Mapping Feminine Identity through Joycean Epiphany in A Portrait…

Tuţă Elka-Georgeta, University of Craiova
Key words: epiphany, feminine presence, male logic, artistic conscience. Summary The key element that binds and holds together all of the narrator’s experiences evolves around women or other feminine instances. It is the sensible and beautiful that touches the artist’s vibrant soul enabling the occurence of epiphanies. Most of the experienced epiphanies are possible due to the more or less near presence of the feminine causing the narrator to emprunt such a feminine aspect lest he resists it with his authoritative male logic. The tension of his ressistence will be later crystallized into the becoming aware of his artistic conscience’s mission. Rezumat Elementul cheie care leagă şi încheagă toate experienţele naratorului evoluează în preajma femeilor sau a altor prezenţe feminine. Ceea ce atinge spiritul vibrant al artistului este sensibilul şi frumosul înlesnind astfel naşterea epifaniilor. Majoritatea epifaniilor experimentate sunt posibile datorită prezenţei mai mult sau mai puţin apropiate a femininului determinîndu-l pe narator să împrumute un astfel de aspect feminin doar dacă nu îi va rezista cu logica lui masculino-autoritară. Tensiunea impusă de rezistenţa sa se va cristaliza mai tîrziu în conştientizarea menirii sale ca artist.

When speaking of James Joyce’s writings one reveals an entire universe of themes illuminating even more identities as they radiate from his use of trivial things, religion, mythology, history, public life, political aspects, gender and love, all intertwined and undestructibly kneated to ”forge the uncreated conscience”(op.cit.last page) of his people. His epiphanic mode proves an indispensable tool in rendering the conscience of the Irish culture as a universal one. However, the key element that binds and holds together all of the narrator’s experiences evolves around women or other feminine instances. It is the sensible and beautiful that touches the artist’s vibrant soul enabling the occurence of epiphanies. Most of the experinced epiphanies are possible due to the more or less near presence of the feminine causing the narrator to emprunt such a feminine aspect lest he resists it with his rational logic. The speaker-narrator strives to conceptualize his spiritual elevations, to inventory and map them, just like a trusworthy librarian does with his books, but it is not only a process of rigurous organization for he learns something new from each and every epiphany following closely the spiral of his evolution thus reaching in the end the awareness of his purpose in artistic existence. Similarly, the reader will attempt to reach the cultural identity of the feminine through a restructuring of textual epiphany. It is well-known that Joyce borrowed the term”epiphany” from religion and applied it to his literary technique. „By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation,whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.” (Epiphany in the Modern Novel, Morris Beja) Starting from this definition one may characterize the epiphany as ordinarily trivial or intellectually memorable in source, instantaneous and sensible in nature and spiritual when experienced; a feeling of completness that fulfills the artist’s conscience. ”Although epiphany would rise from the perception of something external,Joyce’s emphasisis generally on the perceiving

” (Epiphany in the Modern Novel. Nice mother.consciousness. secondly it becomes involved in structuring the novel’s text and thirdly it also enables the reader to experience his own epiphanies. 2 . From this perspective Mrs. the warmth of the tea are all elements that help the child preserve in his memory the beneficial and pleasant atmosphere of his home. both of them being united through a cosmic-like umbilical chord.which in turn is epiphanized. His stress on the perceiver is in line with the general development in epistemology from an emphasis on the object that reveals itself. She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried. the dance. Let us now focus on the feminine oriented epiphanies which may be grouped in mother. lover and ideal woman epiphanies. to an emphasis on the role on the role of man’s mind and imagination:from revelation by the object to insight on the part of the subject. The first day in the hall of the castle when she had said goodbye she had put up her veil double to her nose to kiss him: and her nose and eyes were red. This intermingling of shades prolongs also in A Portrait… as the reader is presented with the ambiguous gesture of Stephen’s mother (the kiss). Morris Beja) Therefore epiphany appears as a subjective means of appropriating the other unveiling also a Romantic dimension of the process:a kind of rationally limited empathy on behalf of the viewer. In such a sense the mother becomes synonymous to the eternal return. similar to a regress in the consolating warmth of the home. In kristevian terms both female and male characters reach a point where each of them stands as a barrier in the evolution of the other just like at a certain moment the mother may cause the child’s regression by means of her correcting ways . The music. Dedalus becomes a protector of Stephen from the meanness of exterior people. The ambiguity rises not from the gesture itself but from the way the hero perceives it.9) It will later explain Stephen’s attitude of revolt towards his mother as a way of showing her he is not going to let her engulf his individuality. intimacy which makes the hero want to relive these serene moments. nor evolution more like stagnation. Mrs. dance. to use Eliade’s terms. She cannot be described but through the eyes and conscience of the child. on the contrary he acts as an empty vessel for his mother’s never-ending affection. warmth.the subject who actively adjusts his ’spiritual’ vision to focus on the object. Dedalus subscribes to the good mothers as she is the one that offers him comfort. However. thus every gesture coming from Mrs Dedalus is interpreted as a sign of frozen eternity: neither involution. Notice that at this level of the novel the epiphany coincides with the child’s apprehension of his mother.”