Study Guide

James Joyce

James Joyce Essay - Joyce, James (Short Story Criticism)

Joyce, James (Short Story Criticism)


James Joyce 1882–-1941

(Full name James Augustine Aloysius Joyce) Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, and critic.

The following entry presents criticism on Joyce's short fiction from 1992 to 2002. For criticism prior to 1992, see SSC, Volume 3; for discussion of the short story “The Dead,” see SSC, Volume 26; and for discussion of the short story “Araby,” see SSC, Volume 44.

Joyce is considered one of the most influential literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century. Through experimental, symbolic prose, he redefined the limits of language and reinvented the form of the modern novel. Joyce's only short story collection, Dubliners (1914), is considered a master achievement in the genre.

Biographical Information

Joyce was born into a middle-class home in a suburb of Dublin. His family moved frequently to a variety of neighborhoods throughout the city of Dublin; their periodic relocation reflected a progressive financial decline that took them from comfort to virtual poverty. The economic hardships that necessitated the family's many moves served to bring Joyce into close contact with many aspects of city life that would later appear in his fiction. During his childhood, Joyce attended Jesuit schools as a scholarship entrant and was considered a talented student. His church-based education did not lead to the priesthood, as his parents had hoped, and he eventually rejected Catholicism, in part for its role in creating the parochial, narrow-minded society from which he later sought escape.

Following his graduation from University College in Dublin in 1902, Joyce left Ireland to live in Paris, deliberately abandoning the life he knew and would later depict in harsh detail in Dubliners. He returned to Ireland the next year when his mother became seriously ill, and when she died in 1904, Joyce moved permanently to the European continent with Nora Barnacle, a chamber maid from Galway whom he did not marry until 1931. Living in Trieste, Italy, the couple had two children, and Joyce made a living as a language instructor while struggling to find publishers for his short fiction, the full collection of which was deemed too controversial to print. Dubliners appeared first as a handful of stories published in an Irish periodical and was eventually published as a volume of fifteen stories in 1914. This was followed by A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in New York in 1916 and in London the following year. By 1922, with the publication of the novel Ulysses, Joyce had secured for himself an international reputation as a leading modernist. During the writing of the novel, however, Joyce endured the first of eleven surgeries to address progressive vision problems due to glaucoma. His final novel, Finnegans Wake, appeared in 1939 to negative critical response. At the outbreak of World War II, Joyce was living in Paris, where he stayed as long as he could. He eventually settled in Switzerland, where he died of a stomach ulcer in January 1941.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Despite his self-imposed exile from the country of his birth, Joyce nonetheless made Ireland and its people the subject of his writing. His first published volume of fiction was Dubliners, a collection of fifteen short stories all set in Dublin and dramatizing ordinary urban lives of the day. Three of the stories, “The Sisters,” “Eveline,” and “After the Race,” first appeared in the journal Irish Homestead at the end of 1904. Joyce revised and expanded these three and added eleven further stories for a volume that was planned for publication in 1906 by English publisher Grant Richards. Richards's printer refused to produce the work, however, alleging that the stories were indecent. Joyce, preferring that the works remain unpublished rather than amended to suit the tastes of others, explained in a May 5, 1906, letter to Richards that his intention in writing Dubliners “was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the center of paralysis. … I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard.” The Irish publisher Maunsel and Company accepted and printed the collection, including a fifteenth story, “The Dead,” in 1912. However, due to concern about potential libel charges stemming from Joyce's use of the names of well-known people and businesses, all copies of the book were destroyed before they could be distributed. In 1914 the book was finally published by Grant Richards, nearly a decade after the first of the stories had been written.

Dubliners is considered the first literary product of Joyce's lifelong preoccupation with the city and the people of Dublin. The stories are also important as examples of Joyce's aesthetic theory of epiphany in fiction: each is built around a sudden revelation of truth about life inspired by a seemingly trivial incident. In his short fiction, Joyce selected and recorded the often invisible moments of everyday life during which a word, a gesture, a thought, or an observed behavior can suddenly trigger a flash of recognition, discovery, or understanding in one's mind. The characters in Joyce's depiction of Dublin are all Catholic and middle class, although they represent a broad spectrum of ages and occupations. Whether they are young schoolboys or aging priests, innocent young women or aged spinsters, the trait they share is their entrapment in the urban society of Dublin as a consequence of their own choices or inaction. Joyce arranged the stories to present what he saw as the physical, moral, and social paralysis of Irish life in four distinct stages: three stories from the point of view of childhood; four stories describing the pivotal decisions of adolescence; four stories of maturity, in which the characters come to understand the consequences of past choices; and three stories of public life, which address issues such as politics, music, and the Catholic Church within the confines of Irish society. The longest and last story of the collection, “The Dead,” is considered by critics to be an epilogue to the volume, in that it resolves and integrates themes, problems, and symbols introduced in the previous fourteen stories.

Critical Reception

Once he was able to get Dubliners published, Joyce generally enjoyed favorable response from literary reviewers. It was clear from the start of his literary career that Joyce was a leader in reshaping modern fiction and reinventing the use of literary language. Until well past the middle of the twentieth century, however, critics and scholars tended to lavish attention on Joyce's longer works of fiction, overlooking Dubliners as not much more than a collection of vignettes depicting the provinciality of the author's boyhood hometown. His short stories are considered the most traditional and easily understood examples of Joyce's fiction, which in itself may have rendered them less interesting to scholars, who were eager to respond to the challenge of explicating A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. In recent decades, however, critical interest in Dubliners has increased as subsequent explications of the stories, both as individual settings and as elements of the total work, have revealed that in the collection Joyce first introduced the subjects and themes that would become the focus of his later work. Scholars today also note that the collection is significant because even before his more experimental works appeared, Joyce introduced, in Dubliners, a multidimensional narrative method that began revolutionizing modern literature.

Principal Works

Dubliners 1914

The Portable James Joyce 1947; revised edition 1966

The Essential James Joyce 1948

Chamber Music (poetry) 1907

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (novel) 1916

Exiles (drama) 1918

Ulysses (novel) 1922

Pomes Penyeach (poetry) 1927

Collected Poems (poetry) 1936

Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939

*Stephen Hero (unfinished novel) 1944

Letters 3 vols. (correspondence) 1955-66

Critical Writings of James Joyce (criticism) 1959

*This work was written between 1901 and 1906.


R. B. Kershner (essay date winter 1992)

SOURCE: Kershner, R. B. “Mr. Duffy's Apple.” James Joyce Quarterly 29, no. 2 (winter 1992): 406-07.

[In the following essay, Kershner discusses the symbolism of a single apple in Joyce's story “A Painful Case.”]

The opening paragraph of “A Painful Case” has been an interpreter's delight because of Joyce's bravura performance in delineating character through furniture, much as Flaubert does in introducing Charles Bovary. The orderly, ascetic furnishings of his room, the manuscript translation of Hauptmann's Michael Kramer, the white wooden shelves with the hand-bound copy of the Maynooth Catechism all conspire to prepare us for the man whose aesthetic and intellectual aspirations are neatly circumscribed by his compulsive habits and unvarying routine. When, four years later, he has added Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Gay Science, we may realize that his nature includes a perversely romantic element kept under tight and ironic control.1

But one sensory detail seems unlikely in Duffy's room: “On lifting the lid of the desk a faint fragrance escaped—the fragrance of new cedarwood pencils or of a bottle of gum or of an over-ripe apple which might have been left there and forgotten” (D [Dubliners] 108). The new pencils and gum seem innocuous enough, but the idea of the meticulous Duffy forgetting an apple in his own desk drawer long enough for its scent to become intrusive is difficult to square with our picture of the man. Indeed, that apple, like the apple tree and rusty bicycle-pump in “Araby,” virtually cries out for symbolic interpretation, especially as the story's narrator scrupulously refuses to explain its presence: it “might have been left there and forgotten” (emphasis mine), or perhaps not.

I would suggest that Joyce is making a sly allusion not to original sin, as we might suppose, but to a well known literary anecdote about the German romantic dramatist Friedrich Schiller,

that story Goethe recounted to Eckermann on October 7, 1827, about how he once waited in Schiller's study. The air was foul and Goethe began to be nauseated. Searching about, he opened a desk drawer and found it full of rotten apples. Mrs. Schiller explained that her husband could not live or write unless he had that odor around him.2

Schiller's bizarre attempt to keep the creative juices flowing through auto-intoxication looks even more bizarre when the author of Bile Beans tries it; but after all, Duffy, ever the model of restraint, is using only one apple.

Duffy's problem is not that he is devoid of romantic impulses—his forming a relationship with Mrs. Sinico in the first place is testimony to that. Indeed, as West and Hendricks have argued, Duffy's final “epiphany” in which he takes responsibility for her death is also a case of romantic self-indulgence.3 Duffy's problem is that his romantic leaps are too little, too late: self-banished from life's feast, he tries to achieve divine intoxication on the scent of a single apple.


  1. For literary elements in Duffy's makeup see Marvin Magalaner, “Joyce, Nietzsche, and Hauptmann in James Joyce's ‘A Painful Case,’” PMLA, 47 (March 1953), 95-102.

  2. Charles E. Passage, Friedrich Schiller (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975), p. 29.

  3. Michael West and William Hendricks, “The Genesis and Significance of Joyce's Irony in ‘A Painful Case,’” ELH, 44 (1977), 701-27.

Frank Pilipp (essay date January 1993)

SOURCE: Pilipp, Frank. “Narrative Devices and Aesthetic Perception in Joyce's and Huston's ‘The Dead.’” Literature/Film Quarterly 21, no. 1 (January 1993): 61-8.

[In the following essay, Pilipp compares narrative techniques in Joyce's short story “The Dead” and John Huston's 1987 film adaptation of the work.]

This study analyzes the capacity of narrative devices to depict and elicit processes of aesthetic perception in both the text and the film1 of James Joyce's novella “The Dead.” The objective is to determine the artistic means through which each medium projects the conflict. The realization of the aesthetic qualities of an object of art is accomplished through acts of perception. Only when we understand the artistic devices of a work of art can it be experienced as an aesthetic entity. Each work of art projects a purely intentional state of affairs, and it is up to the reader, viewer, or listener to concretize it. Yet the essence of understanding the work lies not exclusively in discovering its meaning, but also in recognizing the means or devices by which the work achieves meaning. These introductory observations shall serve as the basis for this comparison of a literary narrative and its cinematic adaptation that aims for the highest degree of authenticity. The focus lies on the concluding passages of “The Dead” which account for the incidents that initiate the protagonist's self-awareness, leading up to an epiphanic vision. It is precisely the literary/cinematic realization of this vision that constitutes the climax of the narrative, and special attention must be given to its transformation onto the screen.

As early as 1968 a critic pointed out cinematic devices in Joyce's narrative by demonstrating its division into sequences, scenes, and shots.2 While these observations are meticulous and accurate in their own right, a fundamental qualitative distinction is necessary for juxtaposing novels and films. While the literary text projects its intentional state of affairs through verbal assertion, the dominant mode in film is presentational. Films are expected to elucidate a state of affairs through sight and sound; an outside narrator is considered inartistic for then the film would be using its soundtrack much in the same way as literature uses assertive syntax.3 Thus, the specific difficulties in making a novel into film lie in the transformation of the richness of language into the expressiveness of pictures, especially the narrative perspective and the flexibility of the narrator into proper cinematography, as well as the realization of the specific tone verbal narratives can imply through intelligent camera work.

No doubt Joyce presents his narrative in a “dramatized” and “active” fashion through a perspective which is—with the exception of a few descriptive passages—never completely that of an omniscient narrator, but rather fluctuates unobtrusively between various points of view, thus subtly manipulating the reader's engagement.4 Of central significance in “The Dead” is the protagonist's experience of epiphany. The reader/viewer's participation in the character's insight is facilitated precisely by a perspective that oscillates between the narrator and the character, and thus, is of utmost importance for the aesthetic realization of the narrative. The concept of “epiphany” is defined in Stephen Hero as a cognitive process that reveals a tripartite structure:

First we recognise that the object is one integral thing, then we recognise that it is an organised composite structure, a thing in fact; finally, when the relation of the parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the special point, we recognise that it is that thing which it is. Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance. The soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.5

Proceeding from taking superficial notice of the object as a whole to the perception of its composite character, the perceptory process culminates in the full cognition of the object's essential properties. When the object finally reveals these to the viewer's eye, it is—in Stephen's words—“epiphanised.”6

The process of zeroing in on the object until penetrating to its essence—its “whatness” as Stephen calls it—is reminiscent of Roman Ingarden's distinction between “real object” and “aesthetic object.”7 Only in the viewer's perception can the artistic qualities of the object be realized as its aesthetic actuality. As for the literary work of art, the third stage of this phenomenological process reflects the central argument of the Russian Formalist critic Victor Shklovsky for art as technique. Literary language, according to Shklovsky, “is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known … because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”8 Literary language, then, points to the essence of an object by elevating it beyond the habitual perceptory horizon of the reader; it defamiliarizes it in order to allow us to perceive the object aesthetically.

Toward the end of “The Dead” Gabriel undergoes a sudden change of perception that can be analyzed in terms of the three stages of epiphany. About to leave his aunts' annual dance Gabriel is waiting downstairs in the dark “gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmonpink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife” (209). Initially Gabriel can only make out general female characteristics; next he perceives a more detailed impression (particular garments) from which he infers the person's identity. At this point, Gabriel's perception has not yet transcended its habitual degree of intensity. Moments elapse before his senses sharpen and he shows a preliminary aesthetic response: “There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something” (210). Clearly, Gabriel begins to view Gretta with more “artistic” eyes, yet only those of a would-be-artist, for he is not able to penetrate to the essence of Gretta (as an object of art) and therefore does not intuit her “whatness.” In his cluelessness about her symbolic significance he avows his incomplete understanding of her.

The reader of Joyce's text will inadvertently be drawn into the sombre mood of this scene and will picture the gloomy lighting and muffled sound. Furthermore, the reader's perception proceeds slowly, following Gabriel's own, step by step. Because the acoustics and vision in this particular scene are perfectly clear in Huston's film, Gabriel (played by Donal McCann) and the viewer can discern Gretta (Anjelica Huston) distinctly as she stands at the top of the brightly illuminated staircase. For this reason, the film does not permit us to trace the gradual process of perception presented in the novella. The viewer can only speculate as to Gabriel's impressions. What is more, the reader of “The Dead” will likely imagine Gabriel and Gretta at a relatively far distance from each other, whereas the two are standing only a few steps apart in the film. Hence, the gloomy, subdued atmosphere dominant in the novella is completely lacking in the film. On the other hand, the mood is mediated acoustically through the melody of the song, and the tension between the couple (as experienced by Gabriel) is well realized through the camera movement cutting back and forth between them. And while Gretta, with her eyes closed and oblivious to the world, is reveling in the song “The Lass of Aughrim,” we watch Gabriel intently watching her. Clearly the camera maintains a more objective perspective and concentrates on external processes. It may leave the viewer in the dark and mark an inconsistency to the film's final images where a “clarifying” internal monologue is superimposed. While the final monologue in the film is made necessary by the inability of the camera to go within the character, it would have been useful to the viewer if it had occurred earlier.

The view of Gretta's graceful pose elicits an aesthetic response from Joyce's Gabriel, a response that the film hardly implies. Instead a parallel scene foreshadowing Gretta's impact on Gabriel's emotions, a scene not found in Joyce's text, appears earlier in the screenplay of Huston's film. A recitation by Mr. Grace of selected stanzas of an Irish poem (under the title “Broken Vows” in the film)9 shows the same effect on Gretta as Mr. D'Arcy's singing later. Quite obviously identifying herself with the poem's persona, a broken-hearted girl who voices her sorrow, Gretta is caught in a trance-like state of mind until called back to reality by her neighbor's emphatic remark “Imagine being in love like that!” Gabriel, for his part, after acknowledging comments from the audience, starts to applaud demonstratively. His reaction to the poem is distinctly artificial and contrived and merely conforms to the customs of social gatherings. It casually reveals the drastic contrast between the true emotional rapture of his wife and his own self-centered and self-conscious affectation.

In Joyce's text, Gabriel, on their departure from his aunts' house, is suddenly overcome by a blazing passion for his wife. He seems to be soaring on an emotional high, which overshadows the events to come. After a “sudden tide of joy” (212) he is swamped by a “wave of yet more tender joy” (213). Little wonder that Gabriel is “trembling with desire” under the “wild impulse of his body” (215). Finding himself in a highly sensitive and perceptive state of mind and emotion, memories of his marital relationship well up while “the thoughts went rioting through his brain” (213). The next physical contact with Gretta appears to catapult Gabriel to a new sense of perception: “But now, after the kindling again of so many memories, the first touch of her body, musical and strange and perfumed, sent through him a keen pang of lust” (215). Evidently, Gabriel here experiences the “artfulness” of Gretta's physique as he perceives a defamiliarized image of her (“musical and strange”). It may help our understanding of Gabriel's reaction to review it in light of Ingarden's aesthetic theory. Seeing his wife as if for the first time, Gabriel has undergone a “change of attitude from a practical one … to an aesthetic attitude” which confers upon the perceived object (Gretta) a “new sense.” Gabriel is suddenly:

struck with a peculiar quality or with a multiplicity of qualities or, at last, with a Gestalt quality (e.g., a color or a harmony of colors, the quality of a melody, a rhythm, a shape, etc.) which not only focuses [his] attention on itself, but, in addition, is not indifferent to [him].

This “preliminary emotion”—as Ingarden calls it—“opens the proper process of aesthetic experience.”10 Furthermore, Gabriel's emotion—as asserted in the text—can be considered a state of excitement with the quality which:

has imposed itself on [him] in the object perceived. … In this excitement there is also included a moment of usually pleasant astonishment11 on account of the appearance of the preliminary exciting quality. … This excitement transforms itself into a form of falling in love (of eros) with the quality.12

Although Gabriel acknowledges the perceived aesthetic qualities, he fails to realize that the “value of an aesthetic object is not the value of a means leading to an end.”13 Gabriel experiences the “preliminary emotion,” but he is incapable of completing the aesthetic experience and penetrating to “an intuitive intercourse with qualitative essences.”14 Instead, he gears his emotions toward a physical outlet, namely sexual gratification.

Little indication of this internal motion is found in Huston's film, where Gabriel's conduct—except for his passionately kissing Gretta's hand—does not allow inferences as to his emotional commotion described above. During the cab ride to the hotel Gabriel is at pains to exhilarate Gretta with the anecdote about Johnny; the horse (in the novella he tells it at the party), but he fails pitifully. Gretta, whose thoughts dwell elsewhere, sits cold, distant, superior, and Madonna-like. Twice she produces a brief, polite, yet almost pitying smile, which—judging from Gabriel's facial expressions—inject into him the feeling of insecurity and ludicrousness. It is not so much Gabriel's swelling sexual desire as his increasing emotional tension, which gradually elevates him to his ultimate “tragic height” (Fallhöhe) in the film.

After the couple has checked into their hotel room, the reader is again reminded of the self-centered nature of Gabriel's emotions. Eager to give vent to his emotions, he promises himself a sexual encounter with Gretta hoping that she will be responsive. Since she, however, seems rather indifferent, even absent-minded, and responds to her husband's longing call “Gretta!” merely with a “serious and weary” air (216), Gabriel's passion momentarily threatens to convert into aggression. Immediately he finds himself “trembling … with annoyance” and even considers “crush[ing] her body against his, … overmaster[ing] her” (217). However, an unexpected kiss from Gretta turns his “fever of rage and desire” once again into “delight” and “happiness” (217). Under the false assumption that she is now sharing his “impetuous desire” (218) and is willing to yield to his seductive intentions, Gabriel reaches that point where Gretta's imminent revelations about his “archrival” Michael Furey could not be more defeating. After this fall, Gabriel feels “humiliated,” “ludicrous,” “clownish” and admits to himself the vanity and self-complacency of his previous intent (219-20). While these central realizations extend over three paragraphs of Joyce's narrative they are simply excluded from the film.

Staring out the window, with Gretta asleep, Gabriel's self-reflections constitute the last vignette of “The Dead.” In this passage the narrator's point of view focuses entirely on Gabriel's sensations; the narrative perspective oscillates between that of an omniscient narrator and the character's. Predominantly, however, the narrative is now carried by narrated monologue,15 a form of subjective discourse that stands between direct and indirect speech and expresses the thoughts of the character—contrary to the interior monologue—in the third person and the simple past. Imitating the character's language in the grammar indicated it suspends the fictional mind in an instant present. Thus the reality of fiction is mediated to the reader via the consciousness of the perceiving character and entails a process of identification between reader and character. Nevertheless, a distinction is necessary between narrative voice (narrator) and narrative perspective (character), two superimposed voices which are engaged in an intricate interplay.16

Given the limited number of technical means to realize this crucial segment of internalized plot in film, Huston, perhaps appropriately, resorts to interior monologue. Although infrequently used in film because, in general, offscreen voices have come to be considered obtrusive and inartistic, this narrative technique is easily feasible as it merely requires simply that the voice-over be identifiable as the character's, whose lips do not move.17 In interior monologue the narrative voice is identical with that of the character who verbalizes his own thoughts.18 One notices not only certain changes (for example, Gabriel addresses Gretta directly), abridgements, and rearrangements of Joyce's text (as made by Tony Huston for the screenplay), but also an important omission. Contrary to the first three sentences of the last paragraph in the novella, the subsequent one, “The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward” (223), asserts internal plot and is missing in Gabriel's interior monologue in the film. This exclusion is crucial as it concerns the key sentence of the novella, indicating Gabriel's intentions of drawing consequences from his self-awareness, which may entail significant changes in his relationship with Gretta. As he recognizes his own emotional paralysis and questions his egotism, and with it his own identity in the light of the dead (in particular Michael Furey), the truth hits Gabriel in an epiphanic vision. His dialogic self-scrutiny allows him to realize that only through the search for his lost (Irish) origins and a confrontation with Gretta's past (“his journey westward”) can he learn to “know” Gretta (in the sense of Ingarden's aesthetic recognition). At the same time this assertion, presented in narrated monologue, marks the moment of revelation for the reader.

Narrated monologue employs a narrative voice that speaks through the character's consciousness; a narrator is implied simply by the use of the third person and the simple past and exists merely on linguistic grounds without interfering with the process of identification between reader and character. Thus, in Gabriel's climactic vision, the reader is invited, almost forced, to participate.19 On the other hand, narrated monologue cannot be realized in film because by virtue of its use of third-person discourse it would require a narrator different from the character, which would prevent a blending of perspectives (the viewer's with the character's). For this reason, the ending of the film version which mediates the vision as direct discourse cannot be as convincing as its Joycean counterpart. Especially those sentences of Gabriel's interior monologue containing explicit first- or second-person references are bound to sound artificial or exaggerated to the viewer as they suggest the immediacy of linguistic concretization of Gabriel's thought processes. When Gabriel ponders: “Why am I feeling this riot of emotions,” this is not a successful representation of the corresponding sentence in the novella: “He wondered at his riot of emotions …” (222). Slightly different from narrated monologue this sentence constitutes a form of narrative discourse which has been called psycho-narration. Determined by the use of verbs of consciousness it mediates unarticulated sensations without formulating them and thus renders the workings of the figural mind less directly than narrated monologue.20 Similarly, the second half of the following sentence in the film has Gabriel express his emotions too pompously: “I've never felt that way myself toward any woman, but I know that such a feeling must be love.” Again, the corresponding words in Joyce's narrative represent psycho-narration and merely allude to Gabriel's recognition of his feelings for Gretta as love.21 The film takes such statements at face value and attributes them to the character. In this manner, Huston reduces Joyce's subtle and sophisticated play with narrative perspectives to a straightforward narration that occasionally resounds with false pathos.

Gabriel's interior monologue is underscored by subdued funeral music and by the visualization of his thoughts—Julia Morkan's death bed and, subsequently, to the end, impressive, atmosphere-laden shots of the vast, bleak and gaunt, snow-covered Irish countryside (churchyard, plains, etc.). The nostalgic and depressingly melancholic mood of these images is preceded by the depiction of Gabriel's thoughts of his own passing away (cf. 223) when he is shown dancing with his Aunt Julia. It is significant, however, that the film cannot dispense with the voice-over. On the one hand, Joyce's language is simply too rich and loaded with allegory and symbolism to be adequately mediated through images only. While Huston's pictures are quite successful in invoking Joyce's nostalgic tone, they still need to be underscored by a soundtrack. On the other hand, Huston's film, which clearly strives for Joycean authenticity (not only in its representation of Gabriel's inner conflict but also in the depiction of external events), shows us that to rephrase narrated monologue, especially psycho-narration, as interior monologue can be problematic and counterproductive in regard to authenticity of tone. The oscillating point of view in Joyce's narrative proves to be impossible to achieve in film. Likewise, the film does not manage to bring Gabriel's innermost feelings to full life. At the end it is the voice-over that is supposed to add the appropriate tone to the expressive final scenic images. To some extent this is accomplished, and the film can certainly stand on its own. Nevertheless, the familiarity with Joyce's narrative will make it difficult to appreciate many a scene in the film—particularly the ones discussed here.

What has been discussed so far must be viewed in light of the fundamental implications of the properties of verbal and cinematic narrative. As the final passage in “The Dead” consists of Gabriel's vision, it involves the character's intellectual and imaginative-intuitive powers and thus simultaneously appeals to the same faculties in the reader.22 While verbal narrative allows the reader to activate the entire reservoir of creative imagination—as evidenced by the huge quantity of interpretive literature on “The Dead” alone—film narrative has the property of “visual ‘over-specification.’”23 By the same token the “visual aids” pass by our eyes too speedily to be digested intellectually at once (unless, of course, the use of video equipment enables us to re-view them freely). It is precisely the property of over-specification by means of which films counteract the viewer's productive imagination. Conversely, as Wolfgang Iser states, it is “only by activating the reader's imagination that the author can hope to involve him and so realize the intentions of his text.”24 To be sure Joyce's text resists a clear-cut, straightforward interpretation that leaves no room for ambiguities. Hence the reader will visualize what language can only intimate, for “it is the unwritten part [of the text] that gives us the opportunity to picture things: indeed without the elements of indeterminacy, the gaps of the text, we should not be able to use our imagination.”25 In film, on the contrary, the picture is not created by the viewer's imagination, but it is presented to him as an immutable image. Out of “the vast number of possibilities” which are projected by the literary text and sensed by the reader's imagination the film leaves only one, and thus our imagination is “put out of action.”26

Even in view of these general drawbacks of cinematic adaptations, Huston's film must not be discarded. Iser's argumentation, though plausible, cannot serve as the final verdict on the film version of “The Dead.” Although Huston reduces numerous indeterminacies of Joyce's text to visual determinacies, he allows room for the viewer's imagination, not leaving him/her without questions. Notwithstanding the questionable passages of interior monologue and the aforementioned crucial omission, the harmonious combination of atmospheric imagery, music, and melancholy voice-over that end the film forms a powerful backdrop for Gabriel's vision. Furthermore, the portrayal of the preceding festivities and its characters is a stunning and artistically convincing accomplishment. It seems inevitable that Huston ultimately resorts to Joyce's text, albeit a distorted version of it. Visually the film is a work of art that will no doubt be aesthetically pleasing to many a moviegoer. Gabriel's interior monologue, too, weighs down this last part with much the same symbol-freighted language, while the images depict mostly external reality.27 Reader and viewer are merely confronted with Gabriel's vision through a different mode and each may attempt to concretize the full implications of Joyce's mythic imagery in his or her own way.28


  1. John Huston, dir., The Dead (Vestron, 1987).

  2. Paul Deane, “Motion Picture Techniques in James Joyce's ‘The Dead.’” James Joyce Quarterly 6 (1968/69): 231-36.

  3. Seymour Chatman, “What Novels Can Do That Films Can't (and Vice Versa),” On Narrative, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980) 124.

  4. Allen Tate, “The Dead,” James Joyce Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes, eds. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Linz (New York: Viking P, 1969) 405. See furthermore Hugh Kenner, Joyce's Voices (Berkeley: U of California P, 1978) 16.

  5. Stephen Hero, ed. Theodore Spencer (London: Jonathan Cape, 1944) 213. Quotations from “The Dead” will be followed by page numbers from Dubliners (New York: The Modern Library, 1969) 175-224.

  6. See Joyce, Stephen Hero 211.

  7. Roman Ingarden, “Aesthetic Experience and Aesthetic Object,” Readings in Existential Phenomenology, eds. Nathaniel Lawrence and Daniel O'Connor (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967) 304.

  8. “Art as Technique,” Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Paul A. Olson, trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965) 12.

  9. The original translation by Lady Gregory of the entire poem titled “Donall Oge: Grief of a Girl's Heart” can be found in the anthology 1000 Years of Irish Poetry, ed. Kathleen Hagland (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1947) 238-40. Stanzas 2-5, 12, and 14 are recited in the film.

  10. Ingarden 309.

  11. Cf. in Joyce: “Gabriel was surprised at her stillness” (209).

  12. Ingarden 309.

  13. Ingarden 320.

  14. Ingarden 312.

  15. I prefer Dorrit Cohn's term: cf. her chapter on “Narrated Monologue” in Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction (Princeton, Princeton UP, 1978) 99-140.

  16. Jean-Maurice Martin. Untersuchungen zum Problem der erlebten Rede. Der ursächliche Kontext der Erlebten Rede, dargestellt an Romanen Robert Walsers, Europäische Hochschulschriften, Series I, Deutsche Sprache und Literatur 1009 (Bern: Lang, 1987) 54, 60.

  17. Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978) 194-95.

  18. For practical purposes Gabriel's interior monologue in the film shall be cited in its entirely:

    “How poor a part I played in your life, almost as though I'm not your husband and we never lived together as man and wife. What were you like then? To me your face is still beautiful but it's no longer the one for which Michael Furey braved death. Why am I feeling that riot of emotions, what stirred it up? The ride in the cab? Her not responding when I kissed her hand. My aunts' party, my own foolish speech, wine, dancing, music. Poor Aunt Julia. That haggard look on her face when she was singing ‘Arrayed for the Bridal.’ Soon she will be a shade, too, with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. Soon, perhaps, I'll be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black. The blinds will be drawn down and I'll be casting about in my mind for words of consolation and will find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes, that will happen very soon.

    Yes, the newspapers are right: snow is general all over Ireland. Falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.

    One by one we're all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. How long you locked away in your heart the image of your lover's eyes when he told you that he did not wish to live. I've never felt that way myself towards any woman but I know that such a feeling must be love. Think of all those who ever were back to the start of time, and me, transient as they, flickering out as well into their grey world. But everything around me, this solid world itself which they reared and lived in is dwindling and dissolving.

    Snow is falling. Falling in that lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lies buried. Falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

  19. Werner suggests that by “merging his narrative voice with Gabriel's, Joyce acknowledges his own participation in the process of revelation and collapse.” This statement is dubious because it seems to equate Joyce with the narrator of “The Dead” and/or claim that the narrator's voice has now become Gabriel's own. Both assertions are inaccurate. Craig Hansen Werner, “‘The Dead’: Process and Sympathy.” Dubliners: A Pluralistic World, Twayne's Masterwork Studies 20 (Boston: Twayne, 1988) 64.

  20. Cohn 105, 32. One might describe psycho-narration as indirect interior monologue.

  21. As this example shows, psycho-narration can be attributed to the voice of an omniscient narrator. In this case this assumption is plausible as the sentence in question (the second one in the following sequence) is embedded between two omniscient statements: “Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that … but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes …” (223).

  22. I agree here with C. C. Loomis, who argues that the vision cannot be totally apprehended intellectually, since the “logic of ‘The Dead’ … is the logic which exists on a plane where intellectual perceptions and emotional intuition, form and content, blend”: see “Structure and Sympathy in Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” PMLA 75.1 (1960) 151.

  23. Chatman, “Novels/Films” 122.

  24. The Implied Reader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974) 282.

  25. Iser 283.

  26. Iser 283.

  27. At the very end the images blend subtly into Gabriel's vision. Accompanied by the last lines “Snow is falling …” (see full quote in note 18), the camera pans from the “barren thorns” (223), which are not mentioned in Gabriel's monologue, up to the horizon and into the grey skies, the “universe” (224).

  28. Kenneth Burke talks about the “mythic image” of the snow “standing for the transcendence above the conditioned”: see “‘Stages’ in ‘The Dead,’” James Joyce's Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes 415, 416.

Steven Doloff (essay date winter 1994)

SOURCE: Doloff, Steven. “Ibsen's A Doll's House and ‘The Dead.’” James Joyce Quarterly 31, no. 2 (winter 1994): 111-14.

[In the following essay, Doloff finds similarities in setting, plot, symbol, and character between Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House and Joyce's story, “The Dead.”]

Richard Ellmann notes in passing in James Joyce, that while Joyce seemed to think little of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House,1 he may have transposed into “The Dead” the play's plot device of a husband discovering that his doll-like wife has a consciousness of her own (JJII [James Joyce, 1982] 135n). Ellmann later offers biographical data from the lives of Joyce and Nora as the primary source material for the couple and the setting in Joyce's story (JJII 243-53). He also cites as a source for the final scene in “The Dead” a specific episode in the George Moore novel Vain Fortune (JJII 250). Ellmann, however, may have overlooked the full extent of Joyce's indebtedness to Ibsen's play in the construction of “The Dead,”2 for numerous parallels link the two works besides the common denominator of the wife who displays a certain amount of emotional autonomy.

For example, while Ellmann attributes the Christmas dinner setting in “The Dead” to Joyce's sentimental wish to demonstrate the virtues of Irish hospitality (JJII 245), he neglects the more structurally meaningful link to the Christmas setting in Ibsen's play. In both works, the humiliating personal revelations experienced by the principal male characters follow upon the heels of lavish Christmas parties during which both men find themselves reinfatuated with their own wives. Both of these revelations are ironically underscored by their pointed denial of the sentimental miracles and emotional reaffirmations traditionally expected of Christmas tales.

Similarly, Ellmann notes in “The Dead” how the dashing of Gabriel Conroy's amorous expectations in learning of his wife Gretta's long dead lover resembles a scene in the Moore novel where a honeymoon night is ruined by the suicide of a woman recently jilted by the groom. In Ibsen's play, however, the amorous feelings of the husband, Torvald Helmer (DH [A Doll's House] 158-59), also change to humiliation, but after (as in “The Dead”) he discovers facts about his wife Nora's past. Although those facts do not involve a previous lover, they do reveal, to his chagrin, Nora's independent mental life. And Torvald, unlike the character in the Moore novel, shares Gabriel's jealousy of his wife's past. Nora reports, “Torvald loves me so indescribably, he wants to have me all to himself. … When we were first married he was almost jealous if I even mentioned any of my old friends at home” (DH 95).

The idea of death, in both literal and metaphorical forms, is alluded to throughout “The Dead.” To cite only one obvious example, there is the discussion at the party of the monks who sleep in their coffins “to remind them of their last end” (D [Dubliners] 201). In A Doll's House, we find a corresponding memento mori in the figure of Dr. Rank who gloomily stalks the play alluding to his own impending demise from a congenital condition inherited from his father. Moreover, just as Gabriel Conroy's depressed reflection upon the prospect of his aged Aunt Julia's death and funeral (D 222) precipitates his final empathetic musing upon the living and the dead, so too do Torvald Helmer's thoughts about his friend Rank's anticipated death draw him closer, albeit superficially, to his wife (DH 167).

Going beyond these corresponding elements of setting, plot, and symbol in the two works, we note a number of additional parallels in the thoughts of Gabriel and Torvald. As a part of their affectionate regard for their wives, for example, Gabriel admires Gretta physically as she dances (D 215), and Torvald becomes excited by Nora as she dances (DH 159). Gabriel wishes at one point in the story that he could valorously “defend her [Gretta] against something” (D 213). Torvald similarly tells Nora that he wishes “some danger might threaten” her so that he might “risk body and soul” to save her (DH 167). Gabriel tenderly thinks of his and Gretta's secret “life together … that no one knew of” (D 213), and then, shortly afterwards, imagines himself and Gretta off again on their honeymoon (D 214). An admiring Torvald tells Nora, “I am fancying that we love each other in secret, … and that no one dreams that there is anything between us” (DH 158), and then, shortly afterwards, confides in her how he imagines she is once again his new bride (DH 159).

The two men also share comparable negative thoughts about their wives. Gabriel humorously implies in talking to his Aunt Kate that he finds Gretta unthinkingly heedless, and Gretta adds how Gabriel imposes the same didactic paternalism upon both herself and their children (D 180). Torvald twice calls Nora a “featherbrain” (DH 27, 162), tells her that he views her as his child as well as his wife (DH 175), and tells her that he will educate her (DH 179). Gabriel appears somewhat condescending towards Gretta's provincial origins and resents her being identified with them (D 187, 189). Torvald speaks condescendingly of Nora's father's morals and values and accuses Nora of inheriting them (DH 32, 170).

The two men even share a dietary idiosyncrasy. Gabriel is described as never eating sweets (D 200), and Torvald is said to be against eating sweets (DH 60).

While Ellmann contends that the character of Gabriel is a composite made “mostly out of Curran [a friend of Joyce's], Joyce's father, and Joyce himself” (JJII 247), I think in some small measure we may add to this company the literary figure of Torvald Helmer. Less self-conscious, less developed as a character, and less sympathetic than Gabriel, Torvald nevertheless anticipates facets of Gabriel's status-driven mentality, egotistical self-deception, pettiness, jealousy, and romantic objectification of his wife. Joyce may well have found in A Doll's House a domestic predicament that reflected his own insecurities and around which he could construct a narrative of personal associations. He may also have found in Ibsen's work some useful details of setting, plot, symbol, and character with which to artfully fashion that narrative.


  1. Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House, trans. William Archer (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911). This is the edition read by Joyce. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text as DH.

  2. Ibsen's general influence on Joyce's work has, of course, received considerable attention. For discussion of the broader aspects of this influence, see Bjorn J. Tysdahl's Joyce and Ibsen: A Study in Literary Influence (Oslo: Norwegian Univ. Press; New York: Humanities Press, 1968) and Vivienne Koch Macleod's “The Influence of Ibsen on Joyce” in PMLA, 60 (1945), 879-98. For Ibsen's more specific impact on Joyce's Exiles, see Hugh Kenner's “Joyce and Ibsen's Naturalism” in the Sewanee Review, 59 (1951), 75-96; James T. Farrell's “Exiles and Ibsen” in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (1948; New York: Vanguard Press, 1963), pp. 95-131; and Bernard Benstock's “Exiles, Ibsen and the Play's Function in the Joyce Canon” in Forum, 11 (1970), 26-37. With only a few exceptions, however, like James R. Baker's “Ibsen, Joyce, and the Living-Dead: A Study of Dubliners” in A James Joyce Miscellany, ed. Marvin Magalaner (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1962), pp. 19-32, relatively little has been written on Ibsen and individual Dubliners stories. And nothing I have seen links A Doll's House to “The Dead” in any specific way beyond a superficial comparison of Nora Helmer and Gretta Conroy. I have found only one article that argues a multifaceted debt to a particular Ibsen work in Joyce's writing of “The Dead,” but that work is Hedda Gabler. See Theoharis C. Theoharis's “Hedda Gabler and ‘The Dead’” in ELH, 50 (1983), 791-809.

Gerald Doherty (essay date summer 1998)

SOURCE: Doherty, Gerald. “The Art of Confessing: Silence and Secrecy in James Joyce's ‘The Sisters.’” James Joyce Quarterly 35, no. 4 (summer 1998): 657-64.

[In the following essay, Doherty analyzes the place of secrecy in the text and meaning of Joyce's story, “The Sisters.”]

