6.10 Motherhood and the Letter
As has been suggested above, the mother figure of the Wake desires the domineering, creative force of an HCE figure, and as the textual/sexual alphabet she wills into action his pen(is), just as the Prankquean wills from Jarl Van Hoother his 'ordurd' (FW 23.4). The sexuality of Issy is also portrayed as inviting the predatory sin of HCE, and she is frequently cast as a coquette or even whore. The woman who brings in the Gripes at nightfall is angry with him over his perceived failure of desire, and Issy as Nuvoletta is disappointed in both Shaun and Shem for their indifference to her sexual charms. Similarly, the dying ALP wills the resurrection of a potent masculine deity, the very same essence she will greet upon her death. In contrast to Shem, who writes the text of the literary creation and remains apart from the (main)stream of life, the women of the cycle of Finnegans Wake are not able to remain separate from the genetic struggle for continuity. Nor is Issy's 'knowingness', as evidenced in the subversive footnotes to the Nightlessons chapter, enough to overturn the compunction of sexual reproduction. Rather, Nuvoletta, after her suicidal 'leaptear' (FW 159.16) into the river of life, and consequent transformation into ALP, protests her fate using language reminiscent of the American Negro slave: 'Why, why, why! Weh, O weh! I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!' (FW 159.17-18). Emphasising the participation of the female in the biological process of reproduction in a letter to Budgen, Joyce describes Molly in Ulysses as 'der Fleisch der stehts bejaht' (SL 285), or 'the flesh which continually affirms'. Molly Bloom's final affirmation of life is based on biological impulse, and while she transcends the spiritual or textual check upon sexuality imposed by the Church, her consciousness is nevertheless founded upon a belief in an omnipotent male deity. In the Wake, ALP is similarly cast as unable to resist the genetic reproduction of the deity:
How bootifull and how truetowife of her, when strengly forebidden, to steal our historic presents from the past postpropheticals so as to will make us all lordy heirs and laymaidesses of a pretty nice kettle of fruit. She is livving in our midst of debt and laffing through all plores for us (her birth is uncontrollable). (FW 11.29-33)
Alluding to Freud's statement 'Anatomy is destiny', Bonnie Kime Scott comments upon genetic theory as 'male theory - biology as destiny'.22 Both Colin MacCabe and Kimberly Devlin note, however, that Joyce and Freud developed aspects of their theoretical understanding of archetypal family structures contemporaneously.23 The phrase 'anatomy is destiny' is particularly applicable to the historic cycles Joyce portrays in the Wake and central to the patriarchal values associated with Shaun. Attributing status to the female in the cycles of the Wake follows traditional lines, specifically the twin roles of sexual attraction and motherhood. The Prankquean's power over Jarl Van Hoother singularly involves his children and the urination motif of sexual reproduction, and in terms of the letter, ALP's role is not dissimilar to that of Mary of the Christian religion, who is the passive receptacle of the deity's seed, with her status predicated entirely upon her motherhood. In Ulysses, Stephen describes the Virgin Mary as having a powerful hold over the deity based on her role as mother of Christ:
No question but her name is puissant who aventried the dear corse of our Agenbuyer, Healer and Herd, our mighty mother and mother most venerable and Bernardus saith aptly that She hath an omnipotentiam deiparae supplicem, that is to wit, an almightiness of petition because she is the second Eve and she won us, saith Augustine too, whereas that other, our granddam, which we are linked up with by successive anastomosis of navelcords sold us all, seed, breed and generation, for a penny pippin. (U 14.294-301)
Stephen's account of Eve likewise stresses her genetic connection with the present. She is linked through a 'successive anastomosis of navelcords' to the present population, who are the 'seed, breed and generation' of an original pair. The role of the female in the dichotomous letter of Finnegans Wake is a development of Stephen's understanding of the contribution of Mary to the formation of the Christian religion. Stephen comments that either Mary had sexual intercourse with the deity and was a 'creature of her creature' regarding his conception, or like the apostle Peter did not 'know' him, had sexual intercourse with someone other than Joseph and was part of a conspiracy of words which founded the Church:
Mark me now. In woman's womb word is made flesh but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away. [...] But here is the matter now. Or she knew him, that second I say, and was but creature of her creature, vergine madre, figlia di tuo figlio, or she knew him not and then stands she in the one denial or ignorancy with Peter Piscator who lives in the house that Jack built and with Joseph the joiner patron of the happy demise of all unhappy marriages, parceque M. Léo Taxil nous a dit que qui l'avait mise dans cette fichue position c'était le sacré pigeon, ventre de Dieu! (U 14.292-307)
