Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 18

Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes

by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot
Genre notes: memoir, biography, literary criticism
89 pages
ISBN: 1595828508 (Amazon)

In this both biographical and autobiographical work, Mary Talbot (aided visually by husband and illustrator Bryan Talbot) confronts the struggle of society to lurch into the era of modernity and beyond. It’s unclear whose story Talbot is more interested in (or if she even has a preference), but she introduces an inclusio whereby she in the current day finds an old ID card belonging to her now-deceased father. Inside the framing device Talbot pursues two narratives: one concerning her own formative years at the hand of her father James Atherton, a well-regarded Joycean scholar, and the other charting the development of James Joyce’s own daughter Lucia and the relationship he had with her. Neither relationship is a thing of joy and beauty, but one suspects that if both girls were born to the same fathers a century later, the absence of certain social constriction might have allowed for happy endings all the way around.

As delineated by Talbot, both Mary’s and Lucia’s lives are welled up under the pervasive irony of being the children of bastions of modernism who cannot see clear to apply modernist principles to their own patriarchal relationships. Dotter lays special emphasis on the rallying cry of the paradigm movement: “How modern!” Everyone around both Mary and Lucia are caught up in the transformation of culture—of the evolution of the stilted, errant, grossly conservative pre-modern society into the glorious fortress of progressive social democracy found in the modern utopia. It’s a period of hope and change. And each of these two fathers are in some sense heralds or ambassadors or representatives of this new civilization.

The irony of course is that in the cold darkness of their hearts’ hearts, they are still staunch defenders of the Old Ways—hopeless, helpless relics who will unconsciously stop at nothing to crush the Spirit of the Age in its most immediately tangible bastion. They will carelessly destroy their children (or perhaps die trying), unaware that in so doing they make mockery of those values they pretend to hold dearest to their hearts. Mary’s father Atherton will do so by his direct actions built of disdain and outright dismissiveness of his daughter. Joyce, on the other hand, will combat his own values through a negligence in policing he and his wife’s failure to recognize Lucia as something more than their provincial understanding of the female being will allow.

“Sad life. Sad life,” to quote a certain wise but immolated horse.

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