Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Christy Burns

Committee Members

Simon Joyce

Mary Ann Melfi

James Armstrong


To the uninitiated, the works of James Joyce can descend into endless and impenetrable obscurity, but one thinker provides a key to deciphering Joyce’s writing: German operatic composer Richard Wagner. Wagner dominated nineteenth-century culture and Joyce could not escape his omnipotent influence. Whereas many artists tried to adopt aspects of Wagner’s artistic philosophy as their own, Joyce’s works reveal an inherent kinship with the composer. Allusions to Wagner’s radical “music dramas” are evident across Joyce’s œuvre. Wagner’s influence is not only found in the implicit and explicit allusions in Ulysses,—as Timothy Martin and other scholars have noted—but also in Joyce’s adoption of Wagner’s artistic philosophy and literary techniques. Specifically, Joyce expands on Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and emphasizes drama and myth to explore gender relations in Ulysses. I argue that in Ulysses, Joyce modifies Wagner’s artist-hero and self-sacrificing woman to complicate and critique the cultural expectation for the male protagonist’s reliance on female love for absolution. Joyce’s women—specifically Marion “Molly” Bloom and Gerty MacDowell—undermine the artist-hero’s redemption by blending the barrier between the two misogynist feminine archetypes: the Virgin and the Temptress. Whereas Wagner’s female characters are either the virginal redeemers, like Elisabeth from Tannhäuser, or fatal temptresses, like Kundry from Parsifal, Joyce’s female characters blur the barrier between the two archetypes. Molly and Gerty inhabit both the Virgin and Temptress archetypes, thereby wholly fulfilling neither. Thus, they disrupt the fixed gender roles necessary to propel the artist-hero towards salvation.

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