Dante's "The Hermaphroditic Joyce"


One of the most powerful nuances of any writing is the dialogue within
the story. In literature, it is all too often that characters live only in
the jaded voice of the author and never truly develop as their own, or are
not strongly opinionated in a manner which contrasts the opinions of the
writer. It is also unfortunately true that the women depicted in most
male-authored literature do not often sound realistic, or how most women
one would speak to in the course of the day tend to sound. All too often,
women are depicted on a lower level of speech than men. For instance,
Dickens and Arthur Miller both apparently subscribed to this notion, as the
women in their stories were usually more passive, and not as elaborate as
men in their speech, however, James Joyce did not see things in the same
light. The most developed female character in Joyces A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man, is one who speaks with dignity, passion, and the
female tact which is all too often ignored in the ch aracters of women.
Joyce's Dante Riordan's words and thoughts are true to those of literate
twentieth century women.

Although a short-lived character in Portrait, Dante Riordan, in a brief
amount of time emits an apparently important and mysterious aura, the aura
of a woman. Judging from the studies of twentieth century linguists,
Joyce's brief representation of Dante through speech is nearly flawless. To
more lucidly understand this, one must carefully examine some of the
instances at which Dante speaks in her conversation with Mr. and Mrs.
Dedalus, Charles, and Mr. Casey, and re-examine the arguments she makes.
Dante is introduced into the dinner table conversation as a silent
character. However, when the men's conversation turns to the misuse of the
preacher's pulpit, Dante begins her interjections.

All too often, women in literature remain linguistically dormant unless
called upon, however, studies conducted in the reality outside the covers
of a book have shown that women will interrupt a conversation to contradict
a previous speaker, and do so vehemently (Coates, 193). A nice answer for
any man calling himself a catholic to give to his priest, (Joyce, 273)
states Dante as her first response.

At this point, Dante has drawn herself into the conversation. Never
speaking out of turn (as linguists are always quick to point out about
women), Dante's next few lines are responses to the rebuttals of Mr.
Dedalus and Mr. Casey. In these lines, she defends priests in that it is
their duty to teach, warn, and direct their flocks. According to the
findings of most linguists, strong beliefs in religion and authority are
held by women, and a desire to speak in favor of them is inherent to
feminine nature. The bishops and priests of Ireland have spoken, and they
must be obeyed (Joyce, 274). Linguist, Jennifer Coates states that
woman-speak is revolved around power, and, as Dante illustrates in this
quote, that women's conversational style, and topics of interest will
usually be subconcious admittances to the idea that women must obey men,
and remain socially submissive (Coates, 203).

Joyce's realistic portrayal of Dante does not end there, however. In
studying the findings of linguists, it becomes clear that during the
Renaissance, it was proper for a woman to be silent and a man to be
eloquent. However, the increased level of female literacy in the late
nineteenth and early to present twentieth century, changed this philosophy,
and it is now expected that women be just as, if not more eloquent than
men. As Dante continues her conversation, she quotes the Bible in response
to the ongoing attacks of the men at the dinner table in the presence of
women and a child: Woe be to the man by whom the scandal cometh! It would
be better for him that a millstone were tied about his neck and that he
should scandalise one of these, my least little ones. (Joyce, 274)

Even today, it is rare in literature to find a woman allude to, let alone
directly quote literature as a witty response to a verbal assault. Women
have an instinctive shrinking from coarse and gross expressions and a
preference for refined and (in certain spheres) veiled and indirect
expressions (Coates, Jesperson, 126). What better way is there to describe
Dante Riordan? Her primary reason for involving herself with the
conversation from the start is the vile blasphemy at hand. Of her sixteen
turns in the conversation, eight of them are devoted to reprimanding the
'language' that she hears