Joyce After Flaubert: The Cuckold as Imperfect Physician, the Writer as Physiologist


Although Joyce was not as familiar with the practice and theory of medicine as was Gustave Flaubert, this article argues that, through Flaubert's legacy, Joyce's writing was influenced by the French school of medical thought. Several aspects of Flaubert's style and narration—what has been dubbed his "medical realism"—were taken up by Joyce: the artist's impersonal perspective, the precision of descriptions, and the materialist attack against Romanticism, as well as the irony built into the narrative voice through free indirect discourse. While the cuckold in Madame Bovary is an incompetent surgeon serving as foil to the precise description of sentiments offered by the narrator, Joyce's cuckold in Ulysses is an amateur physiologist, both perspicacious and sympathetic to human suffering. Bloom's interest in internal bodily processes opens up new dimensions for a modernist aesthetics as he relates physiology and psychology, in accordance with the theories of Xavier Bichat, Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, and Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis. In keeping with such focus, Joyce's physiological version of stream-of-consciousness stems from Flaubert's clinical description of characters, but he directs matters even further inward.