In Volume 1 of The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault situates the act of confessing within a long European perspective.1 He traces its slow evolution from those “naked” questions, formulated by the confession manuals of the Middle Ages, through the Catholic pastorals of the Counter-Reformation, down to its modern reincarnation in the secular disciplines of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. In this evolution, as Foucault remarks, western man becomes a confessing animal, who compulsively narrates to himself (or another) his moral or social transgressions and who transforms the least of his desires into discourse (20-21). Confession turns both on what can be openly spoken about and what it is forbidden to name. At the core of the confessional act, Foucault locates sexuality: it is the disquieting enigma that conceals itself so that its secret presence may reverberate all the more loudly (23-27).

In its late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century manifestations, confession drastically altered its role. From being a theological ritual, focused on sin and salvation (the sacrament of penance), it became a psychological one, focused on the morbidities of the sexual psyche (the psychoanalytical session). In its new secular materialization, it is a staple prop of “sexology”—the newly-established discipline, which takes sexuality, as a discursive (and narrative) entity, as its object of fascination.2 In this crossing of domains, confession penetrates the sphere of pathology, which defines the norms against which to locate the transgressive, the perverse, and the deviant.3

Especially in its reinvention as psychological therapy, confession is intimately bound up with narrative. Both turn on the same sets of procedures: introspection and self-revelation, investigation and disclosure, interrogation and truth-telling. Confession is just as much at home in the novel (and short story) as in the consulting room, though its manifestations in each domain may be different. For example, confession feeds into narrative in (at least) two significant ways. First, it connects narrative plots to a guilty secret, an abrasive stigma or stain that incites further narrative to justify and explain it. The secret of the confession resembles most of all the Barthesian enigma: it is the initial mystery that triggers the impulse to narrate, that sets up blocks to disclosure, and that is revealed in the final revelation which exposes the truth and rounds off the story.4 Initially, it conceals itself so that it may be later spoken about. Second, confession generates a fascination with hermeneutics. In so doing, it transforms narrators into professional diagnosticians, who incessantly decode and interpret signs of transgressive behavior, and turns the characters in the story into amateur “sleuths,” who observe one another for indicators of hidden conflicts or guilts. The confessional impulse feeds off what the characters wish to hide as well as what is hidden from them. In both of these manifestations, confession reinforces the revelatory function of narrative, which links diagnosis and painful disclosure together. In exacerbating the gap between the latent and the manifest, it draws them closer together. It trades in the clandestine, the furtive, and the forbidden so as to subject them to hermeneutic probing and sifting.5

Within the context of confession, as I have just defined it, Joyce's “The Sisters” emerges as a paradigmatic and exemplary fable. First of all, “The Sisters” juxtaposes the two major types of discourse that mirror the historical evolution of the confessional act: it plays off a theological (or devotional) discourse, centered on sin and salvation, against a pathological discourse that centers on disquieting symptom-formations, whose etiology it refuses to name. The story insistently pathologizes the confessional act, enticing it away from its roots in a moral and pious imperative into the sphere of the morbid and the perverse. In this process, it confronts a settled theological discourse with an unsettling psychopathological one.

In addition, “The Sisters” identifies the confessional secret with the narrative enigma—the embedded image of those accumulating uncertainties surrounding the drama of disclosure itself. The narrative feeds off those blockings produced by its endeavor to expose a truth, whose origin and cause is obscure and whose referents in the real world of the text evaporate in the process of attempting to name them. In so doing, it transforms both the narrator and the characters into diagnosticians of the pathological, intent on scrutinizing one another's behavior and on uncovering networks of symptoms and signs, which they subject to hermeneutic inquiry. In a correlative manner, it maneuvers the reader into the role of the fussy hermeneut, intent on revealing those elements about which the text refuses to speak and which the characters themselves muffle or repress.6


“The Sisters” opens with a discourse that already foregrounds the decoding of signs as a prelude to interpreting their meaning. The hermeneutic drama of deciphering begins, as the boy “studie[s] the lighted square of window” of the house where the priest lies for evidence (two lighted candles) that he has at last passed away (D [Dubliners] 9). Into this context of anxious survey and inspection, the word “paralysis” immediately intrudes (D 9). Embedded first in a theological discourse that identifies it with a demonic spiritual essence—“some maleficent and sinful being”—it soon takes on a pathological taint (D 9). It signifies an unspecified but lethal disease that provokes the boy's desire to scrutinize and investigate its effects: “I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work” (D 9).

From this point onwards, a kind of diegetic law operates that splits the narrative into two. It produces a theological discourse, which is coherent and lucid and which trades in the devotional bromides and platitudes in polite social use, as well as a pathological discourse, which is equivocal, elliptical, and hiatus-ridden. Marked by evasions and elisions, the latter discourse defines the boundary of what can be properly named and spoken about. Its limit is the silence that seals off those elements that cannot be owned up to or confessed.

Old Cotter's response to the news of the priest's death already plays at this limit. His “theory” about the cause of the death places him in possession of a pathological secret that he cannot (or does not want to) reveal: “—No, I wouldn't say he was exactly … but there was something queer … there was something uncanny about him” (D 10, 9-10). Indeed, the word “theory” itself evokes new-fangled psychological systems, based on empirical evidence rather than the old-fashioned theological ones based on faith. Since Cotter refuses to explain his theory, the text leaves open the possibility that his grasp of the theory is weak or that the theory itself is incoherent or vague or that he does not want to uncover its implications in the boy's presence.

The dialogic exchanges that follow between Cotter and the boy's uncle and aunt intensify this obsessive probing for symptoms and signs. Not only does the boy feel himself “under observation” while these exchanges proceed, but he also becomes the object of Cotter's cold, clinical gaze—“his little beady black eyes were examining me”—which seems silently to convict him of something in order to make him confess (D 10). Indeed, the exchanges themselves have a vague psychoanalytical resonance that produces an aura of guilt by association. Thus, they evoke slyly by disavowal scenes of childhood masturbation (as a “nipper,” in winter and summer, the boy's uncle took cold baths—the traditional antidote to onanism) and of childhood sexual trauma, crystallized in Cotter's observation—“—It's bad for children. … When children see things like that, you know, it has an effect. …”—which specifies neither the activity to which the “it” refers nor the kind of effect it produces (D 11).7 In effect, such exchanges pathologize the reader herself and place her in an ingenious double bind: either she fills in the cause of the symptoms about which the text remains silent and thus confirms her role as a sophisticated diagnostician, or she ignores the text's challenge, refuses to fill in the blanks, and is stigmatized by the text as a naive or obtuse narratee.8

The boy's extended recollections of his relationship with the priest, which immediately follow, intensify the atmosphere of inquisition and inquest. They sharpen the opposition we have already noted between a theological discourse that already knows all the questions and explanations and a pathological discourse that raises disturbing questions but represses the answers. For example, the priest's indoctrination, as the boy recalls it, turns on the catechistical mode of interrogation and possesses an exemplary clarity. It involves answers to questions that have been worked out in advance. As an authoritative hermeneut, the priest interprets the rituals of the Mass, the Eucharist and the confession, “elucidating all these intricate questions” (D 13). If the priest sometimes “amused himself” by putting “difficult questions” to the boy, it is only because his answers are already imbued with an aura of certainty (D 13). By contrast, the narrator's keen, clinical eye for pathological symptoms—the priest's “stupified doze,” “trembling hand,” the tongue that lolls on the “lower lip”—becomes unaccountably blind when the cause of these symptoms is in question (D 12, 13). The narrative refuses to answer the questions that the presence of these symptoms provokes. It trades on uncertainty, ambiguity, and mystification. While the rites of the church, though “complex and mysterious” (D 13), offer themselves up to hermeneutic appropriation, pathological symptoms, by contrast, remain steadily opaque to interpretation.

At this point, we can isolate a second diegetic law, which governs the production of this pathological discourse. Traditionally, pathological investigation involves two distinct procedures that mutually implicate each other: first, the noting of symptoms that are the external (or visible) signs of disease and, second, the forging of an etiology that assigns the symptoms to a clinical cause.9 In the context of “The Sisters,” we can formulate the diegetic law as follows: the text insistently highlights the symptoms, while it suppresses their cause. This narrative “blindness” is the effect of cultivating the one at the expense of the other. While the text puts on show the visible signs of disease, it feigns ignorance of an etiology that would elucidate and explain them.

The boy's dream about the priest theatricalizes this blocking of the interpretation of pathological signs. Initially the dream seems to offer the exemplary context in which signs will yield up their secret significance. Indeed, the boy's puzzled need to interpret signs—“to extract meaning from [Cotter's] unfinished sentences” (D 11)—triggers the dream, which dramatizes the shift away from a theological context, where meanings are clear, to a pathological context, where they are increasingly opaque and obscure. Two distinct diegetic maneuvers determine the shift, including, first, an unexpected reversal of roles, which strips the priest of his ecclesiastical powers—it is the boy who hears his confession and who absolves him of this mysterious sin—and, second, the foregrounding of symptoms—“the heavy grey face” and the lips “moist with spittle” (D 11)—which possess a rich, if unspecified, pathological resonance.

In effect, the dream enacts the quest for a “primal scene” that holds out the promise of a final interpretation but that becomes increasingly vague and amorphous as it unfolds. A phantasmal sexual scenario offers a clue but provides no answer, as the frame of reference itself becomes progressively veiled. It evokes an Oriental site of erotic fulfillment, located in Persia. Its brothel-like atmosphere—“long velvet curtains” and antique “swinging lamp” (D 13)—conjures up transgressive pleasures, which, however, the text refuses to name.10 At precisely the point where the dream comes close to disclosing its truth and exposing the sexual cause of the symptoms, it encounters a block. Elliptical marks once more disrupt the discursive flow and subject the truth of the dream to a final repression: “I felt that I had been very far away … in Persia, I thought. … But I could not remember the end of the dream” (D 13-14). Deprived of a primal scene that would integrate all the scenes that precede it, interpretation falters and reaches a dead end.


The same basic juxtaposition between a lucid devotional discourse and an obfuscating pathological one dominates the concluding scenes of the story. In the course of the boy's visit with his aunt to the “house of mourning” (D 14), the text moves from the pathological through the devotional and back again to the pathological. The same relationship between them persists, as the pathological discourse undercuts the truths and assurances expressed in the devotional one.

The boy's entry into the “dead-room” (D 14) already signals the sharpening of the cold, clinical gaze (the morgue is the locus classicus of precisely this type of gaze). The boy's eye immediately latches on to the visible signs of deterioration—Nannie's “clumsily” hooked skirt and her cloth boots, “trodden down all to one side” (D 14). Once again, the clinical eye picks out the symptoms, while it suppresses their cause. It zooms in on the corpse and explores its repulsive facial features in close-up. While, however, the narrator presents certain pathological details without comment—the “truculent” face, the “black cavernous nostrils,” the “scanty white fur” of the beard—he intervenes (symptomatically) to decontaminate one final detail: the “heavy odour” in the room, the narrator insists, emanates, not from the corpse (as the already pathologized reader might have anticipated) but from the flowers (D 14). The exception, as it were, proves the rule: the text identifies the source of the symptom only if its cause is not pathological.

The dialogic exchanges between the boy's aunt and Eliza, which round off the story, trade in devotional clichés and platitudes. As such, they function at two distinct levels. At the structural one, they take the form of complete, fully-formed sentences, which draw on a repertoire of predictable responses, designed to compose, console, and reassure: “he's gone to a better world”; “[h]e had a beautiful death, God be praised”; “there's no friends like the old friends”; “[a]nd I'm sure now that he's gone to his eternal reward” (D 15, 16). At the strategic level, the same well-formed sentences are designed to ward off the unsettling, disquieting gaps that the pathological discourse opens up. In effect, the text theatricalizes this kind of maneuver: it first highlights the repulsive traits of the corpse (as in the description quoted above) before it presents a more sanitized and sedated image of the cadaver—“No one would think he'd make such a beautiful corpse” (D 15).

In the end, this pious exchange is invaded by the very discourse of pathological symptoms that it is designed to ward off. From the moment that Eliza recalls “something queer coming over” her brother, the text once again is distorted by elisions, omissions, suspended phrases: “I heard something. …”; “there was something gone wrong with him. …”; “[i]t was that chalice he broke. …” (D 16, 17, 18, 17). This image of the chalice, in particular, has been the object of much subtle elucidation. Sonja Bašic, for example, notes the “outrageousness” of Joyce's choice of a chalice (instead of a conventional cross or a rosary) as the object that the corpse “loosely retain(s)” in its hands.11 Perhaps the choice is best explained by the persistent contamination of the theological by the pathological, which has been a theme of the present essay. In the process, the chalice changes its symbolic function: from being an untarnished religious icon, it becomes a tarnished pathological symptom. While Eliza's sharp, clinical eye shrewdly latches on to the symptoms of accelerating disease—the priest's breviary “fallen to the floor”; the open mouth, the body “lying back in the chair” (D 16)—it remains studiously blind to their cause.

The text reserves its most potent image of the contamination of the theological by the pathological for the end of the story. Eliza recalls the scene in which Father O'Rourke discovers the priest “sitting up by himself in the dark in his confession-box, wide-awake and laughing-like softly to himself” (D 18). The site of theological shriving becomes the nexus of the climatic revelation of pathological symptoms.

In this cameo-like scene, we (as pathological readers), may perceive an embedded figure both of the production and the reception of this particular narrative.12 In terms of the former, the priest's laugh is an act of acknowledgement of the text's elaborate reproduction of symptoms whose cause it refuses to name. The priest, as it were, laughs at the drama of secrecy in which he himself is the main actor. In terms of the latter, the text laughs (in anticipation) at those earnest, hermeneutic solicitings that pry into those secrets which the narrative keeps to itself, despite the reader's pathologized need to expose them.


  1. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

  2. Sexology is the study of the conceptions and theorizations of sex as a discursive entity. As Stephen Heath notes, in The Sexual Fix (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1982), p. 11, it “goes back little more than a hundred years.” The most significant branch of sexology is perhaps psychoanalysis.

  3. The establishing of norms against which to demarcate aberrations was an obsessive preoccupation among earlier sexologists. It produced—to take one example—Richard von Krafft-Ebing's fourfold categorization of the perversions (sadism, masochism, fetishism, inversion)—see Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, with Especial Reference to the Antipathetic Sexual Instinct, trans. Franklin Klaf (New York: Bell Press, 1985), pp. 34-36. In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Standard Edition of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 7, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), pp. 145-245, Freud also doggedly insists on distinguishing normal from perverse sexual behavior, despite his development of a componential theory (the sexual drive is merely “soldered” onto the sexual object) that radically blurs the distinction. Also especially pertinent is Arnold I. Davidson's illuminating essay, “How To Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,Critical Inquiry, 13 (Winter 1987), 252-77.

  4. Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Noonday Press, 1988), pp. 187-88, 209-10.

  5. I have isolated these particular areas because of their special relevance to the present discussion. Other connections, of course, exist: for example, the sadomasochistic aspect of confession (its extraction of secrets by violence or blackmail) is the force behind much contemporary narrative in the western tradition.

  6. Critics have harnessed some of the major psychological, political, and ethical systems in their efforts to fill in the textual blanks in “The Sisters” and in other Dubliners stories. Indeed, their readings often tacitly seem to assume that such secrets have no right to be there; examples include the following interpretations: Freudian—Hélène Cixous, “Joyce: The (r)use of writing,” Post-structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French, ed. Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 15-30; Lacanian—Suzette Henke, James Joyce and the Politics of Desire (London: Routledge Publishers, 1990), pp. 14-18; Marxist—Trevor Williams, “No Cheer for the ‘Gratefully Oppressed’ in Joyce's Dubliners,Style, 25 (Fall 1991), 416-38; and Dantean—Lucia Boldrini, “‘The Sisters’ and the Inferno: An Intertextual Network,” Style, 25 (Fall 1991), 453-65.

  7. Here the question of a Freudian influence is not an issue. Masturbation and infantile sexuality were controversial themes and were the subjects of much anxiety-ridden psychological, medical, and pedagogic interrogation. Richard Brown gives a detailed account of the part that masturbation plays in the Joycean texts—see Brown, James Joyce and Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 54-78. These issues were also a major preoccupation of Freud at the turn of the century. As is well known, he replaced his theory of infantile sexual trauma (the celebrated “primal scene” of seduction) with his theory of infantile masturbation and the Oedipus complex.

  8. Speculations about the etiology of Father Flynn's paralysis are legion: they range from general paralysis of the insane, a consequence of tertiary syphilis—see Burton Waisbren and Florence Walzl, “Paresis and the Priest: James Joyce's Symbolic Use of Syphilis in ‘The Sisters,’” Annals of Internal Medicine, 80 (1974), 758-62—through the effects of his pederastic desire for the boy—see John Kuehl, “a la joyce: The Sisters Fitzgerald's Absolution,” JJQ [James Joyce Quarterly], 2 (Fall 1964), 2-6; Leonard Albert, “Gnomonology: Joyce's ‘The Sisters,’” JJQ, 27 (Winter 1990), 353-64; and Henke (p. 17)—on to “hardening of the arteries”—see J. B. Lyons, “Disease in Dubliners: Tokens of Disaffection,” Irish Renaissance Annual, 11, ed. Zack Bowen (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1981), p. 188.

  9. His medical training in Paris would have acquainted Joyce with these basic procedures.

  10. The sexualization of the Orient has been a persistent motif in western narratives. As Edward Said notes, in Orientalism (London: Routledge Publishers, 1978), p. 188, “[T]he Orient seems still to suggest not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat), untiring sexuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies.”

  11. Sonja Bašic, “A Book of Many Uncertainties: Joyce's Dubliners,Style, 25 (Fall 1991), 367.

  12. As Ross Chambers explains it, in Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1984), p. 33, figural embedding “consists of the incorporation into a narrative of a ‘figure’ (in the sense in a personage but also in the sense of an image) that is representative in some sense of ‘art,’ or of the production and reception of narrative.”

John Malenich (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Malenich, John. “Creating the Stereotype: The Colonial Origins of Savagery and Intemperance in Joyce's ‘Counterparts.’” Notes on Modern Irish Literature 12 (2000): 57-61.

[In the following essay, Malenich speculates on the influences of British colonialism on the Irish societal temperament as exemplified by the brutality of the character Farrington in Joyce's “Counterparts.”]

Although its geographic location and its seemingly European or Western culture often can conceal what should be obvious, Ireland must undoubtedly be viewed as a post-colonial nation due to the “subaltern” position its culture occupied throughout the centuries of British hegemony; hence, a post-colonial approach quite often needs to be called upon to illuminate this nation's literature. Frantz Fanon notes that typically within such colonial power structures, “the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil … the native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values” (33-34). This type of stereotypical view has traditionally been prominent in Britain where, says Edward Said, an “amazingly persistent cultural attitude existed toward Ireland as a place whose inhabitants were a barbarian and degenerate race” (Culture and Imperialism 220). British poet Edmund Spenser's 1596 call for the complete extermination of the “Irish barbarians” is one of the most vivid examples of this predominant view. In Orientalism (1978), Said maintains that Imperial endeavors, like Britain's, were often justified through the belief in what he calls “Orientalist” stereotypes that negatively portrayed the colonial subjects—labeling them as a primitive, lazy, disreputable, or savage race conveniently put a humanitarian face on the motives of colonization (6). However, when examined with a post-colonial eye, James Joyce's “Counterparts” reveals the fallacy of Imperialism's “missionary” aims and the manner in which this experience actually helped to stimulate the very traits it supposedly planned to remedy in the conquered people. While on first glance it may seem that Joyce's Farrington is the perfect embodiment of the “barbarian” that Spenser and his countrymen described, careful consideration of the underlying colonial forces affecting Farrington and in fact all Irishmen reveals a quite different take on this man and Joyce's narrative.

Farrington is unquestionably one of the most maligned characters who inhabit the short stories that comprise Joyce's Dubliners (1914). The infamous conclusion of “Counterparts” in which Farrington viciously beats his helpless son with a walking stick after returning from a frustrating day at work and the pubs seems for some to be more than adequate reasoning for his condemnation. If not, the description of his son begging him to stop and offering to say a Hail Mary for his sinful father, seems to clinch this response; however, Farrington's defenders like R. Bruce Kibodeaux argue that “it is extremely important to remember that Farrington is sinned against as well as sinning: that he is a product as well as a perpetrator of the paralysis of Dublin” (89). Such supporters point out that, like other Dubliners, Farrington is trapped by the Irish nets of religion, language, and nationality and note that “Ireland's misgovernance by English Law is illustrated by the story of Farrington's mistreatment … so that Farrington's inarticulate rage against innocent bystanders is comprehensible, if not exonerated, on political grounds” (Owens 130). In a 1906 letter to his brother Stanislaus, Joyce himself remarks, “I am no friend of tyranny, as you know, but if many husbands are brutal the atmosphere in which they live (vide ‘Counterparts’) is brutal” (Selected Letters 130). It is clear that religion and society trap Farrington in an unhappy marriage where “he loathed returning to his home … [since] his wife was a little sharp-faced woman who bullied her husband when he was sober” (97); however, the humiliating and impotent experience of colonial oppression that we see in “Counterparts” is what predominately serves to enrage this man and brings about his ignominy. In the hours leading up to his brutal attack, Farrington suffers multiple defeats all of which are notably at the hands of the British or those loyal to Britain, magnifying his impuissant standing. Although he burns with anger at these failures, the power structure of his own lot in life and that of colonial Ireland precludes any release upon the oppressors who actually are the cause of this rage; therefore, this frustration becomes displaced upon the only person Farrington can master in this colonial society—his helpless son. While it may seem that the insignificant details of Farrington's struggle in the confines of Dublin society have little correlation to Ireland's colonial condition, Fredric Jameson contends that “the story of a private individual is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society … particularly when their forms developed out of predominantly western machines of representation” (69). Ultimately, the multiple disgraces these various embodiments of British rule inflict upon Farrington represent the continual cultural and political defeats colonization administered to the Irish State. It also becomes clear that the stereotype of the drunken Irish brute seemingly supported in this narrative finds its underlying roots in the ordeal of colonial subjugation.

Farrington's first defeat in “Counterparts” comes at the hands of his boss Mr. Alleyne, who has a “piercing North of Ireland accent” (86). Though he is Irish, Alleyne's northern accent means that in “all probability he would be in favor of Protestantism and English rule” (Gifford 72) and therefore an agent of the oppressor. Alleyne berates Farrington for taking extended lunches at the pub and for “shirking work” (87). We see that as a result of Alleyne's first eruption, Farrington's “body ached to do something, to rush out and revel in violence. All the indignities of his life enraged him. …” (90). Clearly, Joyce's use of the ellipsis here indicates that these unnamed indignities go beyond merely those described in the narrative and surely include the plight of his home-life and that of his subjugated nation. Much of Joyce's technique in Dubliners involves leaving such things unsaid. After this rebuke, “a spasm of rage gripped his throat for a few moments and then passed, leaving after it a sharp sensation of thirst. The man recognised the sensation and felt that he must have a good night's drinking” (87); but, this urge could not wait and even after ducking out of the office to quench this desire, Farrington still longed “to bring his fist down on something violently … his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot” (90); however, this uprising against colonial oppression only finds realization in the form of a clever retort to Alleyne's next tirade of abuse for Farrington's failure to finish his copy of a contract. It is important to note, nonetheless, that as it is reported this encounter evokes a response not from Farrington, but from “his tongue [which] had found a felicitous moment … almost before he was aware of it” (91) and this remark is later regretted for the trouble that it will cause him. This involuntary and regretted act stands as the only parry Farrington thrusts against his persecutors; it only prompts an additional outburst of condemnation from Alleyne to which Farrington “felt savage and thirsty and revengeful” (92) and reminds him of his own powerless status. Further, each time we see Farrington humiliated by Alleyne, the result is rage and then a noted thirst; alcohol is adopted as a means to cope with these defeats; but it repeatedly fails to sooth Farrington's fury, and this only provides him with yet another failure in his life. Thus it appears that this oppression is the cause of both his intemperate and later brutish actions. Since he cannot enact the revenge he desires upon Alleyne, his fury is repressed causing it to compound until he later comes across a more permissible target in a slightly intoxicated state.

Farrington's next defeats come in the pub at the hands of the British acrobat and artiste Weathers. The financially strapped Farrington, who had pawned his watch to fund that evening's drinking, reluctantly stands two rounds of Weathers's expensive, imported “whiskey and Apollinaris” (94) and later “Farrington was just standing another round when Weathers came back. Much to Farrington's relief he drank a glass of bitter this time” (95). The allegory here between Weathers's pilfering of drinks and his nation's thievery of Irish resources—such as the destruction of nearly all Ireland's forests for lumber—is obvious. Just like his nation, Weathers bleeds the Irishman dry. For this hospitality, Weathers offers to “introduce them to some nice girls. O'Halloran said that he and Leonard would go but that Farrington wouldn't because he was a married man” (94). This chaffing irks Farrington further and immediately leads to his next defeat, which is of the romantic nature.

Across the pub, Farrington admires a striking woman who responds by answering his gaze. As she passes, she brushes against him, saying “O, Pardon! in a London accent” (95); however, to Farrington's utter disappointment this Londoner does not look back at him as she exits. This failure prompts another fit of rage in Farrington, resulting from this rebuffing combined with all his day's frustrations. Farrington becomes so angry that he loses track of the conversation and comes to find his companions calling on him to “uphold the national honour” (95) in a match of strength against the Brit Weathers—a clear microcosm of the colonial struggle between these men's combatant lands. The first match ends quickly with Farrington's loss after thirty seconds. Farrington's call for fair play spurs a second match in which he is bested again, this time “after a long struggle” (96). As a result of “having been defeated twice by a mere boy,” his “face flushed darker still with anger and humiliation,” and we observe “the violent expression of Farrington's face” (96). As he waits for the tram that will take him home to his son, Farrington's rage burns furiously. After repeatedly being disgraced and losing his reputation as an arm wrestler: “He was full of smoldering anger and revengefulness. He felt humiliated and discontented. … His heart swelled with fury and, when he thought of the woman in the big hat who had brushed against him and said Pardon! his fury nearly choked him” (97). These continued defeats have produced an overwhelming frenzy in him that, because of his position in a colonial society, can find no outlet. Not only do these failures once more infuriate Farrington, but “he began to feel thirsty again” (97). Here again, frustration produces a desire for drink. Cóilín Owens further notes that on Farrington's trip home, he passes the “Beggarsbush Barracks, one of the several similar British military establishments in Dublin” (138). This stalwart monument to his and Ireland's dominated state is yet another reminder of the constant servitude he and his people have experienced; this is noteworthy because it is the final image he encounters before arriving home and ruthlessly beating his son.

Centuries of British hegemony have clearly left an indelible mark on Farrington and indeed all Irishmen. Throughout “Counterparts,” Joyce shows Farrington as a man beaten and degraded in every facet of his world—work, home, pub, and nation—by the British Empire and his own powerless position. Because of the Anglo-Protestant power structure of colonial Dublin, his ensuing anger and revengeful urges can only be repressed. As we repeatedly see with Farrington, a desire for drink is an immediate response to the defeats he encounters and this forced repression; yet when alcohol fails to ease his frustration, the effects of constant colonial subjugation, his own impotent standing, and his embarrassing failures compound and inevitably bring this man to his breaking point. Since his usual victim—his wife who “was bullied by him [only] when he was drunk” (97)—is at the chapel, his son Tom becomes the only available and permissible outlet for the release of his rage. Being mastered all day and all life by others, such attacks on the weak afford Farrington the only opportunity to compensate for his humiliating experiences and assume the role of the master. Ultimately what we see with this attack is the psychological beating Farrington suffers being displaced onto his son in the form of physical abuse. With Farrington, Joyce is showing that Irish brutality and intemperance find their roots deeply entrenched within the colonial experience. These traits are in fact the effects of, not the justification for, colonization. It is ironic that British control appears to be the cancer that actually produced the very “Orientalist” stereotypes from which it claimed to offer relief. After centuries of domination, these misdirected and abusive responses remain as the scar of colonialism that is passed on through the generations. Kibodeaux accurately remarks that “what we see there is not mere transition, but transmission: father passing on to son the nets and paralysis of Dublin. We watch as a link in that terrible chain is dramatically, violently forged, and now we hear at the same time echoes in links stretching out from the past into the future” (91). While these factors cannot and should not exonerate Farrington, they certainly do illuminate the causes of his disturbing actions and illustrate Britain's culpable role in bringing their elitist and stereotypical view of the Irish into existence. “Counterparts” clearly serves as Joyce's statement on the prominent part British colonialism played in propagating the paralysis of Dublin that Dubliners so impressively displays.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove, 1963.

Gifford, Don. Joyce Annotated. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.

Jameson, Fredric. “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism.” Social Text 15 (1986): 65-88.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Penguin, 1967.

———. Selected Letters of James Joyce. Ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1975.

Kibodeaux, R. Bruce. “‘Counterparts’—Dubliners Without End.” James Joyce Quarterly 14 (1976): 87-92.

Owens, Cóilín. “‘A Man with Two Establishments to Keep Up’: Joyce's Farrington.” Irish Renaissance Annual IV. Ed. Zack Bowen. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1983. 128-56.

Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.

———. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1978.

David Lloyd (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Lloyd, David. “Counterparts: Dubliners, Masculinity, and Temperance Nationalism.” In Future Crossings: Literature between Philosophy and Cultural Studies, edited by Krzysztof Ziarek and Seamus Deane, pp. 193-220. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Lloyd discusses Joyce's story, “Counterparts,” as an exploration of Irish societal definitions of masculinity in public and private life.]

The man returned to the lower office and sat down again at his desk. He stared intently at the incomplete phrase: In no case shall the said Bernard Bodley be … and thought how strange it was that the last three words began with the same letter. The chief clerk began to hurry Miss Parker, saying she would never have the letters typed in time for the post. The man listened to the clicking of the machine for a few minutes and then set to work to finish his copy. But his head was not clear and his mind wandered away to the glare and rattle of the public house. It was a night for hot punches. He struggled on with his copy, but when the clock struck five he had still fourteen pages to write. Blast it! He longed to bring his fist down on something violently. He was so enraged that he wrote Bernard Bernard instead of Bernard Bodley and had to begin again on a clean sheet.

He felt strong enough to clear out the whole office single-handed. His body ached to do something, to rush out and revel in violence. All the indignities of his life enraged him. … Could he ask the cashier privately for an advance? No, the cashier was no good, no damn good: he wouldn't give an advance. … He knew where he would meet the boys: Leonard and O'Halloran and Nosey Flynn. The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot.

—James Joyce, “Counterparts,” in Dubliners

In this brief scene from the story “Counterparts,” Joyce draws out the complex rhythms of alienated labor in early-twentieth-century Dublin, linking the repetitive functions performed by the legal clerk Farrington with his sensations of humiliation, frustration, and rage. Male rage and violence at the conditions of work in an office with which, apparently, his very bodily frame is at odds, are counterpoised with the heterotopic site of the public house, with its odors and sensations and the prospect of homosocial conviviality. In the larger course of the story, Farrington indulges in a brief witticism at the expense of the Northern Irish head of this clearly British firm, in consequence of which he is further humiliated by having to make public apology; later, in the pub, as the story is retold and circulated, the humiliation is erased and the scene becomes one in which Farrington figures as momentary hero. But as the evening progresses, Farrington is again humiliated, this time by an English actor whom the “boys” meet, who sponges off them and then defeats Farrington in an arm-wrestling contest: both his own and the “national honour” he is jocularly called on to defend are tarnished. Returning home, raging, his money spent, his watch pawned, his thirst unslaked, he finds the house dark, his dinner cold, and his wife out at chapel. The story concludes with him savagely beating his son, who pleads for mercy with the promise that he will “say a Hail Mary” for him.

This spare and desolate story, together with many others in Dubliners, is bitterly diagnostic of the paralysis of Irish men in colonial Ireland, of their alienation and anomie, which, so often, is counterpointed by drinking. As is so much of Joyce's work, it is also profoundly suggestive as to the disposition and practices of gendered social spaces in early-twentieth-century Dublin: spaces of work, leisure, domesticity, and religion. As much as anything, it is indicative of the troubled nature of the intersection of these spaces, of their antagonism and contradictory formations. In what follows, I want to situate “Counterparts” in relation to the gradual and complex emergence of modernity in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Ireland and to the sites of “countermodernity” that seem simultaneously to be engendered. In particular, I want to follow the story's suggestions in the exploration of the forms in which Irish masculinity was deliberately and programmatically being reconstituted by Irish nationalist movements at this moment and of the recalcitrance which the performance of masculinity in popular culture presented to such projects. Since this essay represents a small and early part of an ongoing project on the transformation of bodily practices in the modernization of Ireland and on the survival of “nonmodern” forms of cultural difference, I will from the outset make no apology for the speculative nature of the argument at many points. Much remains to be done by way of producing a “gender history” of Irish social spaces and their refiguration within nationalist as well as colonial projects of modernization. What I hope to do here is suggest the singularity and unevenness of the ways in which Irish culture enters modernity and the complexity of the historiographic project that we require in order to grasp the implications of such singularity.

The problematic status of the nationalist project of modernization is in evidence in Ireland as generally among third world nationalisms. It is evident both in relation to the philosophical foundations of modernity from which it largely derives and in relation to the cultural formations of the colonized society as these emerge in time with but yet athwart modernity. The problematic nature of nationalist projects has been more fully elaborated elsewhere and can be briefly summarized here. Nationalism is deeply informed, and yet simultaneously judged lacking or “secondary,” by the twin concepts of autonomy and originality that furnish the regulative norms for virtually every level of the modern socius: for the individual; for culture, as this emerges as a separate or distinct sphere; and in turn for each of the increasingly differentiated social spaces of civil society. In its drive to produce or capture the modern state, the nationalist project in its turn must pass by way of the reproduction of such autonomous entities. At the same time, the legitimacy of the call for independent national statehood must be founded in the establishment of the cultural difference of the nation or people, a difference necessarily derived from the traditions of the people that are distinct from those of the dominant or colonial culture. In this way, the claim to autonomous statehood is founded in the originality of national identity, but in an identity whose configurations derive from the elements of society that have, in some sense, survived the inroads of colonial modernity, that are the formations of nonmodernity. Nationalism proceeds, furthermore, by the direct politicization of cultural institutions: that is, where it is the function of aesthetic culture in dominant societies discretely to form subjects for the state, under the conditions of insurgent nationalism, cultural forms are directly endowed with political significance. Culture cannot be either disinterested or autonomous but is openly subordinated to the political projects of the nationalist movement.

But nationalism's relation to tradition is no less refractive and problematic. For what, through a rigorous process of selection, canonization, and fetishization, gets called “tradition” in relation to modernity emerges as such in the very recalcitrance of popular practices to colonial modernity. These practices prove to be no less recalcitrant to nationalism insofar as it is itself devoted to modernization as the very condition of state formation. In particular, popular practices tend to be resistant to the cultural disciplines that seek to forge the formal citizen-subjects of political modernity that the nation state requires to constitute its people. Accordingly, in its drive to produce subjects to be citizens of the nation that has yet to come into being, nationalism seeks to refine its own version of national culture out of the heterogeneity of popular cultural practices, modernizing and regulating what survives in the form of cultural difference. This is understood, of course, as an attempt to overcome the damage inflicted by colonialism: it is the function of national culture to produce national subjects as empowered agents against the heteronomy and paralysis of the colonized culture and to restore the wholeness of a fragmented society. In this respect, the function of the icons selected as representative of tradition—whether national heroes or aestheticized natural or artifactual objects—is not merely inspirational. They are symbols which, by virtue of their participation in the original and—in its occluded depths—continuous life of the people, represent the virtual nation that has yet to be realized. Around these symbols the aesthetic formation of the citizen subject takes place. Tradition becomes, in this refined form, the means by which the nation accedes to modernity. But tradition itself, as Frantz Fanon vigorously argued in The Wretched of the Earth, thus becomes the paradoxical enemy of the popular culture wherein the cultural difference of the colonized persists in its embedded resistances, its unevennesses, and its perpetual transformative adaptations.1 It is this problematic and doubled relation to its own modernity and its traditionalism that makes nationalism, in Partha Chatterjee's memorable phrase, at once “a different discourse, yet one that is dominated by another” (NCW [Nationalism and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse?] 42).

A principal means by which nationalist movements declare their cultural distinctiveness from the dominant power and engage in the refinement of popular culture is manifest in a certain “transvaluation of values” undertaken generally in the early stages of anticolonial mobilization. This transvaluation involves the inversion of stereotypes by which the colonizer has marked as inferior the signs of the colonized's cultural difference. Perhaps the most famous instance of this process is that of the negritude movement among Francophone blacks, about which Fanon writes extensively and with some critical sympathy in Black Skin, White Masks, and with less sympathy in The Wretched of the Earth. Negritude, which begins by the inversion of such stereotypes as black “passion” or “primitiveness,” or the propensity for rhythm, into the signs of a less alienated connection to the natural world than that of the European, of an essential fullness of life rather than the abstraction of modernity, eventually becomes for Fanon the index of a fetishizing fixation on the “native” and a consequent disavowal of the actual condition of the black intellectual. “I tested the limits of my essence,” he remarks acerbically, “beyond all doubt, there was not much of it left.”2 In his later work on the dynamics of nationalist struggle, that fetishization becomes the sign of a hegemonic drive by bourgeois nationalists to arrest the decolonizing process by fixing the processes of popular culture into the form of traditions:

The native intellectual who comes back to his people by way of cultural achievements behaves in fact like a foreigner. … The culture that the intellectual leans toward is often no more than a stock of particularisms. He wishes to attach himself to the people; but instead he only catches hold of their outer garments. And these outer garments are merely the reflection of a hidden life, teeming and perpetually in motion. The man of culture … will let himself be hypnotized by these mummified fragments which because they are static are in fact symbols of negation and outworn contrivances. Culture has never the translucidity of custom; it abhors all simplification. In essence it is opposed to custom, for custom is always the deterioration of culture. The desire to attach oneself to tradition or bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one's own people.

(WE [The Wretched of the Earth] 223-24)

The critique of the negritude tendency is what enables Fanon to move beyond the prevalent perception of the paralyzed and historically fixed nature of popular culture under colonialism and toward an understanding of cultural difference rather than tradition as the foundation for an ongoing process of decolonization. As we shall see, this equally entails a different understanding of the temporal rhythms of colonialism than that which, on either side of anticolonial struggle, subsumes tradition within modernization.

Irish cultural nationalism at the turn of the century engaged in a reversal of stereotypes akin to and in anticipation of the negritude movement. Thus, for example, the notion of Irish factionalism, based in an inveterate attachment to clan or family rather than to the abstract forms of law and state, becomes the sign of an indomitable resistance and of a spirit of loyalty capable of attachment to the nation. It forms, no less, the foundations of a masculinity that would be transformed and disciplined through institutions ranging from sports to paramilitary movements. The famous quality of “sentimentality” is recast as the foundation for piety and for an empathetic moral identification with the oppressed, while even the stereotype of a racially determined backwardness becomes the sign of a distaste for mechanical English modes of modernity and the grounds for an alternative conception of the modern. It is important to emphasize this point, since it is rarely the case, even in such ardent defenders of Gaelic tradition as Douglas Hyde, that Irish nationalists seek to go against the current of history: it is an alternative modernity rather than the restoration of old forms that nationalists seek even as they appeal to traditions. The transvaluation of the stereotype at once recognizes it as a form of knowledge, predicated on the apprehension of a difference, and converts its meaning in relation to the possibility for modernization. A Celticist nationalism engages in a revalorization of social or cultural traits whose material conditions of possibility it in fact seeks to eradicate.

