "Dear Henry" whereas both the 1922 and ML editions do.

2. The Gabler edition has a question mark after "the real meaning of that word?" whereas in the 1922 and ML editions it is a period.

3. The 1922 edition has no period after "Remember if you do not I will punish you" whereas the ML and Gabler editions have a period.

4. The Gabler edition has a comma after "Goodbye now, naughty darling," whereas the 1922 and ML editions have a period.

5. The Gabler edition adds to periods to the sentence "I have such a bad headache. today. And write by return to your longing" (after headache and today). The 1922 and ML editions do not have these two extra periods.

6. The 1922 and ML editions have Martha's name in full caps with a period: "MARTHA." whereas the Gabler edition has "Martha" without a period.

7. the Gabler edition has four "x x x x" at the end of the note after the postscript which is not in either the 1922 or ML edition.

REFERENCES TO LETTERS IN ULYSSES:

(G= Gabler Edition; ML= Modern Library Edition)

 

MILLY

Then he slit open his letter, glancing down the page and over. Thanks: new tam: Mr. Coghlan: lough Owel picnic: young student: Blazes Boylan’s seaside girls (G 4 51:280-282; ML 62).

His vacant face stared pityingly at the postscript. Excuse bad writing. Hurry. Piano Downstairs. Coming out of her shell. . . . Young student. He drank a draught of cooler tea to wash down his meal. Then he read the letter again: twice (G 4 54:421-427; ML 66).

Seaside girls. Torn envelope (G 4 55:439).

Molly. Milly. Same thing watered down. Her tomboy oaths. O jumping Jupiter! Ye gods and little fishes! Still, she’s a dear girl. Soon be a woman. Mullingar. Dearest Papli. Young student. Yes, yes: a woman too. Life. Life (G 6 74:87-90; ML 89).

Her voice floating out. Those lovely seaside girls (G 8 148:1064)

I too. Last of my race. Milly young student. Well, not my fault perhaps (G 11 234:1066)

Her ear too is a shell, the peeping lobe there. Been to the seaside. Lovely seaside girls (G 11 231:938).

Those girls, those lovely. By the sad sea waves (G 11 234:1177-1178; ML 285).

Little hand it was: now big. Dearest Papli. All that the hand says when you touch (G 13 311:1198).

 

REFERENCES TO LETTERS IN ULYSSES:

(G= Gabler Edition; ML= Modern Library Edition)

 

MARTHA

Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don't please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha's perfume (G 64:4-6; ML 78).

Bad as a row with Molly. Cigar has a cooling effect. Narcotic. Go further next time. Naughty boy: punish: afraid of words, of course. Brutal, why not? Try it anyhow. A bit at a time (G 5 64:273; ML 78).

Them. Such a bad headache. Has her roses probably. Or sitting all day typing. Eyefocus bad for stomach nerves. What perfume does your wife (G 5 64:285; ML 79).

I tore up the envelope? Yes. Where did I put her letter after I read it in the bat? He patted his waistcoat pocket. There all right. Dear Henry Fled. Before my patience are exhausted (G 6 76:168-170; ML 91).

Did I write Ballsbridge on the envelope I took to cover when she disturbed me writing to Martha?

Hope it’s not chucked in the dead letter office (G 6 88:743).

There is another world after death named hell. I do not like that other world she wrote. No more do I. Plenty to see and hear and feel yet. Feel live warm beings near you (G 6 94:1002; ML 115).

What perfume does your wife use? (G 7 102:230; ML 123)

He passed the Irish Times. There might be other answers lying there.  . . . Wanted smart lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work. I called you naughty darling because I do not like that other world. Please tell me what is the meaning. Please tell me what perfume does your wife. Tell me who made the world. The way they spring those questions on you (G 8 131:328; ML 160).

Could never like it again after Rudy. Can't bring back time. Like holding water in your hand. Would you go back to then? Just beginning then. Would you? Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy? Wants to sew on buttons for me. I must answer. Write it in the library (G 8 137:611; ML 168).

Lovely name you have. Can't write. Accept my little pres. Play on her heartstrings pursestrings too. She's a. I called you naughty boy. Still the name: Martha. How strange! Today (G 11 226:715).

My poor little pres: p. o. two and six. Write me a long. Do you  despise? Jingle, have you the? So excited. Why do you call me naught? You naughty too? O, Mairy lost the string of her. Bye for today. Yes, yes,  will tell you. Want to. To keep it up. Call me that other. Other world she wrote (G 11 229:869-871).

Henry. I never signed it. The lovely name you (G 11 234:1080; ML 285).


Up the quay went Lionelleopold, naughty Henry with letter for Mady, with sweets of sin with frillies for Raoul with met him pike hoses went Poldy on (G 11 236:1187; ML 288).

Near her monthlies, I expect, makes  them feel ticklish. I have such a bad headache today. Where did I put the letter? Yes, all right. All kinds of crazy longings. Licking pennies (G 13 301:778; ML 368).

Care of P. O. Dolphin's Barn. Are you not happy in your? Naughty darling. At Dolphin's barn charades in Luke Doyle's house. (G 13 308-309:1105-1107; ML 377).

O, those transparent! Besides they don't know. What is the meaning of that other world. I called you naughty boy because I do not like. 
AM. A. 
No room. Let it go (G 13 312:1263).

O sweety all your little girlwhite up I saw dirty bracegirdle made me do love sticky we two naughty Grace darling she him half past the bed met him pike hoses frillies for Raoul de perfume your wife black hair  . . . (G 13 312:1280).

What did the first drawer unlocked contain? . . . .
3 typewritten letters, addressee, Henry Flower, c/o. P. O. Westland Row, addresser, Martha Clifford, c/o. P. O. Dolphin's Barn: the transliterated  name and address of the addresser of the 3 letters in reversed alphabetic boustrophedonic punctated quadrilinear cryptogram (vowels suppressed) N. IGS./WI.UU. OX/W. OKS. MH/Y. IM  (G 17 592:1798; ML 721).

What object did Bloom add to this collection of objects?
A 4th typewritten letter received by Henry Flower (let H. F. be L. B.) from Martha Clifford (find M. C.) (G 17 593:1842, ML 722).

With what modifications did the narrator reply to this interrogation?
Negative: he omitted to mention the clandestine correspondence between Martha Clifford and Henry Flower (G 17 605:2252; ML 735).

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