Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes
by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse, 2012

A thoughtful biography/autobiography by writer Mary M. Talbot and illustrated by her husband Bryan (Alice in Sunderland, Grandville). Talbot distaff contrasts her often unhappy childhood (as the daughter of noted Joycean scholar James S. Atherton) with the life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia, a talented ballet dancer who dated Samuel Beckett (!) and was institutionalized for schizophrenia in Paris, 1935. Amazingly, she survived the Occupation, although she spent the rest of her life in an English psychiatric hospital, dying in 1982 at the age of 75.

Talbot comes out of it rather better than Lucia, despite the frequent nastiness and violent outbursts of her intense scholar father, who cared only for the language of Joyce. Joyce doesn’t come over as particularly nice either, as he blithely dismisses Lucia’s need for artistic expression because “[i]t’s enough if a woman can write a letter and carry an umbrella gracefully”. Talbot has to put up with the sexist recent-past of Britain the 1970s – luckily she escapes with the adorably dorky young Bryan and things end happily ever after.

Bryan has drawn the Lucia story in black ink with a dark blue wash and rendered his wife’s life in sepia with the pencil sketch still visible. Mary adds an occasional editorial comment to Bryan’s artwork, noting how he inserts his own favourite book into a montage of her own, and how it gets suspiciously colourful once he appears in the story. The dual life stories are often sad and infuriating, both dealing with the complicated relationships between preoccupied fathers and their intelligent daughters, and despite the separation of the stories by roughly forty years, fewer things have changed than you’d hope.

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