(p. As we have already said earlier most of the ’spiritual elevations’ are centered around women leaving but a couple of epiphanies dealing with objects. embodying a somewhat form of dependency which at the beginning the child does not fell it as a constraint. harmony. “His mother had told him not to speak with the rough boys in the college. the warmth offered by the fire. Regressing home means to escape from the external world and reality into the tranquil atmosphere created by his mother. But he had pretended not to see that she was going to cry. fundamentally through God’s grace. Her company means music. the word kiss contains within it the expression of maternal affection and also the idea of sexual connotation. Taking the bits that contribute to the creation of this atmosphere one may have the impression that in his home time has stopped. to bask in a total self forgetfulness. The role of epiphany becomes quite crucial for in the first place it determins the narrator’s evolution towards artistic existence.

cit. The neutral state that lies between the good mother Dedalus and the abolished mother is prefigured in the repetition of the word “nice” when Stephen leaves home. According to Simone de Beauvoir. an oscilant one between extremes.”(p. and so argues Stephen's friend Temple. p. has long been mentioned in the writings of male philosophers who fantasized polarity between the sexes and the linguistic construction of sexual difference. and takes note of his individual existence. and so is the earliest experience of vulnerability to disappointment and pain. in Stephen Hero. small.9) He slowly tends to take distance from his mother not because she was a bad mother but because he wishes to break the umbilical cord and spread his wings of creation. to take precedence over the perverse gratifications of infantile narcissism. when he grows older. Reproduction is the beginning of death. Stephen longs to return to this female figure of security and comfort. The sexual antagonism that pervades Irish society is seen in Stephen at an early age.That is perhaps why the return home. In this respect his mother is neither ideal like Virgin Mary. even if it is only in the hero’s mind. at this point. first witness and first boss. Notice the cold distant tone with which the child hero remarks that even though his mother was nice “she was not so nice when she cried. Later as the hero will grow up the sexual desire will abolish the dream of mother-son identity. Stephen finds himself as marginal. She too bears the stigma of matter/body suggested by the kiss but she’s also attentive at his education (thus the spiritual side) providing Stephen a harmonious universe at least inside the home. Alienated from a brutal male environment. 24). nor bad or severe like Dante.40) The first of the many imperatives that erode his ego. appears like a sweet self forgetfulness and as need of fully identifying himself with his mother. changes the oil sheet. “She ministers to her son's corporal needs. As Dorothy Dinnerstein explains in The Mermaid and the Minotaur. this same flesh frightens him. In a world where only the ruthless survive. "to be at home and lay his head on his mother's lap" (p. becomes socialized. it is usually a woman who serves as the infant's first love. Stephen extends the tradition of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer when.”(op. he then perceives the female as "the Other. The uncleanness of birth is also reflected in the mother and if the little boy remains in early childhood sensually attached to the maternal flesh. calls him back to those realms of immanence from where he would fly. he mentally takes refuge in artistic evocations of the family protected by beneficent female spirits. and encourages his artistic expression by playing the piano. Dedalus both represent the inhibitions of a reality principle that begins. 3 . man's symbolic association of woman with the flesh reflects an infantile disdain for corporality and bodily drives. he proposes a misogynist "theory of dualism which would symbolize the twin eternities of spirit and nature in the twin eternities of male and female" (Stephen Hero. He loathes his mother's feminine vulnerability and thinks that she is "not nice" when she bursts into tears. body and mind. At the psychological level of a child Stephen first sees his mother as a powerful and beneficent source of physical pleasure. The male identifies himself as spirit by virtue of his own subjective consciousness. she represents a more human version of mother. The Manichean dichotomy between flesh and spirit. The initial experience of dependence on a largely uncontrollable outside source of good is focused on a woman. Dante and Mrs. the "apologize" episode is associated in his mind and vivid imagination with matriarchal threats. argued Hegel. 210). who limits and denies him" (129). frail.

