Michelet

In Brief

Patrice Egan told Stephen something "About the nature of women he read in Michelet." Jules Michelet was a 19th century Republican historian—anti-monarchist, anti-clerical, free-thinking—whose History of the French Revolution and History of France established him as an important writer and endeared him to the French left. It is easy to see why the socialist and atheist Patrice would be reading him. On "the nature of women," however, Michelet was anything but a revolutionary thinker.

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Gifford observes that he was a "historian 'of the romantic school.' Michelet is noted not for his objectivity but for picturesque, impressionistic, and emotional history. In La Femme (Woman) [Paris, 1860: trans. J. M. Palmer (New York, 1890)]—presumably the book Patrice has been reading—Michelet traces woman's growth and 'education' toward her ideal and eventual role: 'Woman is a religion' and her function is 'to harmonize religion' (p. 78), just as 'her evident vocation is love' (p. 81) and her indispensable gracefulness is 'a reflection of love on a groundwork of purity' (p. 83). Properly 'cultivated by man' in the light of this ideal, woman will become 'superior to him' to the point where he is 'strong; [but] she is divine . . . practical and . . . spiritual . . . a lyre of ampler range' than man—and yet not 'strong' (pp. 200-201)." Such effusions typify Victorian-era expressions of the Angel in the House doctrine.

If Joyce has any darker purpose in including this snippet of cafe conversation, it may be to suggest that the apple has not fallen far from the tree: Patrice is still deeply infected with the Irish Catholic notions of gender and sexuality that have made his father puritanical and unmarried.

JH 2017
Portrait of Jules Michelet, oil on canvas painting ca. 1850-1879 by Thomas Couture, held in the Carnavalet Museum, Paris. Source: Wikimedia Commons.