[I received an e-galley of this book through Netgalley. Original review (with pictures) can be found at Iris on Books
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a graphic novel that tells the story of both Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and Mary Talbot, daughter of eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. These two stories have more in common than the connection to Joyce, as it traces opportunities and oppression through social expectations and gender politics of two women in different historical contexts: Lucia’s story takes place in Paris in the 1920′s, while Mary grows up in Northwest England in the 1950′s and 1960′s.
I have not read many graphic memoirs, or graphic novels (this book falls in between both categories – I think), having only read the Persepolis books before. Moreover, I am not a Joycean scholar. To be honest, I have never even read Joyce. Both, however, did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of the book. I am still reeling from the impact of the combination of images and texts, and this book had me both laughing out loud, crying, nodding my head, and enraged at the prevalent attitudes of other people in Lucia and Mary’s life. Let me explain.
The stories of Lucia and Mary are interwoven in a manner that works really well. The book alternates between the lives of both, relating Lucia and Mary to each other on such themes as ballet, career, stifling gender-expectations, and family life. One of the overarching themes is the way in which both women are affected by their self-centred fathers, who pay too little attention to the emotional welfare of their daughters, as they are too caught up in their own careers. Mary eventually manages to find her own place in society, but sadly, Lucia is not as lucky and ends up in various mental institutions. While both stories are sad, and Lucia’s lot is tragic in the end, I thought the “overlap-yet-divergence” in their stories portrayed the impact of societal structures of gender, class, and social expectations, without reinforcing a hegemonic framework where every life in such circumstances is exactly the same. Because the effect of the combination of images and text works so well in this graphic novel, Lucia and Mary truly come to life, allowing the reader to feel for them, almost from the very first page. Because of this personal aspect to the story, especially since this is in part Talbot’s memoir, the more abstract issues of gender and class politics really hit home.
Of interest, too, was the portrayal of religion in the book, because it shows it in many of its facets. One page has Mary taking part in the annual “Walking Day” parade of her church, and shows the transformative qualities on the streets, as they are pictured less gloomy. Another has a favourite teacher transform to an angry (and quite frightening) one, when Mary remarks that they are in biology and not religion in face of the description of contraception as sinful. And then there’s Joyce who possibly names Lucia after St. Lucia as the patron saint of the blind, but who also means to spare her daughter the “very troublesome burden of belief”.
It was the very personal, emotional, and yet nuanced approach to both stories that made me love Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. I am happy to learn from Ana’s blog post
that Mary M. Talbot is an inspiring academic on gender and linguistics, while Bryan Talbot has more graphic novels to his name. This means, of course, that I am far from done reading their works.