Patriarchy and incest from Shakespeare to Joyce


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Patriarchy and incest from Shakespeare to Joyce
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xiii, 202 p. : ; 24 cm.
Ford, Jane M
University Press of Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
English literature -- History and criticism   ( lcsh )
Domestic drama, English -- History and criticism   ( lcsh )
Fathers and daughters in literature   ( lcsh )
Literature -- Psychology   ( lcsh )
Patriarchy in literature   ( lcsh )
Incest in literature   ( lcsh )
Littérature anglaise -- Histoire et critique   ( rvm )
Pères et filles dans la littérature   ( rvm )
Littérature -- Aspect psychologique   ( rvm )
Patriarcat dans la littérature   ( rvm )
Inceste dans la littérature   ( rvm )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references and index.
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Jane M. Ford.

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lccn - 98013226
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lcc - PR408.F36 F67 1998
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Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Patriarchy and Incest

University Press of Florida
Boca Raton

Jane M. Ford

from Shakespeare to Joyce

Copyright 1998 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
All rights reserved

03 02 01 00 99 98 6 5 4 3 2 1
Ford, Jane M.
Patriarchy and incest from Shakespeare to Joyce / Jane M. Ford.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
ISBN 0-8130-1595-2 (alk. paper)
1. English literature-History and criticism. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1166-
Knowledge-Psychology. 3. Joyce, James, 1882-1941-Knowledge- Psychology.
4. Fathers and daughters in literature. 5. Literature-Psychological aspects.
6. Patriarchy in literature. 7. Incest in literature. I. Title.
PR408.F36F67 1998
820.9'3520431-dc21 98-13226

Jane M. Ford is visiting scholar in the Literature Department at the
University of California, San Diego.

The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the State University
System of Florida, comprised of Florida A & M University, Florida Atlantic University,
Florida International University, Florida State University, University of Central Florida,
University of Florida, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, and Uni-
versity of West Florida.

University Press of Florida
15 Northwest 15th Street
Gainesville, FL 32611

For Barbara, Bill, Brian, and Ann


Preface ix
Introduction: Father/Daughter Incest-Theory, History,
and Sociology 1
1 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme 17
2 The Triangle in William Shakespeare 36
3 The Triangle in Charles Dickens 54
4 The Triangle in Henry James 80
5 The Triangle in Joseph Conrad loo
6 The Triangle in James Joyce 120
7 Incest and Death 146
Notes 171
Bibliography 184
Index 199


When questioned about the origins of my interest in the topic of fathers
and daughters, I am confronted with those fragments from the past which,
as they accumulate, often lead into unexplored avenues and unexpected
areas of interest. In this case, the fragments extend consciously back to my
adolescence, and certainly unconsciously beyond that. Early on, I was
struck by the fact that my grandmother, the youngest of five girls in a
family early bereft of their mother, married a friend and contemporary of
her father's-a father to whom she was deeply attached. There was never
any indication from her that it was a love-match. I was also impressed by
an old photo of her with the handwritten inscription on the back: "Your
father carried this in his pocket always." But the portrait was of a mature
woman, not of a small child.
I also often pondered the deep distress of an acquaintance's father when
she first began to date, and his later genuine anguish when she married,
sensing that it was disproportionate and verged on hysteria. I had been
impressed by reading of the suicide of Henry Adams's wife following her
own father's death; had been appalled by Charles Laughton's vitriolic
portrayal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's father, and relieved at her res-
cue by a suitor. I was not unaware of the attraction that men who re-
sembled my own father held for me.

Years later, my husband, one of the early devotees of Joyce who first read
Ulysses in a copy smuggled from Europe in a brown paper wrapper, wrote
an essay on incest as the answer to the riddle of the Prankquean in Fin-
negans Wake, a novel now commonly acknowledged as "riddled" with
incest. Later, while rereading Ulysses, I began to ponder possible reasons
for Bloom's having sent his daughter Milly to live and work fifty miles
from Dublin in the small town of Mullingar at the age of fourteen. A trip
to Mullingar helped me to gauge the distance from Dublin and judge the
significance of the exile Bloom had imposed on his daughter.
Freud once said of his case histories, "I read them over and over until
they begin to speak to me." This, in effect, was what I had done with
Ulysses, believing that highly receptive, repeated readings of literary works
of substance yield results similar to those Freud experienced with his case
histories. Contrary to certain modern theories which dismiss the impor-
tance of the author, I believe that the psyche of the writer reaches out to
the psyche of the reader across the bridge of the written page and some-
thing happens which accounts not only for the wide diversity of responses
and interpretations of all literary works so fascinating to reader-response
theorists, but also for the similarities. Rereading led to my realization that
the theme of incest occurred not only in Finnegans Wake, but in Ulysses
I began my research for "Why Is Milly in Mullingar?" with some com-
punction; I felt as though I were accusing an old friend. Subsequently, I
made it the central focus of my reading to seek out and analyze the oppo-
sition between the father and the suitor for possession of the daughter in
Shakespeare's plays and in each novel I read, usually finding some varia-
tion of the pattern. Sometimes, as in certain novels by Henry James, it
seemed to be all the narrative was about. In other novels, such as Joseph
Conrad's Lord Jim, the theme was an obscure and scarcely noted aspect of
the plot. My interest grew with each new work I read, and with many old
ones to which I returned. My investigations gradually assumed the nature
of what Northrop Frye had dubbed "literary anthropology."'
I had also long been responsive to many of Sigmund Freud's observa-
tions, particularly those pertaining to the oedipal triangle, and I found
that his theory and the literature complemented each other in a recipro-
cal fashion-a circular argument some might say. Since Freud had been
led into the development of his theories through literature, this seemed a
natural progression. Although both Freud and Otto Rank had long ago
pointed out the prevalence of the theme of incest in poetry and drama,

x Preface

less work had been done on the novel in which the theme is frequently
more muted, apparent only as a subtext.
I have sometimes met with resistance on the part of male readers, espe-
cially regarding controversial interpretations of novels such as Bleak
House, The Golden Bowl and Ulysses, but women readers have been very
receptive. Older women particularly, who lived their young lives in the
early twentieth century, have been intrigued and asked to read what I had
written even when unfamiliar with the literature being cited.
The problem of incest has surfaced at many levels in recent years, some-
times eliciting substantial anxiety and distress. Newspaper and popular
magazine articles have gradually come to terms with its previously unac-
knowledged prevalence in our society, as indicated by a selection of re-
cent headlines: "Dad Wonders Why He Hurt His Little Girl," "Breaking
the Incest Taboo: Those Who Crusade for Family 'Love' Forget the Bal-
ance of Family Power," "British Panel Asks Changes in Laws on Sex in
Family," "Seeing Father Again Frightens Daughter," "Court Is Told Incest
Triggered Slaying of Five," and "Incest: A Chilling Report." These are not
headlines from the National Enquirer, but from major city newspapers
and such magazines as The Progressive, Ms, and Lear's.
More open discussion has had varied results. Films such as Chinatown,
the French Murmur of the Heart and more recently L'Ombre du Doute
(Shades of Doubt) have dealt with incest openly, and in the case of Mur-
mur even lightheartedly. In recent years, the law-making bodies of both
England and Sweden have heard strong arguments in favor of legalizing
incest between consenting adults. Recent additions to the popular litera-
ture have been biographies of various prominent people who now wish to
divulge all. A California defense attorney endeavored to save his client
from a jail sentence for fraud by pleading her early molestation by her
father, and this type of legal defense for everything up to and including
murder has multiplied substantially. The recent proliferation of argu-
ments between those defending methods used in repressed-memory cases
and those condemning them has raised questions that plagued Freud
many years ago.
One issue which this study recalls is that of the function of language
and narration in the management of anxieties and defenses. Many artists
have used narration as a method of repeatedly dealing with subject matter
that is rarely discussed openly. Freud and Breuer, in their early case stud-
ies of hysteria in young women, recognized the strong father attachments
involved, but they also recognized the temporary, therapeutic effects of

xi Preface

the patient's opportunity to narrate the material. It has been a common-
place observance among writers that once they have completed a novel,
they seldom think about it again, in fact, sometimes forget it entirely; the
writing has served its purpose.
Hysteria has largely disappeared as a clinical phenomenon and focus
has shifted to other problems such as schizophrenia. Comparisons have
been made between the language of Finnegans Wake and that of schizo-
phrenics, with the artistic control by the author of the novel being the
main distinction between the two. The language in other novels such as
The Golden Bowl and the second half of Ulysses, while not achieving the
obscurity and density found in Finnegans Wake, has many similar char-
acteristics. One novel which deals with father/daughter incest simply
and straightforwardly presents the daughter participant as intermittently
schizophrenic -F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night.
Focus on the incest theme in literature is in no sense meant to exclude
the importance of various other factors in the creation of a work of art. In
Freud's terms, each work is overdeterminedd," its creation serving mul-
tiple purposes for the artist. But I am inclined to agree with the premise
that "clarification is attained by intense concentration on one or another
aspect of an author's work."2

I wish to thank Shari Benstock and Grace Eckley with whom I first studied
James Joyce at Drake University. I also wish to thank the faculty of the
Department of English at State University of New York at Buffalo for their
guidance and advice when I was first engaged in research for this project:
Leslie Fiedler, William Fischer, Joseph Fradin, Norman Holland, George
Levine, Murray Schwartz, Mark Shechner, and David Willbern. I espe-
cially wish to acknowledge the characteristically encouraging role played
by the late Berni Benstock in his early support of my work on Ulysses.
Zack Bowen and Peter Rudnytsky were especially helpful in suggestions
for improving the manuscript. My faithful Mullingar correspondent, Leo
Daly, contributed many valuable insights and perspectives over the years.
The cooperation of many libraries was invaluable, especially access to
the Joyce manuscripts held by the Poetry Collection of the Lockwood
Library of State University of New York at Buffalo. I am also indebted to
the National Library of Ireland, the Huntington Library in California, the
Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, the Harry Ransom
Humanities Research Library at the University of Texas in Austin, the

xii Preface

Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, the library at San Diego
State University, and the Geisel Library at the University of California,
San Diego.
Prior to the publication of the English translation of Rank's work by
Johns Hopkins University Press, I was fortunate in having a series of col-
leagues who provided translations of segments of the German for me:
Eleanor Garner, Jean Kimball, and Albert Richards. Barbara Ford aided
me with the French, Mary and Avrum Stroll with the Italian, Betty Fraser
with manuscript preparation, and Ariss Treat with proofreading.
The names of myriad colleagues from the International James Joyce
Society and the University of California, San Diego-especially Alice
Marquis and Chris Norris-who contributed their valuable insights and
support are too numerous to mention. I was also helped along the way by
grants from both the Kolar Foundation and the Helen Hawkins Grant
Fund, administered under the aegis of San Diego Independent Scholars.
I express my gratitude for permission to quote from Ulysses (copyright
1934 by James Joyce, reprinted with the permission of the Wylie Agency,
Inc., acting on behalf of the Estate of James Joyce). I acknowledge permis-
sion to quote from Finnegans Wake (copyright 1939 by James Joyce, re-
printed with the permission of the Wylie Agency). I also acknowledge
permission to reprint from Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce (copyright
1939 by James Joyce, copyright renewed 1967 by Giorgio Joyce and Lucia
Joyce, used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books
USA Inc.). I am grateful to the James Joyce Quarterly for permission to
reprint that portion of the present text that appeared as "Why Is Milly in
Mullingar?" (14.4 [Summer 1977]: 436-49).
I gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint segments of Otto Rank's
The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals ofa Psychology
of Literary Creation, translated by Gregory C. Richter with an introduc-
tion by Peter L. Rudnytsky (copyright 1992, Johns Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore, Maryland).
We have reproduced the portrait long believed to be of Beatrice Cenci
by Guido Reni which hangs in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in
the Palazzo Barberini in Rome by permission of the Ministry for Cultural
and Environmental Affairs, Florence, Italy. (Reproduction by any means
is prohibited.)

xiii Preface

A more freudful mistake
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Father/Daughter Incest:
Theory, History, and Sociology

Father/daughter incest, a topic rarely discussed only a few years ago, has
become the focus of an increasingly substantial body of sociological, psy-
choanalytic, and clinical discourse; the subject of modern novels, TV
docudramas, and films. More recently it has been a favored subject for
literary criticism with a variety of theoretical bases, particularly those of the
feminists and/or psychoanalysts. The old argument that the study of any
literary work is sufficient unto itself is maintained by only a few diehards.
Literature is not created in a vacuum and the New Historicists in particu-
lar have restored to criticism the importance and value of placing litera-
ture in its appropriate historical/sociological context, which by definition
opens to a broad range of theoretical approaches, including psychoana-
lytic theory. Since the application of such theory to an individual or a
situation is by its very nature historical, a combination of the sociohistory
of the incest theme in literature and the relevant psychoanalytic theory
that applies to it seems an appropriate development. The logical extension

of this premise would include pertinent psychobiographical data concern-
ing both those who first recognized and recorded the theme in literature,
and the artists who utilized it in their work.
Focus on the persistent recurrence of the incest theme in literature is
not new, since it was elaborated upon by both Otto Rank and Sigmund
Freud. Sophocles contributed much more than just the name "Oedipus"
to psychoanalytic theory. Literature was not only the precursor of such
theory, in a sense it spawned it. Otto Rank's seminal work, Das Inzest-
Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912), was acknowledged by Freud soon
after its publication: "Among the strictly scientific applications of analysis
to literature, Rank's exhaustive work on the theme of incest easily takes
the first place."' Peter Rudnytsky concurs: "This judgment remains true
today. In its encyclopedic erudition, interpretive brilliance, and theoreti-
cal cogency The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend is the greatest and
most important single work of psychoanalytic literary criticism."2
In contrast to Freud's clear writing, Rank's unusually convoluted style
discouraged a complete translation for many years, keeping the work from
becoming available in English until 1992. Rudnytsky points out that al-
though psychoanalysis and literary criticism have undergone radical
changes since 1912, Rank's work expresses "a theoretical position that will
always have to be taken into account when literary issues are debated"
(xxi). The definitive value of Rank's work on legend and myth, combined
with his forays into modern literature and case histories, along with his
predictions for the future, guarantees the work's continued importance.
When I came upon Rank's volume during my own recognition and devel-
opment of the theme, I realized that his observations provided a rich his-
toric background for my own.
Rank's survey of the theme in more modern literature involved prima-
rily German novels and dramas through 1911. He had also used German
translations of Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley, and Ibsen, and although he
made cursory references to certain English literature (Wilde's Salome,
Shaw's Misalliance), there is no mention of three major writers: Charles
Dickens, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. As Shakespeare had done
before them, these three novelists focused on-father/suitor rivalry for pos-
session of the daughter, with the theme sometimes treated in terms of
surrogates for father and daughter, particularly in the works of Henry
James. The use of surrogates distances potentially threatening material for
both the artist and the reader; Rank would have viewed it as another ex-
ample of repression.
Literature involving incest usually treats one or more of three hetero-

2 Introduction

sexual possibilities: mother/son, brother/sister, or father/daughter. Socio-
logical studies indicate a correlation between the numeric frequency of
actual cases and the literary depictions. Mother/son incest occurs the least
frequently in both. Otto Rank defines the essential difference between
father/daughter and mother/son incest which contributes to the discrep-
ancy in occurrence:
The incest between son and mother, as well as the fantasies that re-
place it, are considered by consciousness probably owing first to
physiological sensations-as a more serious infraction than a union
between father and daughter. The internal, physical blood relation-
ship that unites the son with the mother is of course not present to
the same degree in the kinship between father and daughter.3

Himself the product of a patriarchal society, Rank points out that the
father's authoritarian position carries a weight with the daughter which
would not obtain when the male participant is younger and in the role of
son. He also observes that "in legends and folktales the father's attraction
to the daughter plays a much greater role than in myths, where the son's
relationship to father and mother is dominant," giving as an example the
legend of King Apollonius of Tyre, which underlies Shakespeare's Pericles
(304). Early literature focusing on fathers and daughters often dealt im-
personally with a series of suitors who are successively defeated by ob-
stacles set up by the possessive father, with a final, victorious suitor some-
times emerging as the young hero. Modern developments of the theme
usually involve a single suitor viewed by the father as an adversary.
The fact that brother/sister incest has traditionally been regarded as the
least reprehensible of the three variations probably accounts for its more
overt and frequent treatment in literature; Rank devotes 170 pages to "The
Relationship between Siblings," but a scant thirty-seven pages to fathers
and daughters. Probably fewer actual sibling cases come to the attention
of authorities because incest between brothers and sisters does not carry
the same onus as incest between fathers and daughters, which more fre-
quently than not constitutes abuse of power and authority and is a more
traumatic experience for the female participant. Actual cases that com-
mand legal attention today consist almost exclusively of those involving
fathers/stepfathers and daughters.
In addition to Rank's chapter on fathers and daughters, other such liter-
ary examples are located in his final chapter, "The Incest Theme in Con-
temporary Literature." The modern works in the earlier chapter do not
always feature conscious incest as a fait accompli; sometimes it is much

3 Introduction

desired but never achieved. Rank concluded the earlier chapter with
Ibsen's Rosmersholm which he viewed as representative of a gradual re-
pression of the incest theme in literature and his chapter on modern lit-
erature begins with other Ibsen plays.4 He follows this with a survey of
twenty-nine literary examples, fourteen of which involve siblings, nine of
which involve mother/son incest, but only four of which involve a father
and daughter. This.series includes one narrative reminiscent of a person-
ally observed situation that I mentioned in the preface. In "The Wedding
Night," the mother fails in her attempt to seduce her husband following
their daughter's wedding earlier in the day because the situation reminds
him too vividly of the fact that "his daughter was in the desiring, ardent
arms of a man" (561).
Although variations on the father/daughter theme are central to at least
twenty-one of Shakespeare's plays,5 Rank's discussions of Shakespeare con-
cern themselves mainly with the rivalry between father and son for the
mother. His pages devoted to fathers and daughters only include The
Merchant of Venice as exemplifying the ordeal of the suitor, and Pericles
briefly, as an example of use of the Apollonius legend. He refers to The
Tempest only in a footnote, although the play provides an important varia-
tion on the theme.6
My work focuses only on literature written in English by male artists
and primarily involving fathers and daughters. This seemed an important
prerequisite to me for any future consideration of the theme in women
writers. Although many earlier writers such as Boccaccio and Chaucer
treated the theme, Shakespeare serves as a particularly valuable touch-
stone for two reasons: (1) the prolific nature of his work with its wealth of
plots and (2) his acknowledged importance for all subsequent artists who
wrote in English. Many other novelists might have been chosen, but since
selection is imperative, the five artists here under consideration provide a
nice diversity of family dynamics across a broad time span. Shakespeare,
Dickens, and Joyce all had daughters; Conrad had only sons, and James
never married.
Having benefited so extensively from representations of incest in my-
thology and literature, Freud, citing Rank's work, commented on "the
extent to which the interest of creative writers centers around the theme of
incest and how the same theme, in countless variations and distortions,
provides the subject-matter of poetry."7 He was also interested in how this
had come about and this led to speculation by both Rank and Freud re-
garding creativity:

4 Introduction

Up till now we have left it to the creative writer to depict for us the
"necessary conditions for loving" which govern people's choice of
an object, and the way in which they bring the demands of their
imagination into harmony with reality. The writer can indeed draw
on certain qualities which fit him to carry out such a task: above
all, on a sensitivity that enables him to perceive the hidden im-
pulses in the minds of other people, and the courage to let his own
unconscious speak.8

The origins of the incest taboo have long been the focus of a broad
spectrum of disciplines ranging from anthropology to philosophy, and a
variety of scholars, in addition to Freud, have turned their attention to it:
Socrates, Plato, Aquinas, Frazer, Levi-Strauss, and Lacan. The confusion
it has engendered as an interdisciplinary puzzle was indicated by L. Levy-
Bruhl: "The famous question of the ban on incest, this much discussed
problem, the solution to which ethnologists and sociologists have so long
sought after, has no answer."9 A major source of the confusion has been
the wide variations in the taboo itself, with ranges from "totemic exogamy,
the prohibition of sexual intercourse between members of the same clan"
(SE, 13:7) to religious restrictions on marriage between godparents.
Freud cites some of the variations in taboo emphasis: the separation of
boys from mothers and sisters from puberty on, restrictions on certain
cousins, tribes in which "a father may never be alone in the house with his
daughter, nor a mother with her son," and others in which the onus falls
on a man's relations with either his sister-in-law or his mother-in-law (SE,
13:10-14). Researchers have ultimately found the multiple discrepancies
in the taboo both tantalizing and frustrating; how can one draw conclu-
sions when the findings are so inconsistent? Even the assumption that
there is always some taboo is not accurate; for example, nineteenth-cen-
tury Aleuts of Kodiak practiced all forms of incest with no restrictions, and
the Dyaks of Borneo have no concept of incest. Maisch concludes that
"the concept is a relative one."'0 Pun intended?
Since lack of consistency in the incest taboo constitutes the only consis-
tency, a common suggestion is that it derives not from some inherent
moral code, but from man's need for self-imposed limitations and bound-
aries, separating him from the animal world wherein most sexual activity
is indiscriminate. The derivation of the word "incest" supports this, com-
ing as it does from the Latin incestum or unchastee." This was the name of
the girdle of Venus "which in lawful marriage was worn by the woman and

5 Introduction

loosened by the husband as an omen of conjugal and parental happiness;
its disuse in an unlawful marriage rendered it'incestuous or ungirdled'.""
The cultural history of incest involves both the taboo against it and the
incestuous relationship as a special privilege. From very early times, the
prerogative of defloration of the virgin was the privilege of an authority
figure: an elder, a priest, or a holy man, followed later by the jus prime
noctis of medieval feudal lords. In ancient Ireland, the prince married the
princess and the king sometimes married his daughter.12 A similar pattern
was maintained in parts of Africa, and brother/sister marriages were ac-
cepted in Egypt." In some cultures, incest is permitted only on special
occasions: "to achieve prosperity," "to promote successful hunting," or "to
make the tribesmen bulletproof" (Masters, 41, 42).
Incest behavior was common in Renaissance Italy, the most famous
example being the Borgia Pope Alexander VI (1492) who is believed by
most historians to have fathered a child by his daughter. Lucretia Borgia
(who died in 1519) "was the daughter of her father, Alexander VI, as well as
his lover, and as her brother's lover, she was her father's daughter-in-law.
Reference to these relationships was made in her epitaph:

"Hic jacet in tumulo Lucretia nominee, sed re
Thais, Alexandri filia, sponsa, nursus.

