Dante’s “The Hermaphroditic Joyce” One of the most powerful nuances ofany writing is the dialogue within the story. In literature, it is all too oftenthat characters live only in the jaded voice of the author and never trulydevelop as their own, or are not strongly opinionated in a manner whichcontrasts the opinions of the writer. It is also unfortunately true that thewomen depicted in most male-authored literature do not often sound realistic, orhow most women one would speak to in the course of the day tend to sound. Alltoo 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 thewomen in their stories were usually more passive, and not as elaborate as men intheir speech, however, James Joyce did not see things in the same light.
Themost developed female character in Joyces A Portrait of the Artist as a YoungMan, is one who speaks with dignity, passion, and the female tact which is alltoo often ignored in the ch aracters of women. Joyce’s Dante Riordan’s words andthoughts are true to those of literate twentieth century women. Although ashort-lived character in Portrait, Dante Riordan, in a brief amount of timeemits an apparently important and mysterious aura, the aura of a woman.
Judgingfrom the studies of twentieth century linguists, Joyce’s brief representation ofDante through speech is nearly flawless. To more lucidly understand this, onemust carefully examine some of the instances at which Dante speaks in herconversation with Mr. and Mrs. Dedalus, Charles, and Mr. Casey, and re-examinethe arguments she makes. Dante is introduced into the dinner table conversationas a silent character.
However, when the men’s conversation turns to the misuseof the preacher’s pulpit, Dante begins her interjections. All too often, womenin literature remain linguistically dormant unless called upon, however, studiesconducted in the reality outside the covers of a book have shown that women willinterrupt 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 tohis priest, (Joyce, 273) states Dante as her first response.
At this point,Dante has drawn herself into the conversation. Never speaking out of turn (aslinguists are always quick to point out about women), Dante’s next few lines areresponses to the rebuttals of Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey. In these lines, shedefends priests in that it is their duty to teach, warn, and direct theirflocks. According to the findings of most linguists, strong beliefs in religionand authority are held by women, and a desire to speak in favor of them isinherent to feminine nature.
The bishops and priests of Ireland have spoken, andthey must be obeyed (Joyce, 274). Linguist, Jennifer Coates states thatwoman-speak is revolved around power, and, as Dante illustrates in this quote,that women’s conversational style, and topics of interest will usually besubconcious admittances to the idea that women must obey men, and remainsocially submissive (Coates, 203). Joyce’s realistic portrayal of Dante does notend there, however. In studying the findings of linguists, it becomes clear thatduring the Renaissance, it was proper for a woman to be silent and a man to beeloquent. However, the increased level of female literacy in the late nineteenthand early to present twentieth century, changed this philosophy, and it is nowexpected that women be just as, if not more eloquent than men. As Dantecontinues her conversation, she quotes the Bible in response to the ongoingattacks of the men at the dinner table in the presence of women and a child: Woebe to the man by whom the scandal cometh! It would be better for him that amillstone 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 finda woman allude to, let alone directly quote literature as a witty response to averbal assault.
Women have an instinctive shrinking from coarse and grossexpressions and a preference for refined and (in certain spheres) veiled andindirect expressions (Coates, Jesperson, 126). What better way is there todescribe Dante Riordan? Her primary reason for involving herself with theconversation from the start is the vile blasphemy at hand. Of her sixteen turnsin the conversation,