Empowering the Virgin. Rethinking the Agency of the Feminine Characters in James Joyce’s Works
In the literary convention of ‘Blessed Virgin’, female purity and spirituality are most often emphasized, as represented by the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages and by the Angel in the House in the more secular nineteenth century. The patriarchal idealization of womanhood has deprived it of bodily desires and free will; the Blessed-Virgin women are praised and worshipped at the cost of individuality and sexuality. The Victorian conception of the ‘Angel in the House’ was the manifestation of the dominant patriarchal ideology of the nineteenth century, and was reflected in the works of a great number of male writers. As the heir apparent to the Victorian cultural heritage and the progeny of the Victorian literary forefathers, is James Joyce capable of transcending his own time? Or does Joyce actually expose the workings of ideology and desire in order to subvert such conventions, as some critics have argued? This article aims to rethink the issue of the centuries-old representation of the Blessed-Virgin and to reread James Joyce’s representation of Blessed-Virgin women in his works. The central argument of this paper is to demonstrate the Blessed-Virgin women’s individuality as thinking and desiring subjects, and their agency to influence the male consciousness and to challenge the patriarchal dominance, as exemplified by the feminine characters Gretta (“The Dead”), the Bird-Girl (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and Gerty (Ulysses), in Joyce’s works.