Matriarchs of Modernism: Molly, Addie, and the Surprising Optimism of the Joycean Worldview College

For all the stereotypes and characterizations that modernism and its literary masters bear, any kind of overwhelming optimism is seldom cited among the accusations. Often summarized as a movement conceived in the wake of the horrors of the first World War, modernist literature rarely betrays much optimism in its depictions of the abject disillusionment of a post-war landscape. It may seem incongruous, then, to anyone with even the most basic familiarity with the tenets of literary modernism to accuse the author of one of its most canonical texts of presenting – in that very text itself – an optimistic worldview. That remains, however, precisely the intent of this paper.

This is not, of course, an entirely unprecedented position, one perhaps best represented by Stuart Gilbert in his assertion that, “It is significant for those who see in Joyce’s philosophy nothing beyond a blank pessimism, an evangel of denial, that Ulysses ends on a triple paean of affirmation” (qtd. in Harris 388). Also staking the argument on Molly’s famed “Yes,” this paper offers for comparison the interior monologue of another modernist matriarch, William Faulkner’s Addie Bundren. While both the monologues and their respective speakers have much in common,...

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