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Molly Bloom Masquerader

Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 09:29 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Devlin, Kimberly J. (1991.) Pretending in “Penelope”: Masquerade, Mimicry, and Molly Bloom. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 25(1), 71-89.

Although Devlin published this article in 1991, I think that it presents a number of helpful interpretations of femininity and specifically the complicated femininity of Molly Bloom. Devlin presents the idea that the femininity Molly depicts represents a calculated gender performance and not passive compliance with a gender stereotype. This idea of Molly the actress provides the main focus of the article. Molly traverses contrasting and often conflicting femininities based on their ability to serve her interests. Devlin asserts that Molly “conceptualizes” these experiences as a “dramatic performance for a posited general audience, a performance that might be followed by a write-up in the newspaper,” (and draw greater attention to her vocal career) (Devlin, 78.) While most of Devlin’s analyses of Molly focuses on the last chapter, Penelope, I thought that this idea of the female masquerade might apply to Miss. Douce and Miss. Kennedy in chapter 12. Joyce draws a parallel between these girls and Molly by linking both to images of the sea. We talked on Monday about the shear number of eyes that weigh down on them; they perform for an audience as well (especially given that their blatant flirtations with much older men result in more drinks, more profit for them.) We also talked on Monday about opposition of two women’s interaction between themselves and their performance once these intrusive men enter their conversation. I also thought about the idea of performance and mimicry in terms of Molly’s relation to the mermaid image.  I thought about the littlest Mermaid masquerading as human in order to earn the affection of the prince and ultimately failing. This idea of mimicry also brings up the idea of transvestitism that we’ve been talking about. Devlin writes, “Although critics sometimes assume that Molly wants to be a man, her language makes it clear that she simply wants to try on the part, and only temporarily” (88.) Devlin holds this depiction of transvestitism as an important point of resistance to dominant discourses. “Putting on ‘womanliness’ that repeatedly puts on ‘manliness’ allowed Joyce to articulate one of his canniest critiques of the ideology that produces the oppressive categories themselves” (89.)

Devlin also deconstructs Molly’s place in the nature vs. culture, the feminine vs. masculine dichotomy. “Molly’s position as critic of cultural fraudulence might seem to align her with nature,” writes Devlin and she explains that many critiques accept Molly as natural. (81.) However Devlin complicates this idea by stating “Molly understands the cultural so thoroughly” (81.) She describe Molly as a woman who “challenges cultural pretense – not through the ‘alternative’ of nature – but through parodies of cultural pretense, through hyperbolic elaborations of it” (81.)  I didn’t know exactly what to do with this but I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the idea of the mermaid as well. This idea of the half-human/half-natural hybrid that Bloom continuously links Molly with. In her conclusion Devlin writes, “Writing Molly, Joyce forges a female voice that exposes, in gestures of travestic imitation, the en-gendered linguistic performances of her culture” (89.) The sentence presents the idea of a “her culture” that is uniquely female and crosses the divide between the masculine culture and the feminine nature by creating a feminine culture.

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