"[Here lies entombed one named Lucretia-in truth
Thais, Alexander's daughter, wife, and daughter-in-law.]"
(Rank, 312-13)

This summary is at the heart of the riddle posed by the incestuous
daughter for her suitors that occurs in many versions of the Apollonius
legend, extending at least back to the Middle Ages and appearing finally
in Shakespeare's Pericles. A friend of Joyce's reported the writer's com-
ments on the Borgia case: "Nevertheless, I don't like Rome.... The Rome
of the popes appeals to me more because it reminds me of that pig of a
pope, Alexander VI, lying in the arms of his daughter and mistress, Lu-
cretia Borgia."'4
Incest was also accepted by the Persians, Incans, ancient Arabians, Indo-
Europeans, pre-Mosaic Hebrews (Maisch, 23), and until 1892 by the Mor-
mons.'5 The Greeks accepted only brother/sister incest, and that reluc-
tantly (Maisch, 23). Cardinal Richelieu had incestuous relations with his
daughter, as did Duke Philippe d'Orleans, of Voltaire's time, with two
daughters (Maisch, 32). The importance of the concept of incest as privi-
lege will be apparent in my analysis of the literature, particularly in Henry

6 Introduction

James's The Golden Bowl. Incest eliminates the admission of a stranger
into an established bloodline-a crucial point when that bloodline is al-
ready deemed optimal.
Rank explains the occurrence of incest in a wide range of classical
myths: "[T]he development of myths and religions, as well as artistic activ-
ity, is intended to ... justify male sexual fantasies" (300). Acceptance of
the Adam/Eve story in Genesis automatically posits incest as the very foun-
dation of the races of men. Although the Bible is obscure as to Cain's
reasons for murdering Abel,16 the Mohammedan version attributes the
murder to an incestuous conflict over their own twin sisters (Masters, 14).
Since Eve produced only male children at the outset, it is not difficult to
read this first murder in terms of rivalry over the mother. Cain is suddenly
furnished with a wife, but the next time we learn of Eve's bearing a child,
it is Seth, another male; there is no reference to Eve's having given birth
to a female child. The blatantly incestuous father in the Marquis de Sade's
Eugenie de Franval (1788) relies on this to rationalize his behavior: "Was
it not necessary to resort to such methods to populate the world? And what
was then not a sin, can it now have become one? What nonsense!"17 Was
"Original Sin" in fact incest?
The wide variations in the taboo are equaled only by the range of expla-
nations proffered for such taboos, reasons which might appear humorous
to the modern reader. However, violations punishable by suicide-on-de-
mand, castration, beheading, or other means of execution are by and large
not humorous. The undesirable contraction of the family circle was
spelled out in Plutarch's objection that "a girl who married her father
would have no family to run home to in case of a domestic squabble"
(Masters, 57). A similar concern was expressed to Margaret Mead by the
Arapesh of New Guinea: "What, you would like to marry your sister! ...
Don't you want a brother-in-law? Don't you realize that if you marry an-
other man's sister and another man marries your sister, you will have at
least two brothers-in-law, while if you marry your own sister you will have
none? With whom will you hunt, with whom will you garden, whom will
you go to visit?"'8 Although amusing to us now, these were not negligible
reasons in tightly enclosed societies. James Joyce posits another rationale,
quoting Thomas Aquinas on incest: "[He] likens it in his wise and curious
way to an avarice of the emotions. He means that the love so given to one
near in blood is covetously withheld from some stranger who, it may be,
hungers for it."'9
There has been much controversy over whether the incest taboo is the
result of an innate revulsion, but this has been effectively refuted for most

7 Introduction

authorities by the long history of stringent laws and punishments invoked
to control the compelling attraction that sometimes exists between family
members. Related to this controversy has been the disagreement among
investigators over the probability of a progressive dulling of sexual desires
among family members who have grown up together. Jeremy Bentham
was one of the first to promulgate this theory,20 which appears to have an
element of truth, related to the observed occurrences of incest following
the separation of related parties and their subsequent reunion-a predis-
posing factor in much of the literature:
All types of incest are likely to occur when near-relatives are re-
united after a lengthy separation, especially if the separation oc-
curred in the childhood of one or both of the participants. It is quite
easy to understand.... For psychological reasons, knowledge of the
intimate blood-bond is conducive to affection. But this affection is
not diluted in its sexual aspects, or diverted into non-sexual chan-
nels, as happens over a period of years in the day-to-day life of the
family. ... Unless the incest prohibition has great force within such
persons, sexual intercourse is likely to take place. (Masters, 82)

Weinberg's findings corroborate this: "German soldiers separated from
their families during the First World War often had relations with their
maturing daughters when they returned home" (117). Boose, citing more
recent studies carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital, revealed a
new category, "divorce incest," in which incest did not occur until after
the divorce or separation took place.21 Although the report attributes this
to possible paternal revenge, the element of reunion following separation
is possibly also a factor.
Masters mentions the function of narcissism in incest, since relatives
separated for a period of time see reflections of each other: "Plato also
remarked that, lacking an incest prohibition, each individual would marry
that person who most closely resembled himself-probably his sibling,
his parent, or his child" (55). As in Oedipus Rex, incest participants in
literature often discover the incriminating relationship only after incest
has already occurred. The attraction toward someone who resembles one-
self is simply another manifestation of the Oedipus complex.
We can only conclude that the incest taboo, in spite of its many varia-
tions in form (or perhaps because of them), represents a basic human
need to impose order. Since the family unit represents man's most funda-
mental attempt at social order, incest represents a major violation of that

8 Introduction

order. As Maisch stresses, incest is not a cause of family disintegration, but
a symptom of a "disturbed family order" that already exists (145). It would
seem to be another chicken/egg conundrum. Although from the nine-
teenth century on, there were thought to be genetic grounds against in-
cest-the threat of defective offspring-more recent research has ques-
tioned this (Maisch, 43). Repetition of genetic codes can work either way,
and we are thrown back on the pragmatic basis, the preservation of the
integrity of the family unit.
Masters summarizes: "The family would be disrupted, and in some
cases destroyed, were its members permitted sexual access to one another.
... The always precarious harmony of the family unit could not survive
the tensions" (60). Weinberg maintains that incest confuses the child (and
all familial roles), minimizes deference to parents, isolates the family, lim-
its contacts with the outside world, intensifies rivalry, and reduces family
cooperation and harmony (258). The experiments with more open sexual
access within the hippy communes seems to have borne this out.
Recent case studies (many done by women) emphasize the permanent
psychological damage done to the child-usually the daughter-in spite
of the fact that a few writers on the subject still maintain that the abolish-
ment of all sexual taboos would make for a happier society. These theo-
rists (predominantly male) ignore the basic fact that forced participation
of a child in adult sexual activity results in actions that are both premature
and inappropriate for that stage of development. The daughter is deprived
of her prerogative of a natural, progressive maturation, of the opportunity
for sexual participation when she is ready for it, and of freedom of choice.
Herman stresses the resulting permanent damage: "Thus did the victims
of incest grow up to become archetypally feminine women: sexy without
enjoying sex, repeatedly victimized yet repeatedly seeking to lose them-
selves in the love of an overpowering man, contemptuous of themselves
and of other women, hard-working, giving, and self-sacrificing."22
The fact that this sexual exploitation of young female members of the
society is a major component of patriarchal structures has been pointed
out by a number of authorities:

The adult male's diminished capacity for affectionate relating pre-
vents him from empathizing or identifying with his victim; without
empathy, he lacks a major internal barrier to abusive action. At the
same time, because other types of relationships are restricted, the
need for a sexual relationship with a compliant and submissive fe-

9 Introduction

male is exacerbated. Hence it is that adult men so frequently seek
out sexual relationships not only with adult women who are
younger and weaker than themselves, but also with girl children.
(Herman, 56)

I would add here the importance of a submissive object as a possible re-
quirement for the maintenance of male potency for certain individuals.
Although a marriage may begin with a compliant, submissive female part-
ner, a long-term relationship usually dulls this aspect of the relationship
and the male need for someone to look up to him and to some extent
remain subservient is no longer satisfied.
The wide variations in the taboo and in the rationale for it are paralleled
by the history of its legal restrictions and punishments. Even the Oedipus
myth is not exempt, for although Freud selected the Sophoclean version
in which Oedipus blinds himself, the Homeric version entailed no such
punishment and Oedipus becomes king and reigns in honor for many
years.23 An earlier version entailed the immediate rape of the mother fol-
lowing the father's murder (Rank, 218).
Taylor points to a shift in Greek thought between Homer (1200 B.c.)
and Sophocles (500 B.C.). In Hebrew law, the strictures against incest
came about gradually and there is no indication of legal or moral infrac-
tion in the story of the seduction of Lot by his daughters as they dwelt
together in a cave following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
(Genesis 19.31-36). The mother is indeed absent, having been turned into
a pillar of salt, and the daughters were the instigators, thinking that their
father offered their only hope of propagating the human race.
Although many references have been made to this biblical occurrence
of father/daughter incest (c. 1898 B.C.), an important element of the story
is frequently overlooked: Prior to the daughters' seduction of their father,
Lot had offered his hospitality to "two angels." The men of Sodom sur-
round Lot's house and demand that he send the men outside so that they
might "know them" (Genesis 19.5). But Lot refuses to do so and replies:
"Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known men; let me, I
pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye with them as is good in your
eyes: only unto these men do nothing" (Genesis 19.9, emphasis mine). His
daughters are spared this fate by the intervention of the "angels," who
orchestrate their escape with their father.
By about 1490 B.C., the restrictions against incest, homosexuality, and
bestiality were established, a shift that appears to have occurred in the
Hebrew culture much earlier than in the Greek. As the world population
gradually increased, the need for simply increasing and multiplying di-

lo Introduction

minished- a factor ignored by de Sade- encouraging the introduction of
restrictions on sexual mating. In spite of the long history of these changes
in attitudes and in the laws put into effect to reflect them, contemporary
sociological investigators have observed that, even today, participants in
certain incest cases were unaware of any wrongdoing until they were ar-
Writers as far back as Plato saw the artist's role as didactic in his depic-
tion of incest in literature: "In Laws, he indicated that Athenian play-
wrights had an obligation to portray incest perpetrators as committing
suicide" (Masters, 23). In world literature, incest participants are usually
punished. Primitive societies held a wide variety of superstitions concern-
ing the disasters that would befall the group if incest were allowed to oc-
cur. These included the sun falling from the sky, earth tremors and volca-
nic explosions, flooding, and failures of harvest. Some thought the
incestuous union could produce only monsters (Maisch, 39-40).
The connection between incest and limitations and boundaries is illus-
trated by the custom that "in the northern Gilbert Islands, the incest par-
ticipants were set adrift in the ocean Death was inevitable."24
Decapitation, a classic castration substitute, served as punishment for in-
cest in such disparate cultures as the Chinese and the Scottish (Masters,
205). All authorities cite the frequent occurrence of compulsory suicide as
a major form of punishment (Weinberg, 9-11), although the Romans
sometimes accepted "an expiatory sacrifice .... to the goddess Diana"
(Masters, 41). The death penalty for incest was enforced in Switzerland as
late as the seventeenth century, and in Germany until the end of the
nineteenth century. Only in 1887 did Scotland switch from the death pen-
alty to life imprisonment, and some term of imprisonment is the most
common form of punishment today (Maisch, 31, 32).
In the United States, definitions of incest vary. Some states stipulate a
blood relationship, some vaginal penetration, and most require that the
victim be a minor. Prison terms run the gamut from a limit of eighteen
months in Indiana to ten years in Kansas, with many states settling at five
The gradual evolution of legal modifications in both Greek and He-
brew cultures has been paralleled in most other civilizations, with the
Catholic Church exhibiting perhaps the widest swings. Although by 800
A.D., the Pope forbade marriage to the seventh degree of kindred (a restric-
tion later extended to godparents and witnesses), dispensations were sold
(Weinberg, 18-20). Incest in the early Middle Ages was fairly common
and both the Inquisition and witch-hunts frequently involved either in-

i1 Introduction

cest or homosexuality (Maisch, 26-28). Bloch emphasizes a shocking in-
crease in incestuous unions during the eighteenth century in France.26 In
spite of the church's restrictions, at least two popes were involved in in-
cest; one of them, Pope John XXII (1316-34), was relieved of the
pontificate for that reason (Maisch, 30).
Significant legal measures coincide historically with two major literary
periods: the Elizabethan and the Victorian. In 1583, approximately eleven
years prior to Shakespeare's first play, Elizabeth created a Court of High
Commission to penalize incest, and during the Interregnum (1642-60),
the death penalty was in effect (Weinberg, 23). Between Elizabeth's Act of
1558 and 1908, jurisdiction oscillated between the ecclesiastical and the
civil courts. The Punishment of Incest Act was passed in 1908 and was in
turn repealed by the Sexual Offenses Act of 1956, which established a
maximum penalty of seven years or possible life imprisonment if the girl
was under 13 (Maisch, 223,224). For a period of time, there had been great
resistance to establishing legal strictures on the grounds that calling atten-
tion to the offense would only lead to more frequent occurrences.
The enforcement of legal restrictions gradually resulted in more cases
being brought before the courts. The resulting sociological data on the
incidence of father/daughter incest provides a valuable context for the
recurrence of the theme in literature. The lack of correspondence be-
tween literature and general life experience would notably diminish
literature's impact. Joyce reflects this connection when he says of Shakes-
peare: "He found in the world without as actual what was in his world
within as possible" (U, 9.1041-42).
The sociological and clinical data concerning fathers and daughters is
usually concerned solely with those two principals, since the incestuous
relationship is initiated prior to the daughter's encounters with potential
suitors. In fact, one of the primary functions of an established incestuous
relationship is the isolation of the daughter from potential suitors. Ward
comments: "Many of the Father-rapists give 'keeping her away from those
other men out there' as the reason why they raped her in the first place."27
The sad fact is that the early age at which the father often begins to ap-
proach his daughter sexually would preclude her having encountered
Rank concluded his chapter on "The Relationship Between Father and
Daughter" with a series of thirteen case histories culled from newspaper
accounts from various European cities between 1907 and 1910. Illustrating
the common relationship between violent death and incest, five cases
ended in murder, one in suicide, and three in infanticide, including one

12 Introduction

case in which five successive infants were destroyed (333-36). Tolstoy had
earlier depicted this grim reality in The Power of Darkness (1888) which
encompassed murder of the elderly husband, incest, and infanticide.
Eugene O'Neill's Desire under the Elms (1924) offered a later variation on
the lurid plot.
Recent research "surmised that somewhere in the neighborhood of one
million American women have been involved in incestuous relations with
their fathers, and that some 16,000 new cases occur each year." Herman
goes on to add that the estimates are conservative and that the real inci-
dence may actually be considerably higher (14). Even reports sent from
Ireland, that bastion of restrictive sexual practices, have indicated an
alarming increase in the incidence of incest.28
Although the authority factor cannot be discounted in any father/
daughter relationship, it is more oppressive in some than in others, with
three general types emerging: (1) the tyrannical father, (2) the loving-pro-
tective father, and (3) the truly mutual love affair. Any consideration of the
father/daughter relationship must take into consideration the factor of
autonomy in two aspects: its function in inducing the daughter's coopera-
tion, and its function as a prerequisite for the father's own sexual potency.
Although many fathers regard sexual relations with the daughter as a natu-
ral prerogative (Weinberg, 160), there sometimes exists a more nearly
mutual relationship, which probably passes undetected by the commu-
nity. Weinberg describes this relationship: "When the daughter recipro-
cates the father's sexual attentions, she experiences few conflicts. Rela-
tively isolated from boys, she regards sexual compliance as one more filial
function. She acquires a wifely role, or may conceive of herself as her
father's 'lover"' (163).
But such instances constitute the minority. In most cases, as Maisch
points out, the girl is trapped in the situation against her will and the
father rarely gives the girl up voluntarily (193, 195). This is corroborated by
Herman: "In no case was the incestuous relationship ended by the father.
The daughters put a stop to the sexual contact as soon as they could, by
whatever means they could.... Though all the daughters eventually suc-
ceeded in escaping from their families, they felt, even at the time of the
interview, that they would never be safe with their fathers, and that they
would have to defend themselves as long as their fathers lived" (95).
The precipitating factors in actual cases of father/daughter incest are
the same factors that are found in literature: an "absent" mother, a nubile
daughter, and some radical polarization in familial attachments. In the
literature, the mother is frequently physically absent, often, in fact dead.

13 Introduction

Less frequently, she is absent only as an effective agent of action. Rank
suggests the underlying reason: "The mother's death when her daughter
reaches marriageable age not only is an expression of the father's wish to
exchange his spouse for his daughter but... also corresponds to the jeal-
ous wish of the daughter, who wishes to take her mother's place with the
father (identification)" (309). Henry VIII acted out this fantasy rather than
simply transmuting the impulse into literature.
The involved daughter is usually very passive (for a variety of reasons)
and either dependent on or intimidated by the father. This passivity is
explained by Meiselman: "To truly understand the passivity of the daugh-
ter, one needs to imagine the situation as it is perceived through the eyes
of a child. Especially in a paternalistic family, the daughter has been
taught to obey her father in all situations, to anticipate punishment for any
show of defiance, and to believe that what her father does is unquestion-
ably in her best interests."29
Ward expands on this explanation, tying it directly to the girl's develop-
ment in a paternalistic culture: "The internalization of passivity by women
differs in degree along a spectrum; it is a direct result of a male suprema-
cist cultural system that indoctrinates women to exist only as the play-
things or nurturers of men" (171). Rank mentions yet another dimension:
"Even in the few mythological passages in which the loving passion seems
to be presented from the viewpoint of the daughter, one has the impres-
sion that this is only a justification of the father's shocking desires; an
attempt is made to shift the blame for the seduction onto her" (300).
An additional factor is the importance of the feminine desire for mascu-
line approval, especially as fostered in a paternalistic atmosphere. Also,
even when the mother is not physically absent, she is often as passive and
as psychologically incapable of standing up to the father as the daughter
is, thus depriving the daughter of protection. The economic dependence
of both women must also be factored in. The "absence" of the mother is
thus not necessarily physical, although in literature, it usually is. There is
always some disruption in the husband/wife relationship before the incest
occurs; absence often entails estrangement only. On occasion the substi-
tution of the daughter is either actively or passively promoted by the
mother. No matter what the duration of the parental estrangement has
been, it is sufficient to alter the father's attitudes toward his daughter's
newly developed sexual potential. Statistics on the daughters' ages at the
outset vary. Maisch cites the average as 121/4 (102), while Herman main-
tains that 80% were under thirteen years when first approached by their
fathers, with the average age being nine years (83).

14 Introduction

Citing the average age of the father as 43.5, and of the daughter as 15.3,
Weinberg summarizes the conditions that obtain in actual cases, condi-
tions that can be transposed onto certain literary examples: "The father
initiated incest at a period of life when his usefulness to industry had
declined, when his wife's attraction had diminished, when extrafamilial
women were less accessible, and when his daughters had become biologi-
cally mature" (44). In most instances, there is also an economic factor at
work, since "extrafamilial women" usually cost money in one way or an-
other and require more elaborate planning. In some societies, father/
daughter incest served as a form of birth control, with the father moving
from daughter to daughter as each began to menstruate.
The recurrent preoccupation on the part of various writers throughout
an extensive body of literature with the triangular father/daughter/suitor
configuration suggests the importance of the Oedipus complex in the
individual's selection of subsequent love-objects. This corroborates
Freud's delineation of its function in "Contributions to the Psychology of
Love" and elsewhere. In spite of continued controversy over the validity of
the Oedipus complex and its variety of interpretations, I assume Freud's
concept of it as a "given." Although Freud explored more extensive rami-
fications of the historical and anthropological aspects in "Totem and Ta-
boo," its most basic concepts are adequate. Rene Girard, in his brilliant
discussion of desire in the novel, sums this up: "From a Freudian view-
point, the original triangle of desire is, of course, the Oedipal triangle.
The story of 'mediated' desire is the story of this Oedipal desire, of its
essential permanence beyond its ever changing objects."30 Freud discusses
the function of the complex in the choice of love-objects:
Analytic researches have discovered how universal and how power-
ful the first attachments of the libido are. It is a question of sexual
wishes active in childhood and never relinquished-in women
generally a fixation of the libido upon the father ... wishes that
often enough were directed to things other than coitus, or that in-
cluded it among others only as a vaguely conceived aim. A husband
is, so to speak, never anything but a proxy, never the right man.31
(emphasis mine)
Consideration of the mutual relationship between father and daughter
leads to the concept of the "inverted triangle." The daughter's original
attachment for her father has never been deflected toward another per-
son. But it is maintained by many psychoanalytic authorities that in some
cases, the father's prolonged attachment for the daughter is a reversal of an

15 Introduction

unresolved mother/son attachment. There are two ways of coming to this
position: the wife (the mother of the daughter) was herself a "proxy" for
the man's own mother. Consequently, the daughter is one of a series, and
thus replaces both the original and the proxy. Ernest Jones offers a more
complex explanation, later elaborated by devotees of transactional anal-
I have, for instance, invariably found that a man who displays an
abnormally strong affection for his daughter also gives evidence of
a strong infantile fixation in regard to his mother (often with an in-
sufficient affection for his wife due to the same cause). In his phan-
tasy he begets his mother (e.g., in the form of a rescue), becomes
thus her father, and so arrives at a later identification of his real
daughter with his mother. Such people fit into the situation either
of parent or of child, but only imperfectly into that of a marital part-
ner.32 (emphasis mine)

Jones's explanation provides an interesting basis for potential deficiencies
in primary marital relationships.
By extending this theory, if the daughter has replaced the mother in the
earlier oedipal triangle, the suitor as a proxy for the man's own father
explains the hostility on the part of the father toward the suitor. "The
suitor's struggle with the father of the beloved corresponds to the son's
struggle with his father" (Rank, 313). As in other displacements, the origi-
nal feelings are intensified and can be openly expressed to an extent that
was not possible in the initial triangular conflict. The inverted triangle
repeats an earlier conflict when as son the man was helpless, but now as
father he is in the position of power within the triangle. Also, when the
daughter has reached puberty, the wife has reached an age at which she
begins to suggest the man's own mother, a fact which may inhibit his
relationship with her and cause him to seek satisfaction in his daughter or
in a daughter-substitute. This is augmented by an increased awareness of
his own mortality. That the artist projects these same anxieties and con-
flicts into his creative work will become evident in reviewing the literature
in the ensuing chapters.

