The Double Life of Issy Earwicker
James Joyce’s sad and dreamy Issy Earwicker has gone almost unnoticed by researchers, although she is one of the most interesting characters of the Finnegans Wake. Her innocent longing for romantic love make her the very personifi cation of Victorian values. But Issy leads a double life, for through her mirror she takes on the alternative identity of an independent woman claiming the same sexual freedom which men are exclusively granted. Through her doubling Issy oscillates between the two extremes of Victorian morality and modern emancipation making her a révenant between obsolete tradition and modernity. Eventually, her secret life makes her the parodic double of the ideal and virtuous bourgeois woman living up to the moral law of the father(s)—in constant danger of losing her identity.
This study analyzes episodes of Finnegans Wake such as Tristan and Iseult and Kersse the Sailor and the Norwegian Captain and discusses the public discourse of late Victorian society when more and more women questioned the legitimacy of the status quo. Joyce’s use of grotesque and carnivalesque motifs in his satire of bourgeois morality, furthermore, plays a vital role in the interpretation of Issy’s character and function in the Wake. Eventually, the question of identity and free will and their signifi cance for Joyce’s text (and for the modern individual in general) are investigated.