of his own. would not suffer his mother to kiss him as he feared the contact of her sex.(Pascal. 99). who is a protestant. Stephen refuses any dialogue referring to his mother and takes shelter in the objective requirement of defining one’s terms. When asked by Cranly if he loves his mother. Here his mother no longer supports him and the child remains unprotected but all the more free. Wishing to serve as her knight. 4 . Dedalus but he also exhibits a certain detachment/ distance fed with the experience of illustrious authors. is replaced by male instructors. nice odour. At a somewhat opposite pole of Mrs. feeling himself betrayed.287) According to Mrs. After his childhood experience with the kiss. Stephen will offer his prayer to Mars. Stephen replies: “I don’t know what your words mean” (p. Consequently Mrs. the symbol of the punitive mother. Dedalus that made him take distance but his conscience is the one that feels constrained.289) Not only does he refuse to talk about his mother-son relationship with Mrs. Later in the episode. and conversely the hero will grasp bits of his mother’s image in each status of his lovers. Christ) His detachment is not caused but self-imposed as a means of educating himself in the process of creation. The mother and lover dimensions of the joycean woman are again dissipated or overlapped as they find their representative in a single form. and cancer. For Stephen on the other hand a mother’s love can easily acquire sexual nuances: “Pascal if I remember rightly. Dedalus acquires a paradoxical status oscillant between Eileen as a representative of the carnal and Dante as an emblem of the punitive authority. translucent glow. In the presence of these two mother statuses Stephen feels the need of escaping in another home. Anghel for Cranly the love of mother is something you cannot argue about and at the same time overpasses men’s ability of understanding. dance and even kiss. According to Mrs Anghel his feelings towards his mother are blurred as on one hand he is attracted to her due to the pleasant moments spent together and her nice odour and on the other hand he is disillusioned by her reaction.”(p. As prefect of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin. Cranly involuntarily points to the primordial function of mother which is strongly related to her matter/earth-bound nature.His childhood educator Dante. Dedalus stands Dante as the severe mother who is very strict concerning religious faith. the Virgin becomes a postcoital Madonna offering refuge from the turmoil of his flesh. "a clever woman and a well read woman" who teaches him geography. The self-conscious sinner takes satisfaction in reciting the Holy Office with "lips whereon there still lingered foul and shameful words. There is nothing in Mrs. He worships the flesh of an icon that seems an object of both veneration and desire. death. That is perhaps explainable as every mother is the first woman that every boy perceives. She becomes a symbol of punishment and violence possibly emerging as a step mother. whose holiness radiates a hypnotic. Moreover. Stephen chants Mary's praises in an act of proud dissimulation. as she once was the center of his universe (in childhood) he is presumably entitled to compare every woman he would later meet in his life with his mother. They introduce him to a system of male authority and discipline that will ensure his correct training and proper socialization and eventually will lead to his depersonalization. canker. the savoir itself of a lewd kiss" (p. this lack of freedom is even more strongly felt in the presence of Dante. The Catholic Virgin becomes a figure of courtly devotion. The Jesuit masters at Clongowes invite Stephen to ponder the mysteries of religion. An oasis of heavenly peace after the fervor of sexual course. Stephen prostrates himself before his vision of the adored female. No matter how much he wishes to unlock himself from the maternal care all of his future intimacies with the opposite sex will find himself comparing his lovers’ features with his mother’s warmth. together with Eileen. What stands out beyond all mother types discussed so far is the ideal mother represented in “A Portrait” by Virgin Mary.

