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5.9 Sex and Power

While power shifts from father, then one twin to the other, the female characters of the Wake never accede directly to power. If in the Prankquean episode 'one man in his armour was a fat match always for any girls under shurts' the bargain struck with Jarl van Hoother was that the Prankquean 'shut up shop' and 'was to hold her dummyship' (FW 23.5-13): namely contain both her tongue and her children. The enslavement of women, as well as their intellectual subordination, appears to have been the outcome of HCE's original creative act: 'Duddy shut the shopper op and Mutti, poor Mutti! brought us our poor suppy' (FW 161.23-25). Moreover, if women are liberated to some extent in the age of humanity, it is via the agency of the Shem/HCE figure, as opposed to the women of Finnegans Wake themselves engaging in emancipatory social action: 'Two pretty mistletots, ribboned to a tree, up rose liberator and, fancy, they were free!' (FW 588.35-36). As 'treegrown girls' (FW 252.18) they are the mistletoe which in Norse legend Balder unwittingly threw at Siegfried causing his death. Similarly it is Shem's pen which liberates ALP's self-expression, the converse of HCE's penis which enslaves her to her reproductive capacity, when he 'lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak' (FW 195.5). In the Wake, women from past ages are portrayed as being born into a type of sexual serfdom: for instance, ALP as 'absolete turfwoman' (FW 575.5) proposes a marriage/business relationship in the age of humanity based on 'pardonership with the permanent suing fond trustee, Monsignore Pepigi, under the new style of Will Breakfast and Sparrem' (FW 575.28-30). This is denied her by 'Judge Jeremy Doyler' (FW 575.32) because:

the woman they gave as free was born into contractual incapacity (the Calif of Man v the Eaudelusk Company) when, how and where mamy's mancipium act did not apply and therefore held supremely that, as no property law can exist in a corpse, (Hal Kilbride v Una Bellina) Pepigi's pact was pure piffle. (FW 576.2-6)

Like their male counterparts, Issy, ALP and Kate exchange identities in the cycle of time, and as a river can be perceived as a cycle of renewal through the process of precipitation: 'the one substrance of a streamsbecoming' (FW 597.7-8). There is no cross-over of identity between male and female characters, however, particularly where power is concerned.21 Male and female merge only in the sin of reproduction. Women only exercise power to the extent allowed by their role as child-bearers, as indicated in the Prankquean episode, and by their sexual attraction in the eyes of the males who compete for sexual possession of Issy. The 'dummyship' conferred upon the Prankquean means that the letter ALP writes (herself or through Shem) is overtly simplistic; it is a picture of life rather than an intellectual treatise, much like the Christian gospels which describe the life of Christ, rather than a philosophical treatise or codification of his teachings. The major class divide in Finnegans Wake, therefore, is between male and female, with males predestined in the Wake to maintain power over females in an ineluctable, socially organic cycle. The roles of ALP and Issy are overtly limited to the sexual and reproductive, as borne out by the answer to the narrator's question whether they were 'only two disappointed solicitresses on the job of the unfortunate class on Saturn's mountain fort? That was about it, jah!' (FW 90.16-18). Similarly, ALP's discourse is constrained to being at most co-author and signifier of the genetic message of an entombed/wombed HCE: 'life wends and the dombs spake!' (FW 595.2).

21 While the washerwomen of Book I.8 are transformed into tree and stone at the conclusion of the chapter, from my perspective this reflects the divided nature of the female in the Wake, particularly in their relationships to the males, rather than a metamorphoses into Shem and Shaun.