The Supreme Question’: Gratifying the Loathly Lady in James Joyce’s Ulysses

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James Joyce's artist-hero, Stephen Dedalus, seems to live in a universe that teems with grotesque female monsters, from the Classical Gorgon to the sexually aggressive New Woman. It is a world that resembles the mythic early Ireland depicted in medieval manuscripts, replete with loathly ladies. The archetypal loathly lady developed into a distinctive figure in medieval Irish and English literature: the shape-shifting Sovranty Hag. These symbolic female characters are imbued with the potential to transform both themselves and their chosen consorts into something lovely and powerful through the fulfillment of a quest. The artist-hero Stephen stumbles in and out of several recognizable loathly-lady quests in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. This article examines the amalgamation of Irish and English medieval tales of Stephen's unresolved quest as well as the significance of Joyce's revival of the powerful medieval loathly lady.