But in certain cases, both reversal and eradication are attended with peculiar difficulties. This is evidently the case with that most common and perdurable of stereotypes of the Irish, our propensity for drink and drunkenness. The reasons for the difficulty that nationalism found in dealing with the possibility that drinking represented an engrained ethnic trait are at once logical and cultural. Logically, it is difficult to conceive of a reversal of intemperance, though its eradication was all too readily advocable. For, though in different forms, drinking is the effect of a prior cause, whether that cause be seen, as we shall see, as colonialism or ethnic predisposition. Unlike sentimentality, it is not an essential characteristic whose valence only is in question; it is a metonym for Irishness which can be disavowed, suppressed, or denied, but not inverted or transvalued. Even where attempts were made to convert the phenomenon of drinking into a perversion of native “hospitality,” drinking remains an ever possible effect of that trait, not its obverse: as Weathers, the English actor in “Counterparts,” slyly remarks, “The hospitality was too Irish” (90). Culturally, it remains the case that drinking practices remain a critical site for the performance of Irish masculinity and ethnicity, an actuality so embedded that any national movement that attempted to overlook this phenomenon would have been obliged to disavow a profoundly significant popular mode of articulation of cultural difference. As I shall be suggesting, it is in the attempt to transform the terms of Irish masculinity rather than to transvalue the stereotype that nationalism backhandedly acknowledges the significance of this cultural trait while at the same time necessarily suppressing the countermodern implications of drinking practices themselves. But this may be because of a third difficulty that attaches to nationalism's relation to drinking, which is that drinking itself may be seen as an allegorical figure for nationalism itself. That is, like nationalism, drinking represents the imbrication of resistance with dependence: as a practice that rejects the values of the colonial economy, values of labor, regularity, or thrift in favor of an alternative mode of homosociality, drinking resists the incorporation of the colonized male into the colonial enterprise; as a practice that entails debt as well as psychic dependence, it is at once the cause and effect of an individual and national lack of autonomy. It is, to paraphrase Partha Chatterjee, a practice of difference, but a dependent one.

We will take up this line of argument again momentarily. But the acknowledgment that drinking practices constitute a mode for the performance of masculinity raises a second stereotype that proved difficult for nationalists to reverse, that is, the famous “femininity” of the Celt. The notion of an essentially feminine Celtic nature emerges in the writings of philologists and ethnographers in the nineteenth century and receives its clearest and most widely disseminated formulation in Matthew Arnold's On the Study of Celtic Literature (1867): “the sensibility of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something feminine in them, and the Celt is thus peculiarly disposed to feel the spell of the feminine idiosyncracy; he has an affinity to it; he is not far from its secret.”3 But it is important to note that the stereotype of the feminine Celtic nature is constituted within a matrix of stereotypes that intersects, on the one hand, with a corresponding set of stereotypes about the “feminine idiosyncracy” and, on the other, with the set of stereotypes that constitute the “ungovernable and turbulent” Irish as the proper objects of Anglo-Saxon discipline within the empire. The femininity of the Celt is a function of his “receptivity,” of a certain more or less passive submission to impulse, whether the impulse of unreflective personal inclination or the impulse of external influence of nature or society. It is the very foundation of Celtic sensibility, and Arnold's only wish is “that he [the Celt] had been more master of it” (85). The lack of self-mastery explains the possibility for the convergence of apparently incompatible stereotypes, of feminine sensibility with the violent turbulence that, especially in the proliferating caricatures of simian Irish terrorists that stemmed from the Fenian campaigns of the 1860s, dominated popular images of the Irish in late-nineteenth-century England.4 An unmastered sentimentality founds the political servility of the Celt no less than his aesthetic hypersensitivity:

The Celt, undisciplinable, anarchical, and turbulent by nature, but out of affection and admiration giving himself body and soul to some leader, that is not a promising political temperament, it is just the opposite of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, disciplinable and steadily obedient within certain limits, but retaining an inalienable part of freedom and self-dependence.


The Celt's “unpromising political temperament” requires its complement in Anglo-Saxon rule just as, within the gradually consolidating domestic ideology of Victorian Britain, woman's private sentimental morality required regulation by male civic virtues.5

For an Irish nationalism seeking to restore a sense of agency to a colonized people, this is a no less unpromising stereotype to confront. Rather than a transvaluation, however, this stereotype requires eradication through a series of projects that are directed at the reconstitution of Irish masculinity. I use the term reconstitution advisedly, in order to suggest that what is at stake here is not merely assertions of Irish manliness in denial of the stereotype, but a more or less systematic attempt to reproduce in Ireland a modern division of gendered social spheres within which the image of a masculine civic or public sphere could be reframed in opposition to a privatized feminine space.6 The nationalist modernization of Ireland is inseparable from its project of masculinization of Irish public culture and the regulation of a feminine domestic space, a project, as I shall suggest, that to a very large extent runs against the grain of both cultural and material popular practices. This is so because nationalism at once accepts the colonial stereotype of “turbulent” Irish masculinity and seeks to respond by transforming Irish masculinity into “governable” forms that would found an independent state formation.

In the first place, there seems little doubt that we are dealing here with the emergence of something new in Irish culture. For the apparent self-evidence of the assumption that masculinity is properly defined and differentiated in opposition to femininity was by no means predominant earlier in the century. For Young Ireland nationalists in the 1840s, “manliness” as an ethical and political disposition of the subject was properly opposed not to womanliness but to slavery as the ultimate index of subjection. The autonomy of the politically free citizen and nation was opposed to the absolute instantiation of heteronomy, the slave. Thus Thomas Davis, in an essay entitled “The Young Men of Ireland,” addresses the problems of moral corruption in a colonized society:

A Frenchman, M. De Beaumont … has discussed the character of our People … and he has discussed it with severity and beauty. He has attributed the “dark vices” of the Irishman to that part of him which is the making of Englishmen—to that part of him which is a slave. If he be improvident and careless, it was because there was no use of accumulation under the eyes of English avarice; if he be “ireful” and vindictive, it is because “six hundred years of hereditary slavery, physical suffering, and moral oppression, have vitiated his blood and tainted his habits” … The vices of Irishmen are of English culture; their virtues are of the homegrowth of the heart—the nation's heart—“that recess where tyranny has vainly endeavoured to force an entrance; which has remained free from every stain; that part which holds his religion and his charities.”

A series of oppositions structures this passage: between slavery and moral manliness; between “English culture” and Irish nature; between the alien and tyrannical rule of the colonizer and the besieged home/body of the Irishman; between the healthy and the “vitiated” body. What now seems surprisingly undeveloped is an opposition between a distinctly feminine space for Irish culture that is to be protected or liberated by manly resistance. On the contrary, despite the implicit feminization of the inviolate “recess” that resists the invader, the Irishman is himself the site of division between a contingent outer world that is subject to slavery and an intimate and essential inner world in which the moral constitution of manliness itself is preserved. The project of Young Ireland is, in a sense, to expand that inner space in order to take back the “part” that is enslaved, to make the slave moral that he might be free. We can perhaps throw the distinctiveness of this formulation into greater relief by comparison with Partha Chatterjee's discussion of “the nationalist resolution of the woman question” in Bengal. There, in the context of the material domination of British colonialism, a discourse emerges which asserts the superiority of Indian spiritual values while acknowledging the material superiority of English civilization. While Indian men are obliged to function in the public world of the British Raj, the feminized domestic space is constructed as that of the preservation and reproduction of inviolate Indian spiritual values. Clearly, Davis's formulations place the division rather within the Irish male body and psyche, at most foreshadowing the divide between the feminine domestic and the male public spheres which, as we shall see, in any case emerges in Ireland in ways still different from those Chatterjee suggests to be the case for Bengal.

By the turn of the century, however, a fundamental shift has taken place in nationalist discourse such that a major component of its rhetoric involves the proper distribution of opposed male and female spaces and practices, a distribution that is, as is well known, finally enshrined in the constitution of 1937. The conditions for this shift are numerous, but we can cite several relevant ones here. First is no doubt the simple fact of the abolition of slavery, which made unavailable the very common analogy between the conditions of the slave in the southern states of the United States and those of the Irish poor. Second, the emergence into prominence in the second part of the nineteenth century of a powerful Victorian discourse on domestic ideology had been made possible by the productivity of British capitalism and the extension of the middle-class domain of the private family home among the skilled working classes. This ideology doubtless provides the model with which a modernizing nationalism seeks to compete. Third, the intervention of a new racial discourse on the Irish, which asserts their femininity as part of the set of characteristics that makes them incapable of self-government, demands a response in the form of a remasculinization of the Irish public sphere.

We can identify two distinct but interlocked modes of response to the feminization of the Irish during this period. The first can be seen as a celebration of those elements of Irish culture that could be identified in certain ways as feminine. In general, the stereotype of femininity attaches to those survivals of a Gaelic culture that are now seen as the domain of folk or peasant society. As is well known, the Irish literary revival and the Gaelic League's project to restore the Irish language are predicated on a massive effort to collect, catalog, disseminate, and refunction Irish folklore. This project required the translation of oral cultural elements into the forms of a print culture, and in powerfully if inadmissible ways foregrounds the opposition between the modernity of the collectors and their public and the premodernity of the folk. But the gathering and rationalization of a body of materials that include fairy tales and folktales, superstition and rural religious practices, and records of medical and other lore is shadowed equally by an implicitly gendered division. It is not for nothing that, although many of the storytellers and informants were men, the figure of the old woman as repository and transmitter of folk culture dominates the folkloric imaginary. The space of the Irish peasantry is at once premodern and feminine; in its conversion and refinement into a coherent body of tradition, it is subject to the labor of modernizing nationalist men. At the same time, the tone of the collector is elegiac: these are the records of a dying civilization that nationalism itself has displaced, even though that cannot be acknowledged. In the new dispensation, the feminine oral tradition has been absorbed into the foundations of a virile Irish modernity. Yeats's famous distinction between the moon of folk culture and the sun of an aristocratic literary culture is only the most notable expression of such an attitude.

This ambiguous celebration of the “feminine” elements of Irish folk culture is thus both counterpointed by and contained within a vigorous project aimed at the reconstitution of Irish masculinity. Given the current context, wherein it is all too often assumed that anticolonial violence stems from the aberrant “hypermasculinity” of the Republican “physical force” tradition, it is important to register that it is not only within the tradition that lays claim to the right to take up arms that this project of remasculinization is expressed. Not only in the paramilitary organizations that found legitimation in the traditions of the United Irishmen, Young Ireland, and the Fenians, but in a whole range of closely articulated civil and paramilitary organizations, institutions, and practices did this project emerge. For paramilitary displays constituted only one mode in a larger effort to recapture the public sphere as the site for the performance of Irish masculinity, and it belongs accordingly in the context of linked endeavors which seek to redefine the public sphere in relation to the production and protection of a distinctive Irish private or domestic sphere. Their disciplinary formations are linked, similarly, to the attempt to transform the “turbulent” Irish male body, whose habits are the end result of colonialism, into a disciplined and moral laboring as well as fighting body on whose productivity the future prosperity of the nation must be predicated. These political and economic projects are triangulated and, at the moment of the turn of the century, explicitly linked with the cultural projects that found expression in the literary revival, the national theater, and the Gaelic League. The emergent institutions of cultural nationalism are no less concerned with the production of a new Irish masculinity and have at their core the project of organizing Irish political desire around feminized symbols of the nation which become the object of a heterosexual male devotion. There is, as I shall argue more fully later, a profound connection between the symbolist poetic mode, no less present in Patrick Pearse than in the Yeats of about 1904, and the transformations and regulation of social space that a modernizing nationalism requires.

The projects of this modernizing nationalism meet in every domain a deep material and cultural resistance. The desire to produce an Ireland whose foundations lay in a feminine domestic space was at best utopic in a country where a large proportion of the most exploited workforce was female, both in the industrialized and semi-industrialized cities of Belfast and Dublin and in rural areas where much female labor was unpaid and unacknowledged. It was utopic equally in a country where in urban centers there was a constantly acknowledged drastic shortage of dwellings, leaving whole families to inhabit single rooms in Dublin's notorious tenements, and where in rural society the stem family system continued to predominate over any emerging nuclear family unit. It also came up against an increasingly organized social resistance to the new post-Famine patterns of both industrial and agrarian labor, especially in the form of a syndicalist labor movement whose agenda was by no means always congruent with or subordinated to nationalist mobilization, and which forged its own version of engagement with capitalist modernity. These struggles and resistances, of course, produce the contestatory field within which Irish nationalism takes its shape. But there is another mode of resistance to official nationalism which I would term “recalcitrance,” and which has less to do either with the difficulties of material conditions in the colony or with alternative modes of organization, and far more to do with cultural practices that are at once embedded in the popular imaginary and incompatible with nationalist canons of tradition and moral citizenship. They are problematic, as I have already suggested, precisely because they represent, alongside nationalism, significant sites for the performance of cultural difference that cannot simply be erased or disavowed.

In what follows, then, I want to focus on the cultural significance of drinking in Ireland and its rendering within nationalism as a problem of intemperance. The focus is not on what we would now call alcoholism, though that is ineradicably one aspect of an anomic culture within which dependence itself constitutes a form of resistance to incorporation by antipathetic social norms. I want rather to approach drinking practices more widely as these are embedded within a whole matrix of behaviors that are the recalcitrant effects of modernity. That is to say, Irish drinking is not to be seen as the residue of premodern, preindustrial practices, nor as in any simple way congruent with, for example, working-class drinking in modern industrial societies, but rather as itself transformed and reconstituted in relation to an emergent modernity as an element of unincorporated cultural difference.

Let us proceed by way of a brief history of temperance movements in nineteenth-century Ireland. Prior to the 1830s, temperance work was principally undertaken by Dissenting Protestants, whose campaigns were largely conducted against intemperance as an individual matter and without reference to the larger social conditions that might have contributed to excessive drinking in Ireland. In fact, to the contrary, their views tended to assume that the reputed turbulence of Irish society derived from intemperance rather than to understand that both drinking and unrest might stem from social conditions. In this connection, it is perhaps important to note that the evil was primarily understood as binge drinking, occasional excessive drinking at fairs or other social gatherings, rather than habitual drinking. Binge drinking was seen as the effective cause of riot and faction fighting, and it was generally assumed that the poverty of the Irish lower classes made habitual drinking impracticable. The problems caused by intemperance were thus associated with what might be called a “spasmodic” theory of social violence, whereby the Irish poor were understood to be reactive and effectively passive in relation to their conditions. We will see shortly how this understanding of intemperance seems to have shifted by the end of the century.

The first mass movement for temperance was instigated by the Capuchin Father Mathew in the 1830s and 1840s. This movement, which for the first time drew mass Catholic support, was nonetheless largely in accord with Protestant assumptions that the control of intemperance was a means to regulate and diminish social disorder. Father Mathew's work continued to emphasize individual reform rather than any genetic connection between intemperance and larger social ills. That connection was, however, directly made by the Young Ireland movement, which endorsed Father Mathew's campaign but did seek, in correspondence with their larger analysis of Irish society as a product of British rule, to connect the regulation of intemperance with its roots in the social and economic conditions of the Irish poor. The abortive uprising of 1848 and the effective dissolution of Young Ireland interrupted the development of this understanding of intemperance, which was not to find full force till the end of the century.

By the 1880s and 1890s, a new convergence had become possible between the Irish Catholic church, the resurgent nationalist movement, and the cause of temperance. The increasingly unchallenged authority of the church, which may be seen to have gradually emerged as a kind of shadow civil society in nineteenth-century Ireland, made it possible for priests to articulate an ever more uncompromisingly nationalist position, one that supplanted an earlier sense of institutional dependence on the British state. The concern of the church with combating intemperance and with the general moral reform of the Irish accordingly coincided with a new political militancy. Within this new formation, an earlier concern with individual reform is linked to a vigorous rejection of English stereotypes of an essentially bibulous Irish race and an uncompromising attribution of intemperance to the effects of British rule:

How many Englishmen ever reflect that England is responsible for [the] intemperance of the Irish? Our Celtic ancestors were a very temperate people before the English landed on our shores. … It was only after they had lost their independence that this vice broke out among the Irish; and when we take into consideration all that they suffered from English tyranny during the last seven hundred years, can we be astonished that they turned to drink?

Intemperance is thus no longer to be seen as the symptom of an internal racial organization already given to modes of dependence that fit it only for the external discipline of British rule, but as a synecdoche for the larger effects of that rule on the Irish body and the Irish psyche. Colonialism is a kind of intoxication of which intemperance is one among many effects. Accordingly, intemperance and political dependence are seen to be in a reversible relation, such that the eradication of intemperance will lead to the eradication of British rule and vice versa. Hence emerges the celebrated slogan, “Ireland sober, Ireland free.” In this respect, we may note again the difference from what Chatterjee analyzes in the Bengali context. For in Ireland, the assumption is that the Irish body and spirit are indeed both already contaminated by the effects of British rule, so that private no less than public life requires a process of “detoxification,” a process which Douglas Hyde in another context termed “deanglicisation.”

Accordingly, the work of temperance nationalism becomes inseparable from the production and dissemination of a vigorous domestic ideology which seeks to establish the well-regulated feminized home and its counterpart, a reformed masculine labor, as the foundation of a reformed and independent nation state. Typical in its pedagogical insistence is the Reverend J. Halpin's Father Mathew Reader on Temperance and Hygiene, a text intended for school use, which makes quite explicit the connections between the reform of men for public duties and the feminine sphere of the domestic and the home as the foundations for society:

For the homes make up the nation; and as are the homes, so will be the nation itself. Whatever wrecks the home wrecks the nation as well. … Now, what destroys the home more surely and more quickly than intemperance?


If intemperance unfits man for the discharge of his duties, how much more truly does it unfit woman for hers? What is to become of her home and her domestic duties—the care of her children, for instance, in the exercise of which so much depends for society itself as well as for the family? As the nation depends on the homes, the homes depend on the mothers that reign there.


All women can, each in her own sphere, give good example. … We must be very practical here. In the first place our Irish women are blamed for their cookery, or rather for their ignorance of cookery. And it is said that a better knowledge of that “lost art” would half solve our drink question in Ireland.

Closely connected with this subject is another of hardly less importance. We have seen the woman as a cook; let us next see her as a druggist.


Yet more than all this may woman do for temperance. She can make the home attractive and sanitary, and even beautiful; yes, beautiful, for even the humblest and poorest home may be made beautiful and attractive in its way and measure, and all that a home should be, by a tidy thrifty and intelligent woman. … Well, there is a rivalry between the home and the public-house; and if the home is to prevail it must have something attractive about it; something better than disorder and dirt, untidy children and an ill-tempered wife.


Halpin's linked concern not merely with temperance but with the inculcation of “domestic economics,” with hygiene, cookery, and medical knowledge, marks this and texts like it as part of a larger project of modernization which, in its desire to regulate the feminine domestic sphere, establishes domestic economy as a foundation for the national or political economy. It is not so much a discourse about the repression of an evil, drunkenness, as it is about the reconstitution of the social formation and the establishment of the domestic sphere as the counterpart to an invigorated masculine public sphere of economic and political labor.

Inasmuch as “there is a rivalry between the home and the public-house,” we can understand the public house to be no less a rival to the public sphere. It constitutes a third term whose very name marks its ambiguous location. It is a rival to the home in providing an alternative space for male conviviality, leisure, and community, one not yet subordinated to the regulations of private domesticity and accordingly “public.” At the same time, it rivals the public sphere insofar as it constitutes a space for the dissemination of news and rumor, for the performance of a heterogeneous popular culture, and, indeed, for the organization and dissemination of dissent, sedition, and resistance. But it is no less a recalcitrant space, the site of practices that by their very nature rather than by necessary intent are out of kilter with the modern disciplinary projects. As a site that is irrevocably a product of modernity in its spatial and its temporal demarcations and regulations, in its relation to the increasingly disciplined rhythms of work and leisure, it is nonetheless a site which preserves and transforms according to its own spaces and rhythms long-standing popular practices that will not be incorporated by discipline: treating or the round system; oral performance of song, story, and rumor; conversation itself, which becomes increasingly a value in a society ever more subject to the individuation and alienation of the worker within the system of production. It may be seen as a crucial site of countermodernity.

In this respect, then, the pub is no less a rival to the linked set of national institutions which came into being alongside and in relation to temperance nationalism, and often under the auspices of the same figures: the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League, the Irish literary movement, the national theater, and the various paramilitary movements. At the same time as such institutions often expressly sought to provide an alternative to drinking as the predominant form of male recreation, they sought to produce a public sphere cleansed of the intoxicating influence of English culture and commodities. As Archbishop Croke, first patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association, put it: “England's accents, the vicious literature, her music, her dances, and her manifold mannerisms … [are] not racy of the soil, but rather alien, on the contrary to it, as are for the most part, the men and women who first imported and still continue to patronise them.” Yet it is clear that these various institutions sought equally and no less importantly to constitute an alternative, nationalist civil society alongside the institutions of the colonial state, in the anticipation of an independent national state with its own civic institutions. Their function is not only to propagandize and disseminate nationalist ideology; it is also to produce formally a counterhegemonic set of articulated but autonomous spheres that will perform the modernizing functions of education, recreation, political organization, and opinion formation and through which the national citizen will be formed.

The public house not only rivals such institutions, then, it troubles their intents. It is a site of the performance of a profoundly heterogeneous popular culture, one inflected, as the “Sirens” chapter of Ulysses alone might suggest, by Italian opera, English music hall, nationalist balladry, gossip, irreverence, and humor, all of which is intrinsically recalcitrant to nationalist refinement. At the same time, it is, even in its demarcation as a distinct space, internally resistant to differentiation: it is a crucial site not only for the mixing of cultural elements but for the intersection of functions—leisure and work, politics and religion, literature and orality, public life and a kind of domesticity. It is the locus of cultural differences with which nationalism must intersect but which it cannot fully incorporate.

Nationalism, as we have seen, requires the establishment of cultural differences from the colonial power in order to legitimate its own claims to statehood, but the cultural difference it requires must, in order to fit with its modernizing drives, be a difference contained and refined into the canonized forms of tradition. The civil institutions of national modernity work off but also against the grain of popular cultural practices through which the heterogeneous, unrefined, and recalcitrant modes of cultural difference are continually constituted and transformed. What is intended here is not the ideal form of pure and originary difference toward which an extreme traditionalist and separatist nationalism might tend; it is rather that mode of constant differentiation, refraction, and refunctioning that occurs in the encounter between the evolving institutions of colonial modernity and the adaptive spaces of the colonized culture. What determines cultural difference is not its externality to modernity nor the persistence of a premodern irrationality, but rather the mutually constitutive relation between the modern and the countermodern. The temporal structure within which the colonized culture emerges in its difference is not that of a movement from an origin which is interrupted by and then assimilated into a more developed, more powerful state, nor that of the recuperation of an authentic and ultimately unbroken tradition within the revivalist logic of nationalism. It is rather the structure of the eddy by which Walter Benjamin redefines the processes of origination:

Origin (Ursprung), although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis (Entstehung). The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance. Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis.

The cultural forms of the colonized do not simply disappear; in the turbulence of the encounter with colonization, they become something other, which retains the traces of the violence of that encounter, preserving it in the form of a persistent damage, and yet survives. Survival in this sense is a mode of adaptation that is often more resistant to than acquiescent in domination, a “living on” that is not about the preservation or fetishization of past forms but nonetheless refuses incorporation. This unevenly distributed relation of damage and survival forges the recalcitrant grain of cultural difference.

We can situate Irish drinking as one element in a matrix of such historically shifting cultural differences, differences of practice and social form that prove unincorporable either by colonial or by nationalist modernity and that remain accordingly ungathered by history, as a kind of dross or irregularity of which neither sense nor use can be made. At this juncture, I want to touch speculatively on a number of instances through which we might come to understand more fully what survives in the counter-modernity of Irish drinking. It is, for example, well known that both the Land League and the Fenians customarily used pubs as sites for meeting, recruiting, and organizing, a fact by no means neglected in the temperance advocates' attempts to introduce stricter licensing hours throughout the latter nineteenth century. Publicans, indeed, seem to have made up a high proportion of the Fenians' local organizers, and the pub itself represented a crucial locus for congregation and dissemination. What remains unclear is how the location itself may have inflected the forms and practices of these populist movements and even retained a persistent if officially unacknowledged influence on later nationalist and republican mobilizations. It is at least certain, however, that the use of the pub as a principal organizing center signals ways in which the space of the political was not rigorously differentiated from other social spaces in Irish popular culture.

In fact, the problematic status of Irish drinking has over and again to do with what seems to the modernized eye the improper confusion of spaces and practices. One instance of this is evident within the arguments for the licensing and regulation of drinking in order to separate work time from leisure or drinking time and to end such practices as paying workers in public houses. This was, as Roy Rosenzweig points out, a ubiquitous concern of industrial societies, but it may be that the uneven penetration of rationalized capitalist modes of labor in Ireland permitted the persistence of mixing labor and pleasure to a greater degree than elsewhere (“RS” 121-26). Similarly, particularly in rural districts, the overlap between public and domestic drinking, between the shebeen and the private dwelling, and the persistence of customs like the wake and the ceilidh, spelled a culture spatialized in ways not only different from those that were coming to be regulated by state law and religious dictate but in ways increasingly seen to be improper. These spaces of popular drinking were clearly not gendered and indeed could involve whole communities: there is little to suggest the homosociality of drinking practices at least prior to the Famine. At the same time, these were spaces often regarded as giving material expression to the fluctuations of Irish “sentimentality”: wakes, in particular, which had always been suspected by English observers, were the object of increasing censure by the Catholic church as the century progressed, not least because of their improper display and mixing of lament and keening, laughter, social criticism, and satiric, often impious, invective, all under the influence of drinking.

What each of these instances figures is the persistence and complexity of a culture of orality, in the fullest sense, alongside, inflecting, and inflected by a modern state and print culture. What orality here signifies is not so much the modes of transmission of a nonliterate society—it would be hard to point to any moment at which Gaelic culture was not already chirographic at the least, and nineteenth-century Ireland was saturated with writing—as the modes of sociality and bodily practice. Indeed, it would perhaps not be entirely fanciful to suggest that the persistence of forms of orality in Irish culture represents the sublimation and survival of the non-nucleated settlements of pre-Famine Ireland, whose patterns and social relations furnish a material map of contiguity rather than differentiation, a map that underlies like a palimpsest the actual and psychic landscapes of modernized Ireland. What disturbs the modernizing mentality is the confusion of spaces, emotions, and functions that are signified in Irish orality. The improperly differentiated functions of the mouth and the tongue are the indices of that disturbing cultural difference—mouths that imbibe drink and utter sedition, nonsense, lament, and palaver are the figure for an absence of distinction and for the borderless contiguity of social and psychic or emotional spaces. Looseness of the tongue makes of it an insubordinate and virtually separable autonomous organ, one that is closely associated in “Counterparts” with the recalcitrance and pleasures of the drinker:

… almost before he was aware of it, his tongue had found a felicitous moment …


He had made a proper fool of himself this time. Could he not keep his tongue in his cheek?


The bar was full of men and loud with the noise of tongues and glasses.


Within the emergent modernity of early-twentieth-century Dublin, the pubs that Farrington repairs to constitute heterotopic sites within which drinking is articulated with a whole set of other cultural practices that functions as an Irish mode of countermodernity. It is precisely this fact that makes the public house an alternative space for homosocial conviviality that operates outside the norms and rhythms of alienated labor or the hierarchies of the work space that impinge on Farrington's daily life—outside, but nonetheless constrained and defined in relation to those rhythms and norms as a transgressive negation. The public house as alternative space is already defined by licensing hours as a space of leisure that no longer intersects with the rhythms of work: the consumption of alcohol during the day has become marked as the sign of indiscipline and anomie; its pleasures are tainted and secretive. The public house, with its traditions of treating and oral exchange, abuts the theater that has become marked as the domain of English incursions and commodification. The figure of Weathers condenses that displacement and contamination of Irish male pleasure by its rivalrous counterpart, and the English actor's victory over Farrington is doubly humiliating, expressing not only a breach in his performance of masculinity but his inferiority within a colonial hierarchy and the consequent endangerment of his spaces of pleasure. Within the unforgiving laws of commodity exchange, drinking is only notionally a space of reciprocity: defiant of the logic of the cash nexus as a cultural survival like treating may be, modernity makes of it an accumulation of debt. Pawning his timepiece to subvent the evening's drinking, as if in revolt against the clock that has marked his entrapment, Farrington nonetheless ends his evening penurious and on the edge of a fatal economic dependence that matches as it is produced by his alcoholic dependence. His outlet is to bring home the violence he could not express at work: the story concludes with a violence that, for all its vigor, is no less paralyzed insofar as it is issueless and doubtless the source of its own repetition, generation after generation.

Read in this way, “Counterparts” stages drinking as a dangerous and unstable instance of damage and survival within and athwart the terrain of modernity. To be sure, drinking represents the recalcitrance of an Irish orality against the alienating rhythms of labor, against the regulation and division of time and space characteristic of modernity. It is no less opposed in this to the domestic than to the work spaces of modernity, and is by no means the site of a sentimental celebration of hearth and home against economic rationality and calculation that structures domestic ideology as a function of capitalist modernity. Yet its containment within the spaces of modernity makes of it the locus of a damaged masculinity, predicated on the recalcitrance of an anomie that constantly swallows up any articulation of resistance that might emerge there. Shot through with the paralysis of anomie, drinking repeats, at the level of the individual, the violent colonial apparatus of humiliation, with its system of economic and cultural dependence. In this, I have already suggested, drinking is, as Joyce clearly grasped it, the shadowy figure of nationalism's own articulation of resistance and dependence: drink, not temperance, is nationalism's counterpart.

And yet, as so often in Joyce, something escapes the dismal sobriety of this logic.

Let us return to the scene from “Counterparts” with which we opened. It is a scene of writing in which, as Farrington repetitively, absently, copies over a document, the materiality of the letters (“B … B … B”) separates out from the sense of the phrase. In his very frustration and alienation, and in his mild inebriation, something detaches itself from sense. In this scene, Farrington is copying a document known in legal parlance as a counterpart: a copy torn off from the original in such a way that, when the two are brought together, the copy authenticates the original. The counterpart of the title refers, then, not only to rivalry but to secondariness, imitation, but in a way that disturbs the hierarchies of originality. If we consider nationalism as a rival of the imperial state, it is also its counterpart in the second sense, its dependent or secondary copy. But its repetition constitutes not simply a difference, capable of rehierarchization, but a deviation of sense. This deviation is, I shall argue, into the space of a cultural difference that is not caught in the logic of opposition.

This deviation is no less a deviation from what were, around 1900, the givens of nationalist aesthetics, with its emphasis on the representative function of the symbol. The counterpart as document is identical to the symbol in its etymological derivation, from the Greek symbolon:

Symbola were pledges, pawns or covenants from an earlier understanding to bring together a part of something that had been divided specifically for the purpose of later comparison. … A coin could be a symbolon. Indeed, symbola were often “halves or corresponding pieces of (a bone or) a coin, which the contracting parties broke between them, each keeping one piece.”

But this etymological derivation highlights the extent to which the contemporary meaning of the symbol deviated from its original. The symbolon, like the counterpart, is an allegory: it is in a relation of contiguity to what it represents rather than being a part of it. But precisely what activates the nationalist political possibilities of a post-Romantic definition of the symbol is its conceptualization as a representation that participates in what it represents, as a particular that is part of the whole for which it stands. The landscape may be a symbol of nature or natural process because it is already a part thereof; the national martyr or poet is the symbol of the nation for whose virtual existence he stands. The temporality of symbolism entails the transformation of a merely contingent relation to the nation into a representative function. We might describe this as a series of rhetorical transformations: from the metonymic (Leopold Bloom's “I'm Irish; I was born here”) to the synecdochic (“I participate in the nation as a particular instance or member of the whole body politic”) to the metaphoric (“I represent the nation because my qualities are those with which an Irish subject should identify”). It is a movement which educes generality out of particularity and contingency and its mechanism is desire, in the sense that Yeats understood his early cultural nationalist work to have sought to “organize” the desire of the nation around certain symbols. In its effort to mobilize a unifying desire, nationalist symbolism is directed against the fragmentation and dispersal of the body and the social space of modernity and toward a suturing of the individual body in itself and with the nation as a whole.

Joyce's Dubliners is structured rather around what he describes as the epiphany, an epiphany secularized beyond the account that Stephen Dedalus gives of it in Stephen Hero. There, the epiphany appears as a still auratic translation of the religious epiphany, the moment of the manifestation of the divine in the worldly; in effect, as a symbol in which the particular undergoes a transubstantiation into an illumination of the transcendent:

By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual transformation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself. …

First we recognize that the object is one integral thing, then we recognize that it is an organized composite structure, a thing in fact: finally, when the relation of the parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the special point, we recognize that it is that thing which it is. Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance. The soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.

But even within this description, saturated as it is with the young Joyce's Aquinian aesthetic vocabulary, something moves beyond the symbolic, auratic register and closer to the form of the profoundly secular epiphanies that he collected in his notebooks and which came to inform the work of Dubliners. For the epiphanies of Joyce's work, as opposed to those of Stephen's theory, are dedicated less to the symbolization of the real, its transumption into representation, and rather to a certain metonymic singularity. They are dedicated to a presentation of the “whatness” of the thing that is achieved by way of what this passage intimates, an extreme degree of internal intensification that ensures their detachment from rather than their representation of that of which they are a part. The intensified moment, like Gabriel Conroy's glimpse of his wife standing on the stairs listening to distant music, in fact refuses to be a symbol of something and embeds instead a profound resistance to incorporation, a recalcitrant particularity that refuses to be subsumed into the narrative of representation. It is, as a diagnostic moment structured around its internal relations, closer to the “alienation” of Bertolt Brecht's later tableau or gestus.

In Stephen's analogy, what is emphasized in the epiphany is its effulgence of spiritual radiance: an auratic light emanates from and detaches itself from the transubstantiated object. As Joyce writes of the effect of Dubliners, it is not so much an aura that detaches itself from the object as an odor: “It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs around my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look in my nicely polished looking-glass.”7 Odor is for Joyce the aura that escapes the representation of the object, that is suspended above it as its ineffable trace. Insofar as it is also distasteful, it implies the status of a counteraesthetic. What is implied here is the inseparability of the odor from a project of rigorous mimesis, the juxtaposition of a project of specular revelation, predicated on visibility and illumination, with an unprojected effect of that mimesis, its countersense. The celebrated “scrupulous meanness” of the style of Dubliners invokes a naturalism that refuses the incorporative desire of either symbolism or realism that would be the privileged modes of a bourgeois nationalism. It is devoted to the mimesis of a paralysis which suspends action outside the teleological drive of representation: it refuses to redeem colonial paralysis by subordinating it to a transformative sense of history. Instead, the diagnostic mimesis of paralysis produces a suspension of sense which issues in this odor that hangs around these stories. The odor is a countersense made possible by the very rigor of the sense on which Joyce's mimesis of colonial Dublin insists.

We can understand the relation between odor and mimesis as constituting a double track of signification. Within the track of mimesis, which is still subject to a moral and formative intent, narrative itself becomes over and again suspended in paralysis. In that paralysis, we are to decipher the dysfunctional contours of colonial Dublin, the ineluctable determination of material and psychic conditions, repetition and the inhibition of the will. The sense of the narratives in this register is overwhelmingly that of the vacuity of narrative itself where nothing moves. And yet that very suspension of narrative in paralysis releases an odor whose sense has nothing to do with paralysis, which does not even seek to effect or justify things in the registers of moral or political agency. Odor is a trace which survives the passing of the body as the circulation of stories in the public house detaches itself from the violence and repetition of the narrative to constitute less a determinate engagement with the real than a repertoire and a rehearsal of alternatives. This realm of possibilities is not legitimated by its realization in the actual but sets off eddies in the forward-moving stream of a historicized temporality. Joyce suggests to us, as does Fanon, that in the sites of an apparent suspension of historical motion are the grounds for possible counterhistories. For with the counter-senses that these eddies preserve, a materialist historiography must go to work, tracing over and again the alternative resources that are the emanations of the damage taken up in every living on.


  1. Since the literature on nationalism from which I have drawn here is so voluminous, let me cite those sources from which I have drawn most closely: Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1968), esp. 223-24, hereafter cited as WE; Partha Chatterjee, Nationalism and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986), hereafter cited as NCW; Luke Gibbons, “Identity without a Centre: Allegory, History and Irish Nationalism,” and, indeed, the whole book in which this essay is collected, Transformations in Irish Culture. Critical Conditions: Field Day Essays, vol. 2 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1996), 134-37. My own explorations of the discrepancies between official nationalism and popular culture are in Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-colonial Moment (Dublin: Lilliput Press, and Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993).

  2. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann, foreword by Homi Bhabha (London: Pluto, 1986), 130. The chapter translated as “The Fact of Blackness” is Fanon's reckoning with the subjective implications of the stereotype and its inversion.

  3. Matthew Arnold, On the Study of Celtic Literature, in On the Study of Celtic Literature and Other Essays, intro. Ernest Rhys (London: Dent, 1910), 86.

  4. On the Victorian representation of the Celt, see L. P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts: A Study of Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England (Bridgeport, Conn.: Conference on British Studies at the University of Bridgeport, 1968), and Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1971).

  5. Indeed, Arnold's aesthetic appreciation of the sentimentality of the Celts, which finds expression in the propensity to elegiac poetry lamenting their perpetual defeats, finds a precise correlative in John Ruskin's highly popular text on male and female dispositions, Sesame and Lilies, where one of woman's principal functions is to mourn: “she is to extend the limits of her sympathy … to the contemporary calamity, which, were it but rightly mourned by her, would recur no more hereafter.” See John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, in Works, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1905), vol. 18, p. 126.

  6. I use the term also by analogy with KumKum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid's conception of the “reconstitution of patriarchies” that takes place continually both under the British Raj and in the context of Indian nationalism. See their introduction to Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, ed. KumKum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989), 1, 25, and passim.

  7. James Joyce, Letters, ed. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 63-64.

Jack Morgan (essay date winter 2001)

SOURCE: Morgan, Jack. “Old Sleepy Hollow Calls over the World: Washington Irving and Joyce's ‘The Dead.’” New Hibernia Review 5, no. 4 (winter 2001): 93-108.

[In the following essay, Morgan discusses similarities between American writer Washington Irving's 1820 stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Joyce's “The Dead.”]

Joyce's work seldom reflects the significance of America in the Irish cultural imagination of his day. This omission is most conspicuous in Dubliners, where, arguably, the presence of America as a western escape route would have worked counter to the atmosphere of arrest and enclosure, the sense of “paralysis,” that Joyce wished to maintain in the book. America does not loom as the emigration possibility we might expect it to in the often cramped lives of Dubliners characters—as it does, for example, in the background of Máirtin Ó Cadhain's stories or Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, granted that those authors portray more western and emigration-inclined areas of Ireland.1 Eveline's romantic pass at escape in “Eveline” involves a ticket to Buenos Aires, not to Boston or New York. In “The Boarding House,” flight to America never flashes across Doran's mind, even as a remote possibility, despite the bind he is in in Dublin. He does long to “fly away to another country,” but the wish is vague and without conviction; no idea of specifically American passage, a strong tradition in the period for young Irishmen for whom Ireland had become too awkward, is entertained.2 While the emigré returning from America and looking askance at his homeland is a familiar figure in Irish experience, Joyce uses the British equivalent instead in the condescending Ignatius Gallagher back from London in “A Little Cloud,” and the enticing foreign places about which Gallagher reminisces for Chandler's benefit are European, as all the dim geographical alternatives in Dubliners tend to be. The boy who narrates “An Encounter,” to cite another example, relishes American westerns and detective stories, but, notwithstanding his declared wanderlust, like Doran, he never gives a real thought to going to the States.

