This graphic memoir and biography is the first collaborative project from Bryan and Mary Talbot. Bryan Talbot is an established comics creator whose previous works include Alice in Sunderland and the Grandville series. Mary Talbot is an academic writer whose research into language, gender and power spans twenty-five years.
The eponymous ‘dotter of her father’s eyes’ is Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter, whose coming of age is interwoven here with a memoir of Mary Talbot’s early life. Mary’s father, James Atherton, was a renowned Joyce scholar, so it is apt that the lives of the two girls should be explored side-by-side. Each narrative explores the often fraught relationship that the girls experienced with their respective fathers.
The flypages of the book are photographic reproductions of memorabilia belonging to Mary, including notes made by Atherton for his MA which was subsequently published as, Books in the Wake, which examined literary allusion in Joyce’s novel, Finnegan’s Wake.
In the main narrative, Lucia’s biography is drawn in a blue-black monochrome, whilst Mary’s memoir is depicted in sepia with occasional splashes of full-colour. The choice of monochrome illustrations for Lucia’s story heightens the drama and subsequent tragedy of her life. Similarly, the sepia tones used for Mary’s story seem to reflect the hardships of her upbringing in austere, post-war Britain.
Lucia was a talented dancer who, despite experiencing a peripatetic and financially precarious upbringing in the Joyce household, studied in Paris under luminaries of Modernist dance such as Margaret Morris and Isadora Duncan’s brother, Raymond. Lucia had been developing a reputation as a dancer in many radical productions when, just as success was approaching, her career was thwarted by her parents, who considered her choice of profession ‘unladylike’. Their refusal to allow her to continue professional dancing may have contributed to the subsequent mental health problems she suffered in early adulthood and beyond. The narrative in dotter of her father’s eyes deals very sensitively with her illness, heightening the sense that hers was a needlessly wasted life that could have been successful had she been free to pursue her goals.
The book cover is a head portrait of Mary as a young girl; interestingly, her face is lit from below, like Degas’ many studies of ballet dancers. Mary, like Lucia, danced as a child, but she subsequently chose to concentrate on her studies. Her narrative is less dramatic than Lucia’s, but its main thrust pursues her troubled relationship with her father. Atherton is represented as a rather harsh disciplinarian, who had little patience with the frequently naughty Mary; however it must be remembered that the narrative is told through a child’s eye view of a strict father. Despite these conflicts and unlike Lucia, Mary is able to find a path through the controlling influences in her life.
Bryan’s drawing style is looser here than in his previous work. It is unclear whether the Talbots were aiming for a particular mood to be evoked by the loose style of artwork. In many of the frames, the draughtsmanship tends towards a cartoon-like freedom, which is continually undercut by the narratives themselves.
The over-arching structure of the narrative takes place in one day, February 2nd, James Joyce’s birthday and also “Groundhog Day”. The narrative begins with Mary who, leaving home for work on February 2nd, discovers an old ID card of her father’s. She remarks to Bryan that it is Joyce’s birthday. This leads her to reflect back on her relationship with Atherton and the story of Lucia. In the final pages of the book, she returns home, where she and Bryan resume their conversation. Just as Joyce’s master work, Ulysses, spans a day in the life of Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, Mary and Lucia’s stories are told over the course of a day. These parallels to and echoes of Ulysses suggest the cyclic reinvocation of memory as it is lived and experienced.