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Portraits of the Literati’s Daughters
from graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith:
Those who recognize the name of Bryan Talbot as the creator of one of the first graphic novels to be permitted into 20th century teen collections (courtesy of being named to YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list), may wonder if that story had its grounding in his wife Mary’s own unhappy childhood after reading the beautifully distilled but hard hitting joint biography they have now co-authored. While James Joyce’s daughter served as her father’s muse and beloved companion when she was a girl, her efforts to become independent were rebuffed by him as well as the rest of her family in young adulthood, turning her bitter about the role she had played as inspiring some of his poetic lines. Mary Talbot, on the other hand, learned early that her father’s moods were frightening in their intensity. That James Joyce served as his muse brings Mary and Lucia into an alignment of disappointments and makes them an excellent comparative study in defeat (Lucia) and ultimate triumph (Mary).
The title of this joint biography is a pun that is not only clever but also revealing of the entrapments laid by these fathers who were separated by a generation: their daughters, both wanting approval in their fathers’ eyes, became, instead the corrections, the “dotters” of their “I’s”. That Mary Talbot’s academic career has focused on gender politics as well as literature is not only fitting but invigorating. Older teens reading this sequential art introduction to her childhood may be moved to attempt to explore her interests further, to discover how social ramifications in a given period and class can break a family as well as nourish its successes and the successes of its individual members.
A beguiling detail of this joint work is Mary’s marginalia as she corrects or shakes her virtual head over Bryan’s imaginings of the details of her life. While her birth family may have led much to be desired, it’s clear that Mary’s comfort with this husband and wife team effort is the result of shared concerns and healthy communication.
TALBOT, Mary M. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. illus. by Bryan Talbot. 89p. illus. bibliog. notes. Dark Horse. Jan. 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-1-59582-850-7. LC number unavailable.
Adult/High School–This husband and wife team provides readers with the unusual and gracefully nuanced opportunity to explore several biographical and literary threads through one compelling and concise narrative. Mary Talbot, the youngest child of a James Joyce scholar, grew up during the latter half of the 20th century repressed by her father’s rages and her British Catholic schooling. The Talbots align her life with the promising early development and later decline of Joyce’s own daughter, Lucia. Moving between the two households through the years of the two girls’ childhoods, youth, and early adulthoods, readers watch Lucia as her father’s pet and muse, and Mary as her father’s whipping boy. Lucia, coming of age in the ‘20s, believes she can stake a career for herself as a dancer, but her parents–including her once doting father–remove her from that possibility. Her psychological state declines, and her brother commits her to what becomes the first in a string of asylums. Mary, for her part, escapes her childhood family when she and Bryan start their own family. Bryan’s imagery captures the young women’s worlds, their parents’ moods, and the emotional traumas the girls suffered. Using monochrome, duo-tones, and full color according to both period and mood, and including perspectives emphasizing the feelings of Lucia or Mary, the art is essential to the telling here. Mary’s composition of the combined biography underscores both the literary and gender scholar she is, without political asides intruding on the stories. This is a fine book for those who are troubled by their parents, as well as for those curious about the author of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or about Bryan Talbot’s own muses.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
Filed under: Graphic Novels
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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