Given his ironic scepticism, Stephen's own view may well be expressed by an Italian in the Eumaeus chapter of Ulysses, whose use of the common Italian oath, 'Puttana madonna' (U 16.314), provides a succinct echo of one side of this argument. The duality Stephen perceives in Mary's position, however, is unified in Finnegans Wake within the heterogeneous nature of the letter. The Wake on one level replaces the Bible, and as HCE is clearly mortal there is no doubt surrounding the sexual involvement of ALP in his description of the genetic message. Shem's urging of ALP to unearth the letter mirrors Mary's relationship with the deity in the New Testament, who urges her (through the intermediary of an angel) to manifest himself as man and is thus 'creature of her creature'. In ALP the dichotomy between female reproduction and the 'immaculate conception' of the male word is reconciled. Finnegans Wake replaces Christianity with a narrative which does not attempt to exclude the sexual act from the reproduction of the deified ancestor. On the contrary, as a replacement of the myth of the Virgin Mary it celebrates the motherhood which, from Julia Kristeva's perspective, is repressed in patriarchal society.24
Ellen Carol Jones's perspective on Stephen's understanding of the maternal in Ulysses is convincing, specifically that
Amor matris may be the only true thing in life, but Stephen's proclamations about creation, whether of art or of life, either ignore - or incorporate into paternity itself - the necessary maternal matrix.
Joyce's works, however, challenge this position in a number of ways. More obviously, in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake traditional sexual representations are abandoned in the depiction of female sexuality as wholesome. In this respect he is not dissimilar to other modernist male writers, such as D.H. Lawrence (who additionally perceived female sexuality as threatening). The praises sung of women's biological gift of life were timely given that the importance of the role of women is repressed by patriarchal religion and culture:
The classic realist text had not yet developed a way of signifying women's sexuality except in a metaphoric or symbolic mode whose presence disrupts the realist surface. Joyce and Lawrence were beginning to experiment at this time with modes of sexual signification but in order to do so they largely abandoned the codes of realism.
Joyce surpasses traditional literary representations through presenting positively an exuberant female sexual desire, albeit in traditional biological/reproductive contexts (that is, the repressive codes of sexual behaviour espoused by Christianity which have also underpinned the legal systems of Western states for a number of centuries), and unites the dichotomous male perception of virgin/whore by eliminating the extremes of each in forming wholesome, earthy female characters such as Molly Bloom and ALP. While the model of life and culture described in the cycles of Finnegans Wake is based upon traditional social behaviour, Shem does not participate in its violence or reproduction, either sexual or cultural, and implicitly advocates an intellectual independence from its mores. A sexual ALP replaces the Virgin Mary in Shem's vision of the reproduction of the logos and while Shaun's patriarchal perspective comprehends ALP and her textuality as both the sacred container and preserver of a bygone HCE, Joyce on the contrary celebrates her ability to generate the differences which diffuse the identity and power of the patriarchal deity. The use of contraception moreover frees the female from automatic subjection to the biological demands of reproducing the logos, and the fact that the Wake's suspended conclusion does not provide a vision of the future indicates the potential not only for the resurrection of HCE, but also his absence and a decisive undermining of his historic cycles.
22 Bonnie Kime Scott, James Joyce (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1987), p. 43.
23 Colin MacCabe, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (London: MacMillan, 1979), p. 142; Kimberly Devlin, Wandering and Return in Finnegans Wake: An Intergrative Approach to Joyce's Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 98.
24 La Révolution du langage poétique, p. 435, paraphrased in Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (London: Methuen, 1985) p. 167.
25 Ellen Carol Jones, 'Letter Selfpenned to One's Other', Coping With Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed. by Morris Beja and Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), pp. 180-94 (p. 186).
26 Catherine Belsey, 'Constructing the subject: deconstructing the text', in Feminist Criticism and Social Change: Sex, Class and Race in Literature and Culture, ed. by Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt (London: Methuen, 1985) pp. 45-63 (p. 62).