The evidence of Joyce's writings overall, in fact, suggests a sense of America similar to that of the “Encounter” narrator: little intercourse with the United States in actuality, but a significant mythical, literary and popular-cultural fascination. Joyce is thought to have taken the name “Gabriel Conroy” and perhaps some of the snow imagery in “The Dead” from Bret Harte's 1871 novel Gabriel Conroy, for instance.3 Another item from the same author appears in Ulysses: the “heathen Chinee,” from a line of Harte's ballad “Plain Talk from Truthful James.”4 The American “Buffalo Bill Shoots to kill / Never missed and he never will” occurs in Ulysses too (U [Ulysses] 510), as does Buck Mulligan's quoting Walt Whitman's “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself” (U 14).

Terence Brown sees Bret Harte's article “The Rise of the Short Story,” published in Cornhill Magazine in 1899, as another probable Harte influence on Joyce. Harte's piece argued that the strength of the American short story lay in a thorough and unapologetic American localism “with no fastidious ignoring of its habitual expression, or the inchoate poetry that may be found even hidden in its slang.” Brown notes that

The remarkable similarity between this description of the short story's potential and Joyce's exploitation of the form tempts one to imagine that the young Joyce … had read this essay when he embarked on Dubliners. And it may indeed have been his memory of the fact that one of Harte's stories (“The Luck of Roaring Camp”), had, in Harte's own words, been ‘objected to by both printer and publisher … for not being in the conventional line of subject, treatment, and morals’ … that prompted him [Joyce] in 1906, as his own problems with a printer mounted, to enquire of his brother, ‘Ought I buy a volume of Bret Harte.’ … In 1920 the library which Joyce left behind him in Trieste contained two of Harte's books, Gabriel Conroy … and Tales of the West.5

Another American trailblazer of the short story form, Washington Irving, would seem to have been a yet more significant influence on Joyce. Images and motifs echoing Irving's 1820 classic The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent—especially, as might be expected, its “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—are discernible throughout Joyce's work. He may have been drawn to Irving's Hudson River tales because the somnolent Sleepy Hollow, a listless backwater antithetical to the bustling, expansionist America of Irving's day, and the drowsy village of rural bystanders set among “fairy mountains” from which Rip Van Winkle hails, afforded an ironic analog to the provincial Ireland of Joyce's lifetime, one he described as home to “the most belated race in Europe.”6 Rip is a significant figure in Ulysses, appearing in “Nausicaa”—“Twenty years asleep in Sleepy Hollow. All Changed. Forgotten. The young are old. His gun rusty from the dew” (U 309)—and in the “Circe” episode (U 442). In the latter, following upon the line “Old Sleepy Hollow calls over the world,” Leopold Bloom, cum Rip, appears “in tattered moccasins with a rusty fowling-piece, tiptoeing, fingertripping, his haggard bony bearded face peering through the diamond panes.” And Joyce's utilization of Irving, a friend of Thomas Moore and biographer of Oliver Goldsmith, ranged to Sketch Book pieces other than “Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” Don Gifford notes, for instance, a trace of Irving's “The Broken Heart,” a Sketch Book piece which deals with the death of the Irish hero Robert Emmet, in the parodic account of Emmet's execution in “Cyclops.”7 And Leopold Bloom, on the verge of his return to Molly, remembers some literary motifs of return: “Quite a number of stories there were on that particular Alice Ben Bolt topic, Enoch Arden and Rip Van Winkle and does anybody hereabouts remember Caoc O'Leary. …” (U 510). The 1984 Garland edition of Ulysses, followed by the Gabler 1986 edition, correcting the version on page 382 of the 1934 edition, added yet another Rip Van Winkle allusion in restoring Joyce's original “Nausicaa” line: “Mulvey plump bubs me breadvan Winkle red slippers she rusty sleep wander years of dreams return …” (U 312). Some of the implications of Irving's tale in Ulysses, and the story's embeddedness in the novel's plot, were suggested by Daniel P. Gunn in a 1987 note addressing the recent line restoration:

… Bloom had remembered signaling “Rip Van Winkle” in the game of charades at Dolphin's Barn; breadvan was one of the clues … Rip van Winkle is often seen as a type of the henpecked husband in Ulysses, but the conjunction of these phrases makes it clear that … Rip is also an image of the wandering hero, an Odysseus who wanders “through years of dreams” rather than heroic Mediterranean spaces. … The new language … confirms Brook Thomas's reading of the Rip van Winkle story as one of several “variations in the Odyssey theme”: it also underscores the story's significance as a version of the return pattern which Thomas sees as pervasive in Ulysses.8

Though Joyce's extensive use of Irving's Sketch Book is documented, however, there has been no critical attention paid to the collection's possible contributions to Joyce's earlier, shorter works—only to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake—despite the American author's strong identification with the short story form. A comparative and contrastive reading reveals conspicuous parallels between “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Joyce's “The Dead,” ones that would justify the thesis that Joyce's story has “Sleepy Hollow” in mind somewhat as Ulysses does Homer's Odyssey, and that Irving's story, in fact, subtly plays into this culminating narrative in Dubliners.9

Before considering “Sleepy Hollow,” though, another Sketch Book piece would seem to bear immediate scrutiny in terms of “The Dead”: Irving's “The Christmas Dinner,” which, like Joyce's story, is devoted in great part to the culinary and celebrational details of a Christmas season banquet—its songs, speeches, toasts, conversations, and repast. Part of a subset of five Christmas pieces in the Sketch Book, the story begins, not unlike “The Dead,” in media res, with the mustering for the holiday feast, the bustle of the servants and arriving guests.

As Joyce would do in “The Dead,” Irving in “The Christmas Dinner” addressed the issue of a fading cultural respect for fellowship, hospitality, custom, and ceremony—matters brought to the fore by the nostalgic atmosphere of Yuletide gathering, its extravagant board and “the gorgeous utensils of good companionship.”10 Irving's piece is a tribute to the kind of old-fashioned virtues of graciousness and decorum, the ancient charms of hospitality that, in their contemporary Irish context, are the theme of Gabriel Conroy's holiday dinner speech. Michael Levenson's characterization of the Morkan party in “The Dead” would aptly describe the Squire's party in Irving's piece: “a matrix of rituals and discourses: it has its own cherished values … its own well-entrenched customs … its own mythology … its own reassuringly familiar scapegrace. …”11 The latter reference is to Freddy Malins, whose scapegrace counterpart in Irving's story would be the slightly disreputable and over-imbibing Master Simon, whose transgressive behavior, unlike Malin's, extends beyond drinking to paying inordinate attention to young girls at the party (SB 956-57).

To many authors, the extended and meticulous treatment of a dinner would seem improbable material for a “story”—but not to Irving, whose literary forte was descriptive exposition, and whose privileging of festive occasion in its own right is one of his defining literary characteristics. “Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero,” the eccentric narrator writes in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” preparatory to one of his lengthy, mouth-watering passages celebrating the “ample charms” of a Dutch country spread. The plot in “Sleepy Hollow” is given less space than matters relating to the feast, and something comparable, though more restrained, is evident in “The Dead,” where the dinner as such is extraordinarily detailed. “I want breath and time to discuss this banquet as it deserves,” Irving's narrator states, ironically underscoring his penchant for descriptive elaboration and decrying, tongue in cheek, his own “hurry” and supposed plot concern: “I … am too eager to get on with my story.” Irving was quite ready to ignore the conventional entitlement afforded action in popular reading in favor of his inclination toward—and considerable talent for—sensuous and tangible descriptive detail. “The Christmas Party” would have provided Joyce with the idea for a detailed, unhurried rendering of an Irish Christmastide as a story premise, a premise that might have otherwise seemed unpromising.

Joyce's interest in The Sketch Book—though he obviously shared Irving's predilection for the mock-heroic, too—may have derived especially from Irving's almost unexampled narrative prose facility and gracefulness. Irving was arguably one of the few prose technicians whom Joyce could look to for examples of what he wished to achieve in the prose passages of “The Dead.” Frank O'Connor, noting that Joyce was “a student of rhetoric” rightly identified Pater and Flaubert as rhetorical influences on “The Dead,” but he was perhaps too Anglo-European in focus to consider Irving, another consummate stylist, in this regard.12 Irving's evocative descriptive portions of text can have the vitality of action scenes, and more—the plot in “Sleepy Hollow,” for instance, trails off inconclusively, as if it never had been the narrator's main preoccupation, and first-time readers of the story are often surprised at how little of the tale is given over to the familiar action found in cartoon and abridged versions. For both Joyce and Irving, in fact, exposition is rarely employed in the ordinary sense; rather, it implies an extraordinary sense of prose workmanship, a meticulous discourse laced with irony, voices, humor, suggestion, and symbolism. Allen Tate noted in the prose of “The Dead” what could, again, equally be said of Irving: Joyce's “making active those elements that had hitherto remained inert, that is, description and expository summary. …”13

Irving is aware, however, of the objections impatient “graver readers” might raise to pages of uninterrupted exposition and in “The Christmas Dinner” anticipates their complaint: “To what purpose is all this—how is the world to be made wiser by all this talk?” (SB [Sketch Book] 961). “Talk” here refers to the narrator's abundant “talk” rather than to dialogue, of which there is in fact little in the story. But Irving recognized, as Joyce does in “The Dead,” that talk and banquet, as Bakhtin argues, are inseparable functions—“one would be tempted to seek the origin of this connection of food with the spoken word at the very cradle of human language.”14 The complaint of the “graver readers” Irving mentions stems from their insensitivity to ritual, festive tradition. Their objection is not unlike the ones unsympathetic or imperceptive undergraduates sometimes raise in connection with “The Dead”: its slowness and lack of obviously dramatic action (which many fainter hearts than John Huston's thought precluded its filming). A reader must, in effect, sit through the entire party cycle—the whole dinner, the table conversations, the formal speech, the specifics of the meal presentation, the dance and entertainment, and so on. But this objection reflects the modern hurry and inattention to gracious detail which “The Dead,” “The Christmas Dinner,” and “Sleepy Hollow,” pointedly disavow. Irving's narrator's observations on the grace said before the dinner are in the spirit of Gabriel Conroy's carefully crafted after-dinner talk: “It was not a short familiar one, such as is [common] … these days; but a … courtly, well worded one, of the ancient school” (SB 950).

The “these days” versus “ancient school” juxtaposed in “The Christmas Dinner” of course recall a major motif in “The Dead”—the divide between then and now; the living and the dead, “the men that is now that is only all palaver and what they can get out of you,” and the men of yore who are presumed to have been more chivalrous and refined (D [Dubliners] 178). The Squire in Irving's piece, like Gretta in Joyce's, is moved by a song to remember friends of his youth “many of whom, poor lads, are now in their graves!” (SB 951). It is difficult not to think of “The Lass of Aughrim,” of Gretta Conroy and Michael Furey, and the concern in “The Dead” with the intrusion of the sanctified deceased with their ghostly advantage into the living sphere, when reading the following from another of the Sketch Book chapters, “Rural Funerals”:

The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. … Though it may sometimes throw a passing cloud over the bright hour of gaiety … yet who would exchange it even for the song of pleasure. … No, there is a voice from the tomb sweeter than song. There is a remembrance of the dead to which we turn even from the charms of the living. … It buries every error—covers every defect. … From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections.

(SB 873; emphasis added)

Richard Ellmann reflects briefly on what might have given Joyce the notion of using a song as he does in “The Dead,” but offers no answer more probable, I think, than this occurrence of the motif in an Irving piece Joyce would access again, as noted above, in “Cyclops.”15

“The Dead” and Michael Furey come to mind as well in reading Irving's earlier mentioned Sketch Book piece “The Broken Heart,” which deals with the Robert Emmett-Sarah Curran romance and Sarah's inexorable decline after Emmet's 1803 execution. Irving regards the Curran story as evidence that someone's dying of a broken heart is no mere romantic conceit but, in fact, is a common reality. If that premise was not sufficient to pique Joyce's interest, Irving goes on to argue that such mortal disconsolation as Sarah suffered is confined to women and is not to be found in the case of men. Joyce may have found that proposition so challenging that he undertook to controvert it in “The Dead,” Michael Furey's lovelorn demise there paralleling Curran's. Certainly, what Irving wrote with reference to the Curran-Emmet romance would fit as well for the Michael Furey-Gretta Conroy one: “Shall I confess it?—I believe in broken hearts and the possibility of dying of disappointed love!” (SB 802; emphasis added). Perhaps a further parallel between the two star-crossed romances lies in the fact that after Emmet's death Sarah Curran married unromantically, for practical considerations, due to “her sense of her own destitute and dependent condition,” though “her heart was unalterably another's” (SB 806).16 This would not, of course, literally match the terms of the Gabriel Conroy-Gretta marriage, but it would come close to Gabriel's morose imagination of his marriage when, at the Gresham Hotel, he is at his most suspicious and self-pitying (D 222).


Irving's fondness for the venerable theme of banquet relates the Sketch Book to “The Dead” in another, rather uncanny way—one having to do with the significance of the Famine in Joyce's story. It has been common to remark the paucity of references to the Great Hunger in Joyce's work; Terry Eagleton does so in his 1995 Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, for instance.17 So does Margaret Kelleher in her The Feminization of Famine, remarking that “explicit [Famine] mention is … strikingly absent from the work of Joyce.” But, typical of recent criticism, she modifies her generalization, emphasizing the qualifier “explicit.”18 Kelleher notes a current literary tendency toward “a wider definition of what constitutes ‘famine’ material,” one that discovers an oblique, marginal presence of the Famine in texts where it was previously overlooked. Nor, in fact, are overt famine references entirely lacking in Joyce's work. In his Trieste lecture “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages,” he observes: “Ireland is poor because English laws ruined the country's industries … because the neglect of the English government in the years of the potato famine allowed the best of the population to die from hunger. …”19 His remarks in this lecture often are only slightly less fervent than those of the citizen in Ulysses who recalls the Famine: “They were driven out of house and home in the black '47. Their mudcabins … were laid low by the battering ram and the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America” (U 270).20 And there are other famine images in Ulysses, notably in the third chapter when “from the starving cagework city a horde of jerkined dwarfs, my people” run into the shallows to get the meat of stranded whales (U 38). “Famine, plague, and slaughter,” Stephen remarks—and is the characterization “jerkined dwarfs” not an ironic reference to the jerkined dwarfs in “Rip Van Winkle”?21

Clearly mindful of the Famine, then a mere forty years since, Joyce was aware as well, it would seem, of banquet's potential resonance as a fertility trope and symbolic opposition to famine as, for instance, the Morkan guests pass plates of goose, ham, and spiced beef around the table (D 197). Food is foregrounded as early as the story's second paragraph, in which it is remarked that the Morkans, while living modestly, “believed in eating well; the best of everything: diamond-bone sirloins, three shilling tea and the best bottled stout” (D 176). The possibility that banquet imagery from “Sleepy Hollow” marks a Famine-related strategy in “The Dead” is suggested if we entertain an hypothesis advanced by W. J. McCormack in a plenary lecture at the 1995 IASAIL conference at University College, Cork—the year Terry Eagleton's Heathcliff and the Great Hunger appeared in which Eagleton ventured to argue the possibility of viewing Wuthering Heights in the context of the Irish Famine. McCormack undertook, similarly, to set forth the idea that the Famine might likewise be found lurking subtextually in “The Dead.” He proposed that an argument could be made for a crypto-famine theme there if the story is interrogated in terms of its preoccupation with dinner formalities and lush holiday board set against the Irish rural poverty and starvation of a half century earlier figured in the emaciated, symbolic image of Michael Furey. Michael Levenson's then recent study “Living History in ‘The Dead’” (1994) had asserted, though without citing the Famine, that “The Dead” “forcibly brings the question of history inside the terms of its personal narrative.”22 Levenson noted that, since John V. Kelleher's 1965 essay on “The Dead” in The Review of Politics, “no reading of the story can afford to ignore its high historical specificity.23 Kelleher and Levenson remain among the few critics to have historically contextualized the “private” lives and relationships in the story, identifying the importance of the narrative's cultural and historical dimensions, which Levenson calls “the complex social thought of “The Dead.”24 How “The Dead” could, in fact, not somehow refer to the Famine seems an appropriate question. Eagleton's accurate framing of that historic calamity would have been even more acutely compelling at the annual dinner celebrated in “The Dead” than it is now. He refers to

the mind shaking fact that an event with all the pre-modern character of a medieval pestilence happened in Ireland with frightening recentness. This deathly origin then shatters space as well as time, unmaking the nation and scattering Irish history across the globe. That history will of course continue; but as in Emily Bronte's novel there is something recalcitrant at its core which defeats articulation … a voracious desire … which could find no place in the symbolic order of social time and was expunged from it, but which like the shades of Catherine and Heathcliff will return to haunt a history … moving onwards and upwards.25

Do shades of the Famine haunt the social setting of “The Dead” and intrude into the story's overall narrative? McCormack's reading would suggest so, lending a darkly ironic Famine resonance to the closely described circulation of food and to comfortable lines like Gabriel Conroy's, “Now if anyone wants a little more of what vulgar people call stuffing let him or her speak” (D 198). Levenson remarks the unwillingness of those at the party to acknowledge “the political provocations that circulate in their festive midst.” It might be argued, along the lines McCormack does, that the Famine is prominent among the repressed political content bearing on the story leading to a situation in which “even at the moments of fond mutual regard and common exultation, the stresses are ineradicable.”26 McCormack would seem to be proposing an Iserian dynamic, with the very centrality of the luxuriant feast in “The Dead” evoking the memory of Irish starvation, and the vulgar Famine dead, unremarked on the story's surface, becoming a significant absence, a “blank,” or perhaps more appropriately here, a ghost, in the narrative.27

Irving's “Sleepy Hollow,” which presents some of the richest evocations of harvest plenty and lush board in all literature, may well have suggested to Joyce antithetical images of feast and prosperity to use as a foil to the submerged Famine remembrance in “The Dead.” The middle-class Dublin Irish of winter, 1903, can afford to worry points like whether roast goose requires applesauce or not.28 But the hearty nourishment described in such fine detail in “The Dead” occurs disturbingly set against the fierce, destructive poverty that had recently prevailed in Ireland. That poverty might well contextualize, McCormack proposes, a scene like the following: “While Gabriel and Miss Daly exchanged plates of goose and plates of ham and spiced beef Lily went from guest to guest with a dish of hot flowery potatoes wrapped in a white napkin” (D 197). The potatoes, here set in a ceremonial and even sacramental presentation, constitute a communal icon bearing a fertility-symbolic significance in a feast spread where, within living memory, the potato had figured in the, to quote Eagleton, “greatest social catastrophe of nineteenth century Europe.”29 The returning dead in this reading of Joyce's story would not function on the level of Gabriel's personal narrative only, but would include as well the returning shades of the historic Irish Famine. Even the shadowy figure of Michael Furey, standing thin and consumptive in the Western rain may, as McCormack noted, function in part as a shadow reference to the victims of the mid-century affliction. Ellman observes that the West in the story is “paradoxically linked … with the past and the dead.”30 The present argument would note the story's linkage of the Famine to the West as well—to that past and to those dead.

Irving's usefulness to Joyce in this regard, would have been to provide a tour de force prose rendering of the harvest and banquet archetype situating what Bakhtin terms “the mighty aspiration to abundance.”31 The setting of “Sleepy Hollow” is, significantly, one of spectacular American plenty, a celebration of various “fertile nooks” like the prosperous Van Tassel farm—“the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit …” (SB 1069). Irving's eloquent celebration of rich harvest, one might argue, is echoed in Joyce's presentation of the Morkan's Christmas party and allows Joyce to recall ironically in “The Dead,” deepening its thematic structure, the harvest failure that more than anything else defined modern Ireland.32 There is, in fact, a trace of similar, though much less serious, irony in “Sleepy Hollow” itself wherein Ichabod Crane—whose name has virtually become a word for gauntness—is described as a man who, seen striding the hills on a windy day, might be mistaken “for the genius of famine descending upon the earth” (SB 1061). Ichabod's famine-figure thinness is counterposed in the tale to the plumpness of the Dutch wives and their well-fed broods as well as to the anything-but-faminesque plenitude of the New York Dutch farms and fields.


Even aside from Famine considerations, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which, like “Rip Van Winkle, was itself a Joycean recasting of earlier literary material, would appear to be implicit in “The Dead” in the story's very conceptualization and basic design.33 Both are ghost stories, for example, and Ichabod Crane and Gabriel Conroy are antiheroes, creatures “driven and derided by vanity” to borrow a phrase from “Araby.” Both ingratiate themselves with women generally and both are pedagogues, men of letters (Irving so describes Crane), hypereducated for the context in which they find themselves and a little more proud of their social positions than their modest jobs would justify. And each tale eventually pivots on this agon of male pride in the central character. Each finds himself perforce “orating to vulgarians” (D 220), Ichabod to his recalcitrant charges at the schoolhouse, Gabriel to his fellow party goers whose “grade of culture differed from his” and whom he fears will not be up to his quoting Robert Browning (D 179). While he warmly praises the Morkan sisters in his speech as a means of subtly castigating Miss Ivors, on another occasion in his private thoughts his aunts are “two ignorant old women?” (D 192). Both protagonists, in addition, have their hearts elsewhere than in their present circumstance; Ichabod looks forward to taking to the west in a wagon; Gabriel's valence is more Joycean—eastward toward Europe, to bicycling in France, Belgium, and Germany, though ultimately, of course, his journey's direction is reversed. Each, however, relishes the comfortable decorum of the domestic feast and likes nothing better “than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table” (D 197).

The stories also share a sense of tension between a mispresumed sophistication and rural provincialism. As Ellmann notes, Gabriel “in spite of his uxorious attitude towards Gretta … is a little ashamed of her having come from the west of Ireland.”34 Gabriel's urbane sensibility cannot share in what Allen Tate terms “the ‘peasant’ richness” of Gretta,35 nor can Ichabod's in the peasant richness of Katrina and the Sleepy Hollow world. Katrina is a means to an end for the Connecticut-bred schoolmaster; he is condescending toward her, and sees Sleepy Hollow as a small pond in which he, already a rather big fish, is destined to become yet bigger. He views the village as Gabriel tends to view Ireland, especially in its peasant expressions; as a place he is in, but not of. Each hero is, as Tate describes Gabriel, “wrapped in himself.”36 Ichabod is a Yankee among the Dutch as Gabriel is something of a West Briton among the more nationalist Irish like Molly Ivors. Ichabod is alien to “the primitive, untutored, impulsive country”—an Ellman characterization of Gabriel.37 Each hero loses his fair lady, a country lass, to what he would regard as a country bumpkin. Gabriel's crestfallen questioning of Gretta at the hotel, Ellmann notes, is a kind of wishful effort on his part to cast Michael Furey in as poor a light as possible relative to himself in his wife's estimation: “‘What was he’ he asks, confident that his own profession of language teacher … is superior; but she replies, ‘He was in the gasworks,’ as if this profession were as good as any other.”38 Ichabod similarly loses out when his presumed social inferior, Brom Bones, proves quite good enough in Miss Van Tassel's estimation and in the end conducts “the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar …” (SB 1086). Ichabod's plans for his first honeymoon fail to pan out, as do Gabriel's for his second one. In both stories there is what Ellmann remarks in “The Dead”: “that basic situation of cuckoldry, real or putative … found throughout;”39 Katrina falls to Bones, a rural roughneck, Gretta to Michael Furey, a West of Ireland country boy.40

Each protagonist ends up the fool of the piece—Crane in the reader's eyes, Conroy in his own hypersensitive perception—undergoing a rude awakening that shatters his erstwhile self-satisfaction. Daniel R. Schwarz's comment regarding Gabriel, if one did not know better, could be mistaken for an apt characterization of Ichabod: “Because of his pomposity and patronization, [he] is reduced to a bundle of quirks and tics.”41 Both stories concern a spirit-haunted misadventure, a failed attempt at romance. Gabriel had no clue that anyone other than he had figured significantly in his wife's life. Ichabod Crane is likewise complacent about his prospects as regards Katrina, setting out confidently toward the virtually certain fulfillment of his romantic aspirations: “The Gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing up his best, and indeed only suit of rusty black, and arranging his looks by a bit of broken looking glass, that hung up in the school house” (SB 1073).42 In both stories the festive atmosphere of banquet begets a euphoria in the hero, creating unfounded romantic optimism. As Gabriel anticipates a revitalized sexual union with Gretta initiating “a new personal history within which to locate the events of his marriage,”43 it being only a matter of the carriage ride and getting settled in the hotel. Ichabod, too, has his “sugared suppositions” as he approaches Katrina's, his “soft anticipations” conflating culinary and sexual appetites—in his case the former predominating:

He beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverlets, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun … and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odour of the bee hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slap jacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey and treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

(SB 1074-75)

Like Gabriel Conroy, Ichabod is riding blissfully toward a fall. Neither's wooing will culminate as he expects. In each case, the dead will intervene—the ghost of a boy from Galway, and the ghost of a Hessian horseman.44 Gabriel's disenchanted self-evaluation at the end of “The Dead” is a harsh one, shadowed, it might be argued, by the personality of his intertextual alter-ego, the fatuous Ichabod: “He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts … pitiable, fatuous fellow …” (D 220).

There are, thus, ample parallels suggesting that Joyce conceived his story to a greater or lesser degree working off Irving's earlier classic. There may even be a negative parallel in the fact that the physical robustness and aggression of Ichabod's competitor Brom is so stressed in “Sleepy Hollow,” while in “The Dead” Michael Furey's delicateness is emphasized. And there is close phrasing similarity, for instance, when Ichabod, near the denouement of “Sleepy Hollow,” is “approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid” (SB 1081). In Gabriel's case on the other hand, “His soul approached the region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead” (D 223).

The most striking commonality between the two stories remains the extraordinary attention to banquet largesse already referred to and the treasures of an elaborate table, in which regard “The Dead” rivals the painstaking, enthusiastic celebration of sumptuous fare found in “Sleepy Hollow.” Joyce's description of the Christmas dinner at the Morkan's is stocked with echo's of Irving's tribute to what his narrator terms “the ample charms” of American-Dutch country fare. Here is a passage from “Sleepy Hollow”:

There was the doughty doughnut … the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and shortcakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes. And then there were apple pies and peach pies and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgledy-piggledy … with the motherly tea pot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst. …

(SB 1076)

And here is an Irvingesque passage from “The Dead,” so akin, in fact, as to suggest an element of homage:

A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham … peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin. … Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds. … In the center of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white. …

(D 196-97)45

In both cases the patient narration of the feast is notable, as is the animation of the inanimate, especially Joyce's employment of military metaphor—uniformed “squads” of bottles in regimental colors, decanters as “sentries.” The latter recalls an earlier passage in Irving's story in which Ichabod views Van Tassel's wealth of barnyard fowl as candidates for the dinner table—they are a “squadron” of geese, “fleets” of ducks, “regiments” of turkeys (SB 1066). Still earlier in “Sleepy Hollow” there is the similarly military table-setting trope, “a supernumerary dish of cakes … the parade of a silver teapot” (SB 1063). Irving's story apparently provided Joyce with a means to evoke the Great Famine ironically, through its opposite—the cornucopia, the plentiful table. But whether or not we choose to construct “The Dead” in terms of Famine reference, Irving's bearing on the story seems evident.

The tales part company, of course, in their endings, but not before shared images of the rather giddy atmosphere and spirit of post-dinner leave taking. Irving describes the close of the Van Tassel's party:

The revel now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and were heard for some time rattling along the hollow roads, and over the distant hills. Some of the damsels, mounted on pillions behind their favorite swains, and their lighthearted laughter mingling with the clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands, sounding fainter and fainter until they gradually died away. …

(SB 1080; emphasis added)

Like the departures from the Morkan party, lighthearted laughter mingles with the clatter of hoofs; Freddy Malin is “speechless with laughter” as he and Mr. Browne offer contradictory directions to the cab-man, and “Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, and Mary Jane helped the discussion with cross-directions … and abundance of laughter.” Ultimately, “the horse was whipped up and the cab rattled off along the quay amid a chorus of laughter …” (D 208-09; emphasis added).

But this conviviality at departure marks the last of good cheer in the respective narratives. It only remains for the heroes, each diminished by his failed gallantries, to encounter a somber epiphany in a ghostly landscape (SB 1081). What Ellmann observes regarding Gabriel could as well be said of Ichabod—that “the revelation on this night is rude to [his] whole being.”46 Ichabod is a comic caricature, of course, one over which the more subtle character of Gabriel is arguably constructed; his encounter with a spirit, unlike Gabriel's, is farcical in nature and his coming down to earth is carnivalesque degradation in a simple form. Ichabod's mirror, before which he primps for the Van Tassel party, is not self-revelatory and accusing as is the mirror for Gabriel in “The Dead” (D 220). Though brought down and perhaps chastened, Ichabod at the tale's conclusion remains the hubristic antihero; his fall to earth from his horse is neither fortunate nor Pauline.47 Gabriel is brought to the ground in a more significant and psychological sense. Like Ichabod, he has been on an extended ego-journey, altogether too proud of himself, and the snow falling, general and indiscriminate, traces his humbled return earthward—a “corrective to individual idealistic and spiritual pretense” to borrow Bakhtin's phraseology.48 The cosmopolite must come to terms with, among other things, the deeper grain of Irishness that tracks westward. Perhaps now, impelled upon a journey in that direction, Gabriel is less Ichabod Crane than Raftery the poet, who likewise sets out toward the West, “feeble and tired / to the end of the world.”49


  1. Outside the fictional frame of Dubliners, however, Joyce cast the matter along more familiar lines referring to those Irish “unable to find courage or money enough to undertake the voyage from Queenstown to New York.” Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 256.

  2. James Joyce, Dubliners: Text and Criticism, ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz (New York: Viking, 1996), p. 68; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (D 68).

  3. This connection was first noted by Gerhard Friedrich in “Bret Harte as a Source for Joyce's ‘The Dead’,” Philological Quarterly, 33 (October, 1954), 442-44.

  4. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Gabler (New York: Viking, 1986), p. 65; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (U 65).

  5. Terence Brown, Introduction to Dubliners (New York: Penguin, 1992), pp. xli, xlvii.

  6. Joyce, “The Day of the Rabblement,” Critical Writings (New York: Viking, 1959), p. 68. The belatedness of the up-river New York Dutch is of course broadly satirized in “Rip Van Winkle”; they read only old newspapers “that by chance fell into their hands from some passing traveler” (772), and so forth. This story and “Sleepy Hollow,” as well as being literary classics, had long since become popular cultural items, which would arguably have enhanced their appeal to Joyce. Regarding the role of popular cultural in Joyce's work see Cheryl Herr's Joyce's Anatomy of Culture (University of Illinois Press, 1986).

  7. Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses (Berkeley: California University Press, 1998), p. 333.

  8. Daniel P. Gunn, “Rip Van Winkle's Return,” James Joyce Quarterly, 24 (1987), 218-19.

  9. Such a use of “Sleepy Hollow” would be in keeping with Joyce's practice which, as Richard Ellmann notes, involved an Eliot-like “imaginative absorption of stray material” (James Joyce 250). His use of the Odyssey in Ulysses thus represents the rule in his work, not the exception, and the intensive borrowing that characterizes “The Dead” may mark the story as transitional between Joyce's early “naturalistic” work and his later “symbolic” work. Another element in the intertextuality of “The Dead” noted by Ellmann is the incident at the hotel which concludes the story. Gabriel's learning of his wife's love for Furey and much of the surrounding detail appears to be a recasting of material from George Moore's Vain Fortune, a book Joyce had mentioned favorably in his early essay “The Day of the Rabblement.” Ellmann, p. 250.

  10. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, in Irving: History, Tales and Sketches (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 949; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (SB 949).

  11. Michael Levenson, “Living History in ‘The Dead’” (D 430).

  12. Frank O'Connor, “Work in Progress” (D 293-94).

  13. Allen Tate, “The Dead” (D 389-90).

  14. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 283.

  15. Ellmann notes the probable bearing of one of Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies, “O, Ye Dead,” on the story. Ellmann, p. 242.

  16. Sarah Curran was rejected by her father after the revelations of her involvement with Emmet; she had to accept the charity of a Quaker family in Cork who gave her refuge until she married. Robert Emmet, Education Facsimile 194 (Belfast: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 1976).

  17. Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (New York: Verso, 1995) p. 13.

  18. Margaret Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine: Expressions of the Inexpressible? (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997) p. 113.

  19. See the excerpt in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day, 1991), III: 9.

  20. Richard Ellmann correctly cautions against reading the Citizen's sentiments as mere satire, noting their proximity to Joyce's own expressed views. Ellmann, p. 258.

  21. The first “short, square built old fellow” Rip meets wears “a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist.” Others wear “jerkins with long knives in their belts” (SB 774-75). The “jerkined dwarfs” Stephen observes carry “flayer's knives.”

  22. Michael Levenson, “Living History in ‘The Dead’” (D 422).

  23. “Living History in ‘The Dead’” (D 437).

  24. “Living History in ‘The Dead’” (D 438).

  25. Eagleton, pp. 14-15.

  26. Levenson (D 433).

  27. W. J. McCormack, “Entertaining Theory: Joyce, ‘The Dead,’ and the Famine,” lecture presented at International Association for Study of Anglo-Irish Literature, University College, Cork, 1995. As of the present writing, McCormack's paper has not appeared in published form, so I have to hope that, working in the oral tradition, as it were, and from sketchy notes, I am representing his argument accurately.

  28. One might see this mild disagreement between Kate and her niece about applesauce as one of the story's many small details situating historical lines of stress—here a famine subtext—and reflecting a sense of guilt in the Irish consciousness of the period. Kate's remark that “roast goose without apple sauce had always been good enough for her and she hoped she might never eat worse” (D 197) is the kind of censure that occurs in a postfamine context, especially, as in this case, on the part of an older family member toward a younger one. For Mary Jane, yet unborn during the Famine years, the Great Famine is not in “living memory.”

  29. Eagleton, p. 42.

  30. Ellmann, p. 249.

  31. Bakhtin, p. 278.

  32. This might not have been the first time Irving's story had been influential upon Irish Famine literature. Darby Skinadre, the miser in William Carleton's The Black Prophet (1847) is described as being of “lank and sallow appearance … like the very genius of Famine.” “Lank” is virtually the first adjective Irving employs to describe Ichabod Crane, and “Sleepy Hollow” was popular schoolroom reading when Carleton as well as Joyce was growing up—as likely to have been familiar as the original “genius of famine” reference in Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV, where “lank” does not appear in Falstaff's discourse upon Justice Shallow's thinness concluding Act lll.

  33. “Rip Van Winkle” is heavily indebted to a tale in Otmar's Volssagen, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to Burger's Der wilde Jäger and one of the Rübezahl tales. See Robert E. Spiller et al. Literary History of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1963), p. 247. Irving's way of working, at least in the case of the two Hudson river tales, involved, like Joyce's method, drawing extant literary material into the vortex of his own memories and observations. Irving mixed imaginatively “the German romance of Otmar, stories heard from the lips of Dutch friends, memories of the shadowy Catskills and of the blue Hudson,” Spiller, p. 248.

  34. Ellmann, p. 248.

  35. Tate (D 391).

  36. Tate (D 392).

  37. Ellmann, p. 249.

  38. Ellmann, p. 248.

  39. Ellmann, p. 252. Neither protagonist is literally cuckolded, in fact.

  40. Brom is the ghost to whom Ichabod loses out—the persona behind the headless horseman figure.

  41. Daniel R. Schwarz, “Gabriel Conroy's Psyche; Character as Concept in Joyce's ‘The Dead.’” The Dead, ed. Daniel R. Schwarz (Boston: Bedford, 1994), p. 106.

  42. The mirror is a motif in “The Dead,” a marker of Gabriel's troubled introspection, and the cracked mirror which appears early in Ulysses is much remarked critically—Buck Mulligan's cracked shaving mirror, lifted from a servant's room, which Stephen says is a symbol of Irish art.

  43. Levenson, 435.

  44. In both cases the ghosts also intrude initially during the after dinner festivities—the singing in “The Dead” (D 211-12) and the storytelling in “Sleepy Hollow” (SB 1078).

  45. Another suggestion of “Sleepy Hollow” influence in the “The Dead” might be Patrick Morkan's eccentric old horse “Johnny” reminiscent of Ichabod's likewise intractable “Gunpowder.” And Mary Jane's piano playing, which “had no melody” (D 186), might reflect that of the harpist in Irving's “The Christmas Dinner” who plays with “more power than melody” (SB 949).

  46. Ellmann, pp. 251-52.

  47. I am ignoring Irving's ambiguous “Postscript,” a bothersome eighteenth-century literary convention that he retains in “Sleepy Hollow.”

  48. Bakhtin, p. 22.

  49. Douglas Hyde's translation.

Mary Lazar (essay date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Lazar, Mary. “James Joyce's ‘A Little Cloud’ and Chandler's Tears of Remorse.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 36 (spring 2001): 41-63.

[In the following essay, Lazar analyzes Joyce's “A Little Cloud,” arguing that the relationship between protagonist Little Tommy Chandler and his son is the crucial element of the story.]

Joyce's “A Little Cloud” has not generated significant critical debate, despite Warren Beck's unorthodox interpretation of the denouement in 1969. Although speculation about the title has resulted in several theories—the most recent from Corinna del Greco Lobner suggests links to Byron and Dante and refines Stanislaus Joyce's terse observation that the story reveals “a little cloud over married bliss” (“Background” 526), scholars have generally agreed that the ineffectual protagonist abuses his infant son and refuses to take responsibility for his own shortcomings. I suggest that Chandler's relationship with the child—not with his wife Annie or journalist/friend Gallaher—is the crucial, epiphanal element of the story and that Joyce portrays a flawed father who is just beginning to “learn […] what the heart is and what it feels” (James Joyce A Portrait 252), a man whose conscience is awakened, despite his flaws.

In the final scene, a thirty-two-year-old law clerk living in Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century dreams of being a poet although he has never written a poem and has just been belittled by Gallaher, an unmarried exfriend who is now a successful London journalist. The clerk, who appears to be trapped in a boring job, returns to his small apartment, his wife Annie, and their sleeping male infant. When Annie leaves to get the coffee he has forgotten, he tries to read an early poem of Byron's but can't because the baby starts to fuss. Little Tommy Chandler, the name which Joyce chose for the father, not for the infant, then begins to lose his temper. As the baby cries, Tommy doesn't hit or even shake it, but he does yell “Stop!” in its face (Dubliners 84). The child becomes terrified and, in that cadence which all parents know, cries so violently that Chandler begins to count the seconds between screams. Joyce writes, “He tried to soothe it but it sobbed more convulsively. He looked at the contracted and quivering face of the child and began to be alarmed. He counted seven sobs without a break between them and caught the child to his breast in fright. If it died! …” (84). Annie returns, glares at Chandler accusingly, and tries to calm the baby. The story ends with the following paragraph:

Little Chandler felt his cheeks suffused with shame and he stood back out of the lamplight. He listened while the paroxysm of the child's sobbing grew less and less: and tears of remorse started to his eyes.”

