In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS The Discourses of Social Purity Katherine Mullin. James Joyce, Sexuality and Social Purity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xi + 224 pp. $60.00 DESPITE ITS TITLE, this book does not focus primarily on sexuality . Nor, despite claims made in its jacket blurb, does it consistently treat the question of censorship. Rather, it studies Joyce's conscious engagement with the doctrines and discourses of social purity, as this engagement expresses itself in his fiction. Mullin defines the social purity movement broadly yet clearly. As presented here, it operated primarily in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It included people concerned with the dangers of potentially corrupting literature as well as of dubious new technologies like the mutoscope (an early means of creating moving pictures, sometimes deployed for pornographic purposes). Intriguingly, Mullin demonstrates that boys' adventure stories once aroused almost as much anxiety among self-appointed moral guardians as pornographic literature did. The idea that contact with adventure stories would lead young male readers into a life of armed robbery seems as naïve today as the belief that reading pornography would entice young female readers into prostitution, but both concerns appear to have been seriously and widely felt. Both concerns, moreover, avoided any real engagement with the economic factors that seem far more likely to contribute to social problems, an avoidance which Mullin could perhaps have critiqued in greater depth. The social purity movement also incorporated those attempting (sometimes with complex and self-contradictory motives) to close brothels and reform prostitutes. In its concern with sexual continence , Theosophy aligned itself closely with social purity. Even in predominantly Catholic Ireland, social purity was essentially a Protestant phenomenon. Mullin's research into these issues has been admirably thorough, and her construction of the cultural contexts they generate remains persuasive throughout her book. That the values underpinning such endeavours often attracted satirical reactions from Joyce hardly comes as news, but Mullin demonstrates convincingly that his particular responses could be more wide-ranging, complex and subtle than has been noticed. She shows that Joyce's own transactions with the forces of social purity were surprisingly intricate and had a considerable ongoing effect in shaping his writing. Her claim that "Joyce was deliberately provoking and inciting the eventual vice society intervention into the publication of Ulysses in 1921 which would 476 ELT 47 : 4 2004 win him worldwide notoriety" seems overstated, yet Joyce's encounters with the censors may indeed have been more pragmatic than is usually assumed. The central part of Mullin's book involves the study of a selection of his texts: "An Encounter," "Eveline," A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, "Scylla and Charybdis," "Nausicaa" and "Circe." In each case she focuses on a particular instance or manifestation of social purity and then recounts its treatment in Joyce's writing. Presenting these particular works in such a sequence does risk suggesting that Joyce's responses to social purity were more schematic and seamless than they may in fact have been. However, Mullin's detailed attention to Joyce's textual strategies mostly serves as an adequate reminder of his own vigilance and of the variety of his methods, thus reducing the danger of attributing to him too monolithic or systematic an approach. In the cases of Dubliners and Ulysses, focusing on a few stories or episodes in isolation might imply that readers of Joyce's books linger over his treatment of the thematic material in question more thoroughly than they do, whereas most readers will in fact find their responses coloured by neighbouring portions of the text and the more diverse preoccupations to be found there. Only two of the fifteen stories in Dubliners are discussed in Mullin's study, and the chronological sequence of their composition is reversed. But, again, Mullin seems careful and reasonable in the extent of her claims about the larger texts from which she selects portions for analysis. She does state that the three Ulysses episodes treated were all "crucial to the trials of [the novel] in The Little Review." This is a valid comment, if slightly misleading in that "Circe" never actually appeared in the Review, though the trials of the novel...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 476-480
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.