16 Introduction

Yung and easily freudened
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake


Some Literary Variations
on the Incest Theme
"Novelists, playwrights, poets and literary critic/essayists have made a
greater contribution to the understanding of incest than have scientists
and scholars" (4). Masters's conclusion, echoing Freud's, no longer has
the validity it once had, but creative artists will always be recognized as the
precursors of subsequent explorers of the subject. However, many of these
novelists, playwrights, and poets veiled and obscured the theme. Freud,
writing about father/daughter incest in Ibsen's Rosmersholm, corroborated
Rank's earlier observation when he stated that "everything that refers to it
in the play is, so to speak, subterranean and has to be pieced together from
Freud contended that readers failed to acknowledge the pervasiveness
of the incest theme in literature because of "the distaste which human
beings feel for their early incestuous wishes, now overtaken by repression"
(SE, 13:17). As will be seen in the case of Joseph Conrad, sometimes the
artists themselves ignored or denied the presence of the theme in a given

work, and they are often joined by literary critics. It is important here to
define what constitutes the presence of the incest theme in a given literary
work. Joseph Conrad was technically correct when he denied the incestu-
ous nature of his novel since actual incest did not occur in Almayer's Folly,
and this is true in much of the literature to be considered here. Literature
to which the incest theme might be attributed would include not only
overt incest, but any abnormal attachments on the part of fathers and/or
daughters which permanently inhibit their ability to relate to each other
appropriately and to establish viable relationships with others.
Although Rank surveyed literature other than myth and legend, his life
span restricted him to a limited period of modern literature. Frequently,
even in the presence of the father/daughter relationship, he stressed other
familial relationships, especially that of father/son or brother/brother. For
example, in his discussion of Oedipus at Colonus, Rank focuses on the
brothers' hatred for the father, with only passing mention of the daughters
(487-89; 523). But the play concludes with Oedipus and his daughters:

But when he had his will in everything,
And no desire was left unsatisfied,
It thundered from the netherworld; the maids
Shivered, and crouching at their father's knees
Wept, beat their breast and uttered a long wail.
He, as he heard their sudden bitter cry,
Folded his arms about them both and said,
"My children, ye will lose your sire today,
For all of me has perished, and no more
Have ye to bear your long, long, ministry;
A heavy load, I know, and yet one word
Wipes out all score of tribulations- love.
And love from me ye had-from no man more;
But now must live without me all your days."
So clinging to each other sobbed and wept
Father and daughters both,.. .2

The reader is free to interpret these lines as he may, and whether or not
one wants to conclude that an Oedipus deprived of their mother turns to
his daughters for more than moral support, the relationship of these three
has been intense.
Perhaps the strongest literary affirmation of incest occurs in words spo-
ken by the incestuous father in the Marquis de Sade's Eugenie de Franval:

18 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

"You mean to say that a lovely girl cannot tempt me because I am
guilty of having sired her? That what ought to bind me more inti-
mately to her should become the very reason for my removal from
her? 'Tis because she resembles me, because she is flesh of my
flesh, that is to say that she is the embodiment of all the motives
upon which to base the most ardent love, that I should regard her
with an icy eye? ... Ah, what sophistry! ... How totally absurd!"
The eventual denouement of this novel, however, does not bear out the
father's early bravado. The incestuous father murders a prospective suitor
and faking the renunciation of his daughter sleeps for a while with both
mother and daughter. Told by her father to choose between her parents,
Eugenie murders her mother, repents and dies. Her father's overwhelm-
ing guilt drives him to suicide. Sade had offered as an alternate title for the
novel, The Misfortunes of Incest (373), and in spite of his moralistic con-
clusion, he was reimprisoned in the Bastille for life for its publication and
that of Justine. Rank regards Sade's preoccupation with the incest theme
as one more manifestation of the actual prevalence of incest in France
during the eighteenth century (355)-
Much English literature, both before and after Shakespeare, dealt in
one way or another with fathers and daughters. An overview of these works
reveals that some treat incest overtly, others covertly. In many others it
exists only as an implied threat which is avoided through the actions of the
participating characters. That most universally familiar fairy tale, Cinder-
ella, existed in versions in which the heroine was fleeing an incestuous
father. Alan Dundes makes a strong case for such a folktale as the basis for
King Lear.3 Triangular father/daughter/suitor relationships characterize
Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385), and at least two of the Canter-
bury Tales (c. 1386).4
One of the most widely transmitted plots of overt father-daughter incest
occurs in the legend of King Apollonius of Tyre. "The material originally
comes from a fourth-century A.D. Greek novel, of which a Latin transla-
tion exists. In the Middle Ages the story was translated into almost all
languages and is found in a great number of manuscripts, editions, and
reworkings: in one of these forms it earned a place in the Gesta Roman-
orum (no. 153)" (Rank, 304). Chaucer began his version of the legend with
a witty disclaimer voiced by the Man of Law, who summarizes Chaucer's
previous work which has not drawn on such sources as Apollonius (a jibe
at Gower) since "Chaucer knew quite well what he was doing/And would

19 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

not soil his sermons with narration/Of such unnatural abomination"5 and
that neither would he. The tale which follows is fraught with violence, and
ends with the death of the suitor/husband and the return of Constance to
her father. John Gower's version, Confessio Amantis (1390), served Shakes-
peare as a source for Pericles (c. 1609), and like its earlier sources treats
father/daughter incest more blatantly than Shakespeare's version does.
Cruder versions of the famous riddle in Pericles were also components of
the earlier versions.
Although Rank focused on modern German literature, many other ex-
amples can be found in other European literature6 and the English novel
prior to Charles Dickens offers many variations on the father/daughter
theme. Most of these do not depict overt incest but exhibit what Sandra
Gilbert has dubbed "the submerged paradigm of father-daughter incest."
Sandra Gilbert, noting the literary prevalence of the father/daughter
theme in George Eliot's Silas Marner and Edith Wharton's Summer adds:
"But, of course, countless other literary texts-both male- and female-
authored-focus on the submerged paradigm of father-daughter incest
that shapes the possibilities inscribed in these novels."7
William Congreve's only tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697), depicts
an enraged king who murders the suitor, then impersonates him, and
is decapitated. More "submerged paradigms" can be found in Samuel
Richardson's Clarissa (1747) which depicts both a father and a brother
bent on marrying the daughter/sister to a man she detests. Henry Fielding's
Tom Jones (1749) treats the same theme in a rollicking fashion, although
Sophia Western, like Clarissa, at one point contemplates suicide. At least
one critic has done a careful explication of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
(1847) in father/daughter terms, and Jane Austen's Emma (1816) depicts an
unusually strong father/daughter relationship, Emma's father being bla-
tantly derisive of marriage, and Emma herself reluctant to leave home.
Similar undercurrents are to be found in Austen's Northanger Abbey
(1803), and Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847).8 With the paradigm not so
submerged, Dylan Thomas wrote "The Burning Baby."9 Almost a century
separates two American examples which represent the extremes of im-
plicit and explicit depiction of father/daughter incest: Nathaniel Haw-
thorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender
Is the Night (1934), in which the appropriately modern punishment is the
daughter's schizophrenia.
Although myth and legend have played an important role in the gen-
eration of father/daughter narratives, historical events have also had sig-
nificant impact on both literature and literary criticism. Three hundred

20 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

years separate two such historical sources: the sixteenth-century Italian
tragedy of Beatrice Cenci and Freud's twentieth-century case history of
Dora. Although these two narratives might seem at first glance to be
strange bedfellows, they share many characteristics common to father/
daughter relationships as circumscribed by the strictures of a paternalistic
society, their disparate historical periods lending added emphasis to this
factor. They also share many of the key recurrent elements to be found in
much of the literature.
Both young women were subject to autocratic fathers; Cenci was overtly
abusive, Dora's father employed more subtle methods. Both mothers were
physically present but absent as effective agents for change. Beatrice
Cenci's stepmother too suffered under the abusive husband/father and is
thus drawn into conspiring in his murder. Dora's mother had been dis-
credited by Freud as having "housewife's psychosis," although he never
met her, and had been usurped by her surrogate, Frau K., both as a mother/
companion for her daughter and a mistress for her husband.1'
During the course of the action, Beatrice is confronted by a series of
judgmental older men who ultimately put her to death. Dora is confronted
by an equally united group of older men who not only deny her the validity
of her perceptions but tell her what she is really feeling and thinking, and
urge her sexual compliance with one of them. In contrast to the physical
torture of Beatrice, Dora's torment is of a more subtle nature. Neither
young woman has access to salvation through a viable suitor. Monsieur
Guerra (also a father figure by virtue of age and authority) participates in
Beatrice's father's destruction, but deserts her when he alone escapes the
consequences. Dora also has failed to acquire a suitor of comparable age,
and a liaison with her father's contemporary, Herr K., who has come to be
repellent to her, is being urged by both her father and Freud. This follows
the pattern that recurs throughout literature of the father who only ap-
proves of a suitor who is close to his own age and is unacceptable to the
daughter; Romeo and Juliet is a classic example. Erickson summed up
Dora's plight: "As a woman, Dora did not have a chance.""
Sources for the two narratives also share a record of objective unre-
liability regarding them. The Cenci story was originally transmitted in
various Italian accounts (relaziones) that proliferated following the execu-
tions in 1599, augmented by a portrait long believed to have been painted
of Beatrice Cenci by Guido Reni at the time of her execution. The wide-
spread interest in the Dora case stems from the case history published by
Freud in 1905. Both sources, for quite different reasons, are felt today to
be somewhat unreliable. The recurrent question of reality versus fantasy,

21 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

such a prominent feature of current incest discourse, enters into any con-
sideration of the sources of inspiration for the various literary works and
for the literary criticism.
Shelley's five-act play, The Cenci (1819), provides one of the most
graphic examples in English literature of the fascination that historical
narratives based on flawed father/daughter relationships have had for a
broad spectrum of artists, illustrating the fine line between "influence"
and intertextuality. Shelley's play had been preceded by a little-known
Italian version by Pieracci in 1816.12 The connection between the Italian
relaziones and the various literary works based on the Cenci tragedy is
complex and confusing, due both to variations in the sources and to op-
portunities for editing in translation.
Certain historically verifiable facts are common to all early accounts.
Francesco Cenci, the wealthy father of Beatrice, from the age of fourteen
on was repeatedly haled into court and forced to pay heavy fines to a series
of popes for various crimes, including sodomy. He persecuted his family,
virtually imprisoning his second wife Lucrezia (Beatrice's stepmother)
and his daughter Beatrice. The two women, along with his sons Giacomo
and Bernardo and a family friend "Monsignor" Guerra-not a cleric
and possibly a suitor for Beatrice-collaborated to have him murdered.
Guerra later escaped, but the four Cencis were arrested and compelled
under torture to confess. All but Bernardo were executed on September
11, 1599, as decreed by Pope Clement VIII. Less than a century earlier,
Pope Alexander VI had consorted with his own daughter, Lucretia.
Certain plot elements in the true story correspond to various literary
versions of the father/daughter/suitor triad. The suitor as solution had
been utilized by Beatrice's older sister who had petitioned the pope to
arrange a marriage or place her in a convent so that she might escape the
oppression of her father's house; the pope had complied and a marriage
then took place. When Beatrice later also appealed to the pope for such a
release, her father, threatened with losing his only remaining daughter,
became enraged and thwarted her plans."
In the final disposition of the case, Beatrice, who had participated in
destroying her abusive father, was betrayed by a series of father-surrogates.
One of the collaborators in the crime, her father/suitor, "Monsignor"
Guerra, escaped. She was tried by another father figure, Farinacci, who
evidently was as corrupt as her father had been. Her execution was or-
dered by the supreme father, the pope, who in effect refused to hear her
defense.14 During his lifetime, Cenci had lived under a series of permis-

22 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

sive popes whose coffers had greatly benefited from his recurring infrac-
tions. Robert Browning refers to Clement VIII as "Pope Conniver at
Francesco Cenci's guilt."'5
Identification of the portrait as that of Beatrice remains uncertain and
confusing, but responses to it by well-known literary figures constitute a
unique record, especially in view of the fact that modern art authorities
now pronounce the portrait to be neither by Guido Reni nor of Beatrice.
Recently, art critics have also questioned Reni's identity as the creator of
the well-known Lot and His Daughters in 1615-16.16 The supposed picture
of Beatrice generated thousands of words, both in recorded responses to it
and in the number of literary creations triggered by it. Although Mary
Shelley simply recorded in her Journal in 1819 that they had seen the
portrait," her husband told Trelawny that the picture "haunted" him,18
elaborating on his reaction in the Preface to The Cenci, written that same
Four years later, Stendhal (Henri Beyle) viewing the same portrait, ech-
oed Shelley's impressions: "I was captivated by the portrait of Beatrice
Cenci... at the palazzo Barberini.... The face has sweetness and beauty,
the expression is most appealing and the eyes very large: they have the
startled air of a person who has just been caught in the act of shedding
large tears" (Stendhal, 173). Stendhal had met Shelley in 1818 and perhaps
gave the Shelleys their copy of the relazione that Mary used for the trans-
lation she made for Shelley's use.20 Stendhal's translation of manuscript
no. 172 titled "The Cenci" appeared anonymously in La Revue des Deux-
Mondes in July, 1837, and was later printed in Chroniques Italiennes.
Shelley's play and the Stendhal translation agree in the basic components
of the story. Rank focuses his brief discussion of the two artists on the
shared hatred for their fathers which, he maintained, attracted them to
the material. He refers to Shelley's intensely antagonistic relationship with
his own father and with Harriet's father (327); the same could have been
said of his relationship with Mary's father, William Godwin. Rank also
points out that Stendahl left an unusually graphic account of his intense
attachment to his mother in Confessions of an Egoist (27).
Although more widely recognized for her novel Frankenstein (1818),
Mary Shelley wrote her own graphic novel about father/daughter incest,
Mathilda, in 1819. The novelette treats the threat of incest much more
explicitly than Shelley's play and culminates in the suicides of both father
and daughter. Following Shelley's death in 1822, Mary entrusted her man-
uscript to friends who were returning to England, with instructions to give

23 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

Alleged portrait of Beatrice Cenci,
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica
in Palazzo Barberini, Rome. For-
merly ascribed to Guido Reni. By
permission of the Ministry for Cul-
tural and Environmental Affairs,
Florence, Italy.

it to her father, William Godwin, to see it through publication. Not sur-
prisingly, her father pronounced it "disgusting and detestable," and made
no effort to get it published.21 It was not published until 1959.
There is even the possibility that Shakespeare had read accounts of
the case, although the evidence is not overwhelming. In The Tempest,
Caliban plots to kill Prospero by knocking a nail into his head after he is
asleep.22 This was the manner of Francesco Cenci's murder and it had
occurred twelve years prior to the writing of the play. A succession of other
works overtly based on the legend included Alexandre Dumas' account
in Crimes Cel1bres (1839), Walter Savage Landor's five-act dialog (1850),
Guerazzi's novel (1853), "Cenciaja," a poem by Browning (1860), plays by
Artaud (1935) and Moravia (1942), and Frederick Prokosch's novel, A Tale
for Midnight (1956). Rank cites the tragedy by Arno Holz, Sonnenfinsternis
(1908), as being similar to the Cenci story (332). Steffan compares varia-
tions in this legend to those that evolve in the transmission of folktales,23
and surely the most interesting rationalization of incest by the father is the
argument made in some accounts that the offspring of incestuous rela-
tionships are guaranteed sainthood (De Sade, Dumas, Stendhal).
In 1844, less than 30 years after Shelley's and Stendhal's observations,
Charles Dickens, who wrote Dombey and Son in the years immediately
following his viewing of the Cenci portrait, described the picture in true
Dickensian fashion:
She has turned suddenly toward you; and there is an expression in
the eyes-although they are very tender and gentle-as if the wild-
ness of a momentary terror, or distraction, had been struggled with
and overcome, that instant; and nothing but a celestial hope, and
a beautiful sorrow, and a desolate earthly helplessness remained.
Some stories say that Guido painted it from memory, after having
seen her, on her way to the scaffold. I am willing to believe that, as
you see her on his canvas, so she turned towards him, in the crowd,
from the first sight of the axe, and stamped upon his mind a look
which he has stamped on mine as though I had stood beside him
in the concourse.24

Two major American novelists, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Haw-
thorne, incorporated the portrait in their fiction. Toward the end of Pierre
(1852), as the three central characters tour an art gallery, Lucy pauses be-
fore "that sweetest, most touching, but most awful of all feminine heads-
The Cenci of Guido."25 Hawthorne, who regarded it as "the saddest pic-
ture ever painted or conceived,"26 named the daughter Beatrice and the

25 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

suitor Giacomo in "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844). Recent Hawthorne
criticism elaborates on the family dynamics reflected in Hawthorne's
fiction, including the intense relationship with his mother and with his
daughter Una: "Even more eerie is Hawthorne's own prefiguration of
Una's fate in the life of the fictional daughter and prisoner Beatrice Rap-
paccini, a character created in the month of his daughter's birth. Beatrice
is the creation, agent, and victim of the father with whom she lives in
an exotic and cloistered garden."27 Erlich notes of the fifteen-year-old
Una's near-fatal illness in Rome that Hawthorne never recovered from the
trauma of the experience.28
In an even more explicit tribute to the Cenci influence, Hawthorne
discusses the Cenci portrait in the seventh chapter of The Marble Faun
(1859), itself a variation on the legend as discussed by Carton: [The novel
is] "dominated by treacherously intimate daughter-father relations, or by
the collapse of relationship into two stark alternatives: utter filial submis-
sion to-and perhaps incestuous incorporation by-the father's imperial
identity and symbolic-perhaps actual-patricide" (225).
When Miriam asks Hilda what gives the portrait "such a mysterious
force," Hilda responds: "She knows that her sorrow is so strange and so
immense that she ought to be solitary forever, both for the world's sake
and for her own; and this is the reason we feel such a distance between
Beatrice and ourselves, even when our eyes meet hers."29 But Miriam
offers a singularly modern, feminist response: "After all... if a woman had
painted the original picture, there might have been something in it which
we miss now. I have a great mind to undertake a copy myself and try to give
it what it lacks" (56). One thing it evidently lacked was authenticity.
Miriam too echoes the Cenci legend: "Miriam's origins are unknown, but
in each of the various speculations about her she has 'fled from her pater-
nal home' usually to escape an unsavory father or to avoid sexual domina-
tion by his representative" (Carton, 225). In both these Hawthorne works,
the theme has to be "pieced together from hints."
Henry James, who certainly had seen the portrait in the course of his
numerous visits to the Barberini Gallery in 1872,30 might well have con-
tended that a portrait actually done of Beatrice on the day of her execution
would not have had the impact that the less-than-real object has had.31
One can only speculate on the influence this portrait and its legend may
have had on such Jamesian fathers as those in Washington Square (1878)
and The Portrait of a Lady (1880).
Thus, Joyce's use of the final poignant lines of Shelley's powerful play in
Giacomo Joyce (1913) became only one of many instances of the utiliza-

26 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

tion of the tragedy by later writers. Although the correspondence between
names in Joyce's use of "Giacomo" has been noted, the fact that Giacomo
Cenci was executed for attempting to avenge his father's assaults on his
sister and his mother has received less notice. The lines that Joyce se-
lected are spoken by Beatrice in preparation for her execution. Each of
the adapters of the Cenci story interpreted the evidence in his own way
and Joyce was no exception. He describes Beatrice as "stainless of blood
and violation."32 Joyce later generated his own intertextuality by transfer-
ring material from Giacomo into his novels and his play.33 When he inter-
rupted his Italian exile to help open the first cinema in Dublin in Decem-
ber 1909 the initial bill included The Tragic Story of Beatrice Cenci. The
reviewer found it "although very excellent, hardly as exhilarating a
subject as one would desire on the eve of the festive season."34
Corrado Ricci, an Italian art critic, museum curator, and historian,
concluded his 1925 two-volume attempt to rectify the errors regarding both
the portrait and the Italian sources on the trial, with these words: "The girl
in the Barberini Gallery... who returns your gaze with so naive an indif-
ference, her face neither illumined by joy nor shadowed by grief, is not
Beatrice Cenci. She is the Samian sibyl. We say this for the benefit of
historians and artists. For the great public we know well, the picture will
remain to all eternity, Beatrice Cenci and none other" (287, 288). Copies
still appear in Shelley texts. At least eight operas have been written based
on the material, the first in 1863 and the most recent in 1951.35 This com-
bined with the recent opera version of "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1991)
points up how often composers of operas are drawn to such material; op-
eras display an almost infinite range of treatments of the father/daughter/
suitor triad, usually fraught with violence.36
Since the time of Freud's dramatic recanting of his seduction theory,
the conflict between fantasy and reality has continued to be a prominent
issue in contemporary discourse on incest and the Cenci story provides an
interesting case in point. Although almost all of the artists who dealt with
the legend directly assumed that incest had actually occurred, Ricci main-
tains that his research into Vatican records leaves this much in doubt,
since Beatrice herself never seems to have pleaded this in her defense. By
the same token, she may have felt that such an admission would only
bring down additional wrath from her persecutors.37
An interesting parallel to the Cenci case is to be found in a more recent
account of father/daughter relationships, Freud's widely publicized "Frag-
ment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" [Dora]. Since Freud undertook
the case after abandoning his seduction theory, the question of possible