(85, emphasis added)

Although I believe that Chandler is genuinely sorry for having frightened his son, most Joyceans insist that the protagonist cries out of self-pity, that his “epiphany,” if he does experience one, is egocentric—in short, that Chandler doesn't change from the Bartleby-like scrivener who may dream and suffer but who will never “produce.”1

Except for Beck, many veteran Joyce scholars affirm that “A Little Cloud” develops Joyce's famous “paralysis” theme and that it complements, in tone and circumstance, the other pieces which precede the final story, “The Dead.” For example, Walzl believes that “‘The Dead’ seems to reverse the pattern of increasing insensibility that Dubliners otherwise traces” and that no one prior to Gabriel, the protagonist, “undergoes a comparable change or has such an enlightenment” (“Gabriel” 430). Similarly, Ghiselin suggests that “A Little Cloud” fits into the over-all schema of Dubliners by representing the sin of envy (323). Ruoff asserts that the story “describes a would-be artist's pathetic failure to transcend a narrow existence of his own creation” (108), and Bernard Benstock's interpretation mentions that Chandler “regresses to adolescent self-pity” (Narrative 137). Characteristically witty, Zack Bowen views the story's denouement as a competition between father and son for baby of the year, and suggests that the race ends in a photo finish (“All Things” 140). Indeed, all of the annotations for “A Little Cloud” in the 1992 illustrated edition of Dubliners by Jackson and McGinley focus on Chandler's “sloth, his cowardice, his self-delusion, and his final rage and humiliation.” They assert that he is “shamed, not ashamed,” and ignore Joyce's use of “remorse” (75, 74).

Examining some of the reasons behind this critical response may soften the impact of a variant reading, for Joyce's biography and details from the story itself allow readers to better appreciate Joyce's word choice.2


Probably the most important reason for assuming that Chandler is not enlightened by his experience involves several of Joyce's own statements. “A Little Cloud” was written in the early months of 1906, when Joyce was 23 and the father of a six-month-old son, Giorgio (Scholes, “Further” 116). But in 1904, speaking about Dubliners, he had told a friend that he wanted “to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city” (Letters 55). Another frequently quoted letter asserts, “It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories” (Letters 63-64). The combination of “paralysis” and “odour,” then, while justified by many details in the works themselves, may have also clouded our perception of scattered, positive sensations which some of the pieces generate. As Gillespie argues, “The opinion that this [negative] attitude dominates the final form of the stories […] oversimplifies Joyce's emotional attitude toward his country and unjustly circumscribes the artistic potential of the work” (154). Similarly, Garrison observes that “Joyce's explicit statements concerning his artistic intentions in Dubliners are not very useful as a basis for interpretation” (226). Although Joyce's defense of his work provided us with an opportunity to clarify his intent, I don't think that it was meant to narrowly limit or define our reactions as readers.3

Scholars also tend to emphasize organizational patterns in Joyce's work. As early as 1939, for example, Daiches wrote, “No English short-story writer has built up his design, has related the parts to the preconceived whole, more carefully than Joyce has done in stories such as ‘The Sisters,’ ‘Two Gallants,’ or ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’” (85). And after six decades of scholarship which escalated critical appreciation for the complexity and success of Joyce's fictional constructs, Beja and Shari Benstock called him “a creator of systems” (xiv). But when Joyce wrote in 1906 that he envisioned Dubliners as containing four groups of three stories each to represent “childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life” (Letters II 134), he had completed only twelve stories. He would later write three more, “Two Gallants,” “A Little Cloud,” and “The Dead,” in that order (Scholes, “Further”). His decision to place “A Little Cloud” at the beginning of the maturity series (the exact center of the collection) has probably contributed to the belief that Chandler is as “little” at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. After all, the next three pieces in the collection involve a drunken father beating his praying son, teenaged girls ridiculing an aging spinster, and a neglected wife stumbling Karenina-like onto the tracks of an oncoming train. Viewing the denouement of “A Little Cloud” in a positive light might be regarded, then, as a challenge to the perfection of Joyce's design.

But Dubliners evolved from a few stories into its present form over a period of three years, and “A Little Cloud” was penultimate in the order of composition. If Joyce at least partially intended the final story, “The Dead,” as a tribute to the more positive aspects of Dublin culture (Letters II 166), it is not unreasonable to discern a hint of this attitude in “A Little Cloud.” Joyce once told his sister, “The most important thing that can happen to a man is the birth of a child” (Ellmann 204), and since his only son and first-born child was about six months old when “A Little Cloud” was begun in the early months of 1906, life circumstances are relevant to this discussion. But such issues do not necessarily help us interpret the story, for Joyce might, after all, have been drawing a portrait of an unfit father. Reviewing the story's link to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man while examining information about the young writer should enrich our understanding of his state of mind, reveal key similarities and differences between Joyce and his protagonist, and test the validity of an alternate reading of this story.


“A Little Cloud” has three basic scenes: the first describes Chandler's revery at work and then en route to a meeting with Gallaher; the second reveals their not-so-friendly drinking bout; and the final section portrays the frustrated and belittled law clerk at home. Thematically, the story examines interlocked aspects of Chandler's identity—his job as a clerk in the King's Inns and his role as husband and father. Opposed to these are his unfulfilled aspirations to be a poet (though he never writes) and his desire for a more exotic sexual life.

In general, Chandler's disposition is melancholic, “but it [is] a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy” (73). He is fastidious about his appearance and, probably, careful about his work even though he finds it “tiresome” (71). Joyce also emphasizes Little Chandler's shortcomings throughout the story. He lives in a “little house” (83), reads by a “little lamp” (82), drinks “small whiskies” (80), displays “childish white front teeth” (70), and is given “short answers” by his prim wife (82). In the first scene, Joyce invites us to imagine an ordinary man, still capable of a dream, but ruled by circumstances and his own, considerable inadequacies.

Still, Chandler experiences an occasional, artistic vision. Though he “gave no thought” to the “horde of grimy children” he walked through on his way to meet Gallaher for a drink after work (71), his ego expands as he thinks about his old friend's invitation. After all, Gallaher has been gone for eight years, and Tommy is the only member of the “old crowd” whom he plans to meet at the pub. En route from his workplace to the uptown inn, Tommy experiences a poetic moment as he gazes down from Grattan Bridge “at the poor stunted houses” near the river (73). The sensation is prompted by a sense of his own importance, but, as he admits, “For the first time in his life he felt himself superior to the people he passed” (emphasis added), and the sensation results in a metaphor which reveals empathy, not disdain: “[The houses] seemed to him a band of tramps, huddled together along the river-banks, their old coats covered with dust and soot, stupefied by the panorama of sunset and waiting for the first chill of night to bid them arise, shake themselves and begone” (73). At this point, Chandler considers his own situation and wonders, first, if he is capable of writing “something original” and, second, whether he has “a poet's soul” (73).

Joyce employs important imagery at the end of the first section which firmly links this story to central Joycean themes: “[T]he thought that a poetic moment had touched him took life within him like an infant hope […] and “[a] light began to tremble on the horizon of his mind. He was not so old—thirty-two” (73, emphasis added). Linking “infant hope” with “a light” so early in this story hints at Joyce's lifelong interest in the “consubstantiation” of father and son as well as procreation in the literary sense (Ulysses 32, 155). By the time Joyce wrote “A Little Cloud,” both physical and artistic generation had become realities.

Of course, the reader soon realizes that Chandler won't succeed, despite his “soul,” for he is not original and hopes to capitalize on popular trends, although he realistically admits that “he will never be popular” and hopes only to “appeal to a little circle of kindred minds” (74). Recalling Joyce's claim in 1904 that only “two or three unfortunate wretches […] may eventually read me” (Ellmann 163) offers an interesting echo.

The location of Chandler's poetic “mood” (84) is also relevant, for it may be based on one of Joyce's own experiences. A similar incident occurs at a pivotal point in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In Chapter 4, Joyce presents a rare interaction between the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and his brothers and sisters during the family tea. Structurally, this scene occurs at an important juncture. Immediately preceding the epiphany of “profane joy” which Stephen experiences on the beach while watching a girl wading (Portrait 171), this episode also follows the interview with the religious director of his school, after which Stephen decides not to become a priest. As he walks home to a squalid, over-crowded house, interesting parallels to “A Little Cloud” occur. Like Chandler, he crosses a bridge, symbolically connected to opposing attractions, but clearly, like Chandler, moving toward a new possibility. Stephen notices a shrine to the Virgin which is “in the middle of a hamshaped encampment of poor cottages” (162). Unlike Chandler, however, Stephen does not romanticize the image, for he actually lives here, and he laughs to think of the man “considering in turn the four points of the sky and then regretfully plunging his spade in the earth” (162). Without even a hint of rain, the man must begin work. The cloud image in this scene of Portrait is intentionally delayed.

Stephen then enters his home and finds his brothers and sisters seated at the table: “tea was nearly over” (163). (Remember that Chandler returns too late for tea and babysits while his wife goes out to buy some. Thus, if not for the missing “tea,” there would have been no father-son conflict.) Stephen, the university student, realizes the contrast between his privileged position as the eldest son and theirs:

The sad quiet greyblue of the dying day came through the window and the open door, covering over and allaying quietly a sudden instinct of remorse in Stephen's heart. All that had been denied them had been freely given to him, the eldest: but the quiet glow of evening showed him in their faces no sign of rancour.

(163, emphasis added)

After one of his sisters, who is as nameless as Chandler's son, tells him that the family has once again been evicted, her similarly unnamed little brother begins to sing. The others join in, and Stephen thinks, “They would sing so for hours […] till the last pale light died down on the horizon, till the first dark nightclouds came forth and night fell” (163, emphasis added). Stephen joins the chorus, but only after listening to them for a while.

He heard the choir of voices in the kitchen echoed and multiplied through an endless reverberation of the choirs of endless generations of children: and heard in all the echoes an echo also of the recurring note of weariness and pain. All seemed weary of life even before entering upon it.


If Joyce had ended the passage here, one would be quick to note the similarity to Little Chandler's comment about the children in the park: “He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad” (71). But Joyce does not end Stephen's musings on a negative note, just as I believe he does not end “A Little Cloud” with a protagonist who pities himself more than his screaming son. Stephen remembers

that Newman had heard this note also […] giving utterance, like the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness yet hope of better things which has been the experience of her children in every time.

(164, emphasis added)

Despite their circumstances, the children sing. Faced with the guilt of primacy, the oldest son is forgiven by his brothers and sisters. Again, Stephen's vision is superior to Chandler's. He will retain the mood of this experience, be more receptive to future encounters, and sustain an ethos which will allow him to reject home and family to pursue an artist's life, perhaps with a family of his own making. Stephen is an artist; Chandler only longs to be one.

And I don't minimize that difference. In Stephen Hero, written between 1904 and 1906, Joyce viewed the “artist […] standing in the position of mediator between the world of his experience and the world of his dreams—a mediator, consequently gifted with twin faculties, a selective faculty and a reproductive faculty” (77-78). Chandler certainly dreams, but his production is entirely physical. He is a parent, not an artist. At the same time, in a collection of stories which includes a series of married men who beat children (Mr. Hill in “Eveline,” Old Jack of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and Farrington of “Counterparts”), Chandler faces the truth about himself after merely shouting at his son. His experience prepares us for Gabriel's, just as the family tea prepares us for the strongest epiphany of Portrait.

To return to the story itself, since Joyce often built major characters in Dubliners “on more than one real person—usually himself and one other” (Atherton 46), when “A Little Cloud” was composed, Joyce was twenty-four (Chandler was twenty-four when Gallaher left Ireland) and had already contemplated several careers. He had abandoned medical school twice, both in Dublin and in Paris; he had hoped to sing professionally and briefly pursued that option; and he had also tried teaching, an endeavor which would keep the family afloat for many years. Although he possessed a strong sense of his vocation as an artist, continued to write, and probably never seriously doubted his talent, Joyce realized that some mundane job was needed to pay the bills, despite the funds he could wrangle from others. Surely he, like Chandler, often felt trapped in “tiresome” tasks. And, although Joyce would work as a clerk in Rome a few months after mailing “A Little Cloud” off to the publisher and felt superior to his fellow employees who “were forever having something wrong with their testicles … or their anuses” (Ellmann 226), Chandler, unlike them, is fastidious about his manners and appearance and at least longs for an artist's life. The first portion of “A Little Cloud” also reminds us of Joyce's sentimental, poetic temperament while living in Paris as a medical student from December 1902 until April 1903, when he was called home because of his mother's illness. Stanislaus reports,

He told me that often when he had no money and had had nothing to eat he used to walk about reciting to himself for consolation, like ‘Little Chandler’ in Dubliners, his own poems or others he knew by heart or things he happened to be writing then.

(My Brother's 231-21)

Another habit which the two shared involved night excursions. The timid Chandler usually hurried home after dark:

Sometimes, however, he courted the causes of his fear. He chose the darkest and narrowest streets and, as he walked boldly forward, the silence that was spread about his footsteps troubled him, the wandering silent figures troubled him; and at times a sound of low fugitive laughter made him tremble like a leaf.


Approximately two years before writing these lines, Joyce had composed the short prose meditation, “A Portrait of the Artist,” in which he spoke of the

Impulse [which] had led him forth in the dark season to silent and lonely places where the mists hung streamerwise among the trees; and as he had passed there amid the subduing night, in the secret fall of leaves, the fragrant rain, the mesh of vapours moon-transpierced, he had imagined an admonition of the frailty of all things.


Although the settings are different and Chandler chooses to “court” his fears of forbidden sexual encounters whereas the young Joyce, having already experienced them, reports a more Romantic venue, both accounts hint at an openness to life and desire as well as a resigned acceptance of the futility of “struggl[ing] against fortune” (Dubliners 71).

In fact, two paragraphs after the passage from “A Portrait” mentioned above, another intriguing link between the two works occurs: “The cloud of difficulties allowed only peeps of light; even his rhetoric proclaimed transition” (47). It is also significant that in 1906 Joyce chose prose over poetry, asserting, for example, that “A page of ‘A Little Cloud’ gives me more pleasure than all my verses” (Letters II 182). Dubliners also reveals a tighter style than Stephen Hero, the precursor of the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which Joyce stopped working on six months prior to the composition of “A Little Cloud” (Walzl, Dubliners 161). Unlike Chandler, Joyce had matured as an artist, but he probably regarded those early actions, sentiments, and poetic explorations with fondness, especially in light of his domestic situation in Trieste.

Approximately ten months after leaving Ireland with Joyce, Nora Barnacle, a beautiful and independent twenty-one-year-old woman from Galway, gave birth to a son on July 26, 1905 (Maddox 63).4 Since the two weren't married, the child forced his father to consider the practical results of illegitimacy as well as the novel realities of life and work in a two-room apartment. In fact, although Joyce had tentatively chosen the names George and Lucy several months before the baby was born, the infant was still nameless at two months old (Letters II 95, 107). (Recall that neither Chandler nor Annie refers to the child by name.) Although Joyce was the eldest of ten children and was used to writing in the midst of noisy chaos (Ellmann 144, 224), he probably became frustrated by the brevity of his flight from responsibility. According to Nora's biographer, Brenda Maddox, even before the baby was born, Joyce had already begun to drink heavily, and Nora was miserable (62-64). She cried so much that Joyce worriedly wrote to Stanislaus, “I do not know what strange morose creature she will bring forth after all her tears” (Letters II 95).

Accounts of their life during this period reveal the typical struggles of young parents, but the Irish couple surely faced extraordinary difficulties. Both had left fairly devout Catholic families; they were unmarried parents, and compared to her twenty-three-year-old husband, Nora was uneducated and probably unconvinced of James's genius. Not five months after Giorgio's birth, despite Joyce's occasional delight in singing arias to him (Maddox 64), the young father hinted of serious problems in a letter to his aunt: “[T]he present relations between Nora and myself are about to suffer some alteration”; however, he didn't “wish to rival the atrocities of the average husband” (Letters II 128).

In retrospect we can judge this difficult period as just that, for James and Nora stayed together until his death in 1941, and her importance in his life remains undisputed. Beyond this, however, Joyce's concern for his son, Giorgio, and for Lucia, born two years later, permeated his life. And the infant son certainly charmed his father. Writing to Stanislaus on January 10, 1907, when Giorgio was eighteen months old, Joyce called the child “the most successful thing connected with me” (Letters II 206), and Stanislaus reports, “In spite of his struggle with poverty, [Joyce] believed in fatherhood and considered it a form of cowardice, ‘too great a fear of fate’, not to have children” (My Brother's 152).

Joyce's attitude about family life and his own vocation as artist must have been quite complex as he conceived and composed “A Little Cloud” between February and July of 1906, but such information doesn't weigh the scales of interpretation in one direction or another. Fortunately, the second scene of the story does. Through the encounter with Gallaher, Chandler appears provincial, timid, and curious about “immoral” sexual practices, but he definitely emerges as the better human being.


Asserting a direct correlation between Little Tommy Chandler and the young Joyce as husband and father is unfounded. Just as extreme, though, is assuming that Joyce wanted his readers to feel no sympathy at all towards his protagonist. However negative one's opinion of Chandler might be after reading the first section of the story, Joyce's juxtaposition of the two friends in the second scene inches us toward sympathy.

Physically, the two are almost stereotypically opposite. Chandler, though average in height, seems small; he has a “fragile” frame and is well-groomed. He uses “perfume discreetly on his handkerchief,” has “fair silken hair and moustache,” and blushes easily (70). Gallaher, on the other hand, is boisterous and balding, has a “large” head and a “heavy, pale and clean-shaven” face; he wears an orange tie to a Dublin pub and affects Britishisms, calling Chandler “old chap” and using “blooming” as an adjective (79, 81). Ellmann reports that Gallaher is based on a combination of Fred Gallaher, an Irish journalist whom Joyce includes in his “galaxy of stocky insensitives,” and Oliver St. John Gogarty, an ex-friend and rival with whom Joyce had once lived in Martell Tower (220, 46). In early 1906, however, they were estranged and, like Chandler, Joyce resented Gogarty's success and considered himself superior to his old friend “in birth and education” (80).

Further proof of the derogatory link between Gogarty and Gallaher can be found in Joyce's prolonged refusal to renew their friendship, despite Gogarty's overtures (Ellmann 236) and in his reaction to Gogarty's marriage to a woman of means. Having received an Irish newspaper by post in Trieste, Nora met Joyce at lunch to announce Gogarty's changed status. We might well imagine his reaction to Nora's news: Gogarty had married; Joyce, already a father, had not. Whether Joyce regarded her action as a protest we cannot know; however, he did write acerbically to Stanislaus a few weeks after mailing “A Little Cloud” to his publisher, “[T]o be charitable, I suppose we had better wish Mr and Mrs Ignatius Gallaher health and long life” (Letters II 148). We can safely assume, then, that, whatever Chandler's weaknesses, Joyce had an even lower opinion of Gallaher.

Florence Walzl's important essay, “Dubliners: Women in Irish Society,” also reveals significant information about Irish demographics at this time and supports a more positive view of the Chandler household. The Irish middle class was experiencing tremendous economic hardships and either postponed marriage or abandoned it altogether: the translation for a Catholic country meant a diminished population (33-34), a fact which Joyce surely noticed. A closer look at Chandler's “sit” (75) reveals that he is, indeed, more successful, economically and biologically speaking, than many of his generation. Not only does he have a job, but he can also provide for a wife and child, a situation which Walzl reports was also rare since the typical Irishman delayed marriage until the age of thirty-five or forty-five (Dubliners 34). Unlike O'Hara, for example, a character in the story who fails because of “boose” and “other things” (76), Chandler is abstemious, employed, married, and a parent.

In the second scene, conversation dominates the prose, allowing us to experience, along with Chandler, his friend's inflated ego and patronizing attitude toward “dear dirty Dublin” and Tommy Chandler, despite Gallaher's claims of being “a sincere friend” (75, 79). Unlike the first scene, we are not as often informed of Chandler's thoughts. Joyce relies, instead, on our imagination and ability to identify with the inhibited, limited law clerk. The final sentence of this encounter, for example, consists of Gallaher's derogatory remark about Chandler's being married and having sex with the same woman year after year: “Must get a bit stale, I should think, he said” (82). Although Joyce does not provide Chandler's reaction, he is careful in structuring this conversation, offering an early example of the belief that “For [artists] a portrait is not an identificative paper but rather the curve of an emotion” (“A Portrait” 41). We can safely assume that Chandler felt insulted.

The meeting at Corless's, despite Tommy's dream of launching into a writing career with Gallaher's help, offers a series of moments in which Chandler assumes a muted, almost subservient role while he reassesses Ignatius Gallaher and finally asserts the inevitability (and perhaps primacy) of married life. The “stale” insult serves as a powerful ending to an exchange which illustrates the validity of Joyce's claim to have written the Dubliners stories in “a style of scrupulous meanness” (Letters II 134). Prior to this final blow, however, Chandler had asserted himself by saying that Gallaher, too, would marry someday “if [he could] find the girl” (81), perhaps hinting that convincing a woman to do so might be a problem. His balding friend's responses reflect the sting of this comment as he eventually resorts to hyperbole, claiming that there were “hundreds […] thousands of rich Germans and Jews, rotten with money, that'd only be too glad” to marry him “tomorrow” if he asked them to (81). Incapable of the kind of wit which might successfully redeem his position, Chandler is ultimately defeated; however, our sympathies lie not with the victor but with the young clerk and father. Gallaher may have had the ability to “fly by [the] nets […] of nationality, language, religion,” an aim to which the protagonist of Joyce's next major work aspires (A Portrait 203), but he is little more than a bragging, rude scribbler in the worst Swiftian sense.

The first two scenes of the story, then, reveal that Chandler, however remote from being either a poet or the “old hero” which Gallaher initially calls him (74), remains physically and morally the more appealing character. Still, Chandler himself probably feels anything but heroic, and during the gap between scenes, we imagine him returning, deflated, to his family. Bernard Benstock writes, “Like the dog viewing his reflection in the pond, Chandler drops his bone in envy of Gallaher's, preferring the exotic narrative not of his own experience” (“Narrative” 558). His mood at the beginning of the final scene in the story is reflective, self-pitying, and, ultimately, enraged. However, the intensity of his son's suffering and the coldness of his wife's accusation eventually result in unselfish shame and genuine contrition.


The end of this story, though straight-forward in terms of action and narration—we know precisely what Chandler does and thinks, for example, until the final paragraph—also reveals a key thematic concern in Joyce's later work, the relationship between sexual and artistic generation. The precise nature of the final epiphany hinges on this theme, and the denouement is rich with dramatic pauses and religious allusions which link Chandler's “remorse” with Stephen's “agenbite of inwit” in Ulysses (14).5

When Chandler reaches home at 8:45 p.m., his wife, Annie, is “[o]f course […] in a bad humour” (82). She's been caring for the infant all day and now must buy the makings for tea. Chandler looks at her photograph and concludes that Annie is, by nature cold and too “lady-like” (83). The reader suspects that Chandler would never have married a bold woman, but once again Chandler envies Gallaher's life among “rich Jewesses […] full […] of passion, of voluptuous longing” and resents his present condition. True to his nature, Tommy concentrates on his own inadequacies rather than Gallaher's. (The differences are not wasted on the reader, however, as we wonder which two of the “thousands” of rich Jewesses would actually compete for Gallaher's bed.)

Carefully holding the baby, Chandler thinks again of writing poetry and begins to read one of Byron's early pieces which reminds Tommy of “his sensation of a few hours before on Grattan Bridge” (84). In a few moments, a triple dissatisfaction—with his mate, his life in Dublin, and his career—creates a rising flood of self-pity which results in a selfish and ineffectual response to his son's crying. Yet, unlike Father Boyle, who calls Chandler's yelling at the infant “an irrational and even brutal […] attack” which “no normal man” would consider (84), others might regard Little Tommy's response as understandable. Unlike Annie, who has obviously had far more practice calming the baby, Chandler is inept. When it continues to fuss, Tommy “began to rock it to and fro […] faster,” adding sound to rapid movement by yelling in its face, not an uncommon practice for inexperienced babysitters. Chandler is also uncharacteristically drunk and probably wondering why a man of superior “birth and education” (80) should have so little control over an infant.

Joyce then invites the reader to imagine Annie on her way home, hearing her son's screams, rushing in, “glaring into [Tommy's] face” and charging, “What have you done to him?” (85). The narration focuses on Tommy's reaction, revealing that “his heart closed together as he met the hatred” in Annie's eyes, those eyes which he had so recently judged as too composed and lady-like (83). Indeed, Joyce's use of metonymy, writing “Why had he married the eyes in the photograph?” (83) is a psychological masterpiece, distancing both character and readers from this “young woman … panting” (84). But we would be nearly as naive as Chandler if we assumed that Joyce had no sympathy for Annie.6 Once again, biography becomes relevant.

The narrator doesn't divulge the child's exact age but does offer a few clues. Little Tommy has told Gallaher that he “was married last May twelve months” (79). Since it is now “late autumn” (71), the story takes place in October or November; Chandler has been married, then, for approximately eighteen months. Unless Annie was pregnant before the marriage, the infant would now be no more than nine months old and could be even younger. Recall that Giorgio Joyce was approximately six months old when “A Little Cloud” was begun in early 1906 and that Nora took in other people's laundry to help support the family only three weeks after giving birth to him (Maddox 65). Even while teaching during the day and trying to write in stolen moments in the small apartment in Trieste, Joyce surely realized the hardships which Nora faced, regardless of his own.

Joyce's memories of his own mother, Mary (May) Joyce, were also fresh. Notified on Good Friday, 1903, that she was dying, Joyce left his medical studies in Paris. En route to Dublin, he must have considered the rigors of her life—mortally ill at forty-four, pregnant thirteen times, and married to John Joyce, a handsome man of wit and charm, but an alcoholic spendthrift who continually failed his family in all but the procreative sense. In a letter to Nora in late August, 1904, Joyce wrote,

My mother was slowly killed, I think, by my father's ill treatment, by years of trouble, and by my cynical frankness of conduct. When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin—a face grey and wasted with cancer—I understood that I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which made her a victim.

(Letters II 48)7

Once again, however, this information could support both positive and negative interpretations of Chandler's reaction at the end of the story. We can't assume that Joyce's experience with either his mother or his wife informs Chandler's psyche. After all, Chandler, perhaps unfairly, judges Annie's eyes as “cold,” and Annie does calm the child—as Joyce himself calmed his nine-year-old sister after his own mother's death (Stanislaus Joyce My Brother's 236-37). Any sympathies which the author may have felt for Annie could support the claim that Chandler suffers by comparison. At this point in the drama, Chandler surely realizes that Annie could succeed where he had failed. Ultimately, however, Joyce's focus is not on the mother but on the father's link to his own child. Joyce provides an important dramatic shift by revealing Chandler's final thought before Annie's arrival: “If it died!” (84).

Most of us realize that infants can cry for hours without any discernable damage; most of us have also experienced the irrational fear that an infant will, indeed, fail to inhale at the last moment. The three words “If it died!” depict genuine emotion. We would have to ignore Joyce's repeated references to Chandler's bone-deep, insurmountable timidity, to his frequent blushes and delicate temperament, in order to believe that he was not genuinely upset by his son's “paroxysm of sobbing” (85). Chandler is a hard-working, fastidious individual whose dreams complement, not dominate, his daily world. Byron's poem about the death of a young girl may have evoked a mood, but the infant's condition sparked a much deeper emotion. And when Chandler “caught the child to his breast in fright” (84), he was finally reacting as a parent should. Surely Joyce structured these thoughts and gestures to indicate a growing awareness on Chandler's part.

Rather than end the story at this point, however, Joyce brings Annie back, for human families are, after all, a trinity (or they were in the biotechnology-free world of 1906). Before examining the rich (if abbreviated) interaction between the parents, however, I'd like to turn once again to biographical evidence: Joyce was fully aware of the pain which a child's death could cause.

He knew that his mother had given birth to three male infants who died and that one of her greatest sorrows was the death of fourteen-year-old Georgie in 1902, her favorite, after continued religious clashes with James. Stanislaus Joyce describes George as handsome, intelligent, and musical: “After Jim he was the most promising member of the family” (My Brother's 131, 133). Contracting typhoid and then peritonitis, Georgie lingered in Joyce's mind, prompting several written epiphanies (Epiphanies 4, 17; Stephen Hero 167, 169; Ellmann 94; Stanislaus Joyce My Brother's 136, 235). At the time of Georgie's death, James was “toying with the idea of a medical career” and had unsuccessfully tried to revive his dead brother (Ellmann 78, 94). Never a good student in chemistry or biology, Joyce may have regretted his inadequacies when his brother's life was in danger. Later choosing the name Giorgio for his own son, a more suitable form in a European milieu than “George” (although Nora always called him “Georgie” [Maddox 64]), Joyce, a writer obsessed with onomastics, honored his younger brother. Even before becoming a father, Joyce had known the pain of watching a child die.8

In depicting Chandler and Annie's encounter, Joyce handles the difficult task of representing overlapping, almost simultaneous conversation in a linear format by employing ellipses.9 Beginning with Chandler, Joyce once again encourages us to imagine what he thinks during the pauses. When Annie enters, Chandler says, “It's nothing … He began to cry … I couldn't … I didn't do anything … What?” (85). The reader is then given a sample of Annie's babytalk, which, interestingly, doesn't include the child's name, but is rather a litany composed of cooing phrases—“My little mannie! Was ‘ou frightened, love? … There now, love! There now!”—and the more intriguing “Lambabaun! Mamma's little lamb of the world!” (85). Since these words immediately precede the final paragraph wherein Chandler backs out of the light and since his asking, “What?” implies that Annie's comments were interspersed with his own, we should imagine their effect on him as well as references which may resonate in “kindred minds.”

Aware of the Celtic literary movement, Chandler may have realized that the Gaelic words lampa beag meant both “a little lamp” and “a little cloud” or that “leanbhan, which is often pronounced ‘lannabawn,’ [meant] something like ‘babykins’” (Jackson and McGinley 72, 74), but I suspect that Joyce was more likely than Chandler to have been intrigued by these connections. The not-so-young father had more immediate concerns, but the words “little lamb of the world” probably did catch his attention and may explain why he asked, “What?” The phrase conjures the English translation of the “Agnus Dei” portion of the Catholic Mass which refers to Christ: “Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us […] grant us peace.” Although Joyce offers no direct proof, Chandler was probably Catholic; in any event, we know that Joyce was raised in that faith and once seriously considered becoming a priest. Why, then, does Annie (perhaps named for St. Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary) call this nameless, nebulous, yet noisy child “little lamb of the world”?

To answer this question, we can turn to Joyce's already firm conviction in 1906 that the artist's role was superior to the priest's. Although the strongest evidence for this development occurs in later works, Joyce had already rejected the priesthood and aspired to a literary career, claiming a morally and spiritually ascendant position as early as 1904 in “A Portrait of the Artist”:

To those multitudes, not as yet in the wombs of humanity but surely engenderable there, he would give the word: Man and woman, out of you comes the nation that is to come […]; and amid the general paralysis of an insane society, the confederate will issues in action.


Calling the child “lamb of the world” instead of “lamb of God” reminds us of an artist's vocation, and the ending of “A Little Cloud” encourages a reexamination of some of the basic facts of the story.10

We know that Chandler's son is approximately the same age as Giorgio was when Joyce wrote this story, but fundamental differences between Tommy and Joyce discourage direct parallels. Still, Joyce's disparagement of Gogarty is evident in his portrait of Gallaher, and Chandler's age, thirty-two, also invites scrutiny. Jackson and McGinley report that this places him in Yeats' and Synge's generation, evoking Joyce's artistic rejection of the Celtic movement (64). Walzl offers another helpful theory which suggests that, in describing protagonists to match the “childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life” paradigm of the stories, Joyce adopts “the Roman divisions of the life span” in which “young manhood (juventus) [extends] from thirty-one to forty-five” (“Life” 410). While these critics offer helpful information, Joyce's precise choice of thirty-two justifies further speculation.

Joyce was twenty-four when he wrote the piece, Chandler's age when Gallaher left Ireland, and he may have envisioned a Dublin alter ego years later. More significant, however, is the age of Joyce's father, John, when the artist was born. According to Ellmann, John Joyce was born on 4 July 1849—recall that Nora also gave birth to Giorgio in July. Joyce's birthdate was 2 February 1882, making John thirty-two at the time. Although Chandler's age may be coincidental, the religious overtones encourage another interpretation which explains both Annie's strange cooing and Chandler's epiphany: Little Chandler represents both John and James Joyce while the infant symbolizes James, Giorgio, and the creative product. Struggling in a small apartment in Trieste with a screaming infant in the background, Joyce recalls his homeland and first family. And in both locales the significant element involves a father's recognition of the primacy of his son.

Culleton succinctly reminds us that “allusion was a serious business” in Joyce's creative paradigm (11). Despite the irony of a “candle-maker” or “candle-seller” as a failed artist, Little Tommy Chandler's tears suggest that he has turned from the worship of a false god (Gallaher and, perhaps, Romanticism) to the true religion of hearth and home through the unconscious intervention of his son as savior. The final clause of the story, “tears of remorse started to his eyes.” (85), is precise. Joyce does not write “tears of self-pity”; nor does he promote ambiguity by merely saying “tears started to his eyes” When Chandler “back[s] out of the lamplight” (85), he passes the torch to the next generation, genuinely contrite.

Nonetheless, I do not envision a changed life for Chandler; unlike Gallaher, Stephen Dedalus, and Joyce himself, Chandler will remain in Dublin, return to his daily tasks, and pay off the furniture. Yet, like Stanislaus and John, he may also foster the growth of an artist. He is, indeed, “a prisoner for life” (84), but the prison walls offer the hope of graffiti, for the child represents creativity as well as responsibility, and the story offers an early treatment of a central Joycean theme.


  1. See Beja's “Farrington the Scrivener.” His lucid comparison of Melville and Joyce doesn't mention Chandler whose job description, unlike Farrington's in Dubliners' “Counterparts,” remains nebulous.

  2. See Reynolds's “Introduction” to the 1993 publication James Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays. Her overview of important critical approaches also emphasizes shifting opinions, sometimes within the minds of individual scholars (4-15). Another excellent piece, Sosnowski's “Reading Acts and Reading Warrants,” examines interpretations of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man in light of his belief that “hypotheses generate evidence” (43), a claim which I believe also holds true for Dubliners. Finally, Attridge's essay in the Fritz Senn Festschrift (1998) provides a carefully reasoned plea for “originality, rigour, responsibility, and precision” in Joyce studies (28) while recognizing the validity of many schools of criticism.

  3. Critics who soften the emphasis on paralysis and hopelessness include Beck, Beja (“One”), Daiches, Hedberg, Jones, Leonard, O'Grady, and Williams.

  4. Ellmann reports the date as July 27 (204).

  5. Although debate about the nature and importance of the Joycean epiphany is ongoing, for general definitions see Silverman, and Scholes and Kain (3-9). Bowen's “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept” offers a helpful overview of the scholarship as well as a concentration on Dubliners. For specific discussions of the epiphany at the end of “A Little Cloud,” see Daiches (87), French (458), Garrison (236), Jedynak (48-49), and O'Grady (400).

  6. Leonard (166-67) and Henke (13-14) have also concentrated on Annie's situation.

  7. A more intense accusation, that Joyce killed her by “telling her what he thought,” originated from Gogarty (Ellmann 173), further evidence of Joyce's negative opinion of Gallaher.

  8. Although the following information may not be relevant to Joyce's attitude when he composed “A Little Cloud,” when Nora miscarried her third child at three months' gestation, Joyce carefully examined the embryo and mourned its “truncated existence” (Ellmann 268-69).

  9. Lea Baechler reports an interesting trans-generic experiment in which a theatrical adaptation of five of the stories from Dubliners, including “A Little Cloud,” was produced in New York's House for Contemporary Theatre in 1987 by DearKnows Productions. Slicing the narrative into portions and assigning lines to characters who seemed appropriate—the infant, for example—but who were not always designated as speakers by Joyce, the company focused on Chandler's inability “to overcome his paralysis” and interpreted the ending as a “near epiphany” which resulted in an “ambiguous endin[g]” (369, 373). Although I disagree with DearKnows' interpretation, the staging demonstrated the rich, dramatic texture of Joyce's literary technique in Dubliners.

  10. I agree with Bernard Benstock's general premise in “Joyce's Rheumatics.” His focus on references to air, breath, and wind in Dubliners suggests that “the aura of the Holy Ghost [is] more notable in its absence than in its presence and [is] consequently a fitting augmentation of the paralytic and simonic themes” (2). However, I do not agree with his placing this story in the same rubric. After all, the infant does catch its breath and recover as his father recedes into the darkness.

Works Cited

Atherton, James S. “The Joyce of Dubliners.James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works. Ed. Thomas F. Staley. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1966. 28-53.

Attridge, Derek. “On Being a Joycean.” A Collideorscape of Joyce: Festschrift for Fritz Senn. Ed. Ruth Frehner and Ursula Zeller. Dublin: Lilliput, 1998. 18-30.

Baechler, Lea. “Voices of Unexpected Lyricism in Two Dubliners Stories.” James Joyce Quarterly 28 (1991): 361-76.

Beck, Warren. Joyce's Dubliners: Substance, Vision, and Art. Durham: Duke UP, 1969.

Beja, Morris. “Farrington the Scrivener: A Story of Dame Street.” Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium. Ed. Morris Beja and Shari Benstock. Columbus: Ohio UP, 1989. 111-22.

——— and Shari Benstock. Introduction. Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium. Ed. Morris Beja and Shari Benstock. Columbus: Ohio UP, 1989. ix-xv.

———, ed. James Joyce: Dubliners and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1973.

———. “One Good Look at Themselves: Epiphanies in Dubliners.Work in Progress: Joyce Centenary Essays. Ed. Richard F. Peterson, Alan M. Cohn, and Edmund L. Epstein. Carbondale: Southers Illinois UP, 1983. 3-14.

Benstock, Bernard. “Joyce's Rheumatics: The Holy Ghost in Dubliners.Southern Review 14 (1978): 1-15.

———. Narrative Con/Texts in Dubliners. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994.

———. “Narrative Strategies: Tellers in the Dubliners Tales.” Journal of Modern Literature 15 (1989): 541-59.

Bowen, Zack. “All Things Come in Threes: Menage a Trois in Dubliners.Joyce in the Hibernian Metropolis: Essays. Ed. Morris Beja and David Norris. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1996. 137-43.

———. “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept.” Journal of Modern Literature 9 (1981): 103-114.

Boyle, Robert, S. J. “‘A Little Cloud.’” James Joyce's Dubliners: Critical Essays. Ed. Clive Hart. New York: Viking, 1969.

Culleton, Claire A. Names and Naming in Joyce. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1994.

Daiches, David. The Novel and the Modern World. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1939.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Rev. Ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982.

French, Marilyn. “Missing Pieces in Joyce's Dubliners.Twentieth Century Literature 24 (1978): 443-72.

Garrison, Joseph M., Jr. “Dubliners: Portraits of the Artist as a Narrator.” Novel 8 (1975): 226-40.

Ghiselin, Brewster. “The Unity of Joyce's Dubliners.Twentieth Century Interpretations of Dubliners: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Peter K. Garrett. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice, 1968. 57-85.

Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “Aesthetic Evolution: The Shaping Forces Behind Dubliners.Language and Style 19 (1986): 149-63.

Greco Lobner, Corinna del. “A ‘New Life’ for ‘A Little Cloud’” Byron, Dante, and the Meanderteller.” James Joyce Quarterly 36 (1999): 73-83.

Hedberg, Johannes. “The Lure of Sentimentality in the Young James Joyce.” Moderna Sprak 81 (1987): 12-20.

Henke, Suzette. “Through a Cracked Looking Glass: Sex-Role Stereotypes in Dubliners.International Perspectives on James Joyce. Ed. Gottlieb Gaiser. Troy: Whitston, 1986. 2-13.

Jackson, John Wyse and Bernard McGinley, eds. James Joyce's Dubliners: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations. New York: St. Martin's, 1993.

Jedynak, Stanley L. “Epiphany as Structure in Dubliners.Greyfriar 12 (1971): 29-56.

Jones, William Powell. James Joyce and the Common Reader. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1955.

Joyce, James. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes. 1916. Ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz. New York: Viking, 1969. 5-224.