but eventually able to wreak vengeance on those who failed him. This "exquisite creature" intrudes on the squalor of Irish life to provide a popular though elusive model of seductive femininity. Stephen's ringleted cousin admires the music-hall artiste with a kind of religious devotion. In spiritualizing his life. Regretting and feeling sorry for his fall he no longer imagines her as a frail-fleshed virgin but appeals to the powerful magna mater. For Stephen art becomes an expression of resisting the mundane pleasures transforming all of his refusals into creative energy. being thus an intangible feminine presence. The woman remains the temptress whom he refuses. The words used to complete her portrait betray in fact his own way of seeing things. the lover’s image. an isolated hero who eventually conquers the woman he loves through a complex process of amorous sublimation. As a becoming artist. unjustly exiled and imprisoned. Stephen conjures up adolescent fantasies of a beautiful Mercedes whom he stalks in the suburbs of Blackrock. he mauls the edges of the paper and roughly pushes his sister aside to get a glimpse of Mabel's photograph. dangerous to look upon. we notice that the motherly figure of woman is slowly replaced by the figure of the lover as the protagonist discovers her and indirectly himself. He imagines a scene of beatific transformation in a moonlit garden when the romantic heroine. he identifies with a man betrayed by his friends and his mistress. like an Eve urging him to bodily sin but also to self knowledge/awareness. The love for the woman is slowly translated into love for words. Stephen admires the selfsufficiency of Dante. The evolution of the female figure starts from the enclosed protective space designated by the home (but which prevents the hero from spreading the wings of his artistic conscience. a figure of the female body as a desirable and coyly inaccessible market commodity. Greedy and whining. a kind of source of inspiration which the hero can rely from the moment he discovers her. Anghel the road to Virgin Mary is a long and painful return in the hero’s soul. hindering thus the evolution of his individuality) towards the open space in which the hero is vulnerable but also free to dream and create. Like a voracious animal. 125) Virgin Mary proves to be the ideal mother also because of its concrete absence. their intellectual level and their disposition.whom he invokes as beneficent mother. she paradoxically endows him with sufficient grace to conquer libidinal temptation. Just like the image of the mother is slowly contoured and then further highlighted in its nuances in A Portrait… so is figure of the lover contoured with each stage of the narrator’s growing mature until he reaches the artistic conscious in Stephen which “vivisects” and endows the lover with a multitude of qualities. she remains the temptress whom he refuses to discover totally in favour of exploring his own personality. but like the morning star" (p. although she keeps her verticality she cannot escape man’s materializing tendency which transforms her into an Eve for the archangel Gabriel and the seraphims who feel attracted to her and therefore reach their downfall. In this sense the reader remarks a continuous metamorphosis of the characters dependent on Stephen’s view and evolution in A Portrait… If the image of mother is altered by the hero’s sexual impulses or by the word games by which he elopes in the imaginary. Unlike the figure of the mother which is altered. Although he takes refuge in her while she offers him warmth and understanding. With the Count of Monte Cristo as his model. When Stephen dreams of himself as Edmond Dantes. meeting her erstwhile lover. thus his own self. their psychical state. The popular press has constructed an icon of girlish charm. James Joyce demonstrates that people/human representation and places change according to the one who perceives them. which hosts his most intimate mysteries. whose beauty is "not like earthly beauty. while the Blessed Virgin becomes his protector. "The beautiful Mabel Hunter" of pantomime fame stares from a newspaper photograph with "demurely taunting eyes" (pp. 68-69). According to Mrs. blesses him with nothing less than the power of refusal. Monte Cristo's adventures culminate in a "sadly proud gesture of refusal". he appropriates this pretty pinup for his own 5 . in the woman’s multilayered nature are prefigured the multiple meanings of the word.

