- Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot
The terms James Joyce and graphic novel may seem like an unlikely pairing of phrases, but this combination is stylized through the composition of the husband and wife team Mary M. and Bryan Talbot in their 2012 Costa Award–winning publication Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. While Mary composed the novel’s written narrative, Bryan provided the illustrations. As Mary’s first graphic novel, it marks a departure from her previous scholarship, which addresses questions of gender and representation in such publications as Language and Gender: An Introduction and Media Discourse: Representation and Interaction. Bryan is bestknown for his graphic novel The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and its sequel Heart of Empire. The Talbot team’s latest work weaves Mary’s autobiography with the biography of Lucia Joyce, daughter of the renowned writer of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, James Joyce. Although different in nationality and language, the narrative depicts Mary’s and Lucia’s common struggles to come of age within the shadows of their eminent fathers. For Mary, she yearns for positive attention from her distracted father, Joycean scholar and author of The Books at the Wake, James S. Atherton. Lucia, on the other hand, desires her parents’ approval as she develops her career as a dancer. Drawing from such sources as Carol Loeb Shloss’s Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, the Talbots blend the lives of these two women, who are generations apart, yet comparative in their paternal histories, through the popular medium of the graphic novel.
The narrative opens in true Joycean fashion: “Once upon a time / and long ago / a king and a queen / had a daughter. / Her name was / Marushka / or Lucia / or Lucy Maria / or Mary” (1). Listing versions of Mary’s and Lucia’s names knits the women together as one identity, yet two identities inside of one tale, yet two tales of young daughters with famous, “royal” lineage. This jumble of identities recalls Joyce’s complex configurations of characters in his convoluted masterpiece Finnegans Wake. By adopting Joyce’s technique, Mary suggests that these daughters’ histories and the gender politics affecting their lives take place across geographies, languages, and generations.
Mary, as the youngest and only daughter of five children, craves attention from her distant father. Even though Atherton addresses her affectionately as his “baby tuckoo” (23), his “foul temper” often coincides with angry outbursts [End Page 182] that inspire fear in Mary (9). With his tendency toward violence and criticism, Mary feels that she cannot win her father’s attention or approval. Rather than dote on his daughter, Atherton delights in his academic research and in “muttering Joycean phrases to himself,” thus creating a linguistic separation between himself and his daughter. He speaks in a language that her child’s ears interpret as “nonsense” (20). Overall, his treatment of Mary emphasizes his disinterest in fostering a close relationship with her.
While Mary’s story initially dominates the narrative, the majority of the latter half of the book belongs to Lucia. To begin, Mary opens Lucia’s story with a misquote from Joyce’s poem “A Flower Given to My Daughter,” wherein the speaker uses the possessive “my” to claim “my blueveined child” (Joyce 1991, 53). In Mary’s narrative, however, “my” disappears and is replaced with the diminutive “frail” as Joyce refers to his “frail blueveined child” (27). This fascinating misquote distances Lucia from Joyce and bolsters the text’s overarching thesis that, along with his wife Nora, Joyce became increasingly disengaged from Lucia’s artistic life and discouraged her professional accomplishments. Not “frail,” but rather robust and physically strong, Lucia excelled at modern dance and studied with such icons as Raymond Duncan, Margaret Morris, Jean Börlin, and Lubov Egorova. Alongside her studies with famous dancers, Lucia’s brief though notable career included participating in Jean Renoir’s short film A Little Match Girl and dancing on the stage of the Théâtre des Champs-Élys...