Writing against the Family: Gender in Lawrence and Joyce

Writing against the Family: Gender in Lawrence and Joyce

Writing against the Family: Gender in Lawrence and Joyce

Writing against the Family: Gender in Lawrence and Joyce


This first feminist book-length comparison of D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce offers striking new readings of a number of the novelists' most important works, including Lawrence's Man Who Died and Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson argues that a feminist reader must necessarily read with and against theories of psychoanalysis to examine the assumptions about gender embedded within family relations and psychologies of gender found in the two authors' works. She challenges the belief that Lawrence and Joyce are opposites, inhabiting contrary modernist camps; instead they are on a continuum, with both engaged in a reimagination of gender relations.

Lewiecki-Wilson demonstrates that both Lawrence and Joyce write against a background of family material using family plots and family settings. While previous discussions of family relations in literature have not questioned assumptions about the family and about sex roles within it, Lewiecki-Wilson submits the systems of meaning by which gender is construed to a feminist analysis. She reexamines Lawrence and Joyce from the point of view of feminist psychoanalysis, which, she argues, is not a set of beliefs or a single theory but a feminist practice that analyzes how systems of meaning construe gender and produce a psychology of gender.

Lewiecki-Wilson argues against a theory of representation based on gender, however, concluding that Lawrence's and Joyce's texts, in different ways, test the idea of a female aesthetic. She analyzes Lawrence's portrait of family relations in Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Women in Love and compares Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with Lawrence's autobiographical text. She then shows that Portrait begins a deconstruction of systems of meaning that continues and increases in Joyce's later work, including Ulysses.

Lewiecki-Wilson concludes by showing that Lawrence, Joyce, and Freud relate family material to Egyptian myth in their writings. She identifies Freud's essay "Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of Childhood" as an important source for Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which portrays beneath the gendered individual a root androgyny and asserts an unfixed, evolutionary view of family relations.


The country around was beset by a frightful monster, the Sphinx, a creature shaped like a winged lion, but with the breast and face of a woman. She lay in wait for the wayfarers along the roads to the city and whomever she seized she put a riddle to, telling him if he could answer it she would let him go.

-- Edith Hamilton, Mythology

The story of Oedipus should stand as a warning against reading the family relations of a literary text in a naive, "goahead" (to borrow a term from Joyce) way -- in short, simply from the position of the male tragic hero as subject. Indeed, too easily trusting in naive instrumentality and autonomy led Oedipus to his fateful mistakes. Most often, though, literary interpretations of family relations do proceed by a single, simplified model of the family. Even when that model is deepened to include the psychic family constellation, complications and problems in the way systems of meaning construe family relations are repressed in favor of a smooth psychoanalytic narrative. Usually excluded entirely are questions of whether the construction of family under psychoanalysis should itself be analyzed.

As a feminist, I am interested in reading the full weave of family relations in Lawrence and Joyce. That means reading with and against texts, unknotting the threads of gender ideology woven into systems of meaning implicated in literary interpretations of family relations: in psychoanalysis, in social/political/

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