Daddies, Daughters, Dancers: Dotter of her Father’s Eyes

iu-1Free comic book day (always the 1st Saturday in May) usually means that my preferred local comic book shop has a big sale, as well as giving out a lot of free comics.

Earlier today, I dug deep in the long, no-longer-really white cardboard boxes in the bargain section, and between the usual grubby-fingerprinted leftovers, I found a complete set (1-4) of Jim Starlin’s Gilgamesh graphic novel, which cost me a total of (are you ready for this?) one American Dollar.

Then some other, space-themed / independent things I’ve no clue about, but will once I read them.

And finally, Mary M. Galbot’s Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, a graphic novel / biography.

I got myself a nice, iced cold-brew with almond milk (thanks T-Bones!), sat in the shade and read it in one go. It’s good! A dual biography, Dotter meshes the lives of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia with that of Mary Talbot. This makes more sense when you know that she is, in fact, the daughter of James S. Atherton, whose writings on Joyce’s work are considered seminal in academic / lit-lovers’ circles.

The whole is framed in a very brief outer narrative: Mary, now older, comes across her father’s ID randomly on his birthday and decides to read Lucia’s biography on the train to work. There are no chapters per se, the book works with cinematic elements to  blend the stories, and one way to tell which scene is in which woman’s life is the artwork itself. While Mary’s life is in sepia with, at times, some touches of color, Lucia’s life is in grayscale and blue. The cover of this translation of the novel shows the contrast between not only the two characters (young Mary and Lucia), but also between visual cues used to distinguish the interwoven strands of narrative:

Serbian translation of

Serbian translation of “Dotter of her Father’s Eyes”

Mary’s father is mostly absent, even when physically present and not sealed off from his wife and daughter’s lives by a closed study door. When he does give her attention, when she is young, those moments are magical and evidence his sheer love for language play: “Hel-lo, little girl! Well now! Come here! Tell me: ‘What kind of a noise annoys an oyster?'” he asks (28). But even then, he is mercurial, and seldom holds back his anger, which only grows as Mary grows up.

Lucia on the other hand has a different relationship with her father. She is not afraid of him. Her parents and brothers are the focal point of her life growing up, as her surroundings keep changing (they move from Trieste to Paris, from Paris to London). The girls’ lives overlap when they are introduced to dance — in Lucie’s case via eurythmics (no, not those Eurythmics…). Their lifelines cross, briefly, but where Mary gives up ballet for her schooling, Lucia decides she must dedicate herself to the art of dance. She invests all her time and energy, and her talents are lauded on all sides — except at home. Her father, who is busy being a modernist and a controversial literary figure, tells her it may not be decent for a woman to be on a stage like this, and her mother feels Mary should be his secretary rather than wasting her time.

While Lucia’s attentions are drawn to her father’s new assistant (young Samuel Beckett!), Mary finds a soulmate in a fellow flower-child, the long-haired, blonde Ryan. Lucia is heart-broken when Sam’s support for her dwindles. Was she just a “hors d’oeuvre” (as she puts it), with her father the main course and actual attraction? When her parents force her to move from Paris to London with them, away from her mentors and community, a downward spiral begins. She wants to be independent; she wants to work (teach dance as a sort of physio-therapy), working for one of her mentors. Mother and Father  are adamant that this isn’t proper. While her parents hold very conservative views on the roles and occupations appropriate to women, they are also not married, and have had all of their children out of wedlock, which comes to a surprise to twenty-something year-old Lucia. The girl’s relationship with her father all but vanishes and that with her mother deteriorates rapidly. Her defiance gets her committed to a mental institution, thanks to her brother.

Mary defies her parents in that she stays with Ryan despite her father’s open dislike of him. She gets pregnant and they have a shotgun wedding. We leave the accounts of the two women’s lives at this point. It is implied that Lucia spends the rest of her life in hospitals, while Mary raises a family, gets a job, and lives to learn about her father’s research into the lives of Joyce and his daughter.

Having just finished my Ph.D. I have to say that Talbot’s depiction of the scholar who is focused-to-obsession (her father) rings true to graduate student life. Academic endeavors require, often, a type of selfishness that does not necessarily strengthen interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, Talbot’s father believes in the worth of what he’s doing and wants an academic future for his daughter as well, unlike Lucie’s father who tells her (more than once) that as long as she knows how to gracefully enter a room, that should be plenty.

I enjoyed the book. The artwork is, in some places, quite beautiful:

Lucia learns to dance, from: The Dotter of her Father's Eyes (p. 41)

Lucia learns to dance, from: The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes (p. 41)

…recommended read!



About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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