27 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

incest was not a factor as it might have been a short time before. The focus
on the forced sexual attentions of a father-surrogate, Herr K., encouraged
by both her own father and Freud, has caught the attention of numerous
literary critics and feminist theorists. Freud's three-month focus on Dora's
case was begun in 1900 and his findings first published in 1905. As a writ-
ten record, it vies with the Cenci legend as a paradigm of father/daughter
relationships. Claire Kahane summarizes this: "Dora is thus no longer
read as merely a case history or a fragment of an analysis of hysteria but as
an urtext in the history of woman, a fragment of an increasingly height-
ened critical debate about the meaning of sexual difference and its effect
on the representations of feminine desire."38
Freud's own evaluation of the cultural importance of the incest taboo
undoubtedly colored his attitudes and his report of the case. Three years
prior to meeting Dora and her father, Freud wrote to Fliess that "incest is
antisocial -civilization consists in this progressive renunciation."39 Thirty-
three years later, the subject was still on his mind: "The tendency on the
part of civilization to restrict sexual life is not less clear than its other
tendency to expand the cultural unit. Its first, totemic phase already brings
with it the prohibition against an incestuous choice of object, and this is
perhaps the most drastic mutilation which man's erotic life has in all time
Freud regarded his histories as narratives akin to fiction, and the close
relationship is spelled out by Philip Rieff: "[T]he psychoanalytic case his-
tory crosses the barrier artificially erected between a literature of descrip-
tion and a literature of imagination. It matters little whether Freud's case
histories are called science or art. Freud's interpretive science was itself, in
practice, an art, aiming at a transformation of the life thus interpreted."41
The key element that relates the two forms of narrative is, of course, selec-
tion of data. Freud did not record data until after his patient interviews
had ended, allowing even greater leeway for selection and arrangement
than would otherwise have occurred. Steven Marcus goes perhaps the
furthest in his designation of the case history, which he finds comparable
to Proust, as "indistinguishable from a systematic fictional creation." He
concludes that by the end of the history, "Freud and not Dora has become
the central character in the action."42
Although various sources have been cited for Freud's choice of the fic-
titious name for his patient, I am partial to Dickens's David Copperfield,
his most autobiographical novel with its depiction of another Dora and
her obsessive father. Freud's intensely personal involvement in this case is
indicated in his own words to his friend, Wilhelm Fliess: "It has been a

28 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

lively time, and I have a new patient, a girl of eighteen; the case has
opened smoothly to my collection of picklocks." When the case was
closed and the history written, he wrote that he "already missed] a nar-
cotic."43 Freud's failure to comment on his own countertransference in
this case has been widely discussed.
Provocative counterinterpretations of this controversial case continue
to be published. As with the Cenci story, it has also triggered some literary
creations such as H616ne Cixous' play, Portrait de Dora (1976). With the
mother effectively removed for all practical purposes, Freud reports: "His
daughter was most tenderly attached to him" (SE, 7:18), and later, "Dora
was by that time in the first bloom of youth-a girl of intelligent and
engaging looks" (SE, 7:23). She was sixteen, Freud forty-four when they
first met. The absence of the mother in this case illustrates Paula Cohen's
assessment of fiction: "Daughters in novels before James either didn't have
mothers or had mothers who were discredited by male authority and
hence rendered already open to daughterly replacement."44 Dora's
mother had been "discredited" and neglected by both husband and
daughter; this was further reinforced by Freud's neglect of her as a partici-
pant in the case history.
The ramifications of Freud's identification, both with Dora's father and
with the rejected Herr K., give this analysis a tone not to be found in the
other case histories. Freud himself suggests this sort of reading: "At the
beginning it was clear that I was replacing her father in her imagination,
which was not unlikely, in view of the difference between our ages" (SE,
7:118). But when Dora decided to terminate her treatment, Freud carried
the transference further: "In this way the transference took me unawares,
and, because of the unknown quantity in me which reminded Dora of
Herr K., she took her revenge on me as she wanted to take her revenge on
him, and deserted me as she believed herself to have been deceived and
deserted by him" (SE, 7:119). Our knowledge of how Freud sided with
Herr K. in this analysis indicates that Dora was entitled to "revenge" on all
three father figures. Willbern suggests that Freud's own speculation that
perhaps he should have persisted anyhow, showing a more personal inter-
est, "discloses the potential rapist in the therapist."45
In addition to the controversy the Dora case has provoked, Freud has
also become increasingly involved as the center of heated controversy in
recent years over the reversal of his early belief in the seduction theory
which had attributed neurosis to early sexual violations of his patients by
a male member of their families: "I no longer believe in my neurotica
[theory of the neuroses]" (Freud to Fliess 264, September 21,1897). Femi-

29 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

nist critics in particular have castigated him and devalued his work in this
regard. Herman rejected the reasons he gave for his abandonment of his
theory as inadequate, taking him to task for initially indicting uncles in-
stead of fathers aAhe culprits in the histories of Rosalia and Katharina (9).
Although the cases were reported in 1886, Freud did not disclose the true
identity of the culprits until 1924. But considering the shocking nature of
his disclosure, the substitution of "uncles" would not have been that much
more palatable for his audience.
Freud eventually admitted that in some cases an actual infraction had
occurred. The mistake of reducing the question to one of either/or lies at
the heart of much of the difficulty, both for current critics and originally
for Freud himself. The tempering of such a view was suggested by Freud
in 1917: "You must not suppose, however, that sexual abuse of a child by its
nearest male relatives belongs entirely to the realm of phantasy."46 Peter
Gay also urges the more moderate view: "What Freud repudiated was the
seduction theory as a general explanation of how all neuroses originate."47
The chronology of Freud's promulgation of the "seduction theory" in
1896 and his retraction less than a year later sheds light on Freud's han-
dling of this case. In 1896, Freud had publicly committed himself to the
seduction theory. In May 1897, he had his erotic dream regarding his
nine-year-old daughter, Mathilde. By September 1897, he renounced the
theory. Had he encountered Dora a few years earlier, he would have as-
sumed that she had been sexually assaulted by her father as the cause of
what he diagnosed as her hysteria. Instead, the onus was placed on Dora
vis-a-vis Herr K.'s attempt to kiss her when she was fourteen: "I should
without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for
sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively
unpleasurable" (SE, 7:28). Freud did not seem to understand the poten-
tial trauma in her reaction to Herr K.'s advances as elucidated by others:
But intercourse is only half the story. ... Any number of acts may
be committed which frequently are at least as traumatic to the vic-
tim as full intercourse. Neither does the offender have necessarily
to be the father-anyone in a parental position, such as a stepfa-
ther, may cause exactly the same kind of damage to the victim as
an actual father.48

Although many critics have cited Freud's singular attitudes and precon-
ceived notions regarding the expected erotic responses of fourteen-year-
old and sixteen-year-old girls, it should also be noted that his oldest daugh-
ter Mathilde was fourteen when he first met Dora, who was sixteen. The

30 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

first sexual approach to Dora had been made by Herr K. when she was
only fourteen and one can only wonder whether Freud would have foisted
the same sort of judgments on his own daughter under those circum-
It is difficult not to judge Freud in terms of our present knowledge
augmented by the feminist vantage point that has now been attained.
Many of his critics believe that the Oedipus complex and the seduction
theory are mutually exclusive, and while this is not the time or place for
such discussion, I do not agree. This seems comparable to me to the old
joke that being paranoid did not preclude someone's being out to get you.
A strong oedipal attachment does not preclude a violation of a young
person's trust.
The controversy between reality and fantasy continues to rage in many
areas, including present-day court cases involving child molestation re-
vealed through repressed memories brought to the surface, based on the
assumption that certain symptoms can only be explained by the fact that
certain violations took place in the past. The truth probably lies some-
where in between, and the difficulties of accurately distinguishing be-
tween fantasy and reality in an individual's testimony regarding childhood
incidents can never be fully resolved; the circumstances of how the re-
pressed memories are released must always be carefully examined.
The scholarly interest that both Rank (1884-1939) and Freud (1856-
1939) brought to bear on father/daughter relationships can be put into
some context by the family dynamics of both men. Much has been written
about Freud's relationships with his daughters and it is important to note:
"During the years between conceiving and abandoning the seduction
theory, Freud was engaged in self-analysis, in which he discovered,
through dreams, his own incestuous wishes toward his daughter Ma-
thilde."49 Freud managed with some insight and irony to suggest that the
dream was the fulfillment of his wish to provide a "Pater as the originator
of neurosis."50 Freud also had a very special relationship with his daughter
Anna (whom he called "Antigone"), who followed in his professional foot-
steps, nursed him through his final illness, and never married. Anna's
lifelong attachment to her father genuinely concerned him for many
Otto Rank was twenty-one to Freud's forty-nine when they met in 1905.
He was eleven years older than Anna Freud and seems to have been
Freud's preference as a husband for his daughter. This did not material-
ize, but Rank and the woman he married had one child, a daughter. Rank
had selected his pen name based on a character in Ibsen's A Doll's

31 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

House.51 Late in his life, he was involved for a substantial period of time
both as therapist and as lover with Ana's Nin who was almost twenty years
younger than he. Nin had begun her now famous diaries at the age of
eleven "to charm and seduce" her Don Juan father, who had deserted the
family, into rejoining them. Fresh from her evelitual sexual encounter
with her father, she met Rank for the first time in 1933. He asked to read
the diary and then insisted she drop writing in it during his analysis; she
complied for three and a half years.52 In her diary, Nin acknowledges that
she had been seeking her father in all the other men with whom she had
been sexually involved, including Rank.53
The psychobiographical data on Shakespeare, Dickens, James, Conrad,
and Joyce is frequently as dramatic as that on Freud and Rank and in some
of these artists, the connections will seem abundantly clear, in others less
obvious. In addition, the four novelists are intricately related intertextually
to Shakespeare (Fleissner, Gillon, Harbage, Schutte, Cheng), and to each
other. Joseph Conrad provided some of his own documentation. The
harsh years that he spent as a boy in Siberian exile with his father, Apollo
Korzeniowski, were passed in large part by his father's translating both
Shakespeare and Dickens into Polish. Conrad relates inA Personal Record:
"It is extraordinary how well Mrs. Nickleby could chatter disconnectedly
in Polish and the sinister Ralph could rage in that language." But he also
adds: "My first acquaintance was (or were) the 'Two Gentlemen of Ver-
ona,' and that in the very MS. of my father's translation."54
Henry James relates his first emotional encounter with Charles Dick-
ens. The family thought the young James had gone to bed, as a cousin
began reading David Copperfield aloud to the assembled members. But
Henry had sneaked back into the room and hidden until "the tense chord
snapped under the strain of the Murdstones and the elders assembled in
the room became aware of a loud sobbing."55 When he was twenty-four,
James met Dickens briefly in Boston in 1867.56 He later wrote a critical
essay on Dickens, and his essay on The Tempest provides interesting com-
mentary on his own work.57
Since the Joyce corpus has been widely acknowledged as a repository
of all previous literature, his relationship to his four predecessors has al-
ready received elaboration.58 By thematically utilizing Shakespeare in the
"Scylla and Charybdis" chapter of Ulysses, Joyce moves back through the
intervening artists to link up with the great precursor of them all. Atherton
lists references to various writers in Finnegans Wake: Shakespeare, 29;
Dickens, 7; James, 2.59 There may be more, and I discovered a number of
Conrad references in Ulysses and at least one in the Wake.60

32 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

It is important to note here that the shared recurrence of themes and
patterns throughout the works of these writers should not necessarily be
attributed to direct, overt influence, but rather to shared psychological
predispositions, which attracted them to each other's work to begin with.
Rank emphasizes this point: "Most important, we believe we have dem-
onstrated that the writer, like the myth-maker, deals with given material
not through external borrowing or assimilation, but from a deep psychic
need, insistently demanding release" (571). That this "deep psychic need"
should turn out to be a widely shared one comes as no surprise and fits
more readily with theories of intertextuality.
The incest theme, as it relates to fathers and daughters in the following
chapters, will be considered in its broadest terms, rarely as actual oc-
currence, frequently as what Herman has defined as "covert incest":
"For every girl who has been involved in an incestuous relationship,
there are considerably more who have grown up in a covertly incestu-
ous family. overt incest represents only the furthest point on a con-
tinuum" (11o). All literature treating conflict within the father/daughter/
suitor triad can be considered to have the incest theme as its subtext. The
relationships and attitudes of both father and daughter prior to resolution
are related to the threat of incest or its avoidance. Boose maintains that
"The potent impulse of paternal retention/possession has always been the
defining and problematic nucleus within the exchange patterns that have
struggled to contain it."61 In fiction, the father/daughter relationship,
whether openly or covertly incestuous, is always one major, underlying
motive for the action. Freud's principle of overdetermination applies in
this instance. While in certain narratives the implied incest threat seems
to be the only source of motivation for the action, there are usually others;
sometimes it is one of many.
A survey of Shakespeare's prolific corpus reveals three basic patterns of
resolution of the father/daughter/suitor triangle: (1) the father reluctantly
relinquishes the daughter, usually in submission to an outside authority,
(2) the father retains the daughter for himself, or (3) the father assumes an
active role in procuring a suitor to resolve the potential incest threat-the
"Tempest" schema. In order to view the development of the theme as it
was influenced by the various stages in the artist's development, I have
focused on an early, a middle, and a late work of each writer. The "Tem-
pest" schema applied in this survey complements Rank's exposition of the
"Carlos" schema which entails the stepson's passion for the stepmother,
and the "Phaedra" schema which entails the stepmother's love for the
unreceptive stepson (118). "The Tempest" schema differs from the "Car-

33 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

los" and "Phaedra" schemas in that rather than defining an uncontrol-
lable, destructive passion, it represents the positive resolution of a poten-
tially destructive situation.
Otto Rank's view of developing patterns in the corpus of any writer is
based on his general premise that for each individual artist, repression
("dampening") of the incest theme increases throughout the sequence of
the author's work.62 "These works illustrate the incest complex from its
impetuous appearance in puberty, through the stage of fear of retribution,
to the clear skies of the father perspective" (148). This corresponds to my
analysis of an early, a middle, and a late work being tied primarily to the
artist's chronological maturation process. In early works, it is probable that
the artist, either concurrently with his writing or in the recent past func-
tioned as a suitor himself, thus identifying with the suitor in the narrative.
In a middle work, especially when the father of daughters, he can identify
with the possessive father, a "stage of fear of retribution." In a late work, he
would be expected to evolve into a mature father capable of renunciation.
I thus view Rank's linear progress of repression over time as arising from
an age-related shifting viewpoint. There is a loose correspondence here to
Erikson's description of life's stages of development. But unlike Rank's
and Erikson's sense of a linear progression, my ultimate findings rather
indicate that this progression is deceptively conclusive and that move-
ment is really cyclical.
Any selection of specific works from a writer's corpus as a basis for con-
clusions involves a basic flaw. As many artists have indicated, the only
fully valid judgments are to be made from a reading of the entire body of
work. However, this is not always practical and I selected works by each
writer to fit certain requirements of my own. This sometimes becomes a
slippery matter, especially in situations such as that of Henry James, who
disavowed his actual first novel and put forth a second one as the first,
immediately raising questions about the content of each. James also left
two unfinished novels in contrast to Dickens and Conrad, raising similar
Within the recognized limitations of such choices, one proceeds to
such conclusions as seem reasonable, trying to avoid Joyce's "sequentiality
of improbable possibles."63 With a focus on each artist's three successive
works, two central questions arise: "Are the patterns among the various
artists similar or dissimilar?" and "What apparent relationship is to be
found between these patterns and each artist's individual psychobio-
graphical data?" Maisch reaffirms the importance of the latter factor: "If
one analyses the life and works of great writers from a psychoanalytical

34 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

point of view, as for example Rank (1912) tries to do, then one discovers
increasingly manifold connections between individual experience, life
history, and the literary working over of the incest motif" (15).
In considering the incest theme in the literary works to follow, I neither
offer them in support of Freudian theory, nor offer Freudian theory in
support of my reading of the literature. Rather, the relationship between
the two can be viewed as a reciprocal juxtaposition of theme and theory.
Freud and Rank pioneered in the explication of this interplay. The recur-
rence of the incest theme throughout a large body of literature also offers
interesting evidence for Freud's theory of the "compulsion to repeat"
which he believed overrode the pleasure principle and was related both to
dreams and to the play of children.64
A perusal of any artist's recurrent need to produce art corroborates its
compulsive nature and many artists have attested to this. Rank elaborates:
Through dramatic creativity this psychic conflict is only tempo-
rarily resolved. (The playwright is continually driven to compose
more works based on internally related themes that inspire and grip
him and that become uninteresting to him only through the pro-
cess of composition.) (187)
But since each artist's handling of the theme has a different resolution in
each work, the compulsion to repeat applies to the preoccupation with
the incest theme itself, rather than to its resolution; the handling of the
theme is repetitive, its resolution is cyclical. Autonomous renunciation, as
illustrated in the "Tempest" works of the five artists is, after all, a fantasy of
total control. Or as Joyce expressed it, "Abnegation is Adaptation" (FW,
306). The threat of loss is removed through voluntary renunciation; what
is given up can never again be taken away.
Shakespeare's Tempest and Joyce's Ulysses were followed by final, fin-
ished works that portray the aging mother/wife as yielding autonomy to a
daughter or a daughter-figure-Henry VIII and Finnegans Wake. But the
closure suggested by the penultimate "Tempest" works of Dickens, James,
and Conrad is undercut by final, unfinished works all of which portend a
cyclical return to the father's possession of the daughter- Dickens's The
Mystery of Edwin Drood, James's The Ivory Tower, and Conrad's Suspense.
This suggests that the artist's attempt to resolve his desire for union with a
lost object is never finally achieved. Henry James, however, compounded
the problem with the novel he was working on when he died, The Sense of
the Past, illustrating the tenuousness of such conclusions.

35 Some Literary Variations on the Incest Theme

Thou similar ofvirtue/
That art incestuous.
William Shakespeare, King Lear


The Triangle in
William Shakespeare

Although variations on the father/daughter theme are central to at least
twenty-one of Shakespeare's plays (Boose 1982, 325), the focus here is on
four of the plays that illustrate basic patterns of resolution of the incest-
threat for the father and the daughter through marriage to a suitor. These
patterns will then serve as the basis for analysis of an early, a middle, and
a late work by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and James
Of all the writers under consideration, the least amount of intimate
detail is known about Shakespeare's family relationships. This has only
served to stimulate endless speculation, usually based on the correlation
between known historical facts found in public records and the sequence
and content of the various plays. In this way critics have found grounds for
conjectures regarding the man himself.
Born in 1564, the bard was eighteen when he was precipitously married
to a woman eight years his senior. "But special circumstances attended

this match. The groom was a minor, and his lady, pregnant."' By the age
of twenty he had three children but for most of the ensuing years, except
for yearly visits to Stratford, Shakespeare lived and worked in London.2
Hamnet, the only son, died at the age of eleven when his father was thirty-
two-six years before the publication of Hamlet. His oldest daughter,
Susanna, was married when she was twenty-four and her father was forty-
three-one year after King Lear. Her daughter, Elizabeth, was born the
following year (1608), the same year that Shakespeare's mother died and
that Pericles was published. Hamnet's twin, Judith, married at thirty-one
when Shakespeare was fifty-two-the year of his death-1616. This was
five years after he wrote The Winter's Tale and The Tempest and three years
after Henry VIII.
Shakespeare spent most of his final years, 1614-16, in Stratford, return-
ing to London from time to time for short periods. In 1613, Susanna had
brought suit against John Lane for defamation for having accused her of
adultery and consequent gonorrhea; she was exonerated and he was ex-
communicated.3 Judith's marriage to Richard Quiney in February, 1616,
was followed soon after by a legal scandal involving her new husband's
adultery; both the illegitimate infant and the mother had died. Suit was
brought against Quiney on March 26, Judith already pregnant with their
first child. Schoenbaum conjectures that the resulting stress may have
precipitated Shakespeare's death two months later on April 23 (292). Cer-
tainly having both daughters involved in unsavory lawsuits must have
been a burden to their aging father. When he died, he left his wife the now
notorious "second-best bed," with the bulk of his estate going to Susanna,
her husband, and their heirs, while also making provision for Judith.
Otto Rank was one of the pioneers in tying the artist's life to the work
and Joyce followed in his footsteps with Stephen Dedalus's elaborate dis-
course in the library. Both writers speculated on the implications of
Shakespeare's having played the Ghost in Hamlet: "This suggests that at
the time Shakespeare identified more closely with the role of the father.
This conception gains in significance given that this role is generally said
to have been Shakespeare's best performance" (Rank, 186). Jean Kimball
has presented substantial evidence that Rank's work was available to and
utilized by Joyce.4
Stephen Dedalus waxes poetic on the subject:

A player comes on. ... It is the ghost, the king, a king and no king,
and the player is Shakespeare who has studied Hamlet all the years
of his life which were not vanity in order to play the part of the

37 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

spectre.... To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince,
young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamnet Shakespeare,
who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever.
Is it possible that that player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence,
and in the vesture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking
his own words to his own son's name (had Hamnet Shakespeare
lived he would have been prince Hamlet's twin) is it possible, I
want to know, or probable that he did not draw or foresee the logi-
cal conclusion of those premises: you are the dispossessed son: I
am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty queen. Ann
Shakespeare, born Hathaway? (U, 9.164-80)

Stephen then elaborates on the potential damage to the male ego of loss of
sexual initiative, perhaps telling us more about Joyce than it does about
Shakespeare: "Belief in himself has been untimely killed. He was over-
borne in a cornfield first (a ryefield, I should say) and he will never be a
victor in his own eyes after nor play victoriously the game of laugh and lie
down" (U, 9.455-58). One of Joyce's listeners had raised the question
which still plagues critics and critics of critics: "But this prying into the
family life of a great man" (U, 9.181).
In addition to a lack of detail about his life, Shakespeare's corpus is
distinguished by uncertainty regarding the exact sequence of his works;
much of the dating remains speculative. Nevertheless, his prolific output
resulted in an interesting chronological proximity for many of the plays.
Although I have selected a play from his earlier years, A Midsummer
Night's Dream (1596), one from his middle period, King Lear (1606), and
two from his later period, Pericles (1609) and The Tempest (1611) for more
intense focus, certain other plays are pertinent by virtue of their chrono-
logical proximity and the light this throws on their variations in treatment
of the incest theme.
Shakespeare followed his first play in 1592 when he was twenty-eight
with the writing of Love's Labour's Lost in 1593, in which the father's death
imposes a period of enforced mourning before the marriages of his daugh-
ter and her friends can take place. In 1594, Shakespeare wrote three plays
embodying a broad spectrum of treatments of the incest theme: Titus
Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titus
Andronicus, the least popular of Shakespeare's works, concludes with the
father's slaying of his daughter, who has been sexually violated by others.
The other two plays offer diametrically opposed resolutions. Susanna was
only eleven when these plays were written, still very young, but old