Stephen operates what one calls erotic displacement by suppressing and compressing (in the sense that he encloses/ refrains bodily drives) the physical into the psychological. and the fever of adolescent sexuality is intimately exorcised through lyrical fulfillment. Depersonalized and seen through the eyes of mythic reverie she emerges as a shadowy emblem out of the unconscious— Mercedes in Dublin robe. 70) In this self-indulgent exercise. Therefore. 71). The artist’s cold detached mind trades the romantic epiphany on the chaste nature of his being. Yet a voice within him spoke above the noise of his dancing heart. and you will be happy together and your hearts will love each other. As a true Romantic. “He saw her urge her vanities. and knew that he had yielded to them a thousand times. Stephen realizes libidinal desire through the literary language of courtly love and nineteenth-century romantic convention. Unmoved by such popular representations of feminine charm. Poetry compensates the frustrated physical desire. but Emma is left sad in her nunlike cowl. an essence before man. Later on in the novel he experiences a pseudo-epiphany when he day-dreams that Virgin Mary having transformed into the morning star offices his communion to Emma: “Take hands. was given by both" (p.lascivious enjoyment. to an evil temptress “conscious and proud” to an etherealized condition. Masking his frustration under lyrical writing. Emma Clery. The scene has been stripped of naturalistic detail and emotional materializations have been restricted to art: Stephen feels fulfilled. It is one heart that loves another heart. Like the Count of Monte Cristo. Stephen is able to give cathartic expression to the pain of loss associated with unacted desire. sentimental or romantic dimension. asking him would he take her gift to which he had only to stretch out his hand. We witness a chastising trajectory that his love for Emma follows from first love buds to carnal desire then lyrical outburst and finally fantasized religious union. catch hold of her figure. he exhibits her in the role of temptress and refuses her gift of an adolescent kiss. Stephen gains symbolic master over Emma's erratic movements by assuming that he can. he succeeds in mastering the young woman who would otherwise be mistress of his heart. Before the tantalizing face of Emma cowled in nun's veiling. at will. repressing "the feverish agitation of his blood" (p. inviting Stephen to romantic initiation in the peaceful stillness of a moonlit evening. 6 . The fact that when experiencing epiphany the emphasis is on the perceiver. he turns away from Emma in proud abnegation. but you are always my children. You have erred.” (p. as he imagines a tender reunion and an opportunity to rewrite the scene with a different ending. determined to possess his mistress wholly through art. Focusing on attractive garments such as stockings and dress. On the verge of exteriorizing his emotional turmoil. 70). he merely preferred this religious sealing of their relationship instead of leaving it at a level of mundane. Stephen seeks refuge from reality in the priesthood of art: he longs to confront the beauty and mystery of creation while tasting the joy of loneliness. It is a beautiful evening now in heaven. is most evident in his girls’ epiphanies. is submitted to a complex evolution process from being a mere shadowy presence at the beginning of the novel when the narrator retains only her initials. 98) The fact that he appeals to religion in order to sanctify his bond with Emma does not necessarily imply that Joyce admitted the authority of the Church. Stephen imagines that "the kiss. exciting his heart" (p. Stephen refuses to yield to this temptation. in Stephen’s conscience. a Celtic figure.”(p. Refusing to communicate his passion. searching. my dear children. Blurring the figures of himself and his beloved in the womb of his artistic imagination. Taking Byron as master. The writing of his poem provides an emotional circuit by substituting carnal desire and thus Eros with the symbolic order of his self-contained male authority. Emma and Stephen. taunting. However. which had been withheld by one. Take hands together. Emma appears in the guise of Kathleen Ni Houlihan. thus resembling the virgin muse. 70). he forces himself to remain calm and controlled. He characteristically projects his own erotic vulnerability onto the girl he believes to be "flattering. he continues to feel tormented by the emotions that hurt him in poetry. her fine dress and sash and long black stockings.

