The family has historically been a key site for the production and the reproduction of gendered individuals. Thus the sexual politics of texts and their writers are revealed by the adoption/adaptation/rejection of the family romance per Freud. Such critical assumptions form the bedrock of Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson’s study of D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce, Writing Against the Family. Through an examination of these modernists’ family values, Lewiecki-Wilson strives to “make a case that both Lawrence and Joyce are more politically progressive writers about women’s issues than they are usually given credit for because in the works of both writers form and content, taken together, resist, challenge and contradict the conventions and structure of the binary sex/gender system.”
Lewiecki-Wilson’s study begins with an overview of feminist-psychoanalytic theory, an ambitious undertaking to be sure. The decision [End Page 369] to include both Lacan and Chodorow in this abbreviated critical history without rehashing the catfights between Lacanians and object-relations theorists deserves note. In the second chapter, which encompasses Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Women In Love, and argues that “Lawrence chafes at the constraints of patriarchy yet depends upon its binary oppositions,” Lewiecki-Wilson hits her stride. She convincingly demonstrates that the marriage quest is the only aspect of the family romance that Lawrence upholds; thus the reproduction of the family and patriarchy is resisted. However, the value placed on exchange with an authentic Other causes Lawrence to fall back on a binary sex/gender system and into a nostalgic mode. In this way, Lawrence becomes the male analogue to contemporary cultural feminists who unwittingly reify sexual difference.
Whereas Lewiecki-Wilson reads Lawrence’s texts as internally divided from Sons and Lovers on, she reads Joyce’s oeuvre as more evolutionary in nature. While A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a “male form of the Family Romance,” the rest of Joyce’s works deconstruct this narrative and the patriarchal sex/gender system that supports it. Desire and free circulation, agents of change as well as of advanced capitalism, become the ultimate Joycean values. Joyce’s appropriation of Egyptology reflects these values: according to Lewiecki-Wilson, Joyce “replaces the patriarchal order of the Christian Holy Family with the multiplicity and disorder of Egyptian family myth.”
Resisting the current trend of refashioning canonical modernist male writers into protofeminists, Lewiecki-Wilson instead thoughtfully traces the myriad ways Lawrence’s and Joyce’s works “implicitly support feminism.” However, as she comes to these writers’ defense, she gives short shrift to her critical predecessors. According to Lewiecki-Wilson, “The first and second wave of women scholars attacked Joyce’s texts for female characters who were shallow and silly or who were unrealistic, all-loving earth mothers. However, I think those criticisms overlook the change in Joyce’s attitude to women and simplify the complex, psychological universe he portrays.” Bonnie Kime Scott’s James Joyce, Suzette Henke’s James Joyce and the Politics of Desire, and Margot Norris’ Joyce’s Web belie such generalizations and suggest that Lewiecki-Wilson is the one guilty of simplification here.
Ultimately, Writing Against the Family constitutes a modest contribution to the Joyce industry but represents a significant addition to [End Page 370] Lawrence studies. Lewiecki-Wilson is at her best charting the Lawrentian paradoxes that simultaneously infuriate and fascinate feminist critics.