Friday, September 10, 2004

Famous adulterers in “Aeolus”

The entry in Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated explaining the “onehandled adulterer” (7.1018) as referring to Admiral Nelson’s affair with Emma Hamilton reminded me that Emma has been alluded to in the first “adult” romance novel I read as a teenager and made me think that maybe Joyce was being a bit hard on this famous scandalous romance. [Boy is that a bad sentence... sorry for the passive voice.] Then when the text follows Stephen’s thoughts as they eventually wandered to Penelope Rich, with whom I wasn’t familiar, I began to wonder what connections and inferences we are supposed to be making between these two famous (or infamous) women and the narrative of Molly Bloom.

There seems to be a complicated path/formula from Stephen’s Parable to Bloom’s wife that goes something like this: Emma Hamilton (via Nelson’s statue) to Penelope (from The Odyssey) to Molly (via correspondence in Ulysses) to Penelope Rich (directly cited). Since Odysseus’s wife is the only non-adulterer in the mix, it made me think that she is just the bridge to get us to connect Molly to these other women.

Anyway, from my previous exposure to Emma’s story and from what Gifford wrote about Penelope Rich (7.1040), I realized that both these women Stephen considers were actually caught in unhappy marriages, yet famously found love and flouted convention to eventually find some sort of happiness. We will have to see how all this plays out with Molly Bloom but we have already seen that she is unhappy in her marriage (we think) and is having at least one affair.

All of this got me thinking about the real women, Emma and Penelope, and I did a bit more digging. I don’t have room to go into too much detail here but the gist of both their stories is the typical tale of a women forced into unpleasant marriages by financial circumstances and unscrupulous guardians. Where their stories are not so typical, though, is in their unwillingness to play along. Neither Emma nor Penelope, when they found someone else, made much of an attempt to hide their affairs and both were actually quite influential in their own positions. Both are famous for whom they loved but both also had quite a bit of power of their own.

Here is a quick summary of their lives, with links to websites that go into much greater detail:

Emma Hamilton
- Was the daughter of a blacksmith who was sent to be her future husband’s mistress by her guardian in exchange for the settlement of her guardian’s debts. Hence, she was essentially sold into being a courtesan (a step above a prostitute) but Sir William Hamilton did make it right by marrying her five years later (1791).
- Met Nelson in Naples in 1793 before he went to war (his ship was the Agamemnon, by the way).
- Nelson came back a famous war hero and a mangled mess—Emma nursed him back to health and made no secret of her devotion to him, even inviting 1800 guests to the 40th birthday party she threw for him on Naples.
- Nelson thought he was above the requirements to keep his marriage vows and Emma was too in love to care about hiding their relationship.
- Apparently, Nelson and Hamilton got along, with Nelson even going back to England with the couple when Hamilton was recalled in 1800. All three set up house together in 1803, causing quite a scandal.
- While Emma and Nelson are considered one of the great love stories of their time, Emma played a fairly significant role on her own: as a favorite among the Naples court, she acted as an intermediary between her husband, the British Envoy to Naples, and the Queen of Naples, influencing the role Naples played in the battles between England and France.

Quick summary of the Emma/Nelson affair:

Site is more focused on Nelson but there is a picture of Emma here:

A less flattering, but more socially constructed description of Emma:

Penelope Rich
- Member of Queen Elizabeth’s court and Elizabeth’s goddaughter.
- The “Stella” in Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella sonnet sequence (probably how Stephen knows of her).
- Had been betrothed to Sidney but when her father died, her guardian saw more financial gain in her marriage to Robert Rich. They were married, despite her objections, in 1581 when she was 18.
- Several other writers of the time wrote poems and songs about her.
- Finally obtained a divorce from Rich in 1605 by pleading adultery and married her true love, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, with whom she had been having an open affair for many years.
- Her affair, divorce, and suspect remarriage (divorce was still a thorny issue) did not hurt her reputation on the court until Blount died. Then she was defamed as an adulterer, until her own death one year later.
- Had been defamed for years by scholars and critics until more recent research has looked past the rigid social customs and judgments of the time to put her life into a different perspective.

This is a comprehensive explanation of Penelope’s life as a member of the court, as well as her relations to the men of her time and includes a portrait of her.


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