Stephen will eventually depersonalize her and submit her to his aesthetic principles transforming her into a tool or concrete muse for developing his aesthetic thought. The woman in the black straw hat holds the key cards as she occupies a power position.”(p. This epiphany of his calling in art is nevertheless dealt with in very ecclesiastical terms. and the description of her flesh as ‘soft hued as ivory’ makes her. Stephen becomes involved in an aesthetic love affair with his own soul. paradoxically stating that it is the ‘virgin’ Emma who is greedy and materialistic in her ‘sexual principles’ and the prostitute who is generous and loving. 84) Urine and ordure symbolically send to the archaic memory of an inaccessible maternal body. like Eileen and Emma. Although Joyce is not the first to deal with the theme of prostitution as Balzac has long before him said that marriage was a form of legalized prostitution. The erotic and romantic imagery degenerates into an unusual rite of sexual initiation that reverses man and woman’s role in the sexual act. raped by a phallic representation. like Christ. but as we reconsider Emma’s condition from this level of the novel we find out that there is a very thin line between these two opposing feminine conditions.” He clearly expresses his thoughts in Stephen Hero in a conversation with Lynch. By allowing the feminine to enter with her multilayered identities and modes of speech and refusing to plead for a final irrevocable position of woman which will only lead to the completeness/ totality of both gender representatives. Bibliography: 7 . the all encompassing image of woman is prefigured in the bird girl epiphany. nuances. Beyond this concrete interpretation the bird girl beautifully seals off the narrator’s quest for his artistic nature. has won his passion. The theory of male authority oriented towards the suppression and sublimation of woman is reversed. Stephen perceives himself as a deflowered virgin. a wild angel . that of novice. According to Richard Brown “Stephen. prepares the protagonist for his vision of the ‘wading girl’ where the imagery encourages a promise of freedom. However. an image of the Virgin Mary. she is an experienced lover. The girls herself is reminiscent of Beatrice. At least this is the first impression that we get. shadows. he takes comfort in the "good odour" of "horse piss and rotted straw. a spiritual elevation and a holy etherealized woman. The wading girl may also stand as a symbol of universal beauty and her resemblance with a bird may also allude to the artist’s future flight away from the nets of tradition. he figuratively suffers the "agony of its penetration" node surrenders to a murmurous flood of physical excitation (p. Stephen has fallen in love with his self-projected image under female guise. his emotion resembles more with a profane joy. Like Narcissus. 95). lightly or darkly coloured portraits to which Joyce exposes his readers in a poetically “polished looking glass”. In his return to ritualistic devotion. the Irish writer uses this social condition to further stress the contrast between whore and virgin. unreachable woman who appears and reappears in man’s memory as a sanctified beauty whose downfall he perversely desires: a carnal beauty. The anima. who is in a weaker position. looks to prostitutes as his allies in exposing the exploitations of the old order and heralding the universal ’generous’ love of the new. to force another being to in with him and to exult with her in sin" (p. the feminine aspect of the psyche. Deconstructing her image as he does. The sexual imagery at the end of chapter two is ironically inverted. It is a mirror labyrinth of identities. As Stephen feels the shadow of a streetwalker "moving irresistibly upon him". the Tower of Ivory. The bird imagery first enabled as a threat in the ‘apologize’ epiphany during Stephen’s childhood. 95). Despite the religious phrases he uses. Heavenly God! Holy silence of his ecstasy. the desire for the eternal return. On the other hand Stephen's apprehension sends also to evil carnal communion : “He wanted to sin with another of his kind. a love initiator who fills / ‘penetrates’ Stephen.Apparently a totally different condition of woman is represented by the prostitute: “Walking on an alley behind the Dublin morgue. His infantile like nostalgia places him in medieval times. last but not the least the no name girl on the beach may be equated with the ideal.

2nd edition. The Second Sex. 1980 8 . Cambridge University Press. London. Cambridge University Press. Toril Moi. Vintage Books. Southern Illinois University Press. 1986 Tracey Teets Schwarze. The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. The Mermaid and the Minotaur: sexual arrangements and human malaise.A. Oxford: Blackwell.. 2004 Julia Kristeva.o lectură poietică. New York. 1985 Derek Attridge.. James Joyce and Sexuality. 1959 Florentina Anghel. Penguin Books. Craiova 2006 Morris Beja. Joyce and Victorians. Scrisul Romanesc. U. United States of America. ed. 1977 Richard Brown. Epiphany in the Modern Novel. Stephen Hero. “The Kristeva Reader”. 1996 James Joyce.S. 2002 Simone de Beauvoir. University Press of Florida. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.James Joyce. 1971 Dorothy Dinnerstein.A.S. James Joyce: Portret al artistului în tinereţe. HarperCollins Publishers. U. New York.

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