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  • "The link between nations and generations"Cissy Caffrey as Racialized and Sexualized Other in James Joyce's Ulysses
  • Casey Lawrence (bio)

Within turn-of-the-century Irish culture, Cissy Caffrey straddles the boundary between the acceptable and the unacceptable in her racial and sexual identity. Despite appearing in only two episodes of Ulysses, "Nausicaa" and "Circe," Cissy's role as transgressive figure is important to the novel's social commentary. First, she acts as a foil for Gerty MacDowell, the "fair specimen of winsome Irish girlhood" whom Leopold Bloom makes the object of his voyeuristic desire (U 13.80–1). Later, in "Circe," Cissy complicates notions of social order by distorting identity politics. She destabilizes the prevailing conventions of girlhood and whiteness through her racial ambiguity, sexual forwardness, and rejection of gender roles. This fluidity makes her, simultaneously, a possible "link between nations and generations," as Bloom calls her in "Circe," and its inverse, a potentially disruptive figure who blurs the contested boundaries of sex and race (U 15.4648). A comparison of Cissy to Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom reveals the importance of the disruptive potential she gains by being the racial and sexual Other.

Cissy Caffrey is continuously ridiculed by both Bloom and Gerty in "Nausicaa" for being the racial Other. Gerty describes Cissy as being like "[n]one of your spoilt beauties, Flora Mac Flimsey sort" (13.34–5). In William Allen Butler's 1857 poem "Nothing to Wear,"1 a character named Flora McFlimsey is described as having "blue eyes," "virginal lips," and a "pure Grecian [nose]" (79, 84, 137). In illustrated editions of the poem and the children's book series inspired by it, Flora is universally depicted as a petite white blonde. Don Gifford notes that McFlimsey is "mocked at length for the monied self-indulgence of her pursuit of fashionable [End Page 108] clothes."2 By describing Cissy as quite unlike Flora McFlimsey, Gerty distances Cissy—that is to say, Others3 her—from the popular representation of the fashion-conscious, well-to-do white woman of the late nineteenth century. Gerty returns to nineteenth-century pop culture imagery when she calls Cissy "Madcap Ciss with her golliwog curls" after her friend says "an unladylike thing" within hearing distance of Bloom (13.270, 13.265). This is the first physical description given of Cissy and it is one that is "implicitly racist" (Gifford 388) through its use of the adjective "golliwog." The word refers to "a black doll with fussy hair and a grotesque appearance," a racist nineteenth-century artifact (Gifford 388). The name for the doll ("Golliwogg") originated with a series of children's books published by Florence K. Upton between 1895 and 1909. The cartoonishly distorted caricature of Africans4 is an image out of place in Gerty's otherwise romantic scene, and as such disrupts it.

The descriptions of Gerty's and Cissy's hair is indicative of the ways they are contrasted in the episode. Gerty describes how her "wonderful hair" is identified as her "crowning glory" in answer to the question "[b]ut who was Gerty?" (U 13.116, 13.78). She later emphasizes this mark of distinction in statements such as "a prettier, a daintier head of nutbrown tresses was never seen on a girl's shoulders" and "you would have to travel many a long mile before you found a head of hair [like that]" (13.510, 13.512–13). Between these two affirmations of the beauty of Gerty's hair are two very different descriptions of Cissy's. Following the reference to Cissy's "golliwog curls" is a description of her running past Bloom, "tossing her hair behind her" (13.270, 13.475). Gerty observes that Cissy's hair has "a good enough colour if there had been more of it but with all the thingamerry she was always rubbing into it she couldn't get it to grow long because it wasn't natural" (13.475–8). Cissy's hair being "a good enough colour" is a backhanded compliment, especially when compared to the "radiant . . . vision" of Gerty's "nutbrown tresses" (13.476, 13.510). The racial coding at work in these descriptions serves...


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