———. Epiphanies. Buffalo: U of Buffalo, 1956.

———. Letters of James Joyce. Ed. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Viking, 1957.

———. Letters of James Joyce Volume II. Ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1966.

———. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Beja, James 41-48.

———. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Ed. Chester A. Anderson. New York: Penguin, 1968. 5-153.

———. Stephen Hero. Ed. Theodore Spencer. New York: New Directions, 1963.

———. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random, 1986.

Joyce, Stanislaus. “The Background to Dubliners.The Listener 25 Mar. 1954: 526-27.

———. My Brother's Keeper: James Joyce's Early Years. Ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1958.

Leonard, Garry M. Reading Dubliners Again: A Lacanian Perspective. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1993.

Maddox, Brenda. Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

O'Grady, Thomas B. “Little Chandler's Song of Experience.” James Joyce Quarterly 28 (1991): 399-405.

Reynolds, Mary T. Introduction. James Joyce: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Mary T. Reynolds. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1993. 1-15.

Ruoff, James. “‘A Little Cloud’: Joyce's Portrait of the Would-Be Artist.” James Joyce's Dubliners: A Critical Handbook. Ed. James R. Baker and Thomas F. Staley. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1969. 107-120.

Scholes, Robert. “Further Observations on the Text of Dubliners.Studies in Bibliography 17 (1964): 107-22.

——— and Robert M. Kain, eds. The Workshop of Daedalus: James Joyce and the Raw Materials for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1965.

Silverman, O. A. Introduction. Epiphanies by James Joyce. Buffalo: U of Buffalo, 1956. ix-xvi.

Sosnowski, James J. “Reading Acts and Reading Warrants: Some Implications for Readers Responding to Joyce's Portrait of Stephen.” James Joyce Quarterly 16 (1978): 43-63.

Walzl, Florence. “Dubliners: Women in Irish Society.” Women in Joyce. Ed. Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1982. 31-56.

———. “Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of ‘The Dead.’” Scholes and Litz 423-43.

———. “The Life Chronology of Dubliners.James Joyce Quarterly 14 (1977): 408-15.

Williams, Trevor. “Resistance to Paralysis in Dubliners.Modern Fiction Studies 35 (1989): 437-57.

Adrian Hunter (essay date April 2001)

SOURCE: Hunter, Adrian. “Beckett and the Joycean Short Story.” Essays in Criticism 51, no. 2 (April 2001): 230-44.

[In the following essay, Hunter traces the influence of the Dubliners on the work of Irish writer Samuel Beckett.]

Reviewing More Pricks than Kicks in 1934, Edwin Muir identified a Beckett very much at home in Bloom's kitchen: ‘the toasting of a slice of bread, or the purchase and cooking of a lobster, can become matters of intellectual interest and importance to him’.1 For Muir, the influence of Joyce was no cause for concern, though he was firm in his conclusion that, as yet, Beckett's work ‘[did] not nearly come up to’ the standard of the master. Other reviewers at the time were not so forgiving, blaming the waywardness, incontinence and ‘verbal aggravation’ of Beckett's prose on his obvious enthralment to ‘Mr. Joyce's latest work’ (i.e. ‘Work in Progress’), a book which for any young writer was bound to prove ‘a dangerous model’.2 While it is not surprising to find reviewers connecting the two authors, it is nevertheless odd that they should identify Beckett's debt as owing to Ulysses and the ‘Work in Progress’ and not to Joyce's volume of similarly interconnected short fictions, Dubliners. As John P. Harrington points out, if one reads the More Pricks stories alongside Ulysses and ‘Work in Progress’ then the portrait of Beckett as ‘epigone of Joyce’,3 his loyal secretary, is quickly drawn. It is only when we compare them with Dubliners that the critical and parodic intelligence of Beckett's stories begins to emerge.

An important document in Beckett's response to his modernist precursors is the first of the three dialogues with ‘George Duthuit’, concerning Tal-Coat. The dialogue is frequently cited for the vision it offers of an expressionless art of the future: ‘The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express’.4 This statement is generally taken as Beckett's commitment to an art of radical indigence from which all of ‘nature’ will disappear, all white in the whiteness. However, Beckett is stating here his disappointment with the ‘revolutionary’ art of the present: Matisse and Tal-Coat, for all their ‘prodigious value’, are still for him artists of ‘nature’ enlarging upon that fundamental ‘composite of perceiver and perceived’ to which all art of the past has appealed. Modernism continues to patrol ‘the field of the possible … the plane of the feasible’, and so to understand it, to assimilate it, requires only some realignment by the viewer. Faced with the work which foregrounds its incompleteness, we learn to read silence and absence: ‘Total object, complete with missing parts, instead of partial object. Question of degree’ (Proust and Three Dialogues, pp. 101-3).

In recent criticism of Dubliners there has been much discussion of the indeterminacy generated by Joyce's ‘missing parts’, his ‘scrupulous meanness’.5 Irritated by realist and symbolist readings which seek ‘verifiable facts and incontrovertible conclusions’ (Bašić, p. 351), critics have tried instead to reckon with the destabilising effects of the stories' gaps and withholdings, rather than attempting to explain these features away. Instead of reading Dubliners as a complex symbolist puzzle wanting a few key thematic pieces (one named ‘Irish paralysis’, for example), we are encouraged to celebrate, as readers of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake have been doing for years, the text's ellipses, to deal with it not as a partial object, but as a ‘total object, complete with missing parts’.

Beckett's phrase offers a useful formula for viewing Joyce's stories because it treats reticence and fragmentariness as, in Elizabeth Bowen's word, ‘positive’6 qualities, and not as obstacles to satisfactory interpretation. It suggests that we should frankly acknowledge the disruptive effects of what is missing from the stories, rather than try to gloss what isn't there. When one considers the extent to which the Dubliners stories are indeterminate, the value of approaching them in this spirit becomes clear. To take an obvious example, ‘The Sisters’ is maddeningly full of apertures and evasions. Its boy narrator in many ways mirrors the reader's attempts to find meaning in the utterances of Old Cotter and the sisters themselves, utterances more notable for what they keep back than what they avow (Joyce's ellipses throughout):

—No, I wouldn't say he was exactly … but there was something queer … there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion …7

—I have my own theory about it, he said. I think it was one of those … peculiar cases … But it's hard to say …

(p. 8)

—Wide-awake and laughing-like to himself … So then, of course, when they saw that, that made them think that there was something gone wrong with him …

(p. 17)

That last statement is the story's conclusion and comes amid a silence which has taken possession of the house as it has the dead priest. The ‘something’ that went wrong with Father Flynn looks back to Cotter's ‘something uncanny’ (literally ‘unknown’) at the beginning of the story. Similarly, the narrator feels that he ‘has been freed from something’ (p. 11; my emphasis) by the priest's death. What these ‘somethings’ are is not made clear. Even if Cotter's ‘something’ could be identified, it would still be ‘unknown’. As with the trio of baleful words that trouble the boy on the first page of the story—paralysis, gnomon, simony—we are left to infer meaning and significance from the contexts of reference and utterance. But although the narrator studies the language of Cotter and the sisters, as he attempts to piece together meanings in the adult world in the same way as the reader does, there is an important difference between their positions in relation to the facts of the case. The narrator may indeed be left to study the silences of the other speakers in the story, but the reader is doubly distanced because he has to cope with the narrator's silences too. The narrator plays the same game of withholding from the reader as do the adults with him. What is the ‘something’ (p. 11) the narrator feels freed from? What is the nature of his interest in the news of Father Flynn's death? Why is he so hostile to Old Cotter? Is it because the old man knows or suspects that the boy's relationship with the priest was ‘unhealthy’? Why does he think the priest in his dream smiles? What relation, if any, does he perceive or intend between the strange words in the first paragraph? Why does his story peter out in the weightless coffin-side chatter of the two sisters? What has he got to hide? The narrator neither explains nor clarifies any of the questions about his situation that he himself prompts. Although he implies that he is, like the reader, involved in a process of learning and acquiring knowledge, he fails, or refuses, to interpret his own story.

The uncertainties of ‘The Sisters’ arise because Joyce withholds crucial evidence from the narrative, a method he employs throughout Dubliners. Sometimes the omissions can seem wilfully interdictive until the story is seen as a whole. When, in ‘The Boarding House’, for example, Mrs Mooney interviews Polly concerning Doran, we are told that ‘Things were as she had suspected: she had been frank in her questions and Polly had been frank in her answers’ (p. 69). What the questions and answers were, and what Polly's frankness revealed, are matters for conjecture. It is only when we reach the end of the story that we see why Joyce has held back this information, for he has succeeded in making Polly his suspect as the prime mover in the whole affair—so that she becomes the controlling centre of the narrative—without revealing anything about her desires or motivations. When the story moves to the climactic interview between Mrs Mooney and Doran, we are not told what transpires between them. Instead, we join Polly in Doran's room for a final scene which, while resolving matters on one level, generates deeper puzzles on others. The narrative deliberately shifts its focus to an inscrutably impersonal centre:

Polly sat for a little time on the edge of the bed, crying. Then she dried her eyes and went over to the looking-glass. She dipped the end of the towel in the water-jug and refreshed her eyes with the cool water. She looked at herself in profile and readjusted a hairpin above her ear. Then she went back to the bed again and sat at the foot. She regarded the pillows for a long time and the sight of them awakened in her mind secret amiable memories. She rested the nape of her neck against the cool iron bedrail and fell into a revery. There was no longer any perturbation visible on her face.

(pp. 74-5)

The description of Polly in Doran's room directs attention to the hitherto suppressed layer in the narrative which concerns Polly's true feelings. But instead of elaborating this or offering any explanation through indirect libre—a privilege we have enjoyed in relation to the thoughts of Mrs Mooney and Doran—the narrative withdraws here into an uninflected third-person mode. When thoughts come, they seem to act upon Polly, not the other way round; Polly is only active when she is physically doing something. A notion of interiority is played with here, but the focus remains resolutely on the surface, the performative. We now view Polly without any interpretative commitment from the narrator: her ‘amiable memories’ and ‘intricate’ ‘hopes and visions’ remain ‘secret’ because the narrative, which has up to this point allowed the reader access to character motives, now pointedly refuses any such intimacy. This refusal can only strike us as forbidding because the text has hitherto deliberately prompted questions about Polly's enigmatic mentality, for instance through the song she sings, ‘I'm a … naughty girl’,8 and her saying that she would ‘put an end to herself’, a comment clearly made for effect given her light-heartedness once Doran has gone downstairs. At the crucial point, and in respect of the central character, the narrative has become reticent.

Elsewhere, Joyce's prefers free indirect speech to omniscient narration, as in ‘Clay’, ‘A Painful Case’, ‘Eveline’, and ‘A Little Cloud’, where a superintending, explicatory perspective in the narrative is refused. As recent critics of Dubliners have been at pains to point out,9 this technique complicates Joyce's epiphanies by allowing the possibility that they may be fabricated or delusory aspirations toward feeling rather than genuine occurrences of it. Take, for example, the final paragraph of ‘A Little Cloud’:

Little Chandler felt his cheeks suffused with shame and he stood back out of the lamplight. He listened while the paroxysm of the child's sobbing grew less and less; and tears of remorse started to his eyes.

(p. 94)

Dominic Head considers this scene ‘staged’, the language belonging to Chandler's ‘own “poetic” turn of phrase … chosen for its alliteration, without regard for the weariness of its cadence which is inappropriate for a scene of highly charged emotion’ (p. 62). Joyce's deployment of free indirect speech makes it possible to read Chandler's epiphany—like those of Duffy in ‘A Painful Case’ and of Eveline in her story—as falsified, his tears as crocodile, or at least as tears of self-pity for his failure in both art and life. After all, Chandler has been seen constructing such ‘poetic’ scenes for himself throughout the story, as when he wonders whether to write a poem about the tramps and beggars while crossing Grattan Bridge: ‘the thought that a poetic moment had touched him took life within him like an infant hope’ (p. 79).

Like Little Chandler, Duffy, in ‘A Painful Case’, is conscious of language. However, he is unwilling to give his ideas expression in written form because this would bring him into debasing contest with ‘phrasemongers, incapable of thinking consecutively for sixty seconds’ and subject him ‘to the criticisms of an obtuse middle class’ (p. 123). Convinced of the superiority and singularity of his thought, Duffy finds himself ‘listening to the sound of his own voice’ when conversing with Mrs. Sinico. His decision finally to break with her is taken in part because her ‘interpretation of his words disillusioned him’ (p. 124).

On the face of it, Duffy's epiphany at the end of the story involves his coming to appreciate the extent of Mrs. Sinico's loneliness and his own culpability in her death. Sonja Bašić sums up Duffy's insight as the point where ‘the theme—the rejection of life and love—is not only clearly outlined but also firmly related to character motivation’ (p. 20). In other words, the story achieves thematic and structural unity in its ending. But in order to read it in this way we need to accept that Duffy achieves some degree of self-realisation, that he does indeed feel that his ‘moral nature [is] falling to pieces’ (Dubliners, p. 130). That means ignoring what Joyce has told us about Duffy earlier in the story:

He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense.

(p. 120)

The whole of the epiphany scene is conveyed through free indirect speech, much of it in the kind of short sentences described here. The final paragraph reads:

He turned back the way he had come, the rhythm of the engine pounding in his ears. He began to doubt the reality of what memory told him. He halted under a tree and allowed the rhythm to die away. He could not feel her near him in the darkness nor her voice touch his ear. He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.

(p. 131)

The possibility remains, tantalisingly, that Duffy's epiphany is one of his constructions. Certainly, that would seem to be what Joyce is suggesting by the preponderance here of short sentences containing a third-person pronoun and a predicate in the past tense. The effect is to threaten any certainty of attribution in the language. We do not know that these constructions originate in Duffy, nor do we know that they do not.

In his early story, ‘A Case in a Thousand’ (1934), Beckett too can be found experimenting with the suppression of information and the occlusion of perspective. John Harrington has described it as Beckett's ‘most apparent adoption … of the style of Joyce's own early work’ (p. 36). For Harrington, however, the correspondences between Beckett's text and Joyce's are thematic; he takes no note of any affinities of form. The story concerns a young physician, Dr. Nye, who finds himself having to treat his former nanny's gravely ill son. The young boy dies during surgery but weeks later the mother is still to be seen every day lingering in the hospital grounds. The final scene of the story involves an enigmatic encounter between the mother and her former ward, Dr. Nye:

‘There's something I've been wanting to ask you,’ he said, looking at the water where it flowed out of the shadow of the bridge.

She replied, also looking down at the water:

‘I wonder would that be the same thing I've been wanting to tell you ever since that time you stretched out on his bed.’

There was a silence, she waiting for him to ask, he for her to tell.

‘Can't you go on?’ he said.

Thereupon she related a matter connected with his earliest years, so trivial and intimate that it need not be enlarged on here, but from the elucidation of which Dr. Nye, that sad man, expected great things.

‘Thank you very much,’ he said, ‘that was what I was wondering.’

(my italics)10

Gaps in Joyce are precisely that—apertures, silences which do not threaten the illusion of objectivity in the presentation. In Beckett's story, however, the narrative voice advertises what it leaves unsaid. There is no effort here to maintain an objective stance, to disguise the authorial sleight of hand. Beckett's candour of procedure here demonstrates his divergence from what is perhaps the defining mannerism of Joyce's short fiction. The narrator's refusal to tell all is revealed at the same time as it is enacted; Beckett is not willing to adopt uncritically the Joycean persona of the artist ‘refined out of existence’.

Throughout More Pricks Than Kicks, Beckett picks up on aspects of Dubliners, making explicit that which is normally implicit in the Joycean story. Linda Hutcheon's description of postmodernist parody as ‘repetition with critical distance’, an ‘ironic signalling of difference at the very heart of similarity’ which allows the writer to ‘speak to a discourse from within …’,11 usefully indicates how Beckett's irony functions. As Hutcheon implies, parody here acts not to diminish, or reveal the fallibility of, the text to which it refers. Rather, it infiltrates the language of its predecessor in order to conduct an ironic rearticulation of it.

When we read the following passage in ‘Draff’, for example, we are struck not by the sense that it ridicules the kind of epiphanic moment experienced by, say, Chandler in ‘A Little Cloud’, but by the way in which Beckett gives playful voice to the agonised suppressions of the Joycean story as a whole:

Hairy, anxious though he was to join the Smeraldina while his face was at its best, before it relapsed into the workaday dumpling, steak and kidney pudding, had his work cut out to tear himself away. For he could not throw off the impression that he was letting slip a rare occasion to feel something really stupendous, something that nobody had ever felt before. But time pressed. The Smeraldina was pawing the ground, his own personal features were waning (or perhaps better, waxing). In the end he took his leave without kneeling, without a prayer, but his brain quite prostrate and suppliant before this first fact of its experience. That was at least something. He would have welcomed a long Largo, on the black keys for preference.12

The irony directed at Hairy and his lusting after a certain melancholy depth of feeling is also aimed at the structural device of the epiphany and the way in which it sets itself up as a moment of illumination. Hairy's appearance is actually ‘waning’, but the scene demands a dilation of feeling, a ‘waxing’—lyrical and lachrymose. Where Joyce's epiphanies are insidiously qualified, if not undermined, by suggestions that they may be fabricated or delusory, Beckett is blatant about the constructed nature of the epiphanic moment: ‘Hairy’, we are told, ‘felt it was up to him now to feel something’ (p. 194). Beckett's irony works not by supplying a superior rendering of the epiphany, but by exposing the implicatory sleight of hand by which the Joycean story achieves its complexity of effect.

‘Draff’ ends in a spirit of mild suspensefulness as Hairy and the Smeraldina try to think of an inscription for Belacqua's headstone: ‘He did mention one to me once’, Hairy says, ‘that he would have endorsed, but I can't recall it’ (p. 204). In typically Joycean fashion, no effort is made to recall it: instead the narrative shifts its focus, in a manner similar to ‘Clay’ and ‘The Boarding House’, to a deliberately unrevealing figure—that of the groundsman. ‘So it goes in the world’ (p. 204) is the final line of the story, but it is not made clear whether this sentiment emanates from the groundsman (perhaps in relation to his own emotion at the ‘little song’ he is humming to himself), or whether it is meant by the narrator to be the missing epitaph for Belacqua. It might also be read as an oblique acknowledgement of the story's own failure to provide the inscription for Belacqua's headstone. Like Joe's comments on Maria's singing at the end of ‘Clay’, and like Crofton's opinion of Hynes's poem in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’, and like the inscrutable thoughts of Polly which conclude ‘The Boarding House’, the statement hovers interrogatively. Beckett's ending, however, openly signals its ironic self-consciousness about its method:

The groundsman stood deep in thought. What with the company of headstones sighing and gleaming like bones, the moon on the job, the sea tossing in her dreams and panting, and the hills observing their Attic vigil in the background, he was at a loss to determine off-hand whether the scene was of the kind that is termed romantic or whether it should not with more justice be deemed classical. Both elements were present, that was indisputable. Perhaps classico-romantic would be the fairest estimate. A classico-romantic scene.

Personally he felt calm and wistful. A classico-romantic working-man therefore.

(p. 204)

Again, Beckett is simultaneously presenting an epiphany and exposing its inner workings as a device. The groundsman is a figure from the margins, a representative of that ‘submerged population group’ in which Frank O'Connor says the short story specialises.13 As with Joyce's endings, there is a refusal to synthesise the various elements of the plot here; instead the narrative shifts to an impressionistic soft focus. But Beckett applies one more twist by ironically signalling his own contrivance in the scene—its ‘classico-romanticism’.

Beckett draws attention in this way to the act of narration itself throughout his early stories, particularly at structural points. In ‘A Wet Night’, the broad parody of the end of Joyce's ‘The Dead’ climaxes in this passage:

But the wind had dropped, as it so often does in Dublin when all the respectable men and women whom it delights to annoy have gone to bed, and the rain fell in a uniform and untroubled manner. It fell upon the bay, the littoral, the mountains and the plains, and notably upon the Central Bog it fell with a rather desolate uniformity.

(p. 87)

The parody here functions on many levels. The second sentence ostentatiously fails to follow Joyce's famous original where it leads—from ‘treeless hills’ and the Bog of Allen, through images of Calvary, to the ‘universe’, with all its living and its dead (pp. 255-6). On the Central Bog it's only raining, not snowing. Hugh Kenner has written of how in Joyce's original snow ‘rhymes with the uniform inevitability of human stasis’, of how it ‘levels and unifies all phenomena’ in Gabriel's sight.14 In Beckett's parody, this effect of uniformity, of the levelling of the gravestone, the mountains, Dublin, is toyed with, but the rain's uniformity is grey and mundane and transfigures nothing. Beckett's reiterative use of rain throughout the ruminative last parts of the story imitates Joyce's technique of narrow semantic repetition (‘falling softly’, ‘softly falling’, ‘falling faintly’, ‘faintly falling’). Beckett's reiteration, however, plays on a word that has been explicitly de-poeticised: ‘Now it began to rain upon the earth beneath and greatly incommoded Christmas traffic of every kind by continuing to do so without remission for a matter of thirty six hours’ (pp. 86-7). Furthermore, he does not allow the parodic epiphany to conclude his story.15 Belacqua leaves his girlfriend's house (having enjoyed the kind of passionate intimacy denied to Gabriel Conroy) in the pitch-dark small hours. The street lamps, which in Joyce's story provide the ‘ghostly’ twilight shrouding Gretta and also prompt Gabriel's vision of Michael Furey, are extinguished.

In ‘Love and Lethe’ the crucial scene is again exposed, though in a somewhat different way:

Who shall judge of his conduct at this crux? Is it to be condemned as wholly despicable? Is it not possible that he was gallantly trying to spare the young woman embarrassment? Was it tact or concupiscence or the white feather or an accident or what? We state the facts. We do not presume to determine their significance.

‘Digitus Dei’ he said ‘for once.’

That remark rather gives him away, does it not?

(p. 104)

Beckett's narrator makes explicit the uncertainties which the narrative itself has prompted concerning the motives of the central character—the kinds of questions that Joyce's stories by their reticence cause us to ask. The comment ‘That remark rather gives him away, does it not?’ makes explicit the relationship the reader typically finds in Joyce: in the absence of a superintending, directive presence, we are obliged to supply our own provisional confirmation of the meaning of the various textual details. Earlier in ‘Love and Lethe’ the narrator was similarly benighted concerning the recurring question in the book, why Belacqua wishes to kill himself:

How he had formed this resolution to destroy himself we are quite unable to discover. The simplest course, when the motives of any deed are found subliminal to the point of defying expression, is to call that deed ex nihilo and have done. Which we beg leave to follow in the present instance.

(p. 95)

More than comically disingenuous, this disclaimer again parodies the kind of narratorial withholding which we find repeatedly in Joyce's short fiction. It does so not by revealing Joyce's blind spots or expediencies but by uncovering the full complexity of his practice. All Beckett's early stories, in fact, can be read as counterpoints to Joyce's. In the treachery of apprenticeship, Beckett voiced the Joycean story's scrupulously unarticulated knowingness. As the narrator says at one point of Belacqua, ‘Notice the literary man’ (p. 101). Indeed we do.

Beckett's sensitivity to the devices of Dubliners is perhaps best borne out by the opening story from More Pricks Than Kicks, ‘Dante and the Lobster’. The story begins with Belacqua worrying over an ‘impenetrable passage’ in Dante—Beatrice's explanation, in Paradiso ii. 52-148, of why the moon has dark patches. He can follow her ‘refutation’, but is bemused by the ‘proof’ because it is delivered as ‘a rapid short-hand of the real facts’. Still, he ‘pore[s] over the enigma’ of the passage, endeavouring to understand ‘at least the meanings of the words’—as monads, one presumes, rather than as a connected sequence delivering a singular ‘meaning’ (p. 9). Later in the day, at his Italian lesson, Belacqua asks the Ottolenghi about the passage, but she defers an explanation of its sense: ‘It is a famous teaser. Off-hand I cannot tell you, but I will look it up when I get home’ (p. 18).

To these puzzles and textual enigmas is added, finally, Dante's pun, ‘qui vive la pieta quando e ben morta’. In English the pun on ‘pieta’ (meaning both ‘pity’ and ‘piety’) is lost, which leads Belacqua to wonder if the line is really translatable at all. At any rate this textual enigma patterns his subsequent thoughts: ‘Why not piety and pity together both, even down below? Why not mercy and Godliness together? A little mercy in the stress of sacrifice, a little mercy to rejoice against judgment’ (p. 20). As he approaches his aunt's house at the end of the story Beckett conspicuously shifts the scene, preparing us for the epiphanic moment and the emergence of the story's deep-laid significance: ‘Let us call it Winter, that dusk may fall now and a moon rise’ (p. 20). Once at his aunt's house Belacqua is horrified by the realisation that the lobster she is about to cook will be boiled alive. There it lies, ‘cruciform on the oilcloth’, having ‘about thirty seconds to live’: ‘“Well, thought Belacqua, it's a quick death, God help us all”. It is not’ (p. 21). That final line—sounding as an ‘impersonal voice out of the heavens’16—strikes many readers as a false note, an unnecessary and heavy-handed narratorial intervention. Indeed, John Fletcher takes the presence of this and other ‘Beckettian asides’ as evidence that the author was unsuited to the short story—a genre, Fletcher explains, in which writers must ‘work their effects by understatement and humour rather than explicit comment’.17 This is to miss the point of Beckett's irony. His story proceeds as though about to reach a highly inferential and impressionistic ending which will bring together, at some deep metaphorical level, the ‘meanings’ of all its enigmatic details. The last line seems incongruous because instead of the characteristic short story withdrawal at the point of closure, Beckett allows the blatant intrusion of a voice signalling over the characters' heads. He blows the cover under which the story operates, exposing the narrator's presence by making it explicit. It is as though he wishes to terminate the kind of ‘lost’ or indeterminate endings which characterise the Joycean story. As with ‘A Case in a Thousand’ and ‘A Wet Night’, he is unwilling to allow the naturalistic illusion of the inconspicuous or objective narrator to predominate, signalling instead an ironic awareness of how Joyce defers meaning and creates an enigmatic openness in his texts by suppressing the personality of the narrator. As Hugh Kenner put it in his ‘Progress Report’ some years later, ‘To play one more game by the old rules would merely be competence’.18

John Pilling suggests that Beckett's criticism of Maupassant, made during a lecture entitled ‘Naturalists’, that he contained ‘no subjectiveness’ comparable to the great European novelists, is evidence of Beckett's lack of interest in Maupassant and, by extension, the short story.19 But Beckett's complaint might also be read positively, as a declaration of intent. The intrusive ‘It is not’ sums up the break he is attempting throughout these early works with the aesthetic of the modernist short story as he inherited it from Joyce. The line brings to bear on the story a ‘subjective’ narratorial voice which exposes, plays with, the conspicuous detachment and ‘objectivity’ upon which the short form seemingly depends for its effects. Indeed, all Beckett's stories examined here contain this narratorial self-consciousness, this voice that reads as it writes.


  1. Edwin Muir, Listener, 4 July 1934, p. 42.

  2. Unsigned review, Times Literary Supplement, 26 July 1934, p. 526.

  3. John P. Harrington, ‘Beckett's “Dubliners” Story’, in Phillis Carey and Ed Jewinski (eds.), Re: Joyce'n Beckett (New York, 1992), p. 32.

  4. Samuel Beckett, Proust and Three Dialogues with George Duthuit (1965), p. 103.

  5. See for instance Phillip Herring, Joyce's Uncertainty Principle (Princeton, 1987); Dominic Head, The Modernist Short Story: A Study in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 1992); Sonja Bašić, ‘A Book of Many Uncertainties: Joyce's Dubliners’, Style, 25 (1991), 351-77.

  6. ‘The Faber Book of Modern Short Stories’, in Collected Impressions (1950), p. 39.

  7. James Joyce, Dubliners, ed. and corr. Robert Scholes (1967), p. 7.

  8. As Zack Bowen illustrates, the song from which she sings describes a situation very close to that narrated in the story, prefiguring, among other things, ‘impish Polly's contentment on Doran's bed’ (Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry Through Ulysses (Dublin, 1975), p. 17).

  9. See Head, Modernist Short Story, passim, and also Zack Bowen, ‘Joyce and the Epiphany Concept: A New Approach’, Journal of Modern Literature, 9 (1981), 103-14.

  10. Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989, ed. S. E. Gontarski (New York, 1995), pp. 23-4.

  11. Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York and London, 1988), pp. 26, 35. The same point is made by Robert Alter, who describes parody as a mode which ‘fuses creation with critique’ (Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975), p. 25), and by Matei Calinescu, who argues that a successful parody should ‘offer the possibility of being mistaken for the original itself’ (Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism Avant-Garde Decadence Kitsch Postmodernism (Durham, NC, 1987), p. 141).

  12. Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks (1970), p. 195.

  13. Frank O'Connor, The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story (1963), p. 18.

  14. Hugh Kenner, A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett (Syracuse, NY, 1996), p. 54.

  15. The word ‘epiphany’ is in fact slyly inserted just before the scene in question: ‘A divine creature, native of Leipzig, to whom Belacqua, round about the following Epiphany, had occasion to quote the rainfall for December …’ (p. 87).

  16. Robert Cochran, Samuel Beckett: A Study of the Short Fiction (New York, 1991), p. 18.

  17. ‘Joyce, Beckett, and the Short Story in Ireland’, in Carey and Jewinski (eds.), Re: Joyce'n Beckett, p. 27.

  18. Hugh Kenner, ‘Progress Report, 1962-65’, in John Calder, (ed.), Beckett at Sixty: A Festschrift (1967), p. 61.

  19. John Pilling, Beckett Before Godot (Cambridge, 1997), p. 94.

Martin F. Kearney (essay date autumn 2001)

SOURCE: Kearney, Martin F. “Robert Emmet's 1803 Rising and Bold Mrs. Kearney: James Joyce's ‘A Mother’ as Historical Analogue.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 37 (autumn 2001): 49-61.

[In the following essay, Kearney discusses the significance of Joyce's story, “A Mother,” and its place in the Dubliners collection.]

For years, Joyce's short story “A Mother” has perplexed readers of Dubliners. Initially, many scholars dismissed it in much the same manner as “Hoppy” Holohan and O'Madden Burke discount Mrs. Kearney at the story's end. The tale's focus was quite clear to these early critics: Kathleen Kearney's mother is a fright—nothing more, nothing less. Self-indulgent and willful, Miss Devlin marries the bootmaker Kearney because the Age, as well as her age, invests a certain urgency. She must soon marry or forever tarry. There is, too, her consolation that like a good pair of boots, Mr. Kearney would wear better than would a more romantic soul. A domineering wife and mother who yet harbors romantic notions, she skillfully manages the household and sees to it that her daughter Kathleen receives a fortified convent education, including the study of music and French. Kathleen's subsequent training at the Irish Academy of Music and her egalitarian Gaelic lessons bespeak her mother's shrewdness. Discerning her motherly regard as merely the masquerade of a frustrated stage mother, however, early critics like Hugh Kenner saw Mrs. Kearney's comeuppance at the story's conclusion as Joyce's own reproach for such a greedy, ambitious mother. The major weakness of the tale, felt a number of critics, was the absence of a serious issue. Ultimately, not enough seemed to be at stake (Beck 259). Thus, like Kathleen Kearney's partial payment at the start of the concert, “A Mother” seemed to these critics to be something less than what it should have been.

Later scholars like A. Walton Litz disagreed. Might Joyce be doing more with this tale, they cautioned, such as criticizing the provincialism of musical programs in turn-of-the-century Dublin? After all, Joyce was bitter about having received a third-place award in a singing competition—having been awarded only the bronze medal at the annual Feis Ceoil because he refused to participate in the sight reading test (Litz 494). A number of critics concurred, and Ben Collins further noted Joyce's displeasure with the entire Irish Revival movement, thus discerning Joyce's scathing treatment of it in “A Mother” (61). Collins, accordingly, viewed Mrs. Kearney as the hero of the piece rather than the villain: a form of Cathleen-ni-Houlihan bereft of champions to glorify her (65).

More recent critics have viewed Mrs. Kearney as a woman with a mind of her own and the wherewithal to accomplish her goals. The mother manages effectively her household and her daughter's musical career. She is quite capable, as well, in her arrangement of the Eire Abu Society's music program, which “Hoppy” Holohan is only too happy to turn over to her better judgement. Mrs. Kearney's humiliation at the hands of O'Madden Burke and the Society's mostly male committee members illustrates her victimization by Dublin's patriarchal society, rendering her powerless (Miller 424). Indeed, described late in the tale as an angry stone image, Mrs. Kearney becomes literally and metaphorically paralyzed (Miller 420), one more casualty of Joyce's debilitated Dublin.

The negative perception of Mrs. Kearney persists, however, as Linda Paige exhibits in a 1995 article wherein Mrs. Kearney, like Gabriel Conroy's mother in “The Dead,” is viewed as a manipulative selfish matron who emotionally scars her child (329). This perspective is in accord with Ellmann's earlier assessment of Mrs. Kearney as a brow beater who is a failure as a mother (295).

Such a conundrum of a tale deserves further attention, certainly. An historical-textual analysis of “A Mother” offers a new critical departure and, consequently, a fresh perspective that clears up some of the tale's opaqueness.

To begin, Mrs. Kearney's maiden name, Devlin, has been all but ignored by critics. To date, only Donald Torchiana has noted that the name is shared with that of Anne Devlin, the hero of Robert Emmet's failed 1803 Dublin uprising. Observing that Anne Devlin's determination, though not her selflessness, inheres in the former Miss Devlin, Torchiana forsakes further comparison. A close historical-textual examination, however, reveals Mrs. Kearney to be a recast Devlin figure. Hardly of the historical Anne Devlin's stature or importance, Mrs. Kearney nonetheless becomes an admirable protagonist whose shabby treatment by other Dubliners serves both to indict them and to evoke the reader's sympathy. To this end, Joyce's presentation of Mrs. Kearney and her difficult campaign will be examined within the historical context of Anne Devlin's ordeals during and after Emmet's short-lived Rising of 1803.

In Ulysses, Joyce mentions Emmet's uprising, subsequent trial, and execution. Joyce easily could have learned the details of Anne Devlin's travails, too, for her prison journal was incorporated into R. R. Madden's The United Irishmen: Their Lives and Times (1846). Volume three of this work, entitled The Life and Times of Robert Emmet, was reprinted in 1902 in acknowledgment of the Rising's imminent centennial. Because of the impending anniversary, newspapers of the day made frequent mention of Emmet and his romantic failure. This renaissance of interest in the 1803 Rising occurred three years before Joyce composed “A Mother.” Joyce's passion for Irish history, generally, and for Dublin's history, particularly, ensures his awareness of Anne Devlin. This is borne out in “A Mother” wherein numerous parallels between Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney offset one another, effectively advancing Mrs. Kearney as heroic figure.

Anne Devlin, like Joyce's later Miss Devlin, managed the domestic duties of a household. Both women, however, also took upon themselves additional duties. Privy to the most secret strategies of Robert Emmet's 1803 Dublin uprising, Anne Devlin threw herself heart and soul into the preparations for the insurrection, helping to ship arms and supplies from the Dublin headquarters on Butterfield Lane to rebel positions in other parts of the city. Mrs. Kearney, too, goes above and beyond the call of her household duties: she takes it upon herself to oversee Kathleen's professional future and to help stage the public-spirited exhibition for the nationalistic Eire Abu Society, at the behest of committee assistant-secretary Hoppy Holohan. Based upon Joyce's own 1904 concert experience at the Ancient Concert Rooms, this fictional program, too, undoubtedly emphasizes patriotic music, for its purpose is to “spread propaganda and to raise funds” (O'Neill 228). Thus, in their individual ways, both Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney serve Cathleen Ni Hoolihan.

More parallels exist between these Devlin Dubliners. Anne Devlin knew full well the danger of her involvement in such a nationalistic campaign—her very life was at risk. Yet she understood also that the insurgents would fail to appear at the appointed hour of nine o'clock on the Saturday evening of July 23 to support the uprising unless given arms purchased by the United Irishman leader, Robert Emmet. While Mrs. Kearney's “peril” is minuscule by comparison, her commitment to the success of the Eire Abu patriotic program is complete, too. She devotes great attention to the arrangement of the details for the four grand concerts, simultaneously devising the triumphant launching of daughter Kathleen's musical career. The contract is drawn up whereby Kathleen, as piano accompanist, is to be paid eight guineas. However, Mrs. Kearney contributes more than just her time and skill to these matters; she invests money. She shops at fashionable Brown Thomas's for material to let into Kathleen's dress and, what is more, she buys twelve two-shilling tickets for the Saturday evening performance to send to friends who, like Emmet's rebels, could not be relied upon to appear otherwise. Indeed, the commitment of these women to “risky” patriotic campaigns further links historical hero and fictional.

With the arrival of the respective Saturday nights (almost exactly 100 years apart, since the Eire Abu concert is based upon Joyce's August 1904 recital at which the piano accompanist left during the show's intermission), both Devlins' worst nightmares are realized. Due largely to broken promises and the subsequent lack of monetary and troop support from those who had initially encouraged him in the undertaking, Emmet's uprising hung fire. Poor communication among the leaders and the appearance of only a few hundred supporters compelled Emmet to suspend the planned action. Begun at nine o'clock in the evening, the Rising of 1803 was over by ten o'clock. Fatalities were few in number. Emmet returned to his headquarters to be berated by Anne Devlin, who questioned his courage, his loyalty, and his love for Ireland.

Mrs. Kearney's venture also is a failure. When the eight-guinea fee promised Kathleen by the patriotic program's initiators is not forthcoming, Mrs. Kearney delays the beginning of the Saturday night concert until the committee partially honors the contract with the payment of four pounds. Launched by the audience's clapping and whistling that replicates the firing of a rocket that signaled the start of the 1803 Rising, the concert commences at about that same ominous hour—nine o'clock. Having been led to believe the money owed Kathleen would be paid at the intermission, Mrs. Kearney soon becomes incensed upon learning otherwise: further payment is denied until the matter can be taken up by the society's committee the following Tuesday.1 As it stands, Kathleen must either finish the program or be paid nothing more. Aware that the other artistes have been paid in full by the committee, the mother apprehends her betrayal. Mrs. Kearney demands her rights and vows that the committee will not take advantage of her simply because of her gender. Deceived also by Holohan, the very man who had solicited Kathleen Kearney's services, had accepted Mrs. Kearney's invaluable assistance, and had made the contract for eight guineas, the mother refuses to be put off. Kathleen will either receive the four guineas, four shillings due her, or “a foot she won't put on that platform” (Joyce 148). Unwilling to pay the money at that time, however, and bristling at Mrs. Kearney's clamorous implication that Holohan's gentlemanly air is mere pretense, the committee replaces Kathleen. In yet another act of betrayal, Kathleen's good “friend” Miss Healy assumes the role of accompanist. The mother's endeavors to assist Eire Abu and to better her daughter's social-musical prospects having come to naught, the Kearneys, whose Gaelic name ironically means “victor,” retreat reluctantly. Like Emmet and his supporters, the Kearneys meet with defeat before the nationalist enterprise could get well underway.

