Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes explores the parallel lives of author Mary Talbot and the daughter of James Joyce, Lucia Joyce. Told in alternating scenes of flashbacks to both their lives, the book explores the complex relationship between father and daughter.
Talbot’s father was a Joycean scholar who spent his days teaching at the university and his night immersed in his studies. Around him, life ebbed and flowed, and he had precious little time for the interruptions of his daughter. When someone asks about the parallells between her life, and Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, Talbot replies that she hopes they are not parallel. Lucia died in a mental institution.
Lucia’s father was James Joyce, one of the most celebrated authors of the Modernist movement. He spent his days and nights working and insisted that the world of his family revolve around his needs. While Lucia attempted to have her own life, she was never allowed to stray far from home. She was always forced to give up what she wanted in order to be the “good” daughter.
While there are similarities between their lives, I think it is a stretch to say that they are parallel. In fact, I believe that both of the women in this book had childhoods that were remarkably similar to the childhoods of many girls. Parents who work hard and have no time for their children. Children who desperately want the love and affection of those same parents. The desires of youth that clash with the “realities” of life. These are more universal than unique.
What Talbot is able to effectively show, however, is the difference of the age. While Joyce grew up at the start of the 20th century, Talbot grew up in the second half. The societal belief of what was “right” and “acceptable” for a woman had changed by then. The options available to woman in the 1960′s were unthinkable to a woman of the 1920′s. As one person remarked to Lucia in the book, she was “too modern” for her age.
That is the real purpose of the book. It is not to have a narrative about the life and times of either Talbot or Joyce. It is about how the lives of women have changed over the eras, while their struggles have remained similar.
What Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes lacks in narrative, it makes up for in atmosphere. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a moody book. Each era of the book is separated by a color palette. Talbot’s youth is illustrated in browns and yellows with occasional bursts of color, while Joyce’s life is told in blues and grays. It is only in the modern day where the color is used freely.
There is also a clarity to the modern era that is not present in the other two. While everyone and everything is clearly defined in the modern pieces, Talbot’s memories are unfinished. There are stray pencil marks, an a bit of sketchiness, symbolizing the difficulties one has recalling their own past with exact clarity. Joyce’s era has thick black lines, as if they were photographs gone over in marker; another’s life researched and recreated.
In the end Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a moody piece that is part autobiography and part biography. In it we can find remnants of our own childhoods and the hope for a better tomorrow for our own daughters.