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5.6 Shaun's Virgin/Whore Perception of Women

Following Issy's response to his litany of threats in Book III.2 Shaun entirely reverses his position regarding her fidelity after his death. After initially insisting Issy remain celibate, he proceeds to insist she become a whore, a reaction anticipating later studies of the dichotomy of traditional male perceptions of women. The ambiguity of Shaun's attitude toward women is apparent in the following mixture of voyeurism and Christian ritual: 'I'd give three shillings a pullet to the canon for the conjugation to shadow you kissing her from me leberally all over as if she was a crucifix. It's good for her bilabials, you understand' (FW 465.23-26). In Book IV, ALP considers whether the conflict between the two brothers flows from the dual nature of the women of Finnegans Wake, whose participation in sexual reproduction, and in particular HCE's fall, is in general portrayed in terms of a whore-virgin dichotomy:

Time after time. The sehm asnuh. Two bredder as doffered as nors in soun. When one of him sighs or one of him cries 'tis you all over. No peace at all. Maybe it's those two old crony aunts held them out to the water front. Queer Mrs Quickenough and odd Miss Doddpebble. (FW 620.15-20)

This duality springs from the depiction of Joyce's major female characters as on one hand worshipping a masculine force of the past, a force of death repressing sexuality (Miss Doddpebble), and on the other, the agent of new creativity in the form of sexual reproduction (Mrs Quickenough). Claudine Raynaud also discusses 'the traditional virgin/whore dichotomy that invariably divides female characters' in her article 'Woman the Letter Writer; Man, the Writing Master',13 noting Shari Benstock's view that it 'may not be Issy who is ''split'', but rather her father's image of her which divides itself',14 and points out that this dichotomy in Dubliners has also been explored by Suzette Henke.15 Richard Brown similarly observes that Joyce deliberately instilled Stephen Dedalus with a virgin/whore perception of women,16 and Talia Schaffer discusses the presentation of Issy and her mirror image in terms of an angel/whore duality in 'Letters to Biddy: About that Original Hen'.17

ALP's suggestion that the dialectic between the brothers may be sourced in the duality of the Wake's females also indicates that the feminine identity in the Wake is split between: a) the textual reproduction of a deified ancestor (which under the control of the Christian bureaucracy, as Michel Foucault points out, legislates sexual activity as evil),18 and; b) the biological and textual production of the deity which in its cultural appropriation of sexuality overrides pre-exisiting power-based controls over sexuality.19 The latter position in some ways precedes Foucault's observation of a proliferation of sexuality, particularly in forms of discourse, as a form of social control over sexuality. Joyce's dual portrayal of the feminine anticipates the virgin/whore categories elaborated by later feminist writers. His depiction of the female as both container and preserver of the phallus and a gateway to an apocalyptic future, makes ALP both integral and simultaneously extraneous to the patriarchal logos:

From a phallocentric point of view, women will then come to represent the necessary frontier between man and chaos; but because of their very marginality they will also always seem to recede into and merge with the chaos of the outside. Women seen as the limit of the symbolic order will in other words share the disconcerting properties of all frontiers: they will be neither inside nor outside, neither known nor unknown. It is this position that has enabled male culture sometime to vilify women as representing darkness and chaos, to view them as Lilith or the Whore of Babylon, and sometimes to elevate them as Virgins and Mothers of God.20

Nevertheless, in his descriptions of female desire, and thus the eventual incorporation of it into the mainstream, Joyce undermines those traditional portrayals of women which precluded or marginalised female sexuality and desire, and erodes the dichotomous extremes of the virgin/whore perception through positive 'earthy' female characters such as Molly Bloom and ALP. Through an emphasis in these characters upon free love, that is, desire unencumbered by the value-systems of Church, State or capitalism, Joyce's works unites textually-depicted sexuality with the reality of biological reproduction, and thus undermines the virgin/whore dichotomy. This is done on both the textual and sexual spheres: on the one hand by portraying female desire positively, and on the other by seeking to break down the alignment of sexual values with patriarchal socio-economic value systems (see below, *, *).

13 James Joyce Quarterly 23 (1986), 299-324 (p. 303),

14 'The Genuine Christine: Psychodynamics of Issy', in Women in Joyce, ed. Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 169-96.

15 'Feminist Perspectives on Joyce', Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 6 (1960), 14-22.

16 James Joyce and Sexuality (London: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 99.

17James Joyce Quarterly, 29 (1992), 623-42 (pp. 633-34).

18 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: The Care of the Self, Volume 3, trans. by Robert Hurley (first published as Le Sourci de soi by Editions Gallimard, 1984; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), p. 235.

19 See, for instance, 'We ''Other Victorians''' in The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. by Robert Hurley (first published as La Volonté Savoir, 1976; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), pp. 1-14.

20 Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 167.