Joyce adeptly provides additional parallels between patriotic crusade and concert. The similar abuse suffered by Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney reveals further Joyce's development of Mrs. Kearney as a heroic figure. Hard on the heels of Emmet's failed initiative, Anne Devlin was set upon, subjected to “half-hanging” (a punishment wherein the victim is hanged until unconscious and then cut down), after which she was pricked with bayonets by soldiers in their endeavor to make her betray Emmet. She refused. Thus, though uncharged with any offense, she was incarcerated in Dublin Castle and later put in Kilmainham Jail, where she was placed in solitary confinement. Her cells were unheated and usually windowless. Still she would not name names.2 During one interrogation session when a former rebel compatriot tried to persuade her to expose her confederates, she displayed her renowned volcanic temper by grabbing his cravat and choking him with it until guards freed him from her grasp (Finnegan 62). Additionally, Anne's sharp tongue was responsible for adding to her already great suffering (Madden 149). Once when she was being tyrannized by Dr. Trevor, her chief tormentor, she likened him to her father's bald horse that, like Trevor, had a red cast to its eyes when bent on mischief. Having made him a laughing stock throughout Kilmainham by means of this comparison, Anne was punished more severely by the irate Trevor (Finnegan 97). On another occasion, Under-Secretary Marsden, infuriated at her loyalty to the rebels, told her that she was: “a most incorrigible girl, dead to all the kindness and noble feeling that adorn the character of a woman” (Finnegan 59). Furthermore, Anne Devlin suffered from a physical affliction. During the second year of her three years' imprisonment in cramped and stony-cold Kilmainham, she experienced what she described as “a kind of stiffness” around her whole frame (96). At times, she was “hardly able to move hand or foot” (Madden 149), momentarily paralyzed due to her limbs' customary disuse.

Joyce's latter-day Devlin, Mrs. Kearney, suffers corresponding betrayal, humiliation and punishment in early twentieth-century Dublin. (Her suffering is far less dramatic than Anne Devlin's, no doubt, but that does not preclude her as a hero.) When she demands Kathleen's payment as it was stipulated in their pact, Mrs. Kearney is set upon by Mr. Fitzpatrick and Holohan, the latter of whom like Anne Devlin's Dr. Trevor becomes “very red and excited” and speaks “volubly” (Joyce 146). Although she is paid less than half the amount that had been agreed upon, Mrs. Kearney nevertheless is condemned by the committee, by most of the artistes, and by the newsman Burke. Despite her complaints that they are being unjust and that they are trying to take advantage of her because “they thought they had only a girl to deal with” (Joyce 148), she be beset by the reneging committee during the intermission. So as not to break the contract, her daughter must finish the concert if she is to receive more money. Her daughter's rights denied, as well as to her own, and face-to-face with the turncoat Holohan, Mrs. Kearney looks “as if she would attack someone with her hands” (Joyce 148). She is somewhat more restrained than was Anne in this matter.3 However, suffering beyond human endurance, Mrs. Kearney's tongue lashes her disloyal tormentor, Holohan. She mimics: “‘You must speak to the secretary. It's not my business. I'm a great fellow fol-the-diddle-I do’” (Joyce 149). Her jibe backfires, as had Anne Devlin's, for it brings but more punishment. Mrs. Kearney is declared unladylike by assistant-secretary Holohan, as had been Anne by Under-Secretary Marsden, and she is roundly condemned. Subjugated and momentarily immobilized, Mrs. Kearney seems “like an angry stone image” when she sees the Kearneys' frequent guest, Miss Healy, displace Kathleen as accompanist. Declared guilty by her superiors, as it were, Mrs. Kearney's campaign ends in disaster. Accordingly, as was the case with Anne Devlin, she is made to pay the penalty for her devotion, loyalty, and temerity.

Besides these parallels between Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney, Joyce employs in “A Mother” other clever allusions to Anne Devlin and to Emmet's rebellion. For example, critics have puzzled over the significance of Miss Healy's query as to whether the baritone had seen recently the well-known actress Mrs. Pat Campbell. When one realizes that following her release from Kilmainham in 1806, Anne married a Mr. Cambell, took his name, and bore him two children (Madden 144), Joyce's puzzling passage suddenly makes sense. Within this offhanded dialogue lies an ironic allusion to Anne Devlin Cambell, who unlike the British actress reported to be “very fine,” is represented in the bold personage of Mrs. Kearney, who is faring but poorly.

Another sly connection between Anne Devlin and Mrs. Kearney is found in the surname and function of the only named female member of the Eire Abu committee, Miss Beirne. Having hoped for “a good house,” she sighs, “‘Ah well! We did our best, the dear knows’” (Joyce 142). Though she is unmarried, her gender, her failed patriotic effort, and her subsequent disappointment are reminiscent of other Mother-Ireland figures, such as Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Anne Devlin, and Mrs. Kearney. In addition, her surname, despite its variant spelling, links her directly to Anne Devlin, for Byrne was the maiden name of Anne's mother. How appropriate in a tale entitled “A Mother” for a symbolic maternal reunion among three Irish women nationalists—any one of whom could represent Mother Ireland: Miss Beirne, her “daughter” Anne, who, in turn, is represented by Mrs. Kearney. With regard to the historical analogue, Miss Beirne's inability to help Mrs. Kearney parallels Anne Devlin's own mother's helplessness to come to her imprisoned daughter's aid. Beirne's later denunciation of Mrs. Kearney, advising the committee to pay her nothing more, also is pertinent. Joyce illustrates herewith war's divisive nature. Guilty only of anti-English sentiment, Anne's mother nevertheless was imprisoned after the uprising. There she saw her son James die of fever. Anne's loyalty to Emmet and to Ireland, for she still refused to talk, was largely responsible for her mother and father's continued imprisonment. There can be little doubt that Mrs. Devlin's human frailty must have made her resent Anne's unyielding stance at times, as Miss Beirne does Mrs. Kearney's.

Preceded in death by her husband, and too frail to continue to take in washing, Anne Devlin-Cambell died penniless in 1851. Despite this Irish patriot's and Mrs. Kearney's dissimilar economic circumstances, their unsuccessful and humiliating struggle for money due them unites the two women. Toward the end of Anne's life, the Young Ireland Party opened a subscription list for her in the Nation newspaper. All total, she received less than five pounds, doled out to her in such small sums as two shillings, six pence. Otherwise reliant upon the income of a sickly son who was down with fever, Devlin lamented the “niggard hand,” but was too proud to ever appeal to the fund's dispensers in the Nation's office (Finnegan 120). Thus, both Mrs. Kearney and Anne Devlin were denied by nationalist organizations the funds that were rightly theirs.

Personality and character also link these two Devlins. Anne has been described as a plain, earthy, realistic person, sharp-tongued when tormented by others, and she had a violent, volcanic temper … Her heart was big and warm, and all her energies were channeled to serve and protect the people she loved (Landreth 143). This word portrait also captures the essence of Mrs. Kearney.

Constructing “A Mother” around Emmet's failed bid for Irish freedom, Joyce was careful in his choice of Miss Devlin's husband's surname, occupation, and place of business. Although critics have contemplated Mr. Kearney's significance, in fact little has been done with the bootmaker of Ormand Quay. As it happened, two men named Kearney figured prominently in Emmet's Rising. Several days following the fiasco, publican William Kearney of Bohernabreen, Co. Dublin, concealed Emmet and several rebel officers in the garret of his inn. Kearney successfully diverted attention away from these rebel leaders when soldiers arrived to search the premises. William Kearney was imprisoned later in Kilmainham for this assistance. The second Kearney was less fortunate. At the order of Lord Norbury, who presided over the trial of Emmet and the rebels, Edward Kearney was the first to be executed, having been adjudged guilty of participation in the bid for Ireland's freedom. The religious fervor of Joyce's Mr. Kearney gains poignancy with the realization that Edward Kearney was forced to face the scaffold without benefit of a priest to hear his last confession or to offer spiritual comfort.

As for the role of boots or bootmakers in the Rising, Emmet was fitted for a resplendent uniform that included a pair of Hessian boots. This dramatic ensemble Emmet first wore the night of the rebellion. At his trial, a witness placed him at the scene of the violence by recalling those very Hessian boots. Emmet, in fact, would be executed wearing them.4

Although no bootmaker named Kearney from Ormand Quay played a notable role in the 1803 Rising, a shoemaker from Ormand Quay, William Cole, did. His shop was designated by Emmet to be a Point of Check on the night of the Rising and thus “occupied by blunderbusses” for it “opened suddenly on the flank of the army without being exposed to their fire” (Madden 23 & 106). In addition to occupation and address, another similarity connects William Cole, Joyce's Mr. Kearney, and publican William Kearney. As had the latter, William Cole concealed in his shop a very important officer of the uprising. Following an explosion in the rebel's Patrick Street depot on July 18, speech writer Mr. Philip Long hid himself for several days in the shoemaker's house on Ormond Quay.5 Joyce's Mr. Kearney thus becomes a composite of William Kearney and William Cole. He, too, has a “rebel” under his roof, and her campaign he resolutely “backs.”

Joyce also skillfully correlates facets of this tale with the trial of Robert Emmet. O'Madden Burke, the concert reviewer for the Freeman's Journal, was afforded the respect of his peers, his “magniloquent western name” serving as the “moral umbrella” upon which he “balanced” the delicate difficulty of his finances (Joyce 145). Making his moral pronouncement to Holohan at the tale's conclusion while poised upon his umbrella, Burke's prop thus becomes an ironic symbol for a balance, the very scales of justice themselves.6 O'Madden Burke thus becomes the counterpart to the magistrate Lord Norbury. Burke, clearly, serves as judge in this tale, condemning the Kearneys (Torchiana 196). Suitably, by means of his forthcoming review he will sentence Kathleen Kearney's career to death, declaring her musical vocation in Dublin “ended” (Joyce 147). And this same concert notice will be placed in the Freeman's Journal, fittingly, by Mr. Hendick, a surname associated with a family of Dubliner undertakers (Gifford 100). Another example of Joyce's allusive wit, Burke's disparaging review regarding Kathleen Kearney will serve the same function with regard to her career as the obituary notices that the Hendicks frequently submitted to Dublin newspapers.

So as to develop most satisfactorily this short story as an historical analogue, Joyce forges ahead. Burke's review, in that it will serve as the epitaph for Kathleen's career, parallels ironically Emmet's famous speech containing his own epitaph made from the platform to Norbury's court. Proclaimed Emmet, “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written” (Sullivan). Joyce's view that Ireland was far too parochial and in desperate need of becoming more progressive is implicit thus in the hypertext of this tale that tells of the betrayal and thwarted ambition of two Dublin Devlins.

Yet two more links cleverly connect this story and Emmet's renowned oration. Appalled that Norbury had handed down to him the dishonor associated with the hangman's rope, Emmet told the assembly, “the sentence of the law which delivers over my body to the executioner, consigns my character to obloquy” (Sullivan). Mrs. Kearney's “good name” thus shares the fate of Emmet's. Furthermore, a dramatic echo from Emmet's oration is heard in the speech of Mrs. Kearney so as to juxtapose Joyce's story with Emmet's famous address. The condemned rebel's final words from the dock were, “I have done” (43). Backstage at the nationalistic recital, Mrs. Kearney's last address to her betrayer consists of, “I'm not done with you yet,” to which Holohan rejoins, “But I'm done with you” (Joyce 149). At the conclusion of the long and unpleasant trial, having been lectured by Emmet before the entire court, Lord Norbury's was impatient. In all likelihood, his sentiments were akin Holohan's as he sentenced Emmet to death. From the Crown's perspective, Emmet's subsequent death was that befitting a traitor: a most shameful end. To Irish patriots, conversely, his horrible ordeal upon the scaffold was nothing short of a noble blood sacrifice. Fittingly, in “A Mother” Joyce indicts the Dublin “judge figure,” O'Madden Burke, as well as the committee of the Eire Abu Society. They, in fact, become the living embodiment of Emmet's view of Ireland under English Rule! Wrote Emmet in his 1803 manifesto, The Provisional Government to the People of Ireland, “Ireland has been left in a state of ignorance, rudeness, and barbarism, worse in its effects and more degrading in its nature than that in which it was found six centuries before” (Madden 250). Ironically, the condemners in the tale, as in Norbury's Court, become the condemned. Joyce thus has recast ingeniously, character, plot, mise en scène, and dialogue in “A Mother” so as to recall one of Irish history's most memorable episodes.

In so doing, Joyce has tailored “A Mother” to fit perfectly into the Dubliners collection. Positioned directly after “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” another tale of public life that treats ironically the fall of a different Irish patriot, Charles Stewart Parnell, it continues the thematic thread of failed nationalistic enterprises. Preceding “Grace,” “A Mother” focuses upon the importance of money in matters that should rise above it—art and nationalism—anticipating Father Purdon's simoniacal sermon to the important Dublin businessmen in the penultimate tale. Certainly, the chief concerns of Joyce's short-story collection—paralysis, gnomon, and simony—are central to the theme of “A Mother.” Mrs. Kearney, a capable and loyal mother who has been ambitious for both herself and her daughter is exploited, betrayed, and demeaned. The same lot fell to Anne Devlin and Robert Emmet, of course. Emmet, too, had been charged with “ambition,” an accusation he hotly denied. This, also, is Mrs. Kearney's unanticipated consignment. She is no longer deemed a “lady,” and her daughter's musical career is finished, as is her own managerial role. At the story's open-ended finale this mother, who some view as a Mother-Ireland figure (Collins 65), static as “an angry stone image” (Joyce 149), has been banished from the public platform because of her demand for justice. Like her historical counterpart, Anne Devlin, this twentieth-century Devlin also is relegated to a life of expiation.

To conclude, Joyce's high regard for his own mother seems to have found expression in this tale. Mary Joyce died on August 13, 1903, one month before the centenary of Emmet's own mother's death in September of 1803.7 To his brother Stanislaus, Joyce once remarked that there are only two forms of love in the world: that of a mother for her child, and that of a man for lies (Ellmann 293). Joyce's paradigm of love finds superb expression in “A Mother.” After all, he wrote to Nora soon after Mary Joyce's wake that his dead mother's wasted face seemed to him the visage of a victim, and Joyce cursed “the system” that had victimized her (Ellmann 169). In this light, “A Mother” becomes Joyce's universal tribute to all long-suffering mothers like his own, Robert Emmet's, Anne Devlin's, the Cambell children's, and Kathleen Kearney's.


  1. Robert Emmet was executed on Tuesday, September 19, 1803.

  2. On several occasions, she was offered a 500 pound reward if she would reveal information that would lead to Emmet's capture, arrest, and conviction.

  3. Madden further alludes to Anne Devlin's hands as weapons. Forty years after the uprising, returning to Butterfield Lane with the biographer, Anne pointed out the spot where she had undergone the torture of “half-hanging.” In doing so, “there were very evident manifestations of feelings of … remembrance of the wrongs and outrages that had been inflicted on her, as if they had been endured but the day before, and of as keen a sense of those indignities and cruelties as if her cowardly assailants had been before her, and those withered hands of hers had power to grapple with them” (153).

    There is yet another connection in this affair involving Irish nationalist women who desire to attack an enemy with their bare hands. A letter suspected to have been written by Robert Emmet was confiscated by the British, who deemed it to be in code. Used as evidence against Emmet and taken in possession of Emmet's first cousin, Mr. St. John Mason, it purported to be from a woman who longed for her nails to grow sharp enough to “tear flesh and draw blood” (Madden 174).

  4. Twenty-nine years later in Dublin, these Hessian boots and a black velvet stock that had a lock of Emmet's fiancee's hair sewn on the inside of its lining were auctioned off to the highest bidder (Madden n.230). Personal suffering and sacrifice made willingly for Mother Ireland did have a price attached to them, it seems, in meretricious nineteenth-century Dublin.

  5. While there, Long wrote an inflammatory proclamation entitled Citizens of Dublin wherein he pronounces, “Countrymen of all descriptions, let us act with union and concert” (256). (Could a more apropos entreaty have been made of the company putting on the Eire Abu concert?)

  6. This umbrella, soon to be employed by Burke after he leaves the theater on this rainy night, suggests also the black cloth placed above a judge's head before the handing down of a death sentence.

  7. Emmet learned of his mother's recent death only on the morning of his execution. Asking a friend about his mother's health, Emmet was told that he would see her that day. Aware that his imprisonment and death sentence had contributed to her sudden demise, Emmet felt largely responsible (Madden 224).

Works Cited

Beck, Warren. Joyce's Dubliners: Substance, Vision and Art. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1969.

Collins, Ben. “Joyce's Use of Yeats and of Irish History: A Reading of ‘A Mother.’” Eire-Ireland 5.1 (1970): 45-66.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Finnegan, J. ed. The Prison Journal of Anne Devlin. Cork: The Mercier Press, 1968.

Gifford, Don. Joyce Annotated. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Joyce, James. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Litz, A. Walton. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1969.

Kenner, Hugh. Dublin's Joyce. London: Chatto & Windus, 1955.

Landreth, Helen. The Pursuit of Robert Emmet. Dublin: Brown & Nolan, 1949.

Madden, R. R. The Life and Times of Robert Emmet, Esq. Glasgow: R.& T. Washbourne, Limited, 1903. Reprint of The Lives and Times of the United Irishmen. Vol. 3.

Mason, Ellsworth. The Critical Writings of James Joyce. New York: Viking Press, 1959.

Miller, Jane. “‘O, she's a nice lady!’: A Rereading of ‘A Mother.’” James Joyce Quarterly 28.2 (Winter 1991): 407-26.

O'Neill, Michael. “Joyce's Use of Memory in ‘A Mother.’” Modern Language Notes 75 (1959): 226-30.

Paige, Linda. “James Joyce's Darkly Colored Portraits of ‘Mother’ in Dubliners.Studies in Short Fiction 32.3 (Summer 1995): 329-41.

Sullivan, T. D. ed. Speeches from the Dock. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1968.

Torchiana, Donald. Backgrounds for Joyce's “Dubliners.” Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986.

Margot Norris (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Norris, Margot. “Masculinity Games in ‘After the Race.’” In Masculinities in Joyce: Postcolonial Constructions, edited by Christine van Boheemen-Saaf and Colleen Lamos, pp. 13-31. Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001.

[In the following essay, Norris examines the paradox of gender identity and demeanor in Joyce's story, “After the Race.”]

James Joyce's story “After the Race” exhibits a curious paradox. As the Dubliners story representing the most powerful figures—economically and socially—the story itself has emerged as perhaps the weakest in the collection and the one most vulnerable to critical disparagement. Emboldened by Joyce's own judgment—“The two worst stories are ‘After the Race’ and ‘A Painful Case’” (“Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 6 November 1906,1—Warren Beck virtually dismisses the story for being “labored” and “awkward” in narrative technique; and, in comparison to the other stories in the collection, he finds them “less penetrating,” “sketchier,” and “the least realized.”2 Whether or not one concurs with these judgments, the story's vulnerability deserves to be explored through a somewhat less formalistic prism than Beck's. Like Beck, I am inclined to find the story's weakness linked to the class and status of its figures. But I am convinced that the story's vulnerability is less a symptom of Joyce's social inexperience with the upper-middle class—“Possibly Joyce, in weighing such a segment of Dublin life, knew too little of it at first hand, and also shared, if anything, some of its naïvete”3—than a strategy for staging the paradoxes of masculinity and masculinism.

R. B. Kershner puts his finger on one aspect of the story's vulnerability when he calls Jimmy Doyle a “helpful” animal (in contrast to Eveline's “helpless animal”) “who assists in his own embarrassment.”4

Jimmy's embarrassment, of which the narrator is an agent and the reader an uncomfortable spectator, is dilated within a social space defined by the intersection of an arriviste class dimension and a homosocial gender dimension. The social insecurities of the Doyles are inscribed in the Victorian resonances of disparaged “trade” in Mr. Doyle's epithet of “merchant prince” (D [Dubliners] 43), and the narrator is quick to remind us that the species of trade was of a particularly vulgar kind (“He had made his money as a butcher” [D 43]) with possible overtones of graft and betrayal shadowing its success (“He had also been fortunate enough to secure some of the police contracts” [D 43]).5 But maneuver in depicting the social world of “After the Race” as exclusively homosocial has the effect of generalizing the Doyles' specific social insecurities by complicating their symbolic order with the perils of gender.

More specifically, I believe that Joyce has the volatile commercial economy in the story—the thrill of fortunes rapidly gained and lost by the Doyles, père and fils—function to trope the Doyles' equally labile symbolic economy of social regard and prestige. The thrill and anxiety that attends uncontrollable gain and loss—figured also in the various forms of masculine sport and gaming in the story—can be psychoanalytically grounded in the constitutive effects produced by the castration complex in the assumption of gender. Jacques Lacan argues that the knot-like structure of the unconscious castration complex produces a paradox in that the very dynamism governing the terror of loss that produces pathological symptoms is inescapably necessary for the achievement of gender identity: “There is an antimony, here, that is internal to the assumption by man (Mensch) of his sex: why must he assume the attributes of that sex only through a threat—the threat, indeed, of their privation.”6 Both male and female children unconsciously “experience” the perceptual error that elaborates the presence or absence of the penis into a narrative of violence and loss whose redemption is accomplished by the compensations and appeasements of the gender identification process. But the condition of apparent absence in the female creates a secondary méconnaissance with consequences for the delineation of sexual, and gender, difference: the female “lack” is endowed with temporal significance in a translation that castration has already occurred and is behind her, while for the male it remains proleptic, a psychic sword of Damocles that constitutes masculinity as only provisionally unmutilated and perpetually imperilled. I invoke this speculative elaboration of the Lacanian theory of gender formation in order to suggest an etiology of primal anxiety to the febrile temper of the action in “After the Race” and to the provisionality of the narrative rhetoric. The ontological perils of masculinity are both represented and performed in the text.

Temporality is, of course, the donnée of the story's title—taken from an interview with one of the French contenders for the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race that Joyce published in the Irish Times in April 1903. “Will you remain any time in Ireland?” Joyce asked the racing champion and automotive tycoon Henri Fournier. Fournier replied with a question—“After the race?”7—and answered that he would not. The temporal order of the interview and the story are reversed—Joyce interviews Fournier before the race, but he sets the story after the race. Joyce then inverts the causality of Fournier's success—making his firm's fabulous prosperity merely proleptic in the story (“money to be made in the motor business, pots of money” [D 45]), and giving it a fictional genesis that sketches how an enterprise like “Paris Automobile” might have gotten started with the unscrupulous exploitation of a naïve rich young Irishman after the July 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race. Judging from Joyce's preface to the interview we could speculate that the young Joyce might have wished to take revenge on the highly successful Fournier (“on great shelves extending from the floor to the roof are ranged motor-cars of all sizes, shapes, and colours” [The Critical Works of James Joyce 106]) who kept him waiting for hours on several occasions before granting a terse and unresponsive interview: “[It] is almost impossible to see M. Fournier unless one is prepared to wait two or three hours for one's turn. … The morning, however, is more favourable, and yesterday morning, after two failures, I succeeded in seeing M. Fournier” (CW [The Critical Works of James Joyce] 107). In “After the Race” Joyce inverts the psychological temper of the scenario—if not its deep structure—by making the blasé young Frenchman, who yielded only the dull and meager calculations of speed to Joyce in the interview, now eager to impress the young Irishman with his automotive knowledge: “Rivière, not wholly ingenuously, undertook to explain to Jimmy the triumph of the French mechanicians” (D 46). Joyce sets the story at a liminal moment when the young Frenchman's fortune hangs in the balance of a fictional transaction whose tender is purely symbolic: the metaphysical desire of Jimmy Doyle, his thirst for prestige and recognition, for social status, that Garry Leonard formulates in the Hegelian dynamic of “Jimmy Doyle's slavish dependence on the Other to authenticate the myth of himself.”8 This Hegelian genealogy informs Lacan's coincidence of the genesis of desire with the genesis of gender, which identifies masculinity as the ongoing negotiation with the Other in the quest for significance, and as defense against its loss. One can speculate that the young Joyce—stung by the young Frenchman's hauteur and disregard—went on to undergird the founding of the modern French automotive industry with a fable of French masculinism's exploitation of Irish social and cultural insecurity.9

Like many other Dubliners stories, “After the Race” hints at an embedded hidden narrative that can be inferred and hermeneutically constructed from the narrative account of the narrative events, but not verified.10 The liminality of the story's moment—the poising of the events on the evening after the race as a threshold for changing fortunes—holds the key to a specific scenario of a young Irishman's exploitation by a group of sophisticated foreigners whose actions have the ethical significance of a seduction and rape, specifically, a species of homosocial date-rape or gang-rape. To construct this scenario, the issue of temporality needs to be clarified with respect to the timing of Jimmy Doyle's investment in Ségouin's company. The ambiguity of the language—“Ségouin, perhaps, would not think it a great sum” and “he was about to stake the greater part of his substance” (D 44)—leads Garry Leonard to assume that the investment has already taken place (“Doyle has invested a good deal of his father's money in Ségouin's new motor establishment.”11 I will suggest that we can better account for the Continentals' blandishments of Jimmy and the Doyles by reading the temporal tense of the investment as proleptic, and by imputing the extravagance of the evening's arrangements and excitements to the grooming of a business deal that has been pledged but not yet consummated. One can speculate even further that the evening's events could be the outcome of a venture to secure Jimmy's promised investment without the legal encumbrance of the Doyles, by simply stripping the dazzled and overstimulated young Irishman of the money he is known to possess (“he really had a great sum under his control” [D 44]) in a drunken game of cards. “Jimmy did not know who was winning, but he knew that he was losing. But it was his own fault for he frequently mistook his cards and the other men had to calculate his I.O.U.'s for him” (D 48).

Although my scenario is difficult to prove, there is nothing in the story that precludes it, and it therefore remains available to our reading of the plot.12 The notion of a conspiracy of young non-Irishmen to defraud the rich young Dubliner of his fortune, requires that we assume a deep level of hidden preparation that would make their plot a variant analogue to the common eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novelistic marriage swindle in which a young cad, feigning greater wealth and rank than he possesses, courts a plain young woman of great fortune with the intent to deflower and defraud her. This plot, which can readily be read into gaps between the lines of the narrator's curious locutions, melds quite seamlessly with many small allusions to masquerade, including gender masquerade, throughout the story. Jimmy's mounting debts, we realize, began, not at Dublin University, but at Cambridge, where “he had met Ségouin” (D 43). Jimmy does not know Ségouin very well (“They were not much more than acquaintances” [D 43]), and neither does the narrator, who repeats—but does not verify—the rumour of Ségouin's fortune, that “he was reputed to own some of the biggest hotels in France” (D 43). Jimmy's father's approval of this friendship, and his urging of an investment of Jimmy's fortune in Ségouin's proposed automotive venture, take on the colorations of paternal support for an advantageous “match” for his son. Ségouin primes the Doyles by heightening the aura of his commercial eligibility—“Ségouin had managed to give the impression that it was by a favour of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be included in the capital of the concern” (D 44-45)—and the allure of his wealth, which the narrator nonetheless qualifies as an appearance rather than a fact: “Ségouin had the unmistakable air of wealth” (D 45). The young French motor mavens, aware of Jimmy's twin interests of music and cars (“he divided his time curiously between musical and motoring circles” [D 43]), are able to satisfy the latter, and they import a musical Hungarian (“Villona was entertaining also—a brilliant pianist” [D 44]) to appeal to the former. Jimmy's twin passions can be seen as indulged simultaneously during the triumphal ride back to Dublin after the race, when Jimmy gets to ride in their “lordly car” (D 45) while being serenaded by Villona's “deep bass hum of melody for miles of the road” (D 44).

The title of “After the Race” might reflect, like Joyce's interview with Fournier, a moment in a discourse, perhaps the answer to the query “When?” if the discourse is construed as a conspiracy against Jimmy's money. The narrator himself supplies the “why” of this timing, when he explains that “[r]apid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money. These were three good reasons for Jimmy's excitement” (D 44). The liminality of the story's moment after the race exploits the ambient effects of elation and celebration after the successful race as atmospheric contributors to the bedazzlement and seduction of Jimmy Doyle, who is configured as the ingenue among his “friends.” His vanity puffed up with the ride in a gorgeous car and the glow of reflected celebrity, Jimmy is introduced to a French racing champion who dazzles him with a brilliant smile: (“[The] swarthy face of the driver had disclosed a line of shining white teeth” [D 44]). The event is staged amid a crowd of racing spectators transformed into an admiring audience: “It was pleasant after that honour to return to the profane world of spectators amid nudges and significant looks” (D 44). An intimate, but gala, dinner is planned for that evening at Ségouin's hotel—an event that even bedazzles Jimmy's family, who have pronounced it “an occasion” (D 45). The strange narrative interlude that depicts the family's pride as they stand in the hallway, approving their son's formal attire and ingratiating themselves with his companion, has the character of the launching of a debutante or the parental blessing of a young couple on prom night: “Jimmy, too, looked very well when he was dressed and, as he stood in the hall giving a last equation to the bows of his dress tie, his father may have felt even commercially satisfied at having secured for his son qualities often unpurchasable. His father, therefore, was unusually friendly with Villona” (D 45). But we are told that, as Jimmy goes off with Villona, a “certain pride mingled with his parents' trepidation” (D 45). The parents of this twenty-six-year-old man are portrayed as nervous—as though their offspring were a virginal girl going out with a strange foreigner.

The aura of romance that imbues the evening incorporates other figures who are unexpectedly interpolated into the scene. The dinner party is enlarged by the addition of an Englishman named Routh, “whom Jimmy had seen with Ségouin at Cambridge” (D 46) and therefore does not appear to know. But although it remains undecidable whether the late addition of Routh and the accidental meeting of the party with the American Farley are prearranged and part of a plot, the narrator seems to suggest that virtually nothing about the dinner party is casual or spontaneous. Even Jimmy detects Ségouin's deliberate orchestration of the social interactions: “He admired the dexterity with which their host directed the conversation” (D 46); and the reader can readily divine Ségouin's intentions. Rivière, who “not wholly ingenuously, undertook to explain to Jimmy the triumph of the French mechanicians” (D 46), and Villona, who holds forth on the English madrigal, are set up to appeal to Jimmy's twin passions for motor racing and music, respectively. The narrator's betrayal of Rivière's disingenuousness suggests that other aspects of the heady talk are contrived for Jimmy's benefit. Villona's disquisition on the madrigal sets up both the theme and the mood of the romance of the pastorale that eventually infects the narrator's own rhetoric: “The resonant voice of the Hungarian was about to prevail in ridicule of the spurious lutes of the romantic painters when Ségouin shepherded his party into politics” (D 46). Villona's specific inveighing against inauthentic music and contrived painting might have served as a self-reflexive warning to Jimmy to listen for the spurious in the lute of Villona's discursive music, and to question the authenticity of the tableau in which he takes part. Instead, Jimmy's ill-trained imagination is “kindled” at the outset to produce his own decadently artificial tableau, whose “grotesquerie” R. B. Kershner identifies as “parasitism and suppressed homoeroticism,13 “Jimmy, whose imagination was kindling, conceived the lively youth of the Frenchmen twined elegantly upon the firm framework of the Englishman's manner. A graceful image of his, he thought, and a just one” (D 46). Jimmy, an incompetent judge of his own words, as we see in his later inability to assess the merits, or demerits, of his drunken speech, fails to recognize the potential truth his strange fantasy may embed, one of entwined and colluding snakes replacing the ivy of the pastorale.

Ségouin is a sinister shepherd in this pastorale under electric lights. As the young Frenchman leads an Irishman and an Englishman “into politics,” the narrative comment—“Here was congenial ground for all” (D 46)—is either stupid, cruel, or sarcastic. But the prevailing happy mood is such that Jimmy and Routh are difficult to egg on into open political conflict, with “the torpid Routh” slow to react to the Irishman's slow retrieval of anticolonial anger buried beneath two generations of Doyle prosperity and complacency. One could construe that Ségouin's intention was precisely to provoke the “danger of personal spite” (D 46) in order to give the proleptic card game, toward which all the various arrangements are tending, a personally and nationally rancorous edge that will insure that the betting will run very high and require the exchange of paper or the production of manipulable IOUs. The cosmopolitan toasts repeatedly needed to tamp down the liminal national animosities—“The alert host at an opportune moment lifted his glass to Humanity” (46) and “They drank Ireland, England, France, Hungary, the United States of America” (D 47)—ensure that by the time the game begins Jimmy will have been thoroughly incapacitated with emotional overstimulation and the narcotic effects of excessive drinking.

As the young men stroll through Dublin after their glamorous dinner, their meeting with the American, Farley, appears—or is staged to appear—accidental. The narrator even narrates the exact exchange of surprised greeting, as if to underline that the meeting is unexpected: “André.” “It's Farley!” (D 47). Farley's role in the swindle plot is crucial to configuring the impending assault on Jimmy's money in paraerotic terms at the same time that he provides the historical context to give Jimmy's robbery a gendered social meaning. On the level of narrative plot, Farley's yacht provides the remote and secluded venue for the swindle's consummation that will make Jimmy's escape impossible. However, the yacht's name—The Belle of Newport—sets Jimmy's misadventure in a specific historical moment, the dizzyingly rapid industrial expansions of turn-of-the-century America with their ethically dubious acquisitors of wealth memorialized in the epithet “robber baron.” Further, the yacht's feminized name conjures the double gender track that furrows the arriviste universe of new money with parallel perils for the male world of business and investment and the female world of the marriage market and the management of the domestic symbolic order. Joyce could not have read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which was published in 1905, the year after the publication of “After the Race” in The Irish Homestead. But Wharton had begun publishing her stories in Scribner's Magazine in the 1890s, and Joyce, who is known to have read and liked some of the short fiction of Henry James, may have been exposed to this American brand of social criticism to complicate the genre of the “gentleman's magazine” story Kershner believes, along with Bernard Huppé, undergirded “After the Race.”14 Wharton's House of Mirth retrospectively glosses Farley's world of American Newport society by depicting not only the predations of the marriage market for the “belle of Newport” but also the ravages of the ruinous gambling debts Lily Bart incurs by playing bridge beyond her financial resources. The Belle of Newport, I would suggest, overlays the ideological intertextuality of Dumas's Three Musketeers, which Kershner sees as the plot enacted by Jimmy Doyle the night after the race, with a heterosexual configuration of the story's homosociality.

Aboard The Belle of Newport the boys' night out mimics a scene of heterosexual play fueled by mirth, liquor, and abandon (“They drank, however: it was Bohemian” [D 47]) that devolves into orgy. “Villona played a waltz for Farley and Rivière, Farley acting as cavalier and Rivière as lady. There was an impromptu square dance, the men devising original figures. What merriment! Jimmy took his part with a will; this was seeing life, at least” (D 47). As the group plunges into the card game, Villona plays “voluntaries” (D 48)—an ironic musical accompaniment to the hidden coercions that force Jimmy to remain in frenzied rounds of games whose pleasure gives way increasingly to unpleasure as Jimmy's losses begin to mount and he loses control of the calculations. The “voluntaries” of improvised music underline the hidden misery of date-rape, the sickening feeling that one has brought it on oneself, that one has no one else to blame: “it was his own fault for he frequently mistook his cards and the other men had to calculate his I.O.U.'s for him” (D 48). By the time the narrator utters Jimmy's wish, “They were devils of fellows but he wished they would stop” (D 48), his protest sounds as anguished and futile as that of a rape victim. The card game, whose ludic surface conceals the rigid code of “honor” that will ensure brutal enforcement of its financial consequences, affects Jimmy like an amorous adventure gone awry and become abusive. By the last game, nothing is left to chance; Jimmy is scarcely in the running (“[H]e would lose, of course. How much had he written away?” [D 48]), and after a last throb of excitement, the game is over. Jimmy is left abjectly slumped over the table in a stupor of incipient pain. Routh, not Ségouin, has won the climactic game, an outcome that makes it necessary to assume a collusion between the traditional national enemies, the Englishman and the Frenchmen, as well as their American and Hungarian accomplices, to achieve the coup of legally robbing Jimmy of the planned investment.

But the depth of the conspiracy, as well as the extent of Jimmy's loss, affects chiefly the degree rather than the nature of his ruin. Both Jimmy's losses and the scope of his anagnorisis—the altered self-perception produced by recognition of “his folly”—remain indeterminate. Are his losses, though clearly beyond “the limits of reasonable recklessness” (D 44) still recuperable with the aid of a forgiving father, or has he squandered his birthright, the “great sum under his control” that represents his entire capital, the familial portion the twenty-six-year-old assumed upon attaining his majority? What illuminations will his anticipated regret bring him with the sobering daybreak? Will his epiphany embrace his layers of degradation—the pain of his father's disgust; self-loathing for his fatuousness as “a creature driven and derided by vanity,” like that of the boy in “Araby”; anger at the betrayal by bogus friendship and abused trust? Will it extend to the more intimate recesses of self-recognition—to seeing that his friends' exploitation of him was a form of counterexploitation, that they exploited his wealth and immaturity as he had exploited their prestige and worldliness? Will he finally recognize that the worth he has lost was always already lost, that he had commanded a spurious regard only on the basis of his detachable appurtenances or phallic signifiers—his money, Cambridge, smart clothes, and familial indulgence?

The depth of Jimmy Doyle's mourning in the morning is largely incalculable—although we are led to imagine it will exceed the mere detumescence (that promises repeatability) that is the aftermath and denouement of pleasure, the hollowness associated with the morning after, after the ball, when the party's over. We are supplied with at least one measure of Jimmy's ability to calculate his loss: the “solid instinct” that lets him “translate into days' work that lordly car in which he sat” (D 45) and demystify glamour and wealth to recognize its material base in the substance of the body's labor. We are virtually assured that he will be able to quantify his lordly losses in squandered years'—rather than days'—work. But his ability to admit the psychic brutalization to which he has been subjected remains unknowable, and there is every possibility that he could remain in the oblivion into which he sinks himself on the morning after the race, when he blocks out the morning light with his hands and suspends himself in a “dark stupor” that admits no images of loss, betrayal, or self-reproach, by counting only the raw life that remains, “the beats of his temples” (D 48). Such an outcome would insert the dark specters of trauma and repression into the fatuousness and blindness that had once been his innocence.

But the reader who has performed a critical analysis of the fate of Jimmy Doyle must confront the lesson of gender that is inscribed in the specific politics of Jimmy's overdetermined violation in this story. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's parable of social power requires only minor skewing to map effectively her gender dynamism onto the scene in “After the Race.” Pointing out that male entitlement “required certain intense male bonds that were not readily distinguishable from the most reprobate bonds,” the condition of male entitlement incorporates the threat of social and psychological foreclosure that inspires “homosexual panic.”15 The plot of “After the Race” is precisely the pursuit of male entitlement through intense male bonding, and although what Jimmy experiences is homosocial betrayal rather than homosexual panic, its outcome produces a similar lesson about the arbitrary and manipulable symbolic ground on which masculinity is constituted as a vulnerability. What Jimmy construes as male bonding in the service of consolidating entitlement turns out to have been a charade that concealed his feminization by the Continentals, who covertly translated their refusal to reciprocate his regard into an effective mutilation of his ability to recover the psychic ground from which he could reclaim privilege. His friends stripped Jimmy not only of money but of the membership in homosociality needed to secure the position in the symbolic order that is designated as masculine.

The Continentals have “queered” or feminized Jimmy Doyle—using his naïveté on the one hand, and his aesthetic sensibilities, his appreciation of style, refinement, glamour, and other symbolic excrescences, on the other—to mark the domain in which his “complicity” was manipulated. That complicity is, of course, spurious, since Jimmy is an aspirant to an acculturated masculinism—and the point of masculinity's vulnerability to annihilation inherent in the illusion of its arbitrary and provisional grounding is thereby drawn all the more painfully. Jimmy's extrusion from male privilege demonstrates Teresa de Lauretis's argument that “[t]he term gender is, actually, the representation of a relation, that of belonging to a class, a group, a category.”16 Insofar as this positionality of gender is determined by cultural technologies, masculinity in “After the Race” is constructed through such homosocial texts and subtexts as those discussed by Kershner: Dumas's Three Musketeers, drinking songs, the choruses of Cadet Roussel (“with linked arms, singing Cadet Roussel in chorus, stamping their feet at every: ‘Ho! Ho! Hohé, vraiment!’” [D 47]) that guarantee camaraderie and homosocial inclusion without advertising the concomitant requirement of oppressive or exploitive exclusions against which privilege defines itself. Interestingly, Joyce may have achieved an insight into the calculus of masculinity from a curious rejoinder made by Henri Fournier, the prototype of Ségouin, during his 1903 interview. Asked to size up his racing competitors, including a certain Mr. Edge, Fournier demurred by silence. Joyce pressed him by asking, “He won the prize the last time, did he not?” (CW 108), to which Fournier replied, “O yes. … But, you see, Mr. Edge won, of course, but … a man who was last of all, and had no chance of winning might win if the other machines broke” (CW 108). Gender, like being a contender, is a matter of positionality.

