Incest as a theme is prominent in Modernist texts, from Freud's deployment of the Oedipus story to explain human psychological development to Joyce's use of father-daughter and brother-sister incest as one story-strand of "Finnegans Wake". Shelton argues that readers should look beyond thematic incest in Modernist texts to its narrative structure, in which father's and daughter's stories call one another into being even as each attempts to forestall the other. Father's and daughter's stories tumble around one another, linked by shared story elements, each attempting to make the other unreadable, neither ever achieving ascendancy. Shelton argues that Joyce uses this structure as a fundamental building block of his texts, managing the competing energies of chaos and control whose struggle characterizes modernist experimental texts. Her approach allows both a way for readers to sidestep a simplistic choice (Is Joyce's work carnivalesque or does it privilege mastery?) and an incentive to attend to the voices of adolescent female characters who, less centrally situated in Joyce's texts than adults and males, contribute sassy, back-talk views of culture that highlight its acts of force against individuals.
Focusing especially on the textual lives of girls and young women in "Dubliners", "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", "Ulysses", and "Finnegans Wake", Shelton proposes a fresh way to see and value contests over sexuality, power, and storytelling in Joyce's work.
Jen Shelton is assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University and author of articles in James Joyce Quarterly, English Literary History, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, and other publications.
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