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Advertising Agency: Print Culture and Female Sexuality in “Nausicaa”

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 1, Fall 2010
pp. 41-53 | 10.1353/jjq.2010.0033



Did Gerty MacDowell have an abortion? “Advertising Agency: Print Culture and Female Sexuality in ‘Nausicaa’” uncovers historical material long overlooked by Joyce scholars to indicate that she very well may have: Widow Welch’s Female Pills, a patent medication to which Gerty explicitly refers, was widely believed to have abortifacient properties during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This essay draws upon Joyce’s familiarity with the discourses of birth-control movements and turn-of-the-century advertising to argue that critics have too easily dismissed Gerty as an unthinking and passive consumer of the fashion, fiction, and fantasy offered by ladies’ magazines. Instead, this essay contends, Gerty, like her creator, employs the deliberately ambiguous rhetoric of advertising, seizing control of her body and reproductive health from a legal system that seeks to circumscribe her.

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