Energised in all sorts of ways by the change of government and the vast and now nation-reflecting improvement of federal parliament (now enriched by 16 crossbenchers, many of them stalwart women!), I have begun to climb a mountain.
It is a figurative mountain (for at 76 literal summiteering is beyond me), and I speak of the literary mountain of James Joyce's towering novel Ulysses. It is an intimidating peak of 780 pages and 265,000 words.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of its first publication and so it is being much discussed everywhere. This is nudging the consciences of those of us who have never completed reading it. Millions of us have found it too esoterically difficult, turning back at about page 44 like a mountaineer defeated by vertiginous rock faces, by blizzards, by attacks by abominable snowmen.
But stoked now by the election result (how wonderful that a joyful event can put a spring into the mind as well as into the step) I have taken to Ulysses with renewed vigour. I am well into it now, as I read always taking inspiration from the example of Marilyn Monroe.
The column's bewildered readers: "Marilyn Monroe?! What does the late luminescent movie star, blonde bombshell and sex symbol have to do with this? Please explain yourself, beloved columnist."
Gladly, ye millions. It is that while doing my 100th anniversary Ulysses homework I've found that there are intriguing photographs of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. Taken in 1955 at the peak of her blonde famousness, they show her engrossed, spellbound, in the great novel. She has almost finished it. She looks to be at about page 766 of its 780 pages. You can see the photographs and read all about them online in Open Culture magazine's piece Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce's Ulysses at the Playground (1955).
There is sexist doubt in some sexist quarters about whether a woman so often thought of as the quintessential "dumb blonde" (a role she was often required to play in her movies) can be really truly immersed in so cerebral a book.
But as a feminist and perhaps buoyed by the achievement of so many intellectually nimble women at the election, I choose to believe that Ms Monroe was not dumb at all. I say the photographs show her setting an intellectual-literary example to all of us.
Here she is, still only in her 20s, about to finish whooshing through a novel some of us in our university-educated 70s have yet to be brainy enough to get even halfway through. If she is a dumb blonde (and of course she isn't) then this columnist is a superdumb baldpate.
Not that there is anything wrong with posing with a book. Ms Monroe isn't doing it in these pictures but it is a fun thing to do, as delightfully celebrated by Maeve Dunigan in her New Yorker piece What I Imagine Strangers Think About Me When They See Me Reading a Book in Public.
It is an occasional theme of this column that curmudgeonly, bean-counting opponents of the dollar costs of the federal capital city's light rail extensions lack the imagination to understand the nuanced, impossible-to-put-a-dollar-value-on delights of travelling by public transport. Now here is Maeve Duigan, riding on New York's subway, with another of those nuanced delights, a delight described in her piece's title.
She imagines her fellow commuters thinking things like "I'm overwhelmed by the simple elegance of that girl with her book. I have the urge to tell her a secret or buy her a lavender-scented candle." "That girl has never betrayed someone. She has never lied. I would trust her to hold my diary and never open it."
Light rail is soon to snake out to where I live. I will commute aboard it, pretending to be deeply engaged in my copy of Ulysses.
Admiring onlookers will think things like "I'm overwhelmed by the simple elegance of that distinguished-looking gentleman quietly immersed in a giant of a book (why, he's almost finished it!) I, with my inferior mind, have never got further than page 44." "That gorgeous old intellectual has never betrayed anyone. He has never lied. I have an urge to tell him a secret or buy him a lavender-scented candle."
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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