38 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

enough to cause her father to view himself as father of a maturing daugh-
ter. She was close to Mathilde's age when Freud had his erotic dream
about her.
Romeo and Juliet (1594), while based ostensibly on the Montague/
Capulet opposition, encompasses several components of the father/
daughter theme. Capulet's preferred suitor for his daughter is closer to his
double than the young Romeo, selected by the fourteen-year-old Juliet.
Although her father is at first disposed to let her postpone any action until
she is sixteen, he agrees to allow Count Paris to woo her and ultimately
seems caught up in that frantic haste to get the daughter safely married off
that characterizes other father/daughter plots-especially Shakespeare's.
This dramatizes the father's necessity for a resolution of his own incestu-
ous impulses through immediate marriage.
Juliet is shocked at the urgency: "I wonder at this haste, that I must wed/
Ere he that should be husband comes to woo."5 As Juliet's resistance be-
comes clear to her parents, the incestuous implications become evident
in her father's violent reaction:
Hang thee, young baggage! Disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what-get thee to church a Thursday
Or never after look me in the face.
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!
My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God had lent us but this only child;
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.
Out on her, hilding! (3.5.161-169) K

As her father continues his tirade, Juliet concludes: "If all else fail, myself
have power to die" (3.5.244), foreshadowing her father's later poignant
realization: "Death is my son-in-law; Death is my heir" (4.5.38). The ac-
tions of the father, both in his haste to marry off the newly nubile daugh-
ter, and in his insistence on choosing a man he favors and she disdains, are
prime factors in the rapid movement toward a tragic denouement.
The contrast between Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's
Dream nicely illustrates the skirting of potential violence that is always a
component when the suitor and the daughter are opposed by a possessive
father. The tension in the latter play is established at the outset by the
refusal of Hermia's father, Egeus, to allow her to marry Lysander, while
making it clear that he wishes her to marry Demetrius instead. The father's
autonomy, as established by Athenian law, is summed up by Egeus: "And

39 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

what is mine, mine love shall render him. /And she is mine, and all my
right of her / I do estate unto Demetrius."6 Theseus, the supreme author-
ity figure, has indicated that the penalty for disobedience to this injunc-
tion is either death or lifelong celibacy in a convent. There are no appar-
ent age or attribute distinctions between suitors in this play, and one is free
to infer that the restrictions are related to the father's own repressed mo-
tives. After listing the attributes they share in common, Hermia's favored
suitor makes clear the single distinction between himself and Demetrius,
"I am beloved of beauteous Hermia" (1.1.99-104).
Herein lies the rub. It is frequently one aspect of the incest motif that
the father so involved can cope with the daughter's marriage only when
her object-choice is a man other than the one she finds sexually attractive.
The implication here is that although the father accepts the fact that he
cannot retain her, he can only tolerate renunciation with the knowledge
that she will not be happy or sexually satisfied. There is also a sadistic
streak in the father's forcing marriage on an unwilling daughter in the
name of authority.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the bulk of the action takes place in
the forest, with the pairs of lovers ultimately happily aligned; every Jack
has his Jill. The parodied production of Pyramus and Thisbe, the original
of which foreshadows the bloody end of Romeo and Juliet, parallels the
differences between the thwarted love ofHermia and Lysander and that of
the scions of Capulet and Montague. This raises the crucial question of
wherein lies the difference. Does Egeus differ from Capulet in his resolu-
tion of the dilemma? The difference lies in the avoidance of violence
effected by the intervention of Theseus: "Egeus, I will overbear your will"
(4.1.178); we never hear from Egeus again. Theseus can thus be viewed as
a "good" father who by his imposed renunciation fosters love and prevents
the bloodshed that occurs in Pyramus and Thisbe and Romeo and Juliet.
What is more important is that Theseus contravenes Athenian law and
takes power into his own hands. He thus serves as a successful contrast to
the Prince of Verona who tries to put a stop to the violence and death but
fails. This play then can serve as a prototype for other narratives invwhich
the father renounces the daughter, but only after renunciation is imposed
by an outside authority; sometimes it is the daughter who intervenes.
With The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), Shakespeare effected an
important transition from the father's threat to impose his own choice of a
friend and contemporary as his daughter's groom, to his voluntary relin-
quishment of control in favor of the daughter's choice. But by 1602 the
productions of Hamlet and Othello exemplified a return to a denouement

40 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

of violence and destruction. Although Hamlet has been scrutinized much
more extensively regarding the mother/father/son triad, in the Polonius/
Ophelia/Hamlet triangle the suitor inadvertently destroys the father as a
prelude to the ultimate destruction of the other two members of the tri-
angle. But Polonius had already deterred his daughter from responding to
Hamlet on the grounds of protecting her and it is her father's murder that
precipitates her madness. "In Polonius is embodied the disdained and
derided elderly father who wants to keep his daughters for himself" (Rank,
The primacy of the father/daughter theme in Othello is readily appar-
ent and not surprisingly it is lago's language that insinuates the idea of
incest into the play. Dr. Robert Fliess points out: "Othello, much older
than Desdemona, constitutes a kind of father to her in the special sense of
a forbidden love relation, one surrounded with taboos."7 Brabantio sums
up for all these Shakespearean fathers the solution to the incest-threat that
the suitor represents: "I here do give thee that with all my heart / Which,
but thou hast already, with my heart / I would keep from thee."8 Although
the father's ambivalence remains, the situation has been taken out of his
Since Shakespeare wrote his first play at twenty-eight, a representative
play of his middle period can be found in King Lear (1606), written when
he was forty-two, Susanna was twenty-three, and Judith was twenty-one.
Neither daughter had yet married, but since Susanna did marry in 1607, it
is likely that the event was anticipated. Kay cites Susanna's epitaph which
praised her as "witty above her sex" and "wise to salvation," concluding
that she thus resembled her father (329).
One critic found the father/daughter theme so central to this play that
he coined the term "Lear complex," the complex that focuses on the "ne-
glected" adult to define the attachment of the older member of the oedi-
pal twosome.9 In spite of a wide variety of interpretations of Lear's initial
decision to divide his kingdom, the most immediate result will be to force
his periodic presence on his daughters, and Cordelia, whom "He always
loved most,"'" is the only one left unmarried. The Fool tells Lear:
"[T]hou madst thy daughters thy mothers" (1.4.168-69)." Cordelia's dec-
laration of independence precipitates her father's wrath and provokes him
into banishing his youngest:

Happily, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.

41 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all. (1.1.99-103)

Although the Fool had told Kent that "this fellow has banish'd two on's
daughters, / and did the third a blessing against his will" (1.4.100,101), to-
ward the end of the play, Cordelia returns to England to come to the aid
of her father. And a short time later, her suitor/husband is bereft and alone
as Lear joins his daughter in death. The originator of the "Lear complex"
outlines briefly what has ensued: Lear "reaches the depths of human de-
spair and endurance until he finds his peace in death as a 'smug bride-
groom' in blessed union with his youngest daughter as the bride" (59).
Lear's words at the height of the storm have suggested his sense of his guilt:

Tremble thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes
Unwhipped of justice. Hide thee, thou bloody hand,
Thou perjured, and thou similar of virtue
That art incestuous. ... I am a man
More sinned against than sinning. (3.2.51-59, emphasis mine)

During this period, Shakespeare created many examples of the violence
and destruction lying at the heart of the incest theme. Ophelia ends as a
suicide, her father having been murdered by the suitor. Desdemona, an
innocent victim, is murdered. As Cordelia and her father lie dead, only
the suitor remains when the violence has spun itself out. Earlier versions
of the play did not entail a tragic finale, nor did the folktales which served
as its base end tragically (Dundes, 234-35). King Leir, performed in 1590,
depicted a reconciliation between Leir and Cordelia (Kay, 313).
In those plays that end in the destruction of both father and daughter
and frequently of suitor, the violence is precipitated by the refusal of the
father to renounce the daughter. But Shakespeare also wrote a number of
plays in which the father's renunciation of the daughter to a suitor avoids
the potential violence and destruction. Focus on the theme of renuncia-
tion in these plays also provides guidelines for analysis of the theme in
subsequent chapters. Joyce attributed this transformation to the birth of
Shakespeare's granddaughter in 1608: "Marina, Stephen said, a child of
storm, Miranda, a wonder, Perdita, that which was lost. What was lost is
given back to him: his daughter's child" (U, 9.421-24).
Pericles (1609), the first of the late renunciatory series, embodies an ar-
ray of plot possibilities in the father/daughter incest theme, establishing
the basic motif in the opening story of Antiochus and his daughter who

42 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

are living in incest. Although there are other literary examples of overt
incest such as Shelley's The Cenci and Mary Shelley's Mathilda, this is
one of the few in which the incest is sustained with apparent compla-
cency on the part of both participants, as divulged early in the play by
This king unto him took a peer,
Who died and left a female heir,
So buxom, blithe, and full of face
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took
And her to incest did provoke.
Bad child; worse father! to entice his own
By custom what they did begin
Was with long use accounted no sin. (1 Chorus 21-30)

By whom was it accounted no sin? Certainly by the participants, and prob-
ably by the king's subjects also. And this father does not enjoin celibacy
upon his suitor/rivals who fail to guess the riddle; their heads are ranged
for all to see-a classic castration symbol.
Pericles guesses that the riddle spells an incestuous relationship and his
life is immediately endangered. But a more crucial factor is involved, both
in Pericles' guessing of the riddle and in the effect that this has on his
subsequent behavior. His intuitive response to the riddle marks him as an
early "secret sharer" since the proclivities of Antiochus are his own. We
are never told precisely what ideas are aroused in Pericles by the riddle
which is stated in the daughter's voice:
I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother's flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labour
I found that kindness in a father.
He's father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child:
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you. (1.1.65-72)

This disclosure makes Pericles "pale to read it" (1.1.76), and he evades
making a direct answer to the king with: "Few love to hear the sins they
love to act" (1.1.93), concluding with an oblique incest reference: "All love
the womb that their first being bred. / Then give my tongue like leave to
love my head" (1.1.107-08). Does knowledge of the relationship between

43 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

Antiochus and his daughter perhaps suggest to Pericles his own love of the
"womb that first their being bred" since the father/daughter attachment
can operate as a reversal of the mother/son? Ostensibly to flee possible
death at the hands of Antiochus, Pericles leaves Tyre and is soon again the
third party in another father/daughter/suitor triangle.
King Simonides is the complete antithesis of Antiochus. On his
daughter's birthday (always significant in the incest motif narrative), he is
parading before her a series of knights for her selection; in the array,
Pericles seems an unlikely choice due to his recent shipwreck. He be-
comes, however, the chosen love-object of Thaisa and she uses the subter-
fuge of total withdrawal for one year to rid herself of all other suitors.
Simonides weighs his own autonomy against his daughter's:
She tells me here, she'll wed the stranger knight,
Or never more to view nor day nor light.
'Tis well, mistress; your choice agrees with mine;
I like that well: nay, how absolute she's in't,
Not minding whether I dislike or no!
Well, I do commend her choice,
And will no longer have it be delayed.
Soft, here he comes: I must dissemble it. (2.5.16-23)

Again, there is that sense of urgency on the part of the father to see the
daughter safely in the arms of the suitor once the decision to renounce has
been made. But Shakespeare's fathers are sometimes good psychologists
and also realize that what comes too easily may not prove very attractive.
Obstacles enhance desire, but when agreement is finally reached, there is
again that sense of urgency: "It pleaseth me so well that I will see you wed;
/And then, with what haste you can, get you to bed" (2.5.91-92).
Before this marriage takes place, the audience has learned that Antio-
chus and his daughter have been destroyed in a terrible death. Although
Simonides has "dissembled" his opposition to the marriage, it also reflects
his true ambivalence toward this usurper of his fatherly rights. The mar-
riage is short-lived (just short of nine months) since Thaisa ostensibly per-
ishes in childbirth and is buried at sea to be resuscitated on land five hours
later, unbeknown to Pericles. Subsequently, Pericles deposits his daugh-
ter with another pair of surrogate parents. Cleon, the father, is fond of his
foster daughter whom he has "trained / In music's letters" (4 Chorus 7, 8).
Comprising another plot variation on the theme, the true daughter of
Cleon and Dionyza is quite outshone by the foster daughter, and the
mother plans Marina's murder. In this oedipal plot, the second daughter

44 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

is a double for the mother and it is really the usurpation of the mother by
the daughter that leads to Dionyza's decision to have her murdered-by
yet another father figure, Leonine. This is a fairly rare literary instance in
which there is open conflict between the mother and daughter for the
father, in this case displaced onto a daughter surrogate. Leonine, reluc-
tantly faced with Marina's murder, is saved from action by her abduction
by pirates who sell her to a brothel owner, thus setting up the fourth oedi-
pal configuration. The confrontation between Cleon and Dionyza, fol-
lowed by the supposed murder, reinforces the oedipal reading that was
added to the Gower version by Shakespeare.12
The Pander/Bawd/Boult (father/mother/brother) triangle is perhaps
one of the least recurrent paradigms in terms of future literary patterns. It
is significant that Shakespeare added a character not in the Gower ver-
sion: "[I]n the brothel scenes he has no female Bawd, only a pandar and a
servant." Shakespeare also "cuts to a minimum" the story of Antiochus's
incest.'3 But possibly the most interesting change made by Shakespeare in
the Gower materials was the more prominent role given to Marina (xvii).
In this plot variation, the daughter's sexuality becomes a commercial com-
modity for the father who, in a sense, acts as her pimp. The father figure in
this "family" is simply called "Pandar," but he is not Chaucer's benign,
lovable Pandarus. The "mother" allies herself with the father to exploit
the daughter. Marina's stubborn refusal to submit culminates in a further
incestuous elaboration, as the surrogate mother suggests to the surrogate
brother that he deprive her of her virginity, thus paving the way for her
future exploitation: "Boult, take her away; use her at thy pleasure. / Crack
the glass of her virginity, and make the rest malleable" (4.6.141-43). But
Marina manages to escape the brothel due to her ability to gain the re-
spect of a perceptive Lysimachus who then refrains from using her as a
prostitute. In effect, a father-surrogate saves Marina and eventually mar-
ries her with her own father's blessing. In Gower, this character never
enters the brothel (xv).
As Pericles is reunited with his daughter, but is still unaware of her
identity, the function of the daughter as a double of the mother is made
clear: "My dearest wife /Was like this maid, and such a one / My daughter
might have been" (5.1.106-08). A short time later he tells her: "thou look'st
/Like one I lov'd indeed" (5.1.124-25). Pericles and Marina are here placed
in the position described by Masters in which separated relatives, when
reunited, are more prone to incest (5). Marina calls up immediately the
earlier love-object, and one might surmise that if Pericles doesn't find out
who she really is, a sexual involvement is imminent. The transfer of pater-

45 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

nal desire from mother to daughter is embodied in Marina's words to her
father: "Thaisa was my mother, who did end / The minute I began"
(5.1.210,211). Again, Joyce comments: "'My dearest wife,' Pericles says, 'was
like this maid.' Will any man love the daughter if he has not loved the
mother?" (U, 9.423-24). Joyce echoes this with "Molly. Milly. Same thing
watered down" (U, 6.87). The Chinese box metaphor also holds since
Joyce's daughter was an adolescent while he was writing Ulysses.
The function of the father/daughter relationship as a reversal of the
mother/son is succinctly stated in the words of Pericles to the daughter he
now recognizes: "0, come hither, / Thou that beget'st him that did thee
beget" (5.1.194-95). As in some of the later literature, there is an element
of ambiguity in the suitor in this play, since Lysimachus, as governor, is
really a father-surrogate who has first encountered the undefiled Marina
in the brothel. The transfer of the daughter to this suitor is very low-key
compared to other plays as Pericles says: "You shall prevail, / Were it to
woo my daughter; for it seems / You have been noble towards her"
(5.1.259-61). In an ironic parody of the series of suitors in other plays, such
as The Merchant ofVenice, and of the competition arranged by Simonides
in which Pericles was chosen, Marina has been besieged by "suitors" in
the brothel, but has successfully fended them off. Lysimachus, the sole
authority-figure who visits the brothel, has played the "good" father by not
exerting his authority. As in the other plays, age is significant. Marina
"Was nurs'd with Cleon, who at fourteen years / He sought to murder"
At this point, not only is the incest-threat resolved by marriage and by
restoration of the mother to the father; the couples are to be permanently
separated as rulers of two kingdoms due to the death of Thaisa's father.
Lest there be any doubt that this denouement is above all the resolution of
the incest threat, the Epilogue returns to Gower and to the original incest-
plot in the play:
In Antiochus and his daughter you have heard
Of monstrous lust the due and just reward;
In Pericles, his queen, and daughter, seen,
Although assailed with fortune fierce and keen,
Virtue preserved from fell destruction's blast,
Led on by heaven, and crowned with joy at last. (Epilogue 1-6)

What "virtue preserved" has meant for Pericles is more subtly stated, but
I feel that it is quite clearly his refusal to succumb to the fatal "crime"
of Antiochus, the understanding of which first made him so uneasy and

46 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

nearly cost him his life. The play can then be read as both an allegorical
and an archetypal resolution of the father/daughter incest-threat with a
full range of possible solutions set out in a series of related plots. The
incestuous attraction that Marina holds for her father is much more ex-
plicit in the Gower version.
The cluster of plays that began with Pericles (1608) and ended with The
Tempest (1611) all deal with the father/daughter theme. One critic points
out that "critical opinion is at last recognizing that the same ideas, preoc-
cupations, situations, devices, and themes inform Shakespeare's comedies
from the very earliest to the latest.""14 The Winter's Tale (1611), while revers-
ing the tragic resolution of Othello, is also an extrapolation of one of the
plots from Pericles. Although the causal factors are different, the same
components are present: the disappearance of both mother and daughter
immediately following the daughter's birth, reunion with both when the
daughter reaches puberty, resolution in the reunions of father/mother and
daughter/suitor. The recurrent exile theme is embodied both in Her-
mione's simulated death and in Perdita's removal by ship. In contrast to
Shakespeare's transformation of a nontragic Leir into a tragic one, the
incest theme in The Winter's Tale reverses the earlier presentation in Rob-
ert Greene's Pandosto (1588), in which the theme is more explicitly stated:
"[T]he queen dies, and the king, despite the happy reunion with his
daughter, commits suicide in a fit of melancholy.""15 In Shakespeare's ver-
sion, Hermione only seems to die and Leontes survives his period of pen-
ance to be reunited with his wife. It should be noted that Leontes has
arranged to urge Florizel's suit to Polixenes while still unaware of the
identity of the girl. The joy has become a loss, and "Perdita" becomes an
oxymoron, summed up by Paulina: "Our Perdita is found"6.
In The Winter's Tale, then, the basic resolution occurs with the father
momentarily attracted to the nubile daughter who is a double of the
mother, but the incest-threat is contained by the restoration of the mother
and the simultaneous availability of a suitor for the daughter. The oedipal
configuration is again stabilized and equilibrium restored-until next
time. Joyce summarizes: "There can be no reconciliation ... if there has
not been a sundering" (U, 9.397-98).
Shakespeare begins The Tempest with a recurrent narrative companion
to the incest theme in several other plays and in some of the novels-the
tempest. Although in both Pericles and The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare
introduces such ambiguous and unnatural actions as Thaisa's burial and
recovery from the sea and Hermione's retrieval from a statue, in The Tem-
pest, he further abandons the semblance of reality by introducing Ariel

47 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

and presenting the tempest as a contrivance of the father himself. Since
these final plays all depend on unrealistic devices-mothers who survive
presumed death to be ultimately reunited with the renunciatory father at
the end of the play, or contrivances such as Ariel -suggests that Shakes-
peare needed to resort to extraordinary dramatic measures to effect a non-
violent resolution of the incest-threat for the father.
The total autonomy represented by Prospero is an essential aspect of
the resolution of the incest-threat by the father. Very early in the course of
the action we are told three things: that the storm has done "no harm,""
that Prospero is in control, and that what has happened has some as yet
undisclosed connection with Miranda, his daughter:
I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter, who
Art ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing
Of whence I am! nor that I am more better
Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater father. (1.1.16-21)

Again, the recurrent components of the father/daughter/suitor theme oc-
cur: Miranda and her father have been exiled by themselves since she was
three and they have been on the island for twelve years, until she has
attained the magic age of fifteen (1.2.54). Although as the play opens,
Prospero is about to divulge to Miranda that he is indeed the usurped
Duke of Milan, he has had other fatherly authority roles: "and here / Have
I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit / Than other princess' can,
that have more time / For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful" (1.2.171-
74). And Miranda asks her father his "reason / For raising this sea-storm?"
Although the machinations of Prospero will effect the resumption of
control of his dukedom, the primary solution the tempest brings is that of
a suitor for the daughter in the person of Ferdinand. The disclosure of a
parallel father/daughter subplot sheds light on the importance of the solu-
tion to the incest-threat contained in the main plot. The shipwrecked
group is returning from a wedding which has all the elements of the incest
theme, with exile in this instance serving as an additional means of reso-
lution, as described by Gonzalo: "Methinks our garments are now as fresh
as when we put them on first in Afric, at the marriage of the King's fair
daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis" (2.1.66-68).
But Claribel's father is having second thoughts: "Would I had never /
Married my daughter there! for, coming thence, / My son is lost; and, in

48 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

my rate, she too, / Who is so far from Italy removed /I ne'er again shall see
her" (2.1.103-07). The designation of this marriage as a form of banish-
ment becomes clearer as Sebastian reminds Alonso that he has only him-
self to blame:

SEBASTIAN. Sir, you may thank yourself for this great loss,
That would not bless our Europe with your daughter,
But rather loose her to an African,
Where she, at least, is banish'd from your eye,
Who hath cause to wet the grief on't.
ALONSO. Prithee peace.
SEBASTIAN. You were kneel'd to and importun'd otherwise,
By all of us; and the fair soul herself
Weigh'd, between loathness and obedience, at
Which end o' th' beam should bow. We have lost your son,
I fear, for ever.

