Ah Issy. Issy Issy Issy. Where would our grand world be without her? Isolde, or Issy as she is known to all and sundry, is the archetypal young female character in James Joyce's great wet Irish Dreambook, Finnegans Wake.

Issy embodies all the delightfully contradictory qualities of youthful femininity: she is innocent and sensual, giving and demanding, promising and withholding. She is the willful and loving daughter of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and Anna Livia Plurabelle and the exasperatingly delightful baby sister of the twins, Shem and Shaun.

As befits a child-woman of her protean Irish temperament, Issy--in a book full of extremely thorough characterizations--is very tough to pin down, and Joyce makes great use of the teenage girl's natural tendency to over-dramatize and compartmentalize. For nearly fifty pages in Book II, Chapter 2, Issy, or Isolde, or Isabel, or Isabella DEPENDING ON HOW SHE IS FEELING, DON'T YOU UNDERSTAAAND?!...Issy, shall we call her, provides the reader with Footnotes regarding the boorish activities of her stupid brothers. Whom she loves. Mostly.

In this same chapter, and in a more fiendishly petulant mode, Issy passes this note to her teacher:

"Frequently I have been melancholy enough to commit suicide, but have been saved by recalling your libidinous erringnesses. You may rue your severities, for I am now engaged: I shall appear in the movies and thus taunt my silly classmates.--Old Norse nurse Asa taught me the rules--and all about the two girls, the man, and the peepers.--Wasn't it divine that day I was sitting astride the druids' altar?--Don't blush! I know the rules! God is merciful, Truth is stronger than fiction."

It is significant to note that Joyce's daughter Lucia, who was soon to be institutionalized for the rest of her life, provided beautiful illuminations in each of the 176 copies of this chapter when it was published as Storiella As She is Syung.

Joyce wrote what he knew, and he wrote what made him afraid as well. He was terrified of thunder, for example, and the third paragraph of the book begins with that famous hundred letter onomatopoetic thunder roll that underscores nothing less than the Fall of Man.

The specifics of the Fall of the primordial Man in the person of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker are numerous and unclear. (Say his name over a few times out loud. An earwig is an insect that gets inside your ear and drives you mad.) The rumors however, regarding Issy's father's failure in his bid for local election revolve around his allurement by young women in their many varieties. Issy's role in the matter is two-fold--she tempts Earwicker in her incarnation as the Siren in the first place and then later, in a representation of the Mature Female, she receives His Creative Essence and offers renewal through her children.

There are incestuous intimations throughout the novel regarding both Issy's father and her brothers, but the Wake is, after all, a book about a rumor of a rumor (that earwig again) and it is the clear-eyed Iseult, a woman of tempestuous looks and fatal seductiveness, a woman who knows love to be sure, who speaks the truth about man and woman. Issy--the real Issy--is James Joyce's Rainbow Sign after the storm, the charming virgin who beckons us forward in her eternal teasing game of promise and denial after all seems lost.

And of course it must be Isabella who is the reflection of her mother's youth, the timeless joy of first love recalled, the daily mirrored reminder that, yes, youth and beauty will pass, in the way of things. It is his depiction of the archetypal relationship between mother and daughter, so well-observed in his own home, that is perhaps most indicative of James Joyce's Olympian talent as a writer.

He memorialized the two most precious women in his life: Anna Livia Plurabelle is unmatched in all literature as the Eternal Mother, source of life and renewal. And Issy? Well, one of Issy's personas, one of her moods, one of the myriad dresses she wears, you'll remember, is the rainbow. She comes in colors everywhere and always. And she comes when we need her the most:

after a storm, in the dawn, following a crashing whisper of nightmares.




Shades of Joyce:

a nice cool glass of Joyce
Anna Livia Plurabelle
Cashel Boyle O'Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell
Finnegans Wake
Finn MacCool
Garry Owen
HCE
Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker
Issy the Teenage Rainbow
Lucia Joyce
Mina Purefoy
Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress
riverrun
Shaun
Shem the Penman
Ulysses is not pornography
Volta Cinema

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