``I have never written anything under the feminist label,'' Brenda Maddox told the Monitor in a telephone interview. In response to reviews of ``Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom'' that describe her as a feminist writer, Maddox said, ``This was a woman who was overlooked. Now I've looked at her and found her to be an attractive, fascinating, and influential character, and in that sense, that's what feminism is all about.'' In her book, Maddox looks at the great strength of Nora Barnacle, the unlikely partner of the great Irish author James Joyce.
Maddox started her project in 1983, discovering that most of the information she needed for the book was untouched. Encouraged by Joyce's biographer Richard Ellmann, Maddox gathered as much material about Nora as she could find.
Yet Maddox claims that her book is not written strictly for admirers of James Joyce.
``Every writer writes for two audiences. You write for the people who know nothing about it. I hope the book is accessible to people who have never read a page of James Joyce.... I think her life is interesting in its own right. You also have to write for the people who know much more about it than you ever will. I hope for the Joyce scholars, what I found that is new will be interesting.''
Contrary to popular belief (that Nora was a slovenly, illiterate barmaid), Maddox found that Nora was a very fashionable woman.
``I wasn't prepared for her elegance or her actual interest in fashion. Looking at the photographs, you could see how absolutely up to the minute she was, ... She wasn't a country girl with hay in her hair.''
What Maddox found most surprising was Nora's strength.
``Joyce used people. His charm and his tenacity were so strong that he bent everybody to his will, and in the end he tended to break them. Nora was not influenced and she actually kept her own opinions. She trusted her instincts. She didn't adapt ... she stayed herself. It was a victory to remain intact with someone who had such an assuming personality.''
Is ``Nora'' one of the great love stories of our times? Maddox says no, describing Joyce's relationship with her as being ``long and loyal'' although Joyce had a ``childlike dependence on her.''
While Maddox agrees that ``Nora'' fits the shoe of the romance novel in that the story revolves around a strong woman in a man's world, she claims her intent was to write a book simply containing all the information she could obtain.
``If people find [romance] in it, then that's a part, but I would say it isn't one of the great romances of our time. That is for someone else to say.''
Jason Bloomgarden is a Monitor summer intern.