Pretending in “Penelope”: Masquerade, Mimicry, and Molly Bloom
By Kimberly J. Devlin
This article contends that Molly cannot be reduced to a stereotypical or archetypal representation of femininity because of her consistent acting out, flouting, and mimicry of gender roles.
Although the corroborating evidence is at times less than pointed, Devlin’s exposition of the critical intricacies embedded within Molly’s thought is worth its salt.
First off, Devlin argues that Molly appears to recognize the signifying practices that construct gender identification. Clothing, gender roles, (i.e. “prima donna,” (896), “criada,” etc.), gestural actions all become emblems in her mind not so much of reified gender categories as of fluid and inhabitable positionalities, where meaning assembles through performance (artifice/culture) rather than innate action (essence/nature).
For instance Molly often imagines inhabiting the feminine role in popular songs, theatrical texts, and other cultural artifacts. Yet this mimicry, Devlin argues, extends beyond sheer narcissistic or essentialized feminine identification. When Molly imagines herself as the “aestheticized female nude”, for example, her supposedly spontaneous leaps in consciousness reveal submerged critical processes. The leap that Devlin attaches to is the one where Molly envisions herself first in the painting “The Bath of the Nymph” and immediately thereafter as the “dirty bitch” in one of Bloom’s smutty photos. For Devlin, this leaps exposes that Molly is conscious of the “sexual impetus behind seemingly ‘refined’ artistic representations of the female [form]” as well as, of the fact that there are “real women behind the representation,” and women often forced into the occupation of artist’s model out of “economic need” (76).
Devlin goes on to cite numerous occasions in which Molly flouts or performs the social functions of femininity with “critical distance”. Ultimately, however, Devlin’s commentary doesn’t address the way Joyce’s formal decisions and anti-intellectual characterizations of Molly could in fact serve to reify gender dichotomies. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that Joyce sees Molly’s epistemological techniques as the result of socialization, or is there?
Overall an alright article although I think it would benefit from a little more theoretically engaged dialogue with structuralist discourse.