The fault's your own.
ALONSO. So is the dear'st o' th' loss. (2.1.118-32)

The greater loss has been that ofAlonso's daughter, who torn "between
loathness and obedience" has been banished to Africa. Prospero, isolated
on an island with his daughter and that projection of his own potential,
uninhibited sexual impulses, Caliban, creates a "tempest" which pro-
duces a suitor for his daughter. It is the onset of Caliban's desire to possess
Miranda sexually (which we may assume to have coincided with her
menarche) that has totally altered Prospero's attitude toward Caliban:
PROSPERO. Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have us'd thee
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodg'd thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
CALIBAN. O ho, O ho! wouldn't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans. (1.2.346-53)

Not only is the appearance of a suitor contrived, but the actual attraction
between Ferdinand and Miranda is manipulated through the magic of
MIRANDA. I might call him

49 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

A thing divine; for nothing natural
I ever saw so noble.
PROSPERO. [Aside] It goes on, I see,
As my soul prompts it. Spirit, fine spirit, I'll free thee
Within two days for this. (1.2.420-23)

This aspect of Ferdinand's immediate attraction to Miranda is again com-
mented upon:
PROSPERO. [Aside] The Duke of Milan
And his more braver daughter could control thee,
If now 'twere fit to do't. At the first sight
They have changed eyes. Delicate Ariel,
I'll set thee free for this. (1.2.442-45)

But Prospero, like Simonides, feels he must put artificial barriers in the
way in order to enhance the romance:
PROSPERO. [Aside] They are both in either's pow'rs: but this
swift business
I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
Make the prize light. (1.2.452-54)

Prospero proceeds to accuse Ferdinand of being a spy and a traitor, and
as Miranda pleads for gentle treatment of her newfound love, her father's
language burgeons with phallic imagery: "Put thy sword up, traitor, /Who
mak'st a show but dar'st not strike, thy conscience / is so possess'd with
guilt: come, from thy ward, / For I can here disarm thee with this stick /
And make thy weapon drop" (1.2.472-76). Like Simonides, Prospero is
able to give vent to his very real ambivalence toward his daughter's suitor,
and his deep awareness of the sexual implications are voiced when he says
of Ferdinand: "To th' most of men this is a Caliban" (1.2.482).
Prospero enjoins upon Ferdinand a "trial" in which he must remove
thousands of logs and pile them up in another place. The logs serve as a
sexual symbol of the transition from Prospero to Ferdinand as well as from
the unbound sexual impulses of Caliban, whose duties the prince is per-
forming. As the unseen Prospero watches and listens to the two lovers, he
indicates his acceptance of the match in another aside: "Fair encounter /
Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace / On that which breeds
between 'em! (3.1.74,76). Prospero's musings as he hears the two promise
to marry and watches them exit is fully ambiguous, again suggesting his
deep ambivalence:

50 .Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

So glad of this as they I cannot be,
Who are surprised with all; but my rejoicing
At nothing can be more. I'll to my book. (3.1.92-94)

The father acknowledges his limited joy in the event, but "rejoicing / At
nothing can be more," can either indicate that nothing would make him
happier, or that nothing will ever make him happy again.
After telling Ariel that he is about to "visit /Young Ferdinand, -whom
they suppose is drown'd,- /And his and mine lov'd darling" (3.3.91-93),
Prospero turns his daughter over to the suitor with strict injunctions about
the forms which must be adhered to:

Then, as my gift, and thine own acquisition
Worthily purchased, take my daughter: but
If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be ministr'd,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-ey'd disdain, and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed,
As Hymen's lamps shall liglht you. (4.1.13-23)

But Prospero is an anxious, worried father indeed, and further instructs
them, as though no assurance Ferdinand can give him can allay his fears:

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw
To th' fire in' th' blood: be more abstemious,
Or else, good night your vow! (4.1.51-54)

One can only conclude that he knows whereof he speaks. His abdication
of any possible sexual inclination is again symbolically expressed: "I'll
break my staff, / Bury it certain fadoms in the earth, /And deeper than did
ever plummet sound / I'll drown my book" (5.1.54-57).
That Prospero has deliberately instigated the tempest to produce a
suitor as soon as his daughter has reached puberty, and that renunciation
has been a traumatic experience, is made clear in his exchange with
Alonso who still believes his son lost. Again the ambiguity of "oozy bed"
suggests the father/son rivalry already explored in The Winter's Tale:

51 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

PROSPERO. Than you may call to comfort you, for I
Have lost my daughter.
ALONSO. A daughter?
O heavens, that they were living both in Naples,
The King and Queen there! that they were, I wish
Myself were mudded in that oozy bed
Where my son lies. When did you lose your daughter?
PROSPERO. In this last tempest. (5.1.147-53)

That this play is characterized by the condensation typical of dreams is
pointed up by the fact that Ferdinand and Miranda have only known each
other for three hours (5.1.186). Prospero's Epilogue, regarded as the artist's
renunciation of his art, is again fraught with meanings that can refer back
to the incest theme:
And my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free. (Epilogue, 15-20)

Lear too has spoken of "undivulged crimes" and "virtue / That art in-
cestuous" (3.2.52-55). The widely varied critical interpretations of the
Epilogue omit the view of it as a statement of the guilt over incest wishes
and fantasies, and the acceptance of the resolution of that guilt. Ariel
(superego), Caliban (id), and Prospero (ego), in which the first two are
contained, are reunited at the end, and Prospero is once more a unified
whole: "What strength I have's my own, / Which is most faint" (Epilogue,
The tempest itself has served as a metaphor for sexuality that, like all
violent action, has a life of its own, once it has been set in motion. Ella
Sharpe comments: "Prospero and Lear are alike, and different. In Pros-
pero omnipotence becomes benign. Prospero's storm saves, Lear's de-
stroys."'8 Lear renounces his daughter to the suitor, but reluctantly and
filled with rage, instigating a chain of violence as he sends her into exile.
Prospero too renounces the daughter to a suitor, but with control and
love, albeit also reluctantly. Claribel's father's renunciation has been
voluntary and although the tragic denouement is avoided, one can only
speculate on Claribel's plight, both as victim of her father's incestuous
impulses and her own submission to his will. Desdemona was at least a
willing participant in her marriage.

52 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Shakespeare's Tempest, written toward the end of his life, is a condensa-
tion of the renunciation of the daughter by the father, involving his own
control in the production of a suitor. Bernard J. Paris tells us: "The Tempest
is one of only two Shakespearean plays whose plot, as far as we know, is
entirely the author's invention. It is, more than any other play, a fantasy of
Shakespeare's."'9 The novelists' "Tempests," all written toward the end of
their careers, include Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, James's The Golden
Bowl, Conrad's The Rover, and Joyce's Ulysses. The broad spectrum of
possibilities in the development of this model will be seen in the ensuing
discussion of these novels.

53 The Triangle in William Shakespeare

You will lose the disinterested
part of your Don Quixote char-
acter ... if you only redress the
wrongs of beauty like this.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House


The Triangle in
Charles Dickens

The relationship between psychobiographical data and the recurrent fa-
ther/daughter theme is particularly explicit for Charles Dickens (1812-
70). The early trauma of his relegation to the blacking factory at the age
of twelve, which entailed his own banishment from the oedipal circle
at home,' occurred at the outset of a life punctuated by a series of un-
happy or unsatisfactory relationships with women. Mollie Hardwick sums
this up:
His strange, deep idealistic love for Mary Hogarth-the cause of
years of haunting sorrow to him-his early passion for Maria Bead-
nell, the "Dora" who rejected her "David" and left a scar on his
mind and whose deterioration in middle-age caused Dickens such
cruel disillusion; and worst of all his terrible incompatibility with
his wife.... All these were to culminate in that 13-year relationship
with Ellen Ternan--a "disappointing partnership," ... for Ellen's
youth could not bring back Dickens's own lost boyhood, and she

was obviously never able to give him the ideal love he longed for,
or to satisfy that feeling of "something wanting" in his life, which
always haunted him.2
The circumstances of Mary Hogarth's death were indeed traumatic.
Dickens attended one of his own plays, a satire on marriage, in the com-
pany of his wife and her sister, Mary, who later that evening suddenly
became ill and died the next day aged eighteen. Dickens had become very
attached to her as the third member of the triangle that formed the family
of his early marriage and requested that he be buried next to her. In later
life, when accused of having an affair with Ellen Ternan, he was outraged,
protesting that he regarded her as one of his own daughters. Dickens was
forty-five when he met the eighteen-year-old Nelly, who was one year
younger than his daughter Mary. However, the historical evidence for an
affair is substantial.3 The situation was compounded by the "unhappy first
marriage of his younger daughter and the rejection of all acceptable suit-
ors by the other."4
The life of Charles Dickens offers an unusual number of examples of
the search for that first love-object that is paralleled in so many of his
works. His feeling of "something wanting" was also recorded by many
other artists, including Henrik Ibsen and Joseph Conrad. Dickens seems
to have accompanied his active writing career by a continual "acting out"
of the father/daughter/suitor drama, in one form or another. He is also
distinguished by his treatment of the theme in a number of early pieces,
commented upon by Morton Zabel: "The stories may be said to define or
isolate the germs and sources of his greater achievements."5 Several short
pieces from Sketches by Boz (1836) illustrate Zabel's point, and one of
them includes a passage to delight Freudians.6
Another story, "The Misplaced Attachment of Mr. John Dounce,"7
sums up the transference of the father's attachment from the absent
mother to a daughter or a daughter-substitute. This story preceded Pick-
wick Papers, and encompasses its central theme of the father's struggle to
renounce the daughter and cope with the threatening alternatives of soli-
tude or solace with an older woman. A sampling of these early stories
makes clear Dickens's lifelong preoccupation with the father/daughter
relationship. While the emphasis here will be on Pickwick Papers, David
Copperfield, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend, other novels also re-
veal the pervasiveness of the theme throughout the Dickens canon.8
Dombey and Son (1848) is especially significant because it illustrates a
less frequently depicted defense on the part of the father against the incest
threat: his open hostility and rejection of the maturing daughter. Critics

55 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

have long been aware of this: "The title kept a bigger secret than it dis-
closed."' The ambivalence inherent in the incest-theme is summed up:
"In regard to Florence, the deepening of his resentment into hate is overtly
linked with her transition from girl to young woman."'1 Herman docu-
ments this aspect of clinical cases: "A number of the seductive fathers who
were not habitually violent became violent during their daughters' adoles-
cence. Others, perhaps in order to avoid becoming violent and paranoid,
completely withdrew from their daughter when they began showing
sexual interest in boys their own age. They reacted to their daughters'
emerging sexuality either with an attempt to establish total control or with
total rejection" (117). Years prior to Dickens and Herman, Mary Shelley
had graphically developed this aspect of the complex in Mathilda.
Although Dickens first planned the destruction of the suitor, Walter
Gay, he later changed his mind (Butt and Tillotson, 98-99), an important
alteration in terms of triangular resolution. This novel ends with the rec-
onciliation of the father, daughter, and suitor-a suitor who has suffered
a near-fatal exile by water.
Pickwick Papers (1837), Dickens's first novel, interweaves his earlier
short story form with the picaresque novel he so admired in Smollett and
Fielding. The interpolated tales are related to the main narrative through
the father/daughter/suitor relationship. Ironically, in his introduction to
the novel, Dickens apologized for the lack of a unifying theme: "I could
perhaps wish now that these chapters were strung together on a stronger
thread of general interest,"" evidently oblivious to the thread of oedipal
configurations strung not only between chapters but linking chapters and
interpolated tales. The seemingly artless and haphazard narrative struc-
ture conceals an intricate, interrelated series of incidents, each composed
of father/daughter/son, or father/daughter/suitor-sometimes in combi-
nation. The novel depicts a series of lovely young women and Dickens
himself suggested the connection between the writing of the novel and
his personal life: "Having written for the most part in the society of a very
dear young friend [Mary Hogarth] who is now no more, they are con-
nected in the author's mind at once with the happiest period of his life,
and with its saddest and most severe affliction."'2 Perhaps it was this back-
ground that resulted in its juxtaposition of the interpolated tales against
the many triangular configurations in the novel. Sylvia Bank Manning
comments: "The brightness of the world of Pickwick Papers allows hardly
a need for struggle against darker forces. This may be due at least in part
to the compression and isolation of evil into the interpolated tales.""3

56 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

The interpolated tales deal with a variety of family configurations, one
of the most explicit in terms of fathers and daughters being "In Which the
Old Man Launches Forth Into His Favourite Theme, and Relates a Story
About a Queer Client" (298). This tale shifts most of the action to the
young husband's revenge on the father who has contributed to the de-
struction of his own daughter and her child by imprisoning him: "[F]rom
that hour, he devoted himself to revenge her death and that of his child"
(307). As this story is concluded, Mr. Pickwick leaves the room, and the
narrative returns to his lighthearted adventures. The only evidence of the
impact of this tale on Mr. Pickwick lies in his unobtrusively acting as a
low-key, romantic father figure throughout the novel, bringing about a
series of happy denouements in father/suitor or father/son conflicts in
contrast to the tragedy of the interpolated tales.
Pickwick's ambiguous role vacillates between leering older gentleman
and benevolent father and is ironically suggested in Mr. Phunky's inquiry
of the young Mr. Winkle: "'Has his behavior, when females have been in
the case, always been that of a man, who, having attained a pretty ad-
vanced period of life, content with his own occupations and amusements,
treats them only as a father might his daughters?' 'Not the least doubt of it,'
replied Mr. Winkle, in the fulness of his heart. 'That is-yes-oh yes-
certainly"' (515). Mr. Winkle is obviously not at all certain and Pickwick
assumes the seeming innocence of the benign father figure in explaining
to Winkle his plan to "protect" Arabella:
"In affording you this interview the young lady has taken a natural,
perhaps, but still a very imprudent step. If I am present at the meet-
ing, a mutual friend, who is old enough to be the father of both
parties, the voice of calumny can never be raised against her here-
Mr. Pickwick's eyes lightened with honest exultation at his own
foresight, as he spoke thus. Mr. Winkle was touched by this little
trait of his delicate respect for the young protege of his friend, and
took his hand with a feeling of regard, akin to veneration. (591, 592)

But Pickwick's voyeuristic proclivities assert themselves as he and Winkle
set out on the expedition and Mr. Pickwick "with many smiles and various
other indications of great self-satisfaction" produces a dark lantern, and by
climbing on the backs of Sam and Mr. Winkle, manages "to bring his
spectacles just above the level of the coping" (594). As the men groan
under his weight, Pickwick looks over the wall at Arabella and the gentle

57 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

leers become less subtle: "I merely wished you to know, my dear, that I
should not have allowed my young friend to see you in this clandestine
way, if the situation in which you are placed, has left him any alternative;
and lest the impropriety of this step should cause you any uneasiness, my
love, it may be a satisfaction to you, to know that I am present. That's all,
my dear" (595).
Pickwick's reassurances end abruptly when he is dropped to the ground
and Sam speculates that "his heart must ha' been born five-and-twenty
year arter his body, at least!" (595). Mr. Winkle's romantic interlude with
Arabella is brought to an abrupt end by Mr. Pickwick's "false alarm" (597).
This only serves as a delaying action, however, since ultimately Pickwick
has to cope with the surprise announcement that Arabella has become
Mrs. Winkle:
Mr. Pickwick returned no verbal response to this appeal; but he
took off his spectacles in great haste, and seizing both the young
lady's hands in his, kissed her a great number of times-perhaps a
greater number than was absolutely necessary-and then, still re-
taining one of her hands, told Mr. Winkle he was an audacious
young dog, and bade him get up. (709)

Indicative of Pickwick's transition from possessiveness to renunciation,
"he surveyed Arabella's face with a look of as much pride and exultation as
if she had been his daughter" (709). He has managed to pull back from a
potentially lecherous father to a benign one, but his ambivalence remains
regarding the marriage: "Mind, I do not say I should have prevented it, if
I had known that it was intended" (723). He still has doubts.
Pickwick then pleads with the elder Mr. Winkle to give his blessing to
the union, thus hoping to neutralize the father/son rivalry. He is at first
unsuccessful with this Dickensian Montague and tells Arabella, as he
looks at her pretty face, "I am sure ... he can have very little idea of the
pleasure he denies himself" (791). But this is hardly incipient tragedy,
since Pickwick offers himself as an alternate father to the couple and is
amply rewarded when Arabella throws "her arms around his neck ...
kissing him affectionately" (792). Has Pickwick silently learned his lesson
from the "Tale of the Queer Client"? Pickwick's contemporary, Wardle,
renters the picture to declare Pickwick's own unvoiced hopes regarding
Arabella: "I had a great idea of marrying her myself one of these odd days"
(807); Wardle's own daughters are the same age. And Pickwick is finally
successful in reconciling the elder Winkle to the marriage of his son and

58 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Arabella, a reconciliation that culminates in Winkle's "Kiss me, my love.
You are a very charming little daughter-in-law, after all!" (847).
Prompted by the secret marriage of young Winkle and her friend,
Arabella, Wardle's daughter, Bella, tells her father of her sister Emily's
wishes to marry Snodgrass, although Wardle had been urging another
match. Wardle then sums up the father/daughter attachment that makes
release to the suitor so poignantly painful: "Both my girls are pictures of
their dear mother, and as I grow old I like to sit with only them by me; for
their voices and looks carry me back to the happiest period of my life, and
make me, for the moment, as young as I used to be then, though not quite
so light-hearted" (808). Wardle is obdurate in his opposition to the match
and the girls plot the elopement of Emily and Snodgrass in the event that
her father remains "cruel" (815). However, he becomes reconciled to the
match as the chapter ends.
Pickwick continues to act as an archetypal good father as he extends his
matchmaking to Sam and Mary, influencing old Mr. Weller who "had
been much struck with Mary's appearance, having; in fact, bestowed sev-
eral very unfatherly winks upon her, already" (841). Again, the ambiva-
lence and covert jealousy in the father/son/heroine triangle is apparent.
Mr. Pickwick's silent renunciation of the young women to their suitors
comes full circle when he is "much troubled at first, by the numerous
applications made to him by Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Trun-
dle, to act as god-father to their offspring; but he has become used to it
now, and officiates as a matter of course" (855). This novel encompasses
a number of real fathers (Wardle, Weller, Winkle), with Pickwick replac-
ing each briefly as surrogate father for a daughter or for a suitor. Once
Pickwick, as proxy, has accepted renunciation, the true fathers fall into
line, accepting with good, though reluctant, grace their usurpation by the
young suitors.
As counterpoint to the appealing young women characters, Pickwick's
(and Dickens's?) disdain for older, motherly figures surfaces throughout
the novel. As early illustrated in John Dounce's story, following the renun-
ciation of daughters, Dickens's fathers are faced with the reluctant return
to a disdained mother or mother-figure. This undercurrent of antipathy
toward older women runs throughout the Dickens canon illustrated in
the breach of promise suit brought against Pickwick by Mrs. Bardell,
which serves as a leitmotif through most of the novel, even forcing Pick-
wick's imprisonment for a time. Unlike Dounce, who succumbs to an
unhappy compromise with an older woman, Pickwick always feels deeply

59 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

threatened by them: "The truth is, that the old lady's evidently increasing
admiration, was Mr. Pickwick's principle [sic] inducement for going away.
He thought of Mrs. Bardell; and every glance of the old lady's eyes threw
him into a cold perspiration" (726).
Pickwick chooses isolation instead, mitigated by his function as godfa-
ther to innumerable little Snodgrasses, Winkles, Trundles, and Wellers.
Since he has indeed played a "godlike" role in their lives, this is appro-
priate. His decision parallels that made by the Bagman's uncle: "He re-
mained staunch to the great oath he had sworn to the beautiful young
lady: refusing several eligible landladies on her account, and dying a bach-
elor at last" (746). It is not difficult to assume that this expressed antipathy
for older women throughout his fiction stemmed in part from Dickens's
lifelong bitterness regarding his mother's efforts to return him to work in
the hated blacking factory after his father had rescued him from it.
Pickwick and presumably the other fathers in the novel accept what
Erik Erikson later defined as the eighth stage of life: "Ego Integrity vs.
Potency, performance, and adaptability decline, but if vigor of
mind combines with the gift of responsible renunciation, some old
people can envisage human problems in their entirety (which is
what "integrity" means) and can represent to the coming genera-
tion a living example of the "closure" of a style of life. (emphasis

The correspondence with Dickens's final description of Pickwick is strik-
Mr. Pickwick is somewhat infirm now; but he retains all his former
juvenility of spirit, and may still be frequently seen, contemplating
the pictures in the Dulwich Gallery, or enjoying a walk about
the pleasant neighbourhood on a fine day. He is known by all the
poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off, as he passes,
with great respect. The children idolise him, and so indeed does
the whole neighbourhood. Every year, he repairs to a large family
merry-making at Mr. Wardle's. (855)

In the years following Pickwick Papers, Dickens created many variations
on the father/daughter theme and about thirteen years later wrote David
Copperfield, which he declared to be his most autobiographical novel. As
such, it is a rewarding hunting ground for variations on the father/daugh-
ter/suitor configuration as a version of the oedipal triangle. Like Pericles,

60 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

David participates in a series of triangles in most of them as the suitor set
off against an unusually symbiotic father and daughter. The Edenic gar-
den figures prominently throughout the novel and first occurs as the back-
ground for David's earliest oedipal confrontation. Born after his father's
death, he had for a number of years been his mother's sole charge, but he
is now displaced by a new and hostile father due to his mother's remar-
riage to a stern man who functions more as a father to them both. The
transfer takes place in the garden and constitutes a graphic displacement
of the oedipal configuration onto a father-surrogate:
a coach drove up to the garden-gate, and he went out to receive the
visitor. My mother followed him. I was timidly following her, when
she turned round at the parlour-door,. and taking me in her em-
brace as she had been used to do, whispered me to love my new
father and be obedient to him. She did this hurriedly and secretly,
as if it were wrong, but tenderly, and, putting out her hand behind
her, held mine in it, until we came near to where he was standing
in the garden, where she let mine go, and drew hers through his

David's oedipal battle with his stepfather is fought out with all of the
anger and rage that in a primary triangle would have been repressed, or at
least subdued, and David is exiled from his home at an early age. With his
idealized and submissive mother helpless in the hands of the Murdstones,
David is banished by a "bad" father and mother as Dickens himself felt
he had been when, under thepressure of the family's straitened circum-
stances, he was sent at the age of twelve to work in the blacking factory.
And even after his father had succeeded in withdrawing him from this
hated situation, his mother recommended that he be sent back, resulting
in a bitterness from which he never recovered: "I never afterwards forgot,
I never shall forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back"
(Johnson, 659). In his view, she evidently preferred remaining with his
father while exiling her son.
Some years later, in his first adult role as member of the triangle, he is
invited to move into the home of Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes
based on the father's plea that it will make things "wholesome" for all
of them (238). Agnes and her father have also lived to themselves for
many years due to her mother's death at the time of her birth. As with
Shakespeare's plots, most of Dickens's fathers and daughters are bereft of
the third member of the family who might have prevented their isolation
from becoming a problem. Mr. Wickfield is a heavy wine drinker and the

