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Joyce’s Love Stories by Christopher DeVault (review)
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Christopher Devault’s Joyce’s Love Stories reads Joyce’s fiction through Martin Buber’s philosophy and finds most of the characters in his earlier works to be lacking in the ability to form meaningful and sustainable connections with one another (19, 39). Later works such as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake constitute an evolution of this theme with an exploration of “individual and social affirmations of otherness” (169, 243). DeVault claims that Joyce despises romantic love for its total ignorance of the world around oneself. Idealization of the world, through either “sentimentality” or Joyce’s other main target, Catholicism, amounts to a refusal to be of and within this world (3). Joyce’s politics therefore long for the possibility of a public sphere where a subject takes his/her other seriously as an other, with different interests and desires that are not the same as, or only a negation of, one’s own interests and desires (250).

DeVault’s new study would be a great resource for new encounters with Joyce, as he traces an acknowledgment of the other, or lack thereof, not only chronologically throughout Joyce’s works, but also through the total arc of several characters, particularly Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom, and Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and Anna Livia Plurabelle. The chapters on Finnegans Wake would be especially helpful to new readers of Joyce’s complicated last work, since DeVault takes great pains to show the consistency in the frequent permutations of HCE, ALP, Shem, Shaun, and Issy, while also drawing interesting parallels between characters in the Wake and Joyce’s previous fiction. Finnegans Wake becomes not only an extremely complicated experiment with prose form or precursor to post-structuralist theory, but also Joyce’s “most democratic text” (233). DeVault’s work is invaluable to burgeoning Joyce scholars especially for this reason.

The main faults in this study lie in the critical lens utilized throughout and DeVault’s occasional tendency to carry his conclusions too far. The majority of the first half of the book examines Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Stephen Hero to rather unsurprisingly conclude that all of these characters come up lacking in any substantial ability to love the other (20-21, 35, 117-18). This sometimes continues longer than necessary. The three chapters on Stephen Dedalus, which comprise nearly sixty pages, begin to feel repetitive when DeVault’s reading of the young artist is grasped so readily much earlier: if Stephen is motivated by a “desire for individual liberation so totalizing that it cannot accept others who do not share his commitment” (61), then his monologic worldview could have been explored in fewer pages. In fact, DeVault diametrically opposes Bloom and Stephen in Ulysses, which may be an exaggeration (16). “Ithaca” concludes with Stephen’s departure as DeVault shows, but a large portion of the episode consists of Bloom and Stephen’s reflections on their similarities and their shared relationships with other Dubliners, not to mention Stephen’s own reflection on Bloom’s kindness in relation to past kindnesses the youth had been shown (Ulysses 17.134-47, 366-70, 446-560). Stephen’s departure in the early hours of the morning does not inherently amount to a total rejection of Bloom as another person he can share experiences with; in fact, they both find out they have already shared several directly or indirectly.

Regardless, Joyce’s Love Stories shows incredible insight in the chapters that begin to discuss Exiles, Finnegans Wake, and especially Ulysses, where DeVault’s work sheds fascinating light on Leopold and Molly Bloom’s marriage: both Bloom and Molly say “yes” at the end of the novel, because both show an active willingness to affirm each other’s past and present desires throughout (169-70). For these chapters alone, as well as for its chronological scope and the new insights the lens provides, DeVault’s Joyce’s Love Stories works both as an introductory study to new and puzzled readers, as well as furthering the conversation on an author exhaustively studied, but still so vital to understanding what makes us oppress, cause war, reconcile, and hopefully, love.

Copyright © 2014 Rocky Mountain Modern Language...


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