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The disappearance of Molly and Hillé, by Dirce Waltrick do Amarante

The disappearance of Molly and Hillé

Dirce Waltrick do Amarante


Hilda Hilst
Hilda Hilst


What does Marion (Molly) Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses,1922, by the Irish writer James Joyce, have in common with Hillé, the central character of The Obscene Mrs D ( A Obscena Senhora D), 1982, by Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst (1930-2004)? First of all, both depend on their husbands to decipher the meaning of certain words. Molly and Hillé put themselves in an intellectually inferior position to their men, who know and answer to them (and sometimes in place of their women).

One morning, Leopold Bloom takes coffee in bed to Molly (incidentally, “he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel”, as she reveals in her monologue final), and she asks him the meaning of the word “metempsychosis”:


“—Here, she said. What does that mean?

He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail.

—Metempsychosis?

—Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home?

—Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.

—O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words”.


Hillé, on the other hand, asks her husband Ehud the meaning of the word "dereliction", which he explains. After the explanation, unlike Leopold, Ehud asks his wife for coffee:


Dereliction Ehud used to say to me, Dereliction - for the last time Hillé, Dereliction means renunciation, abandonment, and why do you ask me every day and don't hold back, from now on I call you Madame D. D from Dereliction, did you hear? Renunciation, abandonment, the soul has always been empty, searching for names, groping corners, creases, caressing folds, perhaps in the friezes, the threads, the twists, the bottom of the pants, in the knots, in the visible everyday, in the smallest absurdity, at the very least, one day the light, the destiny of us all, one day I will understand, Ehud understand what? that of life and death, those whys, listen, Madam D, if instead of these dealings with the divine, these luxuries of thought, you would make me a coffee, huh? ”. (My translation)

It should be noticed, throughout the Joyce’s and Hilst’s novels, that neither Bloom nor Ehud trust the intellect of their women: Bloom believes, for instance, that Molly should read a simpler book, Ehud thinks that women should “instead of these dealings with the divine, these luxuries of thinking”, make him a coffee, that is, be restricted to domestic activities.

The two words that catch the attention of Molly and Hillé have something in common. Metempsychosis is the transmigration of souls, which cease to inhabit a body to inhabit another body: human, animal or vegetable. The meaning of dereliction (abandonment, renunciation) and metempsychosis at some point comes close. In either case, a body is uninhabited or abandoned. Just as Molly and Hillé are abandoned when their husbands leave home.

Bloom leaves home in the morning and follows his day as normal, a day of an early twentieth century man in Dublin, while Molly spends the day in her room, it seems, and most of it in bed. Hillé, even before her husband's death, is already restricted to the private space of the house and gradually settles on a gap in the stairwell. After Ehud dies, she knows that it will be even more "difficult to get off the gap of the stair". Molly and Hillé have a life restricted to the space of their homes.

According to Rebecca Solnit, as we read in a book called Wanderlust: A History of Walking, in the past, which in my view extends to the present, “in order to keep women ‘private’ or sexually accessible to one man and inaccessible for others, her whole life would be consigned to the private space of the home that served as a sort of a masonry veil”.

Why don't Molly and Hillé rebel and leave their houses? Because they believe that is where they belong. Molly Bloom is a singer, Bloom "allows" her to be, just as certain mothers of the 19th century allowed their daughters to study as long as they returned home as if nothing had happened and did nothing eccentric, Virginia Woolf recalls in a text published in Nation and Athenaeum, on April 23, 1927.

Hillé doesn’t leave the house because there she disappears for others, especially for other men, as for herself. In the past, perhaps before they got married, however, Hillé and Ehud went for walks.

Hillé has a complicated sexual relationship with her husband. She seems to feel tired of living like the wife who makes coffee and receives warm caresses from Ehud, or as a woman who the husband demands to take care of the body: “if only you took care of your body a little”, he says.

While Hillé's husband was alive, she “swallowed the body of Christ”; thus, he transmigrated to the body of Christ and forgot more and more his own body and that of her companion: “lie down, open yourself up, pretend you don't want to but want to, give me your hand, touch you, see? It's all wet, so, Hillé, open it, hug me, please me”. It is from these charges that she escapes.

In Recollections of my Non-Existence, Solnit recalls that many women try to “disappear” or fade and shut up so that they give more space to men, a space where a woman's existence is considered an aggression and her absence is a form of graceful acceptance. Perhaps that is why Milly Bloom, Molly and Leopold1s daughter, absent from her parent's home, is seen with such good eyes by her father.

Molly Bloom, when she speaks, speaks for herself, not for others; no one hears her voice, except when she sings, but by singing she doesn't expose her ideas. Hillé also seems to speak for herself, all the dialogues that come out of her head, from her broken memories. If Molly spends much of the romance in bed, Hillé is bent over, as her husband says, and shrinks so much that she ends up on a gap in the stairwell.

Both Molly and Hillé know their partners' infidelity; about it they digress, consume themselves, not so much because of their fault, but because they know that they cannot act in the same way.


Hilda Hilst


"The obscene Mrs D" on stage



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