61 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

strength of his attachment for his daughter has distinctly incestuous over-
tones (225).
A parallel father/daughter pair appears at the same time: Dr. Strong
who is sixty-two and his young wife, Annie, who is twenty and is mistaken
by David for the doctor's daughter. "It was very pleasant to see the Doctor
with his pretty young wife. He had a fatherly, benignant way of showing
his fondness for her which seemed in itself to express a good man. I often
saw them walking in the garden where the peaches were" (244). Annie's
young suitor had been banished to India through the combined efforts of
the two fathers. David attends Dr. Strong's school, but lives with Agnes
and her father although he does not become a suitor for Agnes until a
number of years later.
In the intervening time, David functions as suitor in the triangle with
Mr. Spenlow and his daughter Dora, who becomes his first wife. David,
who works in a legal office with Mr. Spenlow (a widower), is brought
home just as Dora has returned from her stint away at school in Paris to be
reunited with her father. Seemingly unaware that Dora represents exactly
the same childlike qualities his deceased mother had displayed, he falls in
love with her immediately and totally: "I loved Dora Spenlow to distrac-
tion" (394). After dinner, as one of their dinner companions discusses gar-
dening, David's attention is diverted since he "was wandering in a garden
of Eden all the while, with Dora" (396).
The following morning David has his first encounter with her alone in
the garden. David never sees Dora and her father together in this garden,
and Mr. Spenlow has taken the precaution of bringing David's old enemy,
Miss Murdstone, into the household as a "protector," effecting a d6ji vu
for David. Dora protests to David, "Who wants a protector?" (399), and
in her innocence, would only see this woman as a protector against the
suitor, rather than against her own father; Miss Murdstone is prepared to
be both. Eventually, the couple become engaged, agreeing to keep it a
secret from Dora's father and shift their meetings to the public garden.
Ultimately, David is confronted by an outraged Mr. Spenlow and Miss
Murdstone, who has turned David's letters to Dora over to her father.
Since Miss Murdstone had complied in her brother's appropriation of
David's mother and David's subsequent ejection, he is faced with the rep-
etition of his confrontation with Murdstone over his mother, for whom
Dora is a childlike replica. But this time David does not back down; he
refuses to take back the letters, and Mr. Spenlow, on his way home to
confront Dora with the evidence, dies suddenly and inexplicably, thus
imposing an ineradicable burden of guilt on both young people. Although

62 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

the marriage eventually takes place, Dora, presumably deprived of the
opportunity of working through her attachment to her father in a natural
way, succumbs swiftly to this burden of remorse and also dies.
David, once again solitary, eventually returns to Agnes and her father.
Since he and Agnes had long ago fostered a brother/sister relationship,
that incest-barrier must now be broken down before the marriage can take
place. The garden functions again in this resolution of the triangle. David
finds on his return that Mr. Wickfield has given up his drinking. That the
incest threat is held in abeyance is symbolized by the displacement of the
garden which serves to remove the father from the house: "When I re-
turned, Mr. Wickfield had come home from a garden he had, a couple of
miles or so out of town, where he now employed himself almost every day.
... We sat down to dinner ... and he seemed but the shadow of his
handsome picture on the wall" (835). Renunciation has taken its toll.
Following dinner, Mr. Wickfield reiterates his sense of guilt over by-
gone days: "My part in them has much matter for regret-for deep
regret, and deep contrition.... But I would not cancel it, if it were in my
power" (835). He then refers to his love for his daughter as a "diseased
love" (836) and relates that his wife had died soon after Agnes's birth be-
cause of her grief over her father's failure to forgive her marriage. The
cycle has been perpetuated; fixated daughters do not make successful tran-
sitions to suitors.
This seemingly endless chain ofnonrelinquishing fathers is broken with
David's happy marriage to Agnes following the defeat of the "bad" suitor,
Uriah Heap. And in a singular case in Dickens's novels, the fixated father
simply disappears. The wedding takes place, but there is no further men-
tion of Mr. Wickfield in the novel. The wedding guests consist of two
couples: in one of these-we find the only suitor in the novel to whom
the daughter has been willingly relinquished (Traddles and Sophie); this
daughter, however, ends up providing a home for her sisters-her father's
other daughters, removing them from her father's house. The only other
couple at the wedding are Dr. Strong and Annie-the father who had
never relinquished.
In this novel, a tempest functions in the final resolution of another
triangle in which David had served as friend to Emily and her uncle. In a
violent storm at sea, the good suitor (Ham) attempts to save the life of the
bad suitor (Steerforth), who has already seduced and abandoned Emily,
who was Ham's fiancee. Both suitors drown in the chapter titled "Tem-
pest." But Dickens has reversed Shakespeare's tempest, since the destruc-
tion of the two suitors results in the return of the daughter Emily to her

63 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

surrogate father-her uncle (790). The father/uncle retains the daughter/
niece and they live out their lives in exile in the American colonies, with
Emily repeatedly refusing any suitors.
Dickens had, in fact, been prevented from marrying an early and in-
tensely loved young lady by the girl's father, and in the person of David the
artist/creator, he reverses this unhappy situation and wins the daughter
from two successive fathers, killing off the first one and simply removing
the second one from the narrative.
Just three years after completing David Copperfield with its happy con-
clusion for the hero and at least one heroine, Dickens published what is
regarded by most critics as his darkest novel, Bleak House (1853). In Bleak
House, however, good and evil are so intricately interwoven that Esther's
comment, "The fog is very dense indeed!"'6 becomes a metaphorical
statement for the world of the novel. In this story, Dickens, through the
device of the double narrator, creates the illusion of giving the reader all
the information, when there are really significant gaps. Crucial judgments
can only be made by a skeptical reader willing to see irony where none
seems intended. The novel contains three central father/daughter/suitor
configurations: Lord and Lady Dedlock and her dead suitor, Captain
Hawdon; John Jarndyce/Ada/Richard; and John Jarndyce/Alan Wood-
court/Esther Summerson.
The oedipal triangle that revolves around Lady Dedlock as both daugh-
ter and mother is almost classic in its simplicity, entailing both a "good"
and a "bad" surrogate father-Dedlock, her husband, and Tulkinghorn,
his lawyer. The unfortunate suitor is, of course, Esther's father, Captain
Hawdon, who ends his life as the nameless one, Nemo the law-copier. But
"he had been young, hopeful, and handsome" (312), and we know from
Lady Dedlock's reaction to his death that he had also been loved. At the
time of his death, he was living in abject poverty and using opium, and the
question remains unanswered as to the possibility of his working as law-
copier having to do with information which he was seeking regarding the
Jarndyce estate. Bucket informs Snagsby after Hawdon's death that "there
seems to be a doubt whether this dead person wasn't entitled to a little
property, and whether this female hasn't been up to some games respect-
ing that property" (319). Hawdon was forty-five at the time of his death
(159). George Rouncewell feels a great loyalty to Captain Hawdon, and it
is only when he is blackmailed that he consents to give a handwriting
sample to Tulkinghorn.
Esther, the product of the out-of-wedlock union between Lady Dedlock
and Hawdon, had been raised by her mother's sister, who had never told

64 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

the mother that her child had survived. Lady Dedlock is viewed by others
as more like Lord Dedlock's daughter than his wife: "Though my Lord is
a little aged for my Lady, says Madame the hostess of the Golden Ape, and
though he might be her amiable father, one can see at a glance that they
love each other" (169). Lady Dedlock is separated from the suitor to whom
she had once been engaged, is married to a "good" father-surrogate, and
persecuted by a "bad" father-surrogate. In terms of the oedipal configura-
tion, Tulkinghorn can be viewed as pursuing the truth of the daughter's
sexual transgression with the suitor and ultimately destroying her. His
views on marriage are made explicit: "My experience teaches me, Lady
Dedlock, that most of the people I know would do far better to leave
marriage alone. It is at the bottom of three fourths of their troubles. So I
thought when Sir Leicester married, and so I always have thought since"
While Tulkinghorn is ruthless in his pursuit of Lady Dedlock's secret,
following the divulgence of her past, Sir Leicester has only compassion:
"Therefore I desire to say, and call you all to witness that I am on
unaltered terms with Lady Dedlock. That I assert no cause whatever of
complaint against her, that I have ever had the strongest affection for her,
and that I retain it undiminished" (796). Ultimately, Dedlock's compas-
sion cannot save his Lady from destruction by the irate Tulkinghorn, who
is also destroyed in the process.
In Bleak House, Dickens presents a galaxy of fathers, good and bad
(including those parodies: Skimpole, Turveydrop, and Smallweed), but
the daughter-figures, Esther and Ada, are quietly pursued by one of the
most unobtrusive surrogate fathers in all literature, John Jarndyce. The
recurrent motif of "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" suggests the two aspects of his
character: the Jarndyce seen through Esther's eyes and the Jarndyce that
can only be pieced together from scattered hints. There is a further dou-
bling in this novel in the concept of "suitor," for it serves both in its legal
and in its romantic connotations--pointing up the inextricable ties be-
tween love and material interests. Richard is both a suitor in Chancery
and a suitor for Ada's hand in marriage. John, although ostensibly neither
one, is in reality both. In order to assess his function in the novel, these
two aspects of Jarndyce as father and suitor are inextricably linked and
prove mutually enlightening. The narrator alludes to the double role:
"Westminster Hall itself is a shady solitude where nightingales might sing,
and a tenderer class of suitors than is usually found there, walk" (270).
Critical discourse has almost unanimously accepted John Jarndyce on
the basis of Esther's assessment. George Gissing, still respected as an im-

65 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

portant Dickensian, commented: "In John Jarndyce I can detect no vul-
garity; he appears to me compact of good sense, honour, and gentle feel-
ing Impossible not to like and respect Mr. Jarndyce."'7 Among the
more skeptical was George Bernard Shaw who said, "Jarndyce, a violently
good man, keeps on doing generous things, yet ends by practicing a heart-
lessly cruel and indelicate deception on Esther Summerson for the sake
of giving her a pleasantly melodramatic surprise."18
There has been little critical questioning of the function of John Jarn-
dyce in his economic world in spite of the fact that John's predecessor in
Bleak House, then called "The Peaks" (111), was Tom Jarndyce, who "in
despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane" (20). The
narrator raises the central question: "How many people out of the suit
Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched forth its unwholesome hand to spoil
and corrupt would be a very wide question" and "no man's nature has
been made better by it" (21).
Although no participants have received money in the case which has
dragged on for years in Chancery, John Jarndyce's expenditures are sub-
stantial. When Mr. Kenge makes John's offer to educate Esther, the costs
in the case are "from six-ty to seven-ty thousand pounds!" (36), and at the
time of Richard's death, the entire estate has been wiped out in court
costs. Nevertheless, John Jarndyce maintains a large house with gardens
and servants (107), supports Miss Flite (211), Skimpole, and presumably
his wife and twelve children (83, 602, 605, 606), educates Esther from the
time she is fourteen until she comes to live with him at twenty, at which
time he also supports Ada and Richard. He maintains quarters in London
to which they all repair at frequent intervals, and he also takes them on
extensive visits to Boythorn's country place. John ultimately hires Charley
as maid to Esther and provides support for the two children she has been
caring for (345).
John, who has totally corrupted Skimpole (a physician manque), says at
one point: "He is in a child's sleep by this time, I suppose; it's time I should
take my craftier head to my more worldly pillow" (95, emphasis mine).
Esther prefers not to interpret the unexplained incongruities in her
guardian's associations: "Any seeming inconsistencies in Mr. Skimpole or
in Mrs. Jellyby I could not be able to reconcile, having so little experience
or practical knowledge" (95). Esther is fully capable of comprehending
the hypocrisy in both these individuals, but refuses to question their rela-
tionship to her guardian.
Esther's special naivete seems to suit John perfectly, since when she
tells him that she is not clever, "He did not seem at all disappointed; quite

66 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

the contrary. He told me with a smile all over his face, that he knew me
very well indeed and that I was quite clever enough for him" (112). My
reading of John is that he would indeed be grateful for a "housekeeper"
who was not clever-at least not clever enough to wonder where the
housekeeping money was coming from. Another questionable aspect of
John's financial affairs is his association with the "philanthropists"; Dick-
ens's attitude toward them is well known, but Kenge reports to Esther:
"Mr. Jarndyce, who is desirous to aid any work that is considered likely to
be a good work and who is much sought after by philanthropists, has, I
believe, a very high opinion of Mrs. Jellyby" (50). But it is obvious through-
out the novel that this high opinion is not shared by her creator-nor by
Esther herself. Consequently, this association not only raises doubts about
Jarndyce, but again raises the question of the source of his income-one
possibility is usury. Although Humphrey House does not group Jarndyce
with Dickens's other usurious characters, he delineates this novelist's po-
Beneath his hatred of people like Ralph Nickleby, Gride and Quilp
is the ancient moral feeling that usury is wrong because it enables
people to make money without having to work for it, and that the
power conferred by money earned in this way is the more hateful
for its illegitimacy. Dickens was very careful, even when he was
detaching his benevolent rich men from the immediate economic
struggle, to insist that they had, at least in the past, worked for what
they spent so generously.19

But it is virtually impossible to detach John Jarndyce from the immediate
economic struggle since that is what the novel is all about and the notori-
ous case carries his name-twice. There is never any indication in Bleak
House that John Jarndyce at any time, past or present, has worked to earn
the money he is so generously spending. In fact, when he inherited Bleak
House itself, it was in a state of decay and had to be repaired and reno-
vated. He also eventually helps set Woodcourt up in practice and buys
another Bleak House, fully furnished, for the newlyweds.
The important point here is that there is an unnamed usurer in the
background throughout the novel, and the blackest note in this black
novel may well be that the usurer is the ostensibly "good" man. The au-
thentically good men in the novel are the most obvious victims, namely
Richard Carstone and George Rouncewell, not to mention the dead Cap-
tain Hawdon. Although such reprehensible characters as Vholes, Tulk-
inghorn, and Smallweed are openly and avariciously involved in lending

67 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

money, the real culprit is "Smallweed's friend in the city" (308) who "is
not to be depended on" and although George speculates that his name
begins with a D-this may stand for Devil as described by Dickens, in an
early description of white-collar crime:
For howsoever bad the devil can be in fustian or smockfrock (and
he can be very bad in both), he is a more designing, callous, and
intolerable devil when he sticks a pin in his shirt-front, calls himself
a gentleman, backs a card or colour, plays a game or so of billiards,
and knows a little about bills and promissory notes than in any
other form he wears. (373)

There are veiled references throughout the novel to possible links be-
tween John and the shadier characters. Esther observes: "It was Mr. Rook.
He seemed unable to detach himself from Mr. Jarndyce. If he had been
linked to him, he could hardly have attended him more closely" (213).
And again: "During the whole of our inspection ... he kept close to Mr.
Jarndyce and sometimes detained him under one pretence or other until
we had passed on, as if he were tormented by an inclination to enter upon
some secret subject which he could not make up his mind to approach"
(214). But Guppy, who has tracked down Esther's resemblance to Lady
Dedlock and reports to Tulkinghorn, also pays an allowance to Miss Flite
and her rent to Krook (291). The relationship between Vholes and John is
also suspect, as is pointed up by Esther's observations:
A more complete contrast than my guardian and Mr. Vholes I
suppose there could not be. I found them looking at one another
across the table, the one so open and the other so close, the one so
broad and upright and the other so narrow and stooping, the one
giving out what he had to say in such a rich ringing voice and the
other keeping it in such a cold-blooded, gasping, fish-like manner
that I thought I never had seen two people so unmatched. (620)

But in this novel, Dickens uses Esther herself to point out the inherent
fallacies in the appearance/reality dichotomy when she is externally disfig-
ured by smallpox. While the function of Jarndyce as Chancery suitor is
heavily veiled (Richard has accused Esther of being "blind," 531), his role
as father/suitor for the surrogate daughter, Ada, is not much more explicit.
Although John's marriage proposal is made to Esther, there is evidence
that she has been educated and prepared to come to Bleak House as
"mother" to Ada. Esther's highly controlled preparation is begun at the

68 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

death of her godmother when she is told, "the scheme of your pursuits has
been arranged in exact accordance with the wishes of your guardian, Mr.
Jarndyce" (40). When she is twenty, an official letter secures her services
as "an elgble compn" for "a Ward of the Ct," who is, of course, Ada, then
seventeen. Although Ada has never seen her cousin John, her mother had
told her "of the noble generosity of his character, which she has said was
to be trusted above all earthly things; and Ada trusted it" (58). It is perhaps
not irrelevant that shortly before this comment, Esther had been telling
the Jellyby children the story of Little Red Riding Hood (55), another story
of misplaced trust.
Upon their first arrival, John greets the girls warmly with "Ada, my love,
Esther, my dear," and Esther describes him:
The gentleman who said these words in a clear, bright, hospitable
voice had one of his arms round Ada's waist and the other round
mine, and kissed us both in a fatherly way, and bore us across the
hall into a ruddy little room, all in a glow with a blazing fire. Here
he kissed us again, and opening his arms, made us sit down side by
side on a sofa ready drawn out near the hearth. (78)
Esther estimates his age as "nearer sixty than fifty," and Ada is described by
Skimpole: "She is like the morning ... with that golden hair, those blue
eyes, and that fresh'bloom on her cheek, she is like the summer morning"
and during this adulation, Esther notices Mr. Jarndyce "standing near us,
with his hands behind him, and an attentive smile on his face" (87).
Esther makes perhaps her first mistake as she concludes that John hopes
for an eventual match between Richard and Ada, and also surmises that
John might really be her father (96). But John himself hints at the ambi-
guities in the relationship: "I hear of a good little orphan girl without a
protector, and I take it into my head to be that protector. She grows up,
and more than justifies my good opinion, and I remain her guardian and
her friend. What is there in all this?" (109). What is there indeed? It is
significant that Esther is shortly being called by a variety of "mother"
names: "This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and
Little Old Woman, and Cobweb, and Mrs. Shipton, and Mother Hub-
bard, and Dame Durden, and so many names of that sort that my own
name soon became quite lost among them" (112, emphasis mine).
After Richard has abandoned medicine and decided to try his hand at
the law, Ada and John discuss it in an intimate scene recorded by Esther.
John repeatedly calls Ada "my love," and she talks to him "with her hand

69 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

upon his shoulder, where she had put it in bidding him good night" (246).
Both declare their affection and faith in Richard to be undiminished, and
then Ada places both hands on John's shoulders:
"I think," said my guardian, thoughtfully regarding her, "I think it
must be somewhere written that the virtues of the mothers shall oc-
casionally be visited on the children, as well as the sins of the fa-
ther. Good night, my rosebud. Good night, little woman. Pleasant
slumbers! Happy dreams!"
This was the first time I ever saw him follow Ada with his eyes
with something of a shadow on their benevolent expression. I well
remembered the look with which he had contemplated her and Ri-
chard when she was singing in the firelight ... but his glance was
changed, and even the silent look of confidence in me which now
followed it once more was not quite so hopeful and untroubled as it
had originally been. (247)

Following this encounter, Esther is "low-spirited," and cannot sleep, but is
not sure why. She comes upon John, also sleepless, worn and weary, and
when she inquires whether he is troubled, he replies that it is nothing she
"would readily understand" (248). He then tells her of her aunt's request
that he care for her if anything should happen, and Esther calls him "the
guardian who is a father to her!": "At the word father, I saw his former
trouble come into his face. He subdued it as before, and it was gone in an
instant; but it had been there and it had come so swiftly upon my words
that I felt as if they had given him a shock" (250).
The ambiguities in John's reaction to "father" are never fully explained
and can only be speculated upon. Perhaps John really is Ada's father; her
mother had spoken of him with tears in her eyes, and we are given no
information regarding Ada's background. When Richard loses interest in
the law and is about to embark for Ireland and an army career, John inter-
venes and insists the engagement be broken off, much to Richard's con-
sternation (349). Although the narrator never comments directly on
Jarndyce, Richard gets Vholes to admit that his own (Richard's) financial
interests are not identical to John's (560).
In spite of the fact that Esther and John have established a relationship
in which she sees him as a father while he seems to see her as Ada's
mother, immediately following her disclosure that she is Lady Dedlock's
daughter, he proposes marriage, saying he "has long had something in his
thoughts" (614). He proposes by letter and, among other things, exerts

70 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

subtle pressure by telling her "to remember that I owed him nothing"
(616). Esther's reaction is gratitude-and tears:
Still I cried very much, not only in the fullness of my heart after
reading the letter, not only in the strangeness of the prospect-for
it was strange though I had expected the contents-but as if some-
thing for which there was no name or distinct idea were indefi-
nitely lost to me. I was very happy, very thankful, very hopeful; but
I cried very much. (617)

But it is Esther's revelation of her parentage that precipitates the proposal.
Are financial considerations operative here? Significantly, after two weeks
have elapsed without John's mentioning the proposal, Esther feels com-
pelled to accept, but decides not to tell Ada (619).
Woodcourt returns, the hero of a shipwreck (survivor of a tempest), but
still poor, and in response to Esther's request, agrees to befriend and help
Richard. Although the actions taken by John at this point seem on the
surface to be altruistic, they also are highly manipulative. Since Esther
has been going into London each day to care for Caddy, he suggests that
they all move to London and that Woodcourt be called in on the case.
This not only leaves John and Ada together a great deal of the time; it also
throws Esther and Woodcourt together. Even after John has been in-
formed of the secret marriage between Richard and Ada, he takes no posi-
tive step toward the marriage he has proposed for himself, and Esther is
puzzled by his procrastination:
The letter had made no difference between us except that the seat
by his side had come to be mine; it made none now. He turned his
old bright fatherly look upon me, laid his hand on my hand in his
old way, and said again, "She will succeed my dear. Nevertheless,
Bleak House is thinning fast, O little woman!"
I was sorry presently that this was all we said about that. I was
rather disappointed. I feared I might not quite have been all I had
meant to be since the letter and the answer. (704)

While John's proposal had been precipitated by Esther's disclosure of her
parentage, John is obviously in no hurry to conclude the arrangements,
and there are several possible reasons. Ada has just turned twenty-one and
Richard is in bad shape, emotionally and physically. Is John playing a
waiting game, and if so, what is he waiting for? Richard is already heavily
in debt and Ada's funds have been eaten away. Following Lady Dedlock's

