Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce


Using Shakespeare's incest plots as a backdrop, Jane Ford traces the incest theme in novels by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and James Joyce, exploring in particular the father-daughter-suitor triangle.

As Ford demonstrates, three patterns predominate: the father eliminates the suitor and retains the daughter; the father submits to outside authority and relinquishes the daughter; or the father resolves the incest threat by choosing the daughter's suitor. Ford provides evidence that the fictive characters' incest conflicts often mirror the writer's own incest dilemmas, whether subliminal or not, and she points to textual evidence for the occurrence of actual incest in The Golden Bowl and Ulysses. In readings that break with traditional criticism, Ford maintains that each of the five writers wrote final works that seemed to return to a plot of retention of the daughter by the father.

Ford's book extends an important issue in 20th-century psychology into the study of major works of literature written in English.


When questioned about the origins of my interest in the topic of fathers and daughters, I am confronted with those fragments from the past which, as they accumulate, often lead into unexplored avenues and unexpected areas of interest. In this case, the fragments extend consciously back to my adolescence, and certainly unconsciously beyond that. Early on, I was struck by the fact that my grandmother, the youngest of five girls in a family early bereft of their mother, married a friend and contemporary of her father'sā€”a father to whom she was deeply attached. There was never any indication from her that it was a love-match. I was also impressed by an old photo of her with the handwritten inscription on the back: "Your father carried this in his pocket always." But the portrait was of a mature woman, not of a small child.

I also often pondered the deep distress of an acquaintance's father when she first began to date, and his later genuine anguish when she married, sensing that it was disproportionate and verged on hysteria. I had been impressed by reading of the suicide of Henry Adams's wife following her own father's death; had been appalled by Charles Laughton's vitriolic portrayal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's father, and relieved at her rescue by a suitor. I was not unaware of the attraction that men who resembled my own father held for me.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.