Nay, nay, be not afraid!
Joyce’s polyamorous fantasies sprung from reading about the incestuous pharaohs, the Ottomans who bridged the West and the East, and the earliest Biblical Hebrews. The Orient influenced Ulysses’ underlying themes too, but in exploring “Scylla and Charybdis,” Frank Delaney found more polygamy from an unexpected, occidental source, the life of George Fox, father of The Society of Friends. Fox proselytized among prostitutes. He marshaled a harem of sorts, although there is no suggestion that these relationships were sexual.
The founder of the Quakers was not a member of the clergy. I’m at a loss to describe his profession, but he was esteemed and even revered by those he converted. Perhaps Fox is better described as a teacher. Whether holy man or teacher, he enjoyed an elevated stature in the eyes of worshipers new to his sect.
Studies conducted between 1988 and 2010 show the influence of mentors over college-aged charges. However, baseline data on the appropriateness of interactions are weak, and U.S. regional differences complicate one study. At times, U.S. Federal Title IX regulations confound understanding too since they invite interpretation into the “rules.” For example, the definitions of sexual misconduct for instructors include “socializing with a student outside the school.” The prohibition doesn’t specify whether the contact may be individual or in groups, whether off-campus class activities would be excluded, or what constitutes “socializing.”
Intuitively, we know Joyce exercised influence over young Miss Popper because of the role he played in her education, but we cannot measure the sway he exercised. If you allow me to be generous, I’ll claim instructors are generally competent and benevolent forces in students’ lives. If you resist my claim, I will be unable to defend it. All the hard evidence is to the contrary. Seven percent of college students report sexually inappropriate behavior by their mentors. A more significant number, 9-15%, self-report undesirable contact on other instruments. It is not uncommon for graduate students and TAs to date and even marry those who supervise their development. Even among adults, this might represent the violation of an ethical standard.
Joyce was no longer like the boy who went questing on behalf of Mangan’s Sister in “Araby.” His work with Amalia began when the maestro was twenty-five. In the short story, the boy spied his love through the lace curtain and struggled to speak to her. An older, less innocent, worldly-wise and powerful Joyce suffers no such reservation. He detains his victim, bursting forth from the tobacco shop exhaling “jumbled words of lessons.” He delays her on the street under the pretext of educating her. His true purpose is to use his holy office to turn her face in “kindling opal light.”
This blog wearies of polygamy, corruption of a young girl, and incest, but for now, the subject demands it. Soon the prose poem will turn to other subjects. After writing Giacomo, James Joyce will turn this experience onto the character, concupiscence, and connivings of Mr. Leopold Bloom.
don ward July 15, 2020