- In the Palace of Magistrates: Joyce/Women/Writing:An Essay Review
Last year when David Pierce reviewed Paperspace, by Patrick McGee, he summarized its achievement by saying: "It is a commendably ambitious book, one that needs supporting, not least because of the relative weakness of Anglo-American feminist theory in addressing the problem of the subject and in catching up with Joyce therefore" (4). Patrick McGee has written a fine book, but Pierce's judgment of it places us directly in the center of several longstanding feminist debates about the appropriate strategies for current Joyce scholarship. In the same way that Freud once described women as "the dark continent" whose sexuality was noted for [End Page 617] what it lacked, Pierce now defines women as readers of / writers about Joyce by what they have failed to achieve.
Very few remarks can illustrate so clearly the way in which women have been traditionally excluded from all levels of discourse—writing, explaining, judging, reviewing—and the need they have subsequently felt, as Hélène Cixous has said, to put themselves "into the text—as into the world and into history—by [their] own movement[s]" (1090). Pierce's classical assumptions about the appropriateness of male cultural hegemony are surprising to find in contemporary scholarship, and I have purposefully overemphasized the effects of his censorship of women to make a point: it can help to explain the course of feminist Joyce scholarship over the years since Joyce's work began to appear for review: faced with their own silence in the halls of critical judgment, women's first task was simply to speak, to raise their voices against all the Charles Tansleys of the world who muttered, "women can't write; women can't paint," and who would have preferred for them to knit brown stockings for the lighthouse keeper's little boy. Given the cultural biases of the 1920s, Mary Colum, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf1 were remarkable for asserting that one did not need to wear great wigs and sit in state at Westminster in order to make intelligent judgments about the achievements of one's peers. Whatever their opinions of Joyce, their entrance into the "space" of cultural debate was itself a rupture or transformation of history, an act that called into question the social architecture that had given them no room in the first place.
We are all indebted to Bonnie Kime Scott for collecting these early critical responses. As she says in Joyce and Feminism, "Joyce's earliest women critics gave him mixed reviews, but provide us with interesting records of women's perspectives at the end of the first women's movement" (116). In fact, no one was overwhelmingly positive. Mary Colum did not like the second half of Ulysses because it was too scientific in expression, and she considered Finnegans Wake to be "outside literature." Rebecca West, writing about the effect that great art can exert over life in The Strange Necessity, found Ulysses to be tasteless, sentimental, and obscene in places but redeemed by the "great mother," Molly Bloom, whose monologue was hailed as "one of the most tremendous summations of life that have ever been caught in the net of art" (quoted in Scott 121). Virginia Woolf was similarly wary about taste or "decency" in Ulysses but judged the book primarily by its method, which, like her own in later years, would "record the atoms as they fall": "let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness" ("Modern Fiction" 190). [End Page 618] She might well have been speaking of her own style in Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, or The Waves, and indeed...