71 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

death, John resumes his manipulation of events as he brings Mrs. Wood-
court into the house during Esther's illness. After her recovery from small-
pox, he tells Esther of his decision to remain in London: "I have a scheme
to develop, little woman. I propose to remain here, perhaps for six months,
perhaps for a longer time-as it may be. Quite to settle here for a while, in
short." This, of course, means that he must sustain the expense of two
households. Esther realizes that he is happy at the prospect of leaving
Bleak House, and he reminds her: "It is a long way from Ada, my dear, and
Ada stands much in need of you." When Esther commends him for his
usual consideration of herself and Ada, John comes as close as anyone in
the novel to an accurate appraisal of his situation:
Not so disinterested either, my dear, if you mean to extol me for
that virtue, since if you were generally on the road, you could be
seldom with me. And besides, I wish to hear as much and as often
of Ada as I can in this condition of estrangement from poor Rick.
Not of her alone, but of him too, poor fellow. (815, 816, emphasis

Obviously hearing more of "poor Rick" is an afterthought. Lady Dedlock,
during her previous introduction to Ada, had observed to John: "You will
lose the disinterested part of your Don Quixote character .. if you only
redress the wrongs of beauty like this" (267, emphasis mine). But the real
question is whether John was ever disinterested-the evidence seems to
indicate that he was not. If John is following the pattern of the destructive
father, he is doing so in a subtle manner. If he is behind the usury in the
novel, he is also indirectly contributing to Richard's slow deterioration.
The nature of the responsibility involved here is voiced by Skimpole: "If it
is blameable in Skimpole to take the note, it is blameable in Bucket to
offer the note-much more blameable in Bucket to offer the note, be-
cause he is the knowing man" (832). A short time before, Skimpole had
defined Richard's relationship to himself: "Parallel case, exactly!" (829).
When Esther, years later, looking into the published diary left by Skim-
pole (the sometime artist), reads the judgment, "Jarndyce, in common
with most other men I have known, is the incarnation of selfishness," she
refrains from comment (833). Is this in fact, authorial comment? Only
Richard and Skimpole, the two dependent borrowers in the novel, are
unequivocally condemnatory of John Jarndyce.
John's machinations with regard to Woodcourt and Esther (which so
incensed Shaw) continue and his failure to meet Esther results in Wood-
court's opportunity to make his own proposal. It is regretfully declined by

72 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

Esther because of her prior commitment: "I learned in a moment that
what I had thought was pity and compassion was devoted, generous, faith-
ful love. Oh, too late to know it now, too late, too late. That was the first
ungrateful thought I had. Too late" (835). She goes to bed in the dark to
avoid the sight of her own tears.
The lack of urgency on John's part in the matter of the marriage, plus
Esther's statement that "He had never altered his old manner" (839)
strongly suggests a lack of sexual interest on John's part. He also continues
to use those no-names, "Dame Durden" and "Dame Trot," with which he
had denied her identity as a woman from the time she took over the house-
keeping keys. And it is finally Esther who pushes toward the fulfillment of
the marriage letter, setting the date on which John shall become "more
enviable than any other man in the world" (840), set for a month hence.
John's excuse for not acting is that he has had only Rick on his mind
(840), but immediately following the setting of the wedding date, Small-
weed and Bucket appear with a newly discovered will (which had been
partially burned), which reduces John's financial interest while increas-
ing Richard's and Ada's (845). The will is to be read "next term," that is,
the following month. Esther begins her wedding preparations with con-
straint: "I did it all so quietly because I was not quite free from my old
apprehension that Ada would be rather sorry and because my guardian
was so quiet himself" (855). The relationship between the two "suitor"
roles is made clear as Esther relates: "I understood that my marriage would
not take place until after the term-time we had been told to look forward
to" (856). Material interests are paramount.
Suddenly invited by her guardian to go into Yorkshire to approve Wood-
court's house, Esther is overcome with sobs but (as Shaw reminds us) is
allowed to go through the night without being told that John is about to set
her free. This indicates either a total unawareness of her feelings or a
veiled sadism. When John finally tells her that she is to be Woodcourt's
wife in a new Bleak House, he says, "I am your guardian and your father
now. Rest confidently here" (859).
It is perhaps important that for John, father and guardian are two dis-
tinct things; when he takes Ada in to live with him following Richard's
death, he insists that she no longer call him "cousin," but "guardian"
(878). Esther says, "He was her guardian henceforth, and the boy's; and he
had an old association with the name. So she called him guardian, and
has called him guardian ever since. The children know him by no other
name. I say the children; I have two little daughters" (878).
The reader is easily seduced into seeing John's yielding up of Esther as

73 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

a selfless renunciation, until it is noted that he ends up in possession of
Ada and her child by Richard, who has died after the collapse of the suit.
Although Richard succumbs finally to declaring John a "good" man on
his deathbed, Esther unwittingly is perhaps closer to the truth: "My guard-
ian, the picture of a good man" (871). As Richard is dying, Esther observes
John's responses without passing judgment when John says to him:
"And you will come there too, I hope, Rick. I am a solitary man
now, you know, and it will be a charity to come to me. A charity to
come to me, my love!" he repeated to Ada as he gently passed his
hand over her golden hair and put a lock of it to his lips. (I think he
vowed within himself to cherish her if she were left alone.) (872)

As Richard realizes that he has been a dreamer, John says, "What am I
but another dreamer, Rick?" (872). During the meeting in the park at
Chesney Wold, when Lady Dedlock first met the girls and John there, she
inquired about Richard, "Is the young gentleman disposed of whom you
wrote to Sir Leicester?" John replies, "I hope so" (267). Poor Richard is
permanently "disposed of" by the end of the novel.
After the birth of Ada's fatherless baby, John says to her: "When you and
my boy are strong enough to do it, come and take possession of your home"
(emphasis mine), and we are told that this surrogate "to Ada and her pretty
boy ... is the fondest father" (878). There is never the slightest hint that
Esther sees Ada's fate as less than satisfactory, but we are never told how
Ada feels. Esther's continued reluctance to tell Ada of her commitment to
marry John is never explained. Dorothy Van Ghent responded to Edmund
Wilson's observations that Dickens generally failed to "get the good and
bad together in one character," with the comment: "[I]n Dickens's ner-
vous world, one simplex is superimposed upon or is continuous with an-
other, and together they form the complex of good-in-evil or of evil-in-
Although many critics join Esther in her misreading of John Jarndyce,
he may be Dickens's consummate achievement of "the complex of good-
in-evil or of evil-in-good." He is the father who has either destroyed the
suitor or passively complied in that destruction and then retained the
daughter, not by the overtly violent means of an Antiochus, but by the
subtle means of a victim of the irrational world of Chancery. John himself
has pointed to his own duplicity: "Ah, Dame Trot, Dame Trot. what
shall we find reasonable in Jarndyce and Jarndyce! Unreason and injus-
tice at the top, unreason and injustice at the bottom, unreason and injus-

74 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

tice from beginning to end-if it ever had an end-how should poor Rick,
always hovering near it, pluck reason out of it?" (816). The novel ends
with a domestic situation that provides a classic example of what Herman
dubbed "covert incest," with a dilution of the theme in the involvement of
If Bleak House obliquely reflects the blackness of King Lear or Othello,
Our MutualFriend (1865) is Dickens's Tempest. But it also contains varia-
tions on the father/daughter theme that suggest comparison with Pericles.
The novel opens with Lizzie Hexam and her father, Gaffer, "On the Look
Out" for bodies in the river. In spite of the horror of the work her father
forces her to do, Lizzie has a genuine tenderness for him. Lizzie's father
does not survive, however, either to protect her from suitors, or to give her
up to one, and Lizzie becomes the haunted prey of those bitter rivals,
Bradley Headstone and Eugene Wayburn, a rivalry that ends violently in
the destruction of one suitor and the near-destruction of the other. The
father of another subordinate father/daughter pair is likewise destroyed in
the same drama, Pleasant's father, Rogue Riderhood, engaged in the same
unsavory calling as Gaffer Hexam. Pleasant's suitor, Mr. Venus, is engaged
in the even more bizarre occupation of "Preserver of Animals and Birds,"
and "Articulator of Human Bones." But in this case it is not the father who
stands in the way of the match, but the daughter herself who protests: "I
do not wish to regard myself, nor yet to be regarded, in that boney
Jenny Wren, the doll's dressmaker, and her incurably alcoholic father
are one of Dickens's more famous reversed parent/child pairs. Jenny, small
and crippled, is vitriolic in her assessment of this human wreck: "He's
enough to break his mother's heart, is this boy ... I wish I had never
brought him up. He'd be sharper than a serpent's tooth, if he wasn't as dull
as ditch water. Look at him. There's a pretty object for a parent's eyes!"
(595). But Jenny also has a "good" father in Riah, her "second father"
(881), and is eventually married to her suitor, Sloppy.
A more complex father/daughter/suitor configuration occurs with the
Podsnaps and their surrogates, the Lammles, the latter of whom come
close to the Pandar/Bawd of Pericles. Certainly one of the most flagrantly
bitter marriages in literature, the Lammles are mutually disillusioned to
find that neither one has any money when each was counting on the other
having a great deal. The conspiracy by the Lammles to recoup their losses
by pairing Miss Podsnap with one of the least prepossessing suitors ever
created, Fascination Fledgeby, fails.

75 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

The central oedipal configuration in the novel consists of Bella Wilfer,
her father, and John Harmon. But the enactment of the oedipal plot is
temporarily transferred to surrogate parents, the Boffins, with Mr. Boffin
in the Prospero role. There is one important difference between the two
sets of parents, however, since Bella's true mother is in effect "absent," as
one of Dickens's humorous/obnoxious mother-wives. Like Dora's mother
in Freud's case history, she has been discredited and obliterated as a per-
son with any power. Consequently, her husband has developed an unusu-
ally close relationship with his daughter, "a girl of about nineteen, with an
exceedingly pretty figure and face, but with an impatient and petulant
expression both in her face and in her shoulders" (77). The father/daugh-
ter/suitor triangle is set up almost immediately, since unbeknown to the
Wilfers, the new boarder is really Rokesmith/Handford/Harmon-the
young man thought drowned, who had been designated Bella's suitor by
his father's will: "A dark gentleman. Thirty at the utmost. An expressive,
one might say handsome face. A very bad manner. In the last degree con-
strained, reserved, diffident, troubled" (81).
Since Bella's family is very poor, she goes to live with the Boffins who
have inherited the supposedly dead Harmon's wealth, while the living
Harmon is unwittingly hired as Boffin's secretary. Bella's transference to
the Boffins represents her father's initial renunciation, since the implicit
hope is that she will find a wealthy suitor. It is also significant that the
Boffins represent one of the few instances in Dickens of a happily mar-
ried, older couple, whose compatibility has been maintained through
Mrs Boffin, as I've mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at present
I'm not. I don't go higher than comfort, and comfort of the sort
that I'm equal to the enjoyment of.... So Mrs Boffin, she keeps
up her part of the room, in her way; I keep up my part of the room
in mine. In consequence of which we have at once, Sociability
(I should go melancholy mad without Mrs Boffin), Fashion and
Comfort. (loo)

Since Bella has been deprived of her marriage to the wealthy John
Harmon by his supposed drowning, the Boffins seek to make restitution
by bringing her to live with them "to brisk her up, and brisk her about, and
give her a change" (153). The suitor thus becomes a factor in the house-
holds of both fathers, and the daughter moves back and forth between the
worlds of genteel poverty and inherited wealth. It is this aspect of the

76 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

situation that leads to the transformation of Boffin into a Prospero, a read-
ing that throws a light on much of the confusion over that character's
seemingly incongruous change of heart. James Kincaid summed up the
consensus: "Nearly all critics have felt either that Boffin ought not to have
changed or that, once changed, he should have stayed changed."22
Bella is a very mercenary young lady, and although she really loves
John, she feels she cannot allow herself the luxury of marrying a poor man
and Boffin sets out to show her the absurdity of her position by carrying it
to extremes:
"But I think it's very creditable in you, at your age, to be so well up
with the pace of the world, and to know what to go in for. You are
right. Go in for money, my love. Money's the article. You'll make
money of your good looks, and of the money Mrs Boffin and me
will have the pleasure of settling upon you, and you'll live and die
rich. That's the state to live and die in!" said Mr Boffin, in an unc-
tuous manner. "R-r-rich!" (526)

In a marvelous travesty of Don Quixote, Boffin reads only the lives of
misers: "Bella very clearly noticed, that, as he pursued the acquisition of
those dismal records with the ardour of Don Quixote for his books of
chivalry, he began to spend his money with a more sparing hand" (529).
But Boffin's attachment to Bella is also made quite clear, and his feigned
ill treatment of John parallels that of Simonides toward Pericles and Pros-
pero toward Ferdinand. While ostensibly serving another purpose, it gives
the father a chance to vent his very real hostility toward the prospective
suitor. Mrs. Boffin tells Bella: "He is so much attached to you, whatever he
says, that your own father has not a truer interest in you and can hardly like
you better than he does" (527). But in the interests of showing Bella the
true nature of greed by exaggerating it, Boffin allows himself to assume
the role of father-as-pander: "Give me a kiss, my dear child, in saying
Good Night, and let me confirm what my old lady tells you. I am very
fond of you, my dear, and I am entirely of your mind, and you and I will
take care that you shall be rich. These good looks of yours ... are worth
money, and you shall make money of'em" (527).
But Bella begins to have misgivings, and outraged by Boffin's treatment
of John, abandons her false, mercenary goals, and marries for love, follow-
ing which John acknowledges his true identity and inheritance-"Har-
mony" is restored. One other aspect of the father/daughter/suitor theme
in Our Mutual Friend is worth noting-Bella's wedding. This too is un-

77 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

usual, both for Dickens and for fiction in general. It serves to emphasize
the romantic possibilities in the renunciation by the father in favor of the
On the morning of the secret wedding, Bella and her father have a
sentimental breakfast together before departing "aboard an early steam-
boat for Greenwich" (731). The awful mother is left out of the wedding
entirely-only father, daughter, and suitor are present, and the transfer-
ence is symbolized in the dinner which follows:
But, the marriage dinner was the crowning success, for what had
the bride and bridegroom plotted to do, but to have and to hold
that dinner in the very room of the very hotel where Pa and the
lovely woman had once dined together! Bella sat between Pa and
John, and divided her attentions pretty equally, but felt it necessary
... to remind Pa that she was his lovely woman no longer.
"I am well aware of it, my dear," returned the cherub, "and I re-
sign you willingly."
"Willingly, sir? You ought to be brokenhearted."
"So I should be, my dear, if I thought that I was going to lose
"But you know you are not; don't you, poor dear Pa? ... Look
here, Pa!" Bella put her finger on her own lip, and then on Pa's,
and then on her own lip again, and then on her husband's. "Now
we are a partnership of three, dear Pa." (734-35)

Although Bella is in the same relative position as Cordelia, her father is
no Lear and manages to view his renunciation to her suitor from a positive
vantage point. While the wedding involves only Bella, John, and her real
father, a later denouement with the surrogate parents vindicates Boffin's
duplicity. There is also a brief reference to the potential jealousy on the
part of the mother toward the usurping daughter: "'From the first, you was
always a special favourite of Noddy's,' said Mrs Boffin, shaking her head.
'O you were! And if I had been inclined to be jealous, I don't know what
I mightn't have done to you. But as I wasn't-why, my beauty,' with a
hearty laugh and an embrace, 'I made you a special favourite of my own
too'" (843-44).
The pairing-off that marks the end of this novel is a skewed variation on
Shakespeare's late comedies. The romantic father/daughter/suitor three-
some gathered for the wedding dinner excludes the mother whose "ab-
sence" presumably has intensified Wilfer's attachment to his daughter
and made his renunciation more dramatic. But Dickens saw fit to tempo-

78 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

rarily remove the triangle to a set of surrogate parents, the Boffins, thus
defusing some of the intensity that might have occurred within the pri-
mary triangle. Boffin has emulated Pickwick in facilitating the father's
Since I maintain that Dickens's final, unfinished novel suggests a re-
turn to fatherly retention, it is worth noting a short piece of fiction which
marks the transition between Our Mutual Friend and the unfinished
Mystery of Edwin Drood. "George Silverman's Explanation" (1868) treats
the same theme as the two novels but reverts stylistically to the early stories
and the interpolated tales.23
The tale involves surrogates in the persons of the tutor, George, and his
pupil, Adelina. George, a clergyman, falls deeply in love with his young
wealthy pupil, who has been placed in his charge by her mother. Although
she reciprocates his love, he painfully matches her with another young
pupil. The incestuous implications, due to the age difference and the fact
that her mother entrusted her to his care, can be inferred. Silverman car-
ries renunciation to a painful extreme by performing the wedding cer-
emony himself. At the age of sixty (he was thirty at the time of the renun-
ciation), he pens his "explanation." The story condenses the theme of
fatherly renunciation-a theme that Dickens was to reverse in Edwin
Dickens paralleled Shakespeare in the creation of multiple variations
on the father/daughter/suitor theme. Steven Marcus characterizes Dick-
ens's imagination as "preeminently Shakespearean,"24 borne out by Dick-
ens's appraisal of a performance of King Lear: "From his rash denuncia-
tion of the gentle daughter who can only love him and be silent, to his
falling dead beside her, unbound from the rack of this tough world, a more
affecting, truthful, and tremendous picture never surely was presented on
the stage."25 While Dickens has seen fit to avoid repetition of Lear's "rash"
actions in his fiction, he profoundly understood them.

79 The Triangle in Charles Dickens

Everything's terrible, cara-
in the heart of man.
Henry James, The Golden Bowl


The Triangle in
Henry James
A preponderant number of Henry James's works deal with fathers and
daughters, beginning with his first novel, Watch and Ward (1871), through
a middle work, The Portrait of a Lady (1880), and culminating in the com-
plex The Golden Bowl (1904). Henry James (1843-1916) differs biographi-
cally from the other four artists in that he never married and had no chil-
dren. However, Leon Edel notes the psychobiographical links in James's
But in the close-knit family constellation he created in The Golden
Bowl James was dealing with the deepest webs of his own inner
world-his father's having had in the house not only his wife Mary
Walsh, Henry's mother, but her sister Catherine, the loyal Aunt
Kate. There had always been triangles in James's life.1
In addition, although there is every indication that he never intended to
marry, throughout his life Henry James formed close relationships with

various women, some of whom probably were disappointed that no fur-
ther commitment ever materialized. His affection for and support of his
semi-invalid sister Alice, who also lived in London for a number of years,
is well documented. Several of the women he was fondest of died trau-
matic deaths, the first being his cousin, Minny Temple, who died of tu-
berculosis at the age of twenty-four. His much admired friend, Clover
Hooper, the wife of Henry Adams, committed suicide hard on the heels of
her father's death. In later years, one of his closest women friends and
novelist colleagues, Constance Fenimore Woolson, committed suicide,
some thought due to her unresolved relationship with James. This deeply
affected him and was probably reflected in "The Beast in the Jungle."
Strong attachments for several young men friends greatly enriched his
later years. A comparison of the variations in his handling of the father/
daughter/suitor triads in his fiction as compared with the other writers
should prove useful in the evaluation of psychobiographical factors in
The James corpus, like those of both Shakespeare and Dickens, entails
some of the almost infinite plot possibilities in the father/daughter/suitor
configuration. The American (1877), Washington Square (1878), The Bos-
tonians (1886), What Maisie Knew (1897), and The Wings of the Dove
(1902), to name only a few, present wide variations on the theme. Most of
these deal with -actual fathers and daughters, and What Maisie Knew
represented an important element in James's development of the father/
daughter theme. This novel is perhaps one of literature's best examples of
the distancing of the oedipal triangle onto surrogates. Through the pro-
cess of divorce and a succession of realignments, the oedipal conflict is
gradually transferred as each parent remarries and their new mates be-
come a pair, always with Maisie as the third member of the triangle. James
is thus able to treat situations more explicitly that might have proved too
threatening in terms of Maisie and her actual parents. But the narrative
also foreshadows the assumption of autonomy on the part of the daughter,
which culminates in The Golden Bowl. In a final confrontation, Maisie
reluctantly renounces Sir Claude when she learns she cannot have him to
Among the authors here under consideration, Henry James is unique in
terms of what we deem to be his first novel. Although he published the
serialized version of Watch and Ward in 1871 and Roderick Hudson in
1875, he didn't publish the heavily revised first novel in book form until
1878. In his respective introductions to the two novels, Leon Edel refers to
each as James's first.3 But James himself seems to have relegated the ear-

81 The Triangle in Henry James

lier novel into limbo; it was left out of the Macmillan Edition of his works
in 1883, and later omitted from the definitive New York edition. Leon
Edel, discussing Watch and Ward summarized "the original fantasy":
We need not go into the original fantasy-it would take us far
afield; I mean that of the young man who, rejected by the woman
he loves, dreams up a marriage with a wife he will raise from
childhood, one who is almost, by his having adopted her, a kins-
woman. (14)

"Kinswoman" suggests a delicacy which avoids the harsh realities of
implied incest in the relationship between guardian and ward in this
novel, previously explored by Dickens in Bleak House. In Watch and
Ward, the theme is worked out between a daughter and a surrogate father
who has indirectly eliminated Nora's real father by withholding needed
financial aid and precipitating his suicide. James's changes in this novel
between serialization and bound book constituted a significant toning
down and muting of the sexual passages.4 There are highly erotic over-
tones in the description of Nora's father just prior to his suicide: "Sud-
denly he called her.... and he bade her get out of bed and come to him.
She'trembled, but she obeyed. On reaching the threshold of his room she
saw the gas turned low, and her father standing in his shirt against the door
at the other end. He ordered her to stop where she was. Suddenly she
heard a loud report and felt beside her cheek the wind of a bullet."5
The sexual overtones in this passage suggest a paradigmatic reading of
the father of the motherless child who is approaching puberty, and sees
the only possible solution to the incest-threat as death for one or both.
Nora's father is referred to by her cousin as "more sinned against than
sinning" (60), with its echoes of King Lear. With Nora's true father elimi-
nated, Roger Lawrence steps in immediately and begins to mold her to
his own design, expecting later to switch from father to lover with "the
child,-the little forlorn, precocious, potential woman" (16). The blur-
ring and blending of the two kinds of love are then elaborated:
She stared for a moment, without moving, and then left the sofa
and came slowly towards him. She was tall for her years. She laid
her hand on the arm of his chair and he took it..... "Do you remem-
ber my taking you last night in my arms?" It was his fancy that, for
an answer, she faintly blushed. He laid his hand on her head and
smoothed away her thick disordered hair. She submitted to his con-
soling touch with a plaintive docility. He put his arm round her

82 Patriarchy and Incest from Shakespeare to Joyce

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