What They Are Saying, Episode 14
It is often thought by those who know Joyce only by the notoriety of Ulysses that he must have been a great libertine and womanizer. To the contrary, he was not only monogamous but uxorious….(but) Nora knew, if Lucia did not, that she was constantly under Joyce’s intent gaze and that when his own life experiences ran thin, he did not hesitate, for his book’s sake, to enrich them with hers (Maddox).
Joyce treats sexual feelings for his daughter at arm’s length in Ulysses, then more directly in Finnegans Wake. It originates in Joyce’s personal experience, an uncomfortable stirring he never acted on.
There are complexes that deal with sexual taboos between adults and children. Most moderns are familiar with the Oedipal Complex. Readers are also aware of the Elektra Complex (daughter toward father) and the Lolita Complex (the attraction of older men for girls). There’s also the Jocasta Complex, which addresses sexual feelings of a mother toward her son, Phaedra (stepmother for stepson), and covert incest where a parent of either gender looks to a child for the emotional support that should be provided by a mature partner. I am unable to find a clinical label describing a father’s sexual feelings for a daughter. Perhaps the condition is too horribly broad and common to be classified. Perhaps the study is culturally contaminated, perhaps too disturbing.
The author himself was wildly jealous of his wife Nora’s affection. He admitted to sadness at the prospect of her imagined infidelity but felt anger too. Joyce’s jealousy was never justified. Poldy’s reaction to jealousy for Molly was passively morose, all ghost and no prince. Is jealousy an explanation for thoughts of incest? If marital love sours, can a disappointed husband and father inappropriately and tragically redirect it to its former youthful image in a daughter? Ulysses includes text that supports Milly not as a replacement for but as the embodiment of younger, still-Poldy-smitten Molly.
Both Joyce and his character Bloom were fond parents. Bloom seems to have been more available for hands-on parenting than his author. Bloom, we also learn from Brenda Maddox’s textual notes, had acted to at least a few times on his urges. Milly is sent to Mullingar for her protection. Maddox reports, “Bloom has three times committed sexual improprieties with her (Millie).” Milly in her relationship with her Papli does not seem significantly affected by the incidents. Of course, how she presents herself to a parent is inconclusive. No details appear about Milly’s age at the time or the nature of the offenses.
Saved from her father and sporting the beret he gave her for her saint’s day, the “lost one, Millicent, the young, the dear, the radiant” is falling into Bannon’s claws rogue by occupation and acquaintance. Like her mother at fifteen, she can’t retreat from the advances of a uniformed suitor. He will lay siege to the too willing “Bold bad girl from the town of Mullingar.” Her image on a ribbon is a tribute and an article of surrender. This is not an Elektra Complex. She is not competing with her mother for her father’s affection, and an Elektra pathology would have developed by age six. Instead, she models Mumsy. “Smutty Moll for a mattress jog?” Perhaps that is too harsh a judgment for daughter or mother.
Patriarch Bloom fails to shepherd his flock. He chose not to be at home when Boylan was appointed to arrive. He knows Bannon’s role and recognizes the danger. Bannon recognizes Bloom too and thinks the insult is delicious: “Photo’s papli , by all that’s gorgeous.”
A fatherly defense of Milly’s virtue may have been impossible. She has her mother’s nature and might be unwilling to accept protection. Additionally, offering a defense may require that Bloom confront his incestuous thoughts. Similarly, he cannot engineer Molly’s fidelity without accepting his full role as a husband. Instead, he takes up a defense of Stephen from companions “inhuman and unseemly.” Bloom considers going home after the Maternity Hospital but remains a guide through rocky shoals because Stephen needs a sober hand (Budgen).