Ah Issy. Issy Issy Issy. Where would our grand world be without her?
, or Issy as she is known to all and sundry, is the
young female character in
James Joyce's great wet Irish
, Finnegans Wake
Issy embodies all the delightfully contradictory qualities of youthful femininity:
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
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.
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
Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker
Issy the Teenage Rainbow
Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress
Shem the Penman
Ulysses is not pornography