Through the Looking-Glass: Joyce’s ‘Circe’, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and the Poetics of Vision



In the last decades of the nineteenth century reading fiction to articulate a scientific diagnosis breeds a hybrid genre of scientific diagnosis that is both literary and medical. Just as medicine turns to fiction, thus blurring the boundaries between diagnosis and literary criticism, scientific discourses bring about artistic innovations in the novel which assimilates, mimics, and catalogs the discourses of the emerging sciences. In Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s attempt to move away from the romantic tradition is paralleled with his interest in integrating contemporary medical discourses into the narrative of Emma’s story such as hysteria. Like Flaubert, James Joyce does not remain indifferent to the emerging medical discourses. Indeed, in Joyce’s Ulysses, as one enters ‘Circe’s’ theatre of perversions, one leaves the hostile corps médical of ‘Oxen in the Sun’ only to familiarize oneself with yet another kind of linguistic laboratory that is not immune to the tyranny of the medical gaze. Looking at both Flaubert and Joyce, this article reassesses the possible conversations prompted by the dynamic exchange between the scientific and the literary discourses and explores ways in which the assimilation of the sciences of the Modern novel departs from yet remodels that of the realist narrative. Establishing a conversation between Flaubert, Joyce, and Krafft-Ebing, I look at how the conversations between fiction and the sciences generate the ‘medicalization of fiction in the novel and the fictionalization of medical discourses.’ This cross-fertilization between the two disciplines, I suggest, reshapes the ways in which the novel internalizes the concept of the medical gaze in the sciences.