- Reviewed by
Christine van Boheeman's book examines the search for origins in three unarguably central texts—Tom Jones, Bleak House, and Ulysses. She compares them in terms of the circular quest motif and demonstrates persuasively that these stories can be viewed as metaphors for man's ontological condition and that each reflects central philosophical concerns of its age. The orphans Tom Jones and Esther Summerson seek parents, legitimacy, and homes. In Ulysses the circular quest is the hero's homeward journey.
Patriarchy triumphs in Fielding's novel just as the authority of God remained assured in the Enlightenment. Tom Jones, exiled and chastened, returns to Paradise Hall as Allworthy's heir. Allworthy, the symbolic and highly emblematic good father, surpasses the revelation about Tom's mother or Tom's union with Sophia in thematic importance.
In Bleak House, as in The Origin of the Species, the complex mechanics of nature seem to replace a personal God. Esther Summerson in her journey to identity and fulfillment must recognize and accept her mother, come to grips with herself in serious illness, and finally be brought, with the help of the fatherly Jarndyce and the innovative detective skills of Bucket, to a little house and a love of her own. Boheemen shows that patriarchy reasserts itself, but it is composite and auxiliary to the main action.
Mythic structures are both affirmed and treated ironically in Ulysses. Boheemen demonstrates that the family romance is deconstructed and shows Joyce's philosophical and methodological affinity to Derrida. The text is fluid; opposites can coexist. The novel is without closure or resolution, yet, in the end, "Penelope" shines forth as a vision of totality. Boheemen sees Molly not as the Ewig-Weibliche but as Joyce's acknowledgement of the other—of the word made flesh, an androgynous angel or phallic mother. The Novel as Family Romance is a learned, multifaceted approach to the study of the novel, and serious readers will want to elaborate on the many possibilities Christine van Boheemen has so perceptively suggested. [End Page 691]