But the story does not simply present us with an enlightened insight into the end of gender, because the metaphysical masculinity game that hides beneath the social masculinity games in “After the Race” is, after all, only dimly transparent, if not opaque, to the uncritical, or precritical, reader. We have as much trouble “hearing” or comprehending what is going on, as does Jimmy, whose difficulties with communication17 might serve as a caution to the reader. Like Villona's humming, the narrator's elegant and wry prose distracts us from the holes and silences in his story. Why doesn't the narrative voice that knows enough to ironize the Irish spectators of the Gordon Bennett Cup Race as producing the “cheer of the gratefully oppressed” (D 42) simply tell us of Ségouin's designs on Jimmy's money and describe to us the swindle of the card game that divests Jimmy of money he would gladly have invested? Perhaps I should be obliged to concede that there may be no plot, that the story's donnée may be simply “Jimmy Doyle's Bad Night After the Race.” But my question draws attention to the narrative refusal to tell us very much about the Continentals and their orchestrations of this particular evening ending in the debauch, if not complete ruin, of their Irish friend. The narrative reticence illuminates the strangely liminal—and, I would argue, sinister—position of the narrator as one of “them,” as a Continental, or a crypto-Continental, who “knows” what is going on, who “knows” the motives and maneuvers of Jimmy's “friends,” and who could tell us whether or not there is a conspiracy, a callousness, a carelessness, or some other attitude that contributes to the evening's outcome. By refusing to betray what he knows, the narrator can legitimately be construed as a discursive accomplice to a plot to defraud and humiliate Jimmy Doyle without betraying the conspirators or incriminating himself (a narrator gendered not only as male but as masculinist). The narrator's part in the game of masculinity is to expose Jimmy's foolishness, his vulnerability and fatuousness and its cost, but without, simultaneously, exposing his friends' villainy. The narrator takes care not to compromise Ségouin and his friends as “gentlemen,” even though that last word of the story is as ironic as the title opening the next story, “Two Gallants.” The effect of this maneuver is troublesome for us, as readers, because it allies us with Jimmy Doyle and positions us, epistemologically, in the same place—as “helpful animals” assisting in our embarrassment, as Kershner puts it, by confusedly apprehending Jimmy's appalling state at story's end, blaming him for it in some inchoate way, sharing with some empathy in his pain, and yet failing to discern fully or clearly the mechanism by which it was achieved. The narrator has contributed to our own proleptic “queering,” by giving us the illusion that he confides in us, that we are sharing in the male bonding necessary for entitlement as “knowing” or comprehending readers, while extruding us from the conspiracy by making us helpless to penetrate it or assert our claim to membership in the circle of the cognoscenti and manipulators of the gender system. By having its narrative “perform” the dynamic of masculinism that it thematizes in “After the Race”—the exercise of privilege and male bonding dependent on the marginalization and extrusion of the arbitrarily feminized—the story's text teaches us masculinity's paradoxical constructions through the experience of our troubled, inconclusive, and imperfect reading.

  1. James Joyce to Stanislaus Joyce, 6 November 1906, Selected Letters 123. I am indebted to H. Riikkonen of the University of Helsinki for pointing this letter out to me. Tanja Vesala-Varttala's dissertation chapter on “After the Race” (entitled “Whose Folly? A Dialogic Evaluation of Jimmy Doyle”) also gave my study of “After the Race” much inspiration. I thank them both.

  2. Warren Beck, Joyce's “Dubliners”: Substance, Vision, and Art (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1969), p. 123.

  3. Beck, p. 124.

  4. R. B. Kershner, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), p. 72.

  5. Joyce troubled to verify the plausibility of Mr. Doyle's police contract by asking his brother Stanislaus to check on the matter: “Dear Stannie Please send me the information I ask you for as follows: … After the Race—Are the police supplied with provisions by government or by private contracts?” (Selected Letters 75). Richard Ellmann's note to this query says that “[t]his detail does not appear in the published story,” although it patently does.

  6. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), p. 281.

  7. James Joyce, “The Motor Derby,” in CW, p. 108.

  8. Garry M. Leonard, ReadingDublinersAgain: A Lacanian Perspective (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), p. 116.

  9. James Fairhall, after researching a number of Irish Times articles and editorials on Dublin's hosting of the Gordon Bennett Cup Race in 1903, concludes, “We can see why Joyce chose the Gordon Bennett Cup auto race as the backdrop for this glimpse into the lives of Dublin's nouveaux riches. It provided an opportunity to show Ireland as the victim not just of England, but of the international imperialist and capitalist order, and a somewhat willing victim at that” (“Big Power Politics and Colonial Economics: The Gordon Bennett Cup Race and ‘After the Race,’” James Joyce Quarterly (Winter 1991): 395).

  10. The story that follows “After the Race” is “Two Gallants,” in which, I argue, there is a similar hidden transaction that requires Corley to extort money from the slavey, in return for romance, sex, and the implicit prospect of marriage, in order to repay a debt to Lenehan, who perhaps owes money to loansharks borrowed to bet on the Gold Cup Race. See my essay “Gambling with Gambles in ‘Two Gallants,’” in Novel (Fall 1995): 32-44.

  11. Leonard, p. 115.

  12. An alternate scenario of fraud is suggested by Harold Mosher, who suggests a far more sinister and professional confidence game in progress in the story. Mosher believes that the card game, and other games of the young Continentals, are intended to divert Jimmy's attention from the actual fraud, which is the bogus financial investment (“The Narrated and Its Negatives: The Nonnarrated and Disnarrated in Joyce's Dubliners,Style [Fall 1993]: 407-28).

  13. Kershner, p. 73.

  14. Kershner, p. 72.

  15. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 185.

  16. Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 4.

  17. Leonard, p. 114.

Paul Lin (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Lin, Paul. “Standing in the Empire: Drinking, Masculinity, and Modernity in ‘Counterparts.’” In Masculinities in Joyce: Postcolonial Constructions, edited by Christine van Boheemen-Saaf and Colleen Lamos, pp. 33-57. Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001.

[In the following essay, Lin underscores the relationship between drinking and the masculine identity of the disenfranchised working-class male in Irish society, as exemplified in Joyce's “Counterparts.”]

At the end of Joyce's “Counterparts,” the decidedly unheroic Farrington reluctantly makes his way home after a deplorable day at work and an even worse evening out on the town. Battered and broke, he violently redirects his anger and chagrin toward his son Tom; bullied at work and at the public houses, he bullies at home. The story closes with the frightened boy literally and figuratively at the mercy of his tyrannous father, offering repeatedly to “say a Hail Mary for you” (D [Dubliners] 98) in order to escape bodily punishment. This scene, on the one hand, is a poignant depiction of domestic violence as the result of alcohol, a social reality in Ireland all too familiar for working-class men and their families. On the other hand, it can also be read as an allegory for the abusive domestic relationship between the English and the Irish that is colonialism. In both cases, the narrative represents an Irish working-class male subject caught in a cycle and a system of oppression, simultaneously identifying him as both a victim and a victimizer.

This essay looks at the praxis of drinking in the Irish metropolis as a function of the construction of a masculine subject and the way in which that construction interfaces with colonial politics and the condition of modernity. Situating “Counterparts” as the focus of my discussion, this essay will examine the complex ways in which drinking is represented by Joyce in both the private and the public sphere, in the workplace and in the public house.1 In centering the narrative on the problem of intemperance, I will argue that Joyce's text disrupts the intoxicating binary constructions upon which the hegemonic discourses of colonialism and modernity are legitimated and disseminated. In doing so, I will show how “Counterparts” reveals the multiple and paradoxical ways in which Ireland “stands” England—which, to use the term as a pun for analytical purposes, is to say: “endures,” perhaps even “resists,” “treats” as in the Irish custom, and finally, “maintains” in an upright position, stable and affirmed.

In his famous 1906 letter to Grant Richards, Joyce indicated that his motive for Dubliners was “to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me to be the centre of paralysis.”2 What the stories subsequently depict is a series of individuals at the defining moments of their lives (it is sometimes suggested that these individuals are all, in fact, synecdoches of the same person). Each of these individuals experiences the conflicting revelation of his or her own psychic fragmentation. In Declan Kiberd's words: the tales betray “an impulse arrested or else enacted to a point where it becomes self-negating: in either case, the gesture of revolt is fated always to have the old, familiar tyranny inscribed in it.”3

As Farrington demonstrates at the end of “Counterparts,” his efforts to counteract the effects of his own abuse is to reproduce the violence, “the old, familiar tyranny,” at home. “Counterparts” is a witness to the fact that one of the deepest problems of the Dublin environment may indeed be the use and abuse of alcohol. Throughout Dubliners, in fact, drinking is frequently the center of activity; one only needs to think of the primacy of drinking in “A Little Cloud,” “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and “Grace.” Additionally, many of the book's most memorable characters—such as Mr. Mooney in “The Boarding House,” Joe in “Clay,” Emily Sinico in “A Painful Case,” Freddy Malins in “The Dead,” and, of course, Joe Kernan in “Grace”—have debilitating drinking disorders that render them socially incompetent in the eyes of Dublin's middle class.

Discriminatory attitudes by the English toward the Irish have long centered upon the practice of drinking or as Seamus Deane articulates it, “drunkenness.”4 Elizabeth Malcom observes, “Throughout most of the nineteenth century Irish nationalism and the temperance movement were at odds.”5 Throughout Ireland, but most notably in the cities, drinking among the working classes was discouraged as a disruptive force in the “peaceful” operation and maintenance of industry and empire; Malcom continues: “Temperance began as, and for long remained, the exclusive preserve of middle-class, pro-British protestants, who used it to bolster their own position while at the same time denigrating the customs and habits of their catholic social inferiors.”6 Thus in “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy's responsible attempt to sober up Freddy Malins can be seen as characteristic of his West-Briton sensibilities. Gabriel's foil in this respect might be the Citizen in Ulysses, whose blind (or rather cyclopean nationalism finds refuge in Barney Kiernan's pub where the anti-treating league, not drink, is denounced as “the curse of Ireland” (U [Ulysses] 12.684). Neither is portrayed in a particularly sympathetic light, however, and both Gabriel's snobbery and the Citizen's xenophobia, while at odds with one another, are similarly drunk with binaristic imperial, racial, cultural, and sexual attitudes toward Ireland's “historical heritage” and “external culture.”7 This antagonism, manifested in Dubliners in the form of intemperance, is motivated by what Georg Simmel interprets as “the resistance of the individual to be levelled, swallowed up in the socio-technological mechanism.”8 Simmel's figural use of “swallowed” is apropos to Joyce's text, for it signifies the ways in which (bodily) consumption and modernity are inextricably linked.

On a more general scale, some of the transformations in Irish society under the rationale of modernity can be understood via the theorization of the body. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault describes the process by which disciplinary power, through the manipulation of space and time, penetrates both the physical and the social body, producing what he has famously termed “docile bodies”—bodies that are tame, educable, and therefore efficient. Citing Jeremy Bentham's panopticon as the model par excellence, he explains the ways in which extrinsic schemata operating “in a diffused, multiple, polyvalent way” can induce discipline intrinsically in a subject:

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.9

As the quintessential space of disciplinary power, Joyce's Dublin can be seen in these terms, as the locus of panoptic technologies disseminated throughout the various institutions maintaining and maintained by colonialism and modernity. Thus the temperance retreats in the background of “Grace” and “The Dead” and in the “Nausicaa” episode of Ulysses—a chapter that is preoccupied with issues of observation and self-evaluation—can be seen as instances of the collaboration between the multiple apparatuses of religion (the backbone of many temperance movements) and modernity. One can also see how disciplinary power is evinced by Father Mathew's crusade during the 1840s, in which temperance readers, pamphlets that promulgated the ideologies of the empire under the guise of literacy, were disseminated throughout the national schools as part of the curriculum in Ireland. In all of these endeavors directed at the level of culture and national politics, the body with its practices becomes the primary site of contestation and struggle.

Within the sphere of the workplace, nowhere do we see the physical embodiment of modernity more evident in “Counterparts” than in the oppressive figure of Farrington's supervisor, Mr. Alleyne. His “piercing North of Ireland accent” (D 86) marks him as a foreigner to Dublin, but one who is clearly aligned with the ruling class, and, hence, with the English. Mr. Alleyne's name, which is perhaps derived from the German allein (meaning “alone”),10 further distinguishes him from the native employees. Isolated in his office upstairs, an outsider on the inside, he is emblematic of the piercing alien presence of modernity in the workplace. But Mr. Alleyne's affinities with the English go beyond his geo-political sensibilities, for it is through his physical disembodiment that Joyce depicts him as the representational embodiment of the apparatus of modernity. He penetrates the narrative as a disembodied sound, “a furious voice” (D 86)—later described as a “shrill voice” (D 86)—that is juxtaposed in the same sentence with an intercom bell which also rings “furiously” (D 86). Reduced to nothing more than the aggressive transmission of vibrations, Mr. Alleyne is represented in the story as the depersonalized mimicking of a telecommunicational device. When we finally do see him, he is described as “a little man wearing gold-rimmed glasses on a cleanshaven face. The head itself was so pink and hairless that it seemed like a large egg reposing on the papers” (D 87). Streamlined and optically enhanced, Mr. Alleyne's head itself takes on the appearance of the result of a labor. When he later scolds Farrington for his insubordinate yet felicitous remark, “[h]e shook his fist in the man's face till it seemed to vibrate like the knob of some electric machine” (D 91).

For Joyce, the product of disciplinary power in the workplace is not simply the division and abstraction of labor; it is also the principles of modernity made manifest in the physical body of Mr. Alleyne; or as Foucault puts it: “Discipline is no longer simply an art of distributing bodies, of extracting time from them and accumulating it, but of composing forces in order to obtain an efficient machine. The body is constituted as part of a multi-segmented machine.”11

In his zealous absorption of this discipline, Mr. Alleyne does not become solely associated with mechanization, but rather he becomes an interchangeable unit in the machine itself. The automaton-like behavior he evinces is evident in his constant repetition of phrases: “Mr Shelley said, sir”; Mr Shelley says, sir” (D 87); “Do you hear me now?; Do you hear me now?” (D 87); “You—know—nothing. Of course you know nothing” (D 91); “You impertinent ruffian! You impertinent ruffian!” (D 91); “You'll apologise to me; you'll apologise to me!” (D 91-2); “you'll quit the office instanter! You'll quit this”(D 92). Alleyne throws out commands like a well-oiled piston in a factory assembly line.12

In stark contrast to Mr. Alleyne is the idle, corpulent Farrington. Whereas Mr. Alleyne's body is the logical outcome of modernity—“polished” (D 87) and regulated—Farrington's body is described as “tall and of great bulk,” “hanging,” “dark wine-coloured,” “bulged forward,” and “dirty” (D 86); in other words, a body that exceeds the capacity of control. Whereas Mr. Alleyne's movements are abrupt and efficient (Simmel might characterize this as nervousness)—“he shot up his head” (D 88), “swivelled his chair” (D 90), “tapped a finger then flicked it” (D 90), “his mouth twitched” (D 91)—Farrington's are plodding and inefficient: he “muttered under his breath” (D 86), “pushed back his chair to stand up” (D 86), “went heavily upstairs puffing with labour” (D 86), “crammed his cap back again into his pocket” (D 89), “struggled on with his copy” (D 90), and of course, “wrote Bernard Bernard instead of Bernard Bodley” (D 90). Thus within the space of the workplace, as it is discursively constituted by the logic of progress and modernity, the corporeal differences between Mr. Alleyne and Farrington legitimate the former's positional superiority over the latter.

The seemingly antithetical characteristics of Mr. Alleyne and Farrington, as seen within the larger framework of modernity, can be understood as symbolic representations of a colonial distinction; that is, the discursive formation of oppositional categories in discourses of colonialism in order to perpetuate a logic of difference that always puts the colonized in subsidiary relation to the colonizer. This structure is apparent in the long-standing tradition of the “feminization” of Ireland, especially during the nineteenth century when writers such as Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold were making purportedly “scientific” observations about the Celts, and by implication the Irish. In his essay “Poésie des Races Celtiques,” Renan categorizes the Irish in terms of sexual and political congruence: “If it be permitted us to assign sex to nations as to individuals we should have to say without hesitance that the Celtic race … is an essentially feminine race.”13 Arnold, in “On the Study of Celtic Literature,” draws upon Renan's writings—as well as contemporary philology, ethnology, and anthropology—and comes to an “objective” conclusion which confirms his Teutonic masculinity: “No doubt the sensibility of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something feminine in them, and the Celt is thus particularly disposed to feel the spell of the feminine idiosyncrasy; he has an affinity to it; he is not far from its secret.” The somewhat romantic quality he attributes to the Celt, however, is not without the trace of a menace, for in the same paragraph Arnold disparagingly considers the Celt “undisciplined, anarchical, and turbulent.”14 The somewhat romantic quality he attributes to the Celt, however, is not without the trace of a menace, for in the same paragraph Arnold disparagingly considers the Celt “undisciplined, anarchical, and turbulent,” characteristics that Farrington, according to Mr. Alleyne's perceptions, certainly possesses. Thus in order to secure the cultural hegemony of the English in Ireland, Arnold's discussion of the Celtic race, disguised as scientific discourse, “produced a procedure for the cultural and political incorporation of the Celts which flattered them into accepting a subsidiary position for themselves vis-à-vis the English.”15

Inscribed by the paralyzing structures of colonialism and modernity, the hapless Farrington, in his oppositional relationship with Mr. Alleyne, is unavoidably constructed in terms of the category of the “feminine.” Joyce recognized this: within this discursive regime, the Irish are always-already constituted according to these terms. At the same time, these same structures legitimate the English as the colonial patriarch of the Celtic races: Mr. Alleyne as Farrington's “masculine” counterpart. As Renan and Arnold have made clear, Farrington's subordinate relationship to his boss has already been predetermined by his Irish sensibilities, which perhaps accounts for his passivity: “He stood still” (D 87), “bowed respectfully” (D 90)—in Mr. Alleyne's office as he endures, indeed “stands,” his often vociferous abuse.

This colonial distinction, however, cannot be seen as simply a categorical imposition; as Jacques Derrida has reminded us, any delimitation is always-already a contamination. These purported observations, therefore, go beyond distinguishing the Irish as “feminine” and by association “passive.” Moreover, they go beyond differentiating the English by a simple binary negation—as “masculine” and “aggressive.” For, as in the figure of Mr. Alleyne, these observations suggest that the Celt is always-already part of the English. As Peter Stallybrass and Allon White have powerfully argued, this double articulation of consciousness, that of having an underground self with the upper hand, “captures a nexus of power and desire which regularly reappears in the ideological construction of the low-Other.” Amending the Hegelian master-slave dynamic by symbolically including the slave within the political unconscious (to use Jameson's terms) of the master, they contend that “[t]he result is a mobile, conflictual fusion of power, fear and desire in the construction of subjectivity: a psychological dependence upon precisely those Others which are being rigorously opposed and excluded at the social level.”16. As I will explore later, the complex interaction between these two, opposing subjectivities is ultimately the desire for that Other which is demonized in the self.

Joyce disrupts this colonial distinction by representing Farrington as just the “undisciplined, anarchical, and turbulent” Irishman that Arnold pejoratively ascribes to him. For if we revisit the differences between Mr. Alleyne and Farrington, we quickly notice that whereas the former never seems to leave his office, the delimited sphere of modernity, the latter can never seem to stay in one place with his periodic, clandestine visits to the local public house. Within the structured domain of the workplace—with its rules, divisions, and spatiotemporal discipline—Farrington is somewhat of an anomaly. By virtue of his bodily excesses, his inability to be contained within the strictures of his occupation, Farrington disrupts the Foucauldian constraints of power. He is recalcitrant to intrinsic discipline, for his itinerant thoughts are repeatedly preoccupied with drinking: “But his head was not clear and his mind wandered away to the glare and rattle of the public-house. It was a night for hot punches” (D 90). Even his physical body, when he gazes at Mr. Alleyne's “polished skull” (D 87), resists passivity: “A spasm of rage gripped his throat for a few moments and then passed, leaving after it a sharp sensation of thirst. The man recognised the sensation and felt that he must have a good night's drinking” (D 87). He also resists efficiency: “He couldn't finish it on time. He longed to execrate aloud, to bring his fist down on something violently. His body ached to do something, to rush out and revel in violence” (D 90). While he is forced by the requirements of his job to finish his copy, all he can think about is his inferior (and confined) station at work and his desire for yet another drink in order to escape, however temporarily, his colonial subjectification. For Farrington, subjected as he is to his own “feminization,” chemical dependence enables a psychological form of independence, or at the very least it creates in his mind the condition of possibility for his own remasculinization.

Roy Rosenzweig, in his rich essay “The Rise of the Saloon,” traces the formation of this working-class, leisure institution within the parameters of repressive nineteenth-century industrial societies. With the increasing prohibition of drinking in the workplace (for it was deemed to compromise the efficiency of modernity), a primarily male working-class labor force increasingly sought spaces where they could congregate outside the workplace and where drinking would be permitted. In his discussion of the culture of the saloon, Rosenzweig emphasizes “the character of the saloon as ‘essentially a male refuge’ pervaded by an ‘aura of free-wheeling masculinity.’”17 As an emerging social space between labor and domesticity, the saloon allowed the working-class male to construct his subjectivity outside of what Louis Althusser has defined as “ideological state apparatuses,”18 which tend to reinforce the ruling class. Although the gendered environment of the saloon appeared to uphold and affirm certain values within the dominant culture, its construction as an alternative social space to the workplace allowed its patrons to stand in opposition to modernity, even if in a masculinist way. Thus for Farrington, the public house is not merely a site for male recreation; it is for him also a site for the re-creation and emotional renewal of his masculinity. It is perhaps no surprise then that after his humiliating encounter in Mr. Alleyne's office, where he has been discursively “feminized,” and after a particularly difficult time at his desk, Farrington feels compelled to sneak off to O'Neill's for a quick drink.

In his analysis of “Counterparts,” Vincent Cheng has argued that the practice of drinking in the story is symptomatic of Farrington's colonial victimization: “[T]here is the resort to drink, the opiate of the oppressed, as a mode of transference of personal and cultural rage.”19 His argument suggests that Farrington's lack of agency at work finds expression in the extremeness of his drinking. One could argue, however, that the practice of drinking enables a politically and socially disenfranchised male subject temporarily to elude his own subjection by disrupting the binary logic of hegemonic discourses upon which his subjectification is based. Farrington's decision to drink, therefore, creates a kind of hallucinogenic state that enables him to recuperate his masculinity by engaging in an activity that clashed with the dominant culture and is recalcitrant to the discourse of colonialism. Indeed, drinking in the public house frequently allows the Irish working-class male to subvert his own “feminized” representation within the colonial regime, deploying what Michel de Certeau has called a “tactic” in order temporarily to disrupt the efficient flows of modernity and to evade in a partial and limited way panoptic discipline. Rather than pathologize drink as symptomatic of violence, I would argue that Joyce distinguishes drinking as an alternative practice to the totalizing force of modernity.

Fortified with drink, Farrington returns to the workplace. There he encounters the “moist pungent odour of perfumes.” The presence of Miss Delacour reconfigures the one-to-one relationship between Farrington and Mr. Alleyne. As the “feminine,” racial Other, the eroticized figure of a Semitic Miss Delacour “smoothing the handle of her umbrella and nodding the great black feather in her hat” (D 90) (all elements of sexual iconography), becomes the demonized and desired mediator between Farrington and Mr. Alleyne, against which the two must define themselves. Garry Leonard argues, in a parallel analysis, that both men seek Miss Delacour's gaze for validation and a unified sense of a masculine self. When Mr. Alleyne interrogates Farrington about the missing correspondence, he directs his question to both Farrington and Miss Delacour: “Tell me, he added, glancing first for approval to the lady beside him, do you take me for a fool? Do you think me an utter fool?” (D 91). Farrington's slaked response is also made in terms of Miss Delacour:

The man glanced from the lady's face to the little egg-shaped head and back again; and, almost before he was aware of it, his tongue had found a felicitous moment:

—I don't think, sir, he said, that that's a fair question to put to me.

(D 91)

The result, of course, is Miss Delacour's smiling approval and Mr. Alleyne's humiliation, one that Joyce represents in terms a colonial stereotype: “Mr Alleyne flushed to the hue of a wild rose [evoking the color of Farrington's own ‘wine-coloured’] face and his mouth twitched with a dwarf's passion” (D 91). Farrington's visit to the public house produces the conditions for his own re-creation and discursively enables his tongue to “stand” against his “feminization.” In doing so, he reconstitutes his own “masculinity” by receiving the female acknowledgment of his projected heterosexual desire, an acknowledgment that Leonard similarly reads as the “approving gaze [of] the feminine prize.”20 This triangular scenario is played out again later in the story when Farrington departs from the confines of the workplace and joins his friends in “the comfort of the public-house” (D 92), where the Irish subject is at ease.

Departing from the private sphere of the workplace, Farrington next enters the (unofficial) public sphere of the public house, a public sphere that is also private; as Rosenzweig notes, the public house “stood outside the dominant cultural values of the late nineteenth century” by fostering an “ethic of reciprocity and mutuality” among its working-class patrons.21 With Nosey Flynn, O'Halloran, Paddy Leonard, and Higgins by his side, Farrington celebrates his now famous retort as everyone takes turns “standing” each other “exhilarating” drinks. As Rosenzweig explains, the social custom of “standing”—that is, treating—“provided the nineteenth-century Irishman with a crucial means of declaring his solidarity and equality with his kin and neighbors”; to refuse a drink was tantamount to an insult. Here then, Farrington's perpetual desire to be in the public house is not just to re-create his own masculinity, but also to put himself on the same level as other Irishmen (as opposed to being downstairs from Mr. Alleyne), to participate in the construction of a unified national identity that can be seen as a kind of recalcitrance to the “feminizing” discourse of colonialism and modernity. It is no surprise then, as Malcolm had indicated, that “Irish nationalism and the temperance movement were at odds.”22 For, as Emer Nolan writes, if “Nationalism seeks to recreate a sense of traditional community within contemporary mass culture,”23 the ethic of the public house constitutes a “pre-modern,” perhaps even “anti-modern,” response to the conditions of modernity. This ethic is surely regressive, but it nonetheless constitutes a response. The Irish working-class men represented in “Counterparts” need not resort to drink, but rather they seek to drink in order to counter temporarily the debilitating effects of their own oppression. By salvaging the practice that is frequently evoked to their discredit, the Irish subjects are able to reclaim a modicum of agency from the ruins of empire. In similar fashion, Nolan finds Joycean modernism and Irish nationalism “significantly analogous discourses,”24 an assertion which may have merit, but only if we understand both as being more complex than is traditionally perceived: internally fragmented and sometimes fraught with ambivalences and paradoxes.

For as much as drinking appears to authorize Irish nationalism, Joyce's text quickly disrupts and undermines this celebration of solidarity when Farrington is introduced to the Englishman Weathers. Once again, like the confrontation between Farrington and Mr. Alleyne, the confrontation at the Scotch House reproduces the one-to-one oppositional relationship between Farrington and Weathers. But unlike Mr. Alleyne, Weathers is “an acrobat and knockabout artiste” (D 94), which places him outside the conventional circles of English society. However, like Mr. Alleyne, Weathers is a foreigner, and, here, an outsider on the inside. Moreover, his association with the ruling class puts him in a different relationship with other men at the bar; Weathers's presence, in effect, challenges the “ethic of reciprocity and mutuality” of the public house. But as is the custom, “Farrington stood a drink all round” (D 94). As the evening progresses “O'Halloran stood a round and then Farrington stood another round, Weathers protesting that the hospitality was too Irish” (D 94). Weathers exploits the custom of “standing” no longer a means by which to declare one's solidarity and equality with his kin and neighbors, by allowing himself to be provided for at the expense of the Irish. Although Weathers does end up buying the others a round of drinks, he does not participate in the custom of “standing” as it is practiced by the Irishmen; the term is in fact never used in connection with him. Instead, “Weathers made them all have just one little tincture at his expense” (D 94). Thus within the space of the public house, a putative space outside of modernity, the figure of Weathers enslaves the two Irishmen by their own national custom and allegorically reproduces the condition of colonialism.

Next, when at Mulligan's, Farrington is drawn into another triangular scenario when Weathers acknowledges the presence of some his friends:

Weathers saluted them and told the company that they were out of the Tivoli. Farrington's eyes wandered at every moment in the direction of one of the young women. There was something striking in her appearance. An immense scarf of peacock-blue muslin was wound round her hat and knotted in a great bow under her chin; and she wore bright yellow gloves, reaching to the elbow. Farrington gazed admiringly at the plump arm which she moved often and with much grace; and when, after a little time, she answered his gaze […] he admired still more her large dark brown eyes.

(D 95)

In a passage that Joyce was later forced to delete, Weathers offers to introduce Farrington to a young woman who is explicitly depicted as a prostitute. Once again, as with Miss Delacour, the young woman becomes a “demonized” and desired mediator between Farrington and Weathers, against whom the two must define themselves. In constructing his own masculine subjectivity, Farrington once again directs his heterosexist gaze toward the “eroticized,” female Other. He is struck, bound in his fascination with her “peacock-blue” scarf and her graceful movements. And when “she answer[s] his gaze,” Farrington is even more delighted in this frozen moment of recognition, the recognition of his own masculinity and heterosexual desire.

But the eyes he sees are “dark brown,” like his own “dirty” eyes, and before he realizes it the young woman gets up to leave: “She glanced at him once or twice and, when the party was leaving the room, she brushed against his chair and said O, pardon! in a London accent. He watched her leave the room in the hope that she would look back at him, but he was disappointed” (D 95). Whereas Miss Delacour affirmed Farrington's masculinity with her smile, the young woman in this situation, who turns out to be English, disrupts—one can even say reverses—her own sexual objectification as the low-Other by revealing herself to be the high-Other. The result is Farrington's anger: “He cursed his want of money and cursed all the rounds he had stood, particularly all the whiskies and Apollinaris which he had stood to Weathers. If there was one thing he hated it was a sponge. He was so angry that he lost count of the conversation with his friends” (D 95); and later, when on the train home,“[h]is heart swelled with fury and, when he thought of the woman in the big hat who had brushed against him and said Pardon! his fury nearly choked him” (D 97).

This disabling moment of “smouldering anger and revengefulness” (D 96) can be understood through Jacques Lacan's famous analysis of “the mirror stage,” which explains the formative moment at which an infant develops his subjectivity, his ego, his I/eye. Immediately admiring the woman as an Other, a non-self, Farrington initially imagines that he has mastery over her image, which is a surprise, especially considering the fact that he sees his own corpulent body as fragmentary and the woman's as unitary and graceful. He immediately desires her and identifies with her, but he also feels anger toward her because the body of the Other is whole and his is not. This leads to what Lacan believes is the nexus between narcissism and aggressivity. Farrington's construction of his self in opposition to an Other is thus based upon a wrong conception of the self, or what Lacan refers to as “méconnaissance.25 Therefore, the Other is in actuality not “other” but a projection of the (unconscious) self-image. Thus Farrington realizes that his masculine desire for the “feminine Other”—enabled by his drinking—is in actuality the projection of femininity upon himself. Drawn to the color of the woman's scarf—“peacock-blue,” the peacock being a symbol of vanity—and the color of her eyes, his narcissism is interrupted by the woman's London accent and by his inability to master her when she disappoints his gaze, no longer the low-Other, but a high-English-Other. He realizes that she had been gazing at him, that she had mastery over his gaze, his eye/I, his self. Farrington realizes that he is in fact that low-Other that he saw in her, and what masters him is indeed England. His defeat is only emphasized by his loss to Weathers in their arm-wrestling match, in which he is unable to “uphold the national honour” (D 95). Simultaneously enabled and disabled by his drinking, Farrington's double defeat causes him to curse “all the rounds he had stood” (D 95). Joyce depicts him in a fury that “nearly choked him” (D 97).

Farrington's desire to seek an emotional escape from the panoptic discipline of the workplace results in his being further imprisoned by an English gaze. No longer the space in which his masculinity is re-created and renewed, the public house becomes the place where Farrington's “masculine” identity becomes further dismantled. Like his experience at work, the “feminizing” effect of colonialism becomes here reproduced in his interaction with the English woman, and Farrington, in his dependence upon alcohol, puts himself in the self-reflexive position of coming to the realization of his own self-negation. Ironically, Farrington's psychological independence becomes the means by which he is further made dependent—“he had not even got drunk. He began to feel thirsty again and he longed to be back again in the hot reeking public-house” (D 97)—so much so that it nearly chokes him. The tragedy is that Farrington's dependence upon masculine, heterosexual validation forces him to reproduce the repressive behavior of which he is so painfully aware.

In his 1843 article in Nation, Thomas Davis, one of the principle members of the nationalist organization Young Ireland, attempts to reconcile the problem of intemperance with his own political beliefs:

[The Irishman] drank nothing for some 350 days in the year; but once or maybe oftener in the month, he got roaring drunk. This occasional debauch was the Lethe-moment of all his sorrows. He then forgot all his wrongs. His cabin was warm, his belly full, his back covered—for an afternoon; but he woke in the morning penniless, broken-headed, guilty, conscious-sore. During his intoxication he had flung off his chains, and his duties too. He lost sight of his own miseries and the comfort of his wife and children also; and for this transient flush of intemperance he not only inflicted severer privations on himself, but the hearth of his bosom's wife was colder and the board of his young ones more scanty for months to come. Narrowed means, injured character, and sourest temper, with starvation and quarrels and degradation, were a fearful penalty for a short pleasure. Still the very greatness of his suffering was his excuse—his natural excuse for making it greater, in order to achieve liberty and luxury for an hour by the magic of intoxication.26

In what may be seen as a virtual sociological reading of Joyce's fictional narrative, this account underscores the paradoxical properties of drinking. In arguing against the temperance movements of his day, Davis contends that drinking may offer possibilities for the nationalist cause, even if at the expense of disrupting the domestic harmony of one's family life. Indeed, he acknowledges that, whatever emancipatory effects drinking may provide, it unfortunately comes at the price of human (usually female or juvenile) suffering. As this document and “Counterparts” show, it is frequently the bodies of wives and children of these drinkers who must bear that cost.

As Davis makes clear, the Irish practice of drinking, as it struggles with modernity, is deeply implicated in the question of nationalism. For as Nolan explains: “Nationalism … always seeks to enable people to enter into fully-fledged modernity, but tries to do so by reinventing modernity on its own terms, by retaining something from an archaic, pre-modern form of community.”27 The environment of the public house can be seen as an example of this. But as Joyce reveals, although drinking appears to advance some of the goals of nationalism, it is only possible through an outright transgression of those very principles. Foucault comes to the conclusion that modernity is “an attitude,”28 rather than a period of history, an attitude that both produces and struggles against its own countermodernity, a condition of recalcitrance within which the original tyranny is unconsciously inscribed. This is perhaps what Kiberd means when he declares that Joyce “began from the premise that to be Irish was to be modern anyway”29; or as Marshall Berman writes, “[T]o be fully modern is to be anti-modern. [I]t [is] impossible to grasp and embrace the modern world's potential without loathing and fighting against some of its most palpable realities.”30 For if to be modern means to have an alternative perception of independence—an independence that is predicted upon fragmentation, self-negation, and compromise—then to be Irish is also to reproduce the multiple subjectivities that we see in Farrington.

The story thus ends where we began—at home. Again: battered and broke, Farrington violently redirects his anger and defeat toward his son Tom; bullied at work and at the public houses, he bullies at home. What had been for Farrington a condition for the possibility of recalcitrance, becomes in this instance also a factor in his own disenfranchisement. Joyce writes, “The man sat down heavily on one of the chairs while the little boy lit the lamp. He began to mimic his son's flat accent, saying half to himself: At the chapel. At the chapel, if you please!” (D 97-98). He begins to mimic Tom, as Mr. Alleyne had mimicked him and the bell. When he jumps up “furiously” (D 98) to exact violence upon his son, we are reminded of the parallel to Mr. Alleyne's and the intercom's furious behavior. Moreover, Farrington's angry declaration, “By God, I'll teach you to do that again” (D 98), carries overtones of the tyranny of Father Dolan in A Portrait and other disciplinary/ideological apparatuses, which, of course, elicits Tom's panicked attempt at atonement with a “Hail Mary” (D 98). By the end of the story, Farrington's failed attempt at his own masculine renewal and national identification prompts his son to offer him a renewal of a different, more spiritual, kind. Unfortunately, because of his drinking, Farrington's final attempt at forging his identity takes on the familiar form of violence. As David Lloyd points out, this is the dilemma of most nationalist modes of resistance:

Even in its oppositional stance, nationalism repeats the master narrative of imperialism, the narrative of development which is always applied with extreme rigour and priority to colonized peoples. … [T]he nationalist desire to develop the race into authenticity, borrowed already from a universalist ideology, produces the hegemonic conditions for the ultimate perpetuation of imperial domination even after independence is achieved.31

In his attempt to achieve a unified subjectivity as an Irish man against and within the presence of modernity (and its expression in colonialism), Farrington turns to drinking as a decidedly “pre-” or “anti-modern” form of resistance. However, as with many of the characters in Dubliners, this transgressive impulse is enacted “to the point where it becomes self-negating,”32 a self-reflexive gesture that is crucial to the development of the attitude of modernity. Any form of resistance, therefore, is “fated always to have the old, familiar tyranny inscribed in it.”33 It is here that we can then understand in colonial terms the Gramscian notion of “hegemony,” as the internalization of the principles and processes of modernity.

Farrington's predicament seems to offer him no alternative other than that in which he has been unconsciously inscribed. Thus, in sitting down to colonialism, Farrington “stands” England, which, in this final sense, is to maintain in upright position, stable and affirmed. Farrington, by the end of the story, submits to his colonization and the principles of modernity, which for Joyce is a condition of his paralysis. His aggression toward Tom is indicative of that paralysis, for the only way he can hold on to his masculinity is to become a product and a purveyor of discipline and modernity, in other words, the counterpart of the empire.


  1. My distinction between the public and the private spheres follows that of Jürgen Habermas. See “The Public Sphere,” in Rethinking Popular Culture, ed. Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, Rethinking Popular Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 398-404.

  2. This letter, dated 5 May 1906, is the same letter in which Joyce addresses the (English) printer's objections to “Counterparts.” Letters II, p. 134.

  3. Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 330.

  4. Seamus Deane, “Civilians and Barbarians,” in Ireland's Field Day (London: Hutchinson, 1985), p. 37.

  5. Elizabeth Malcom, “Temperance and Irish Nationalism,” in Ireland under the Union: Varieties of Tension: Essays in Honour of T. W. Moody, ed. F. S. L. Lyons and R. A. J. Hawkins, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 112.

  6. Malcom, p. 112.

  7. Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” trans. Edward A. Shils, in Donald N. Levine, ed. On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 324.

  8. Simmel, p. 324.

  9. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979), pp. 202-3.

  10. John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, eds., James Joyce's “Dubliners”: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), p. 76.

  11. Foucault, p. 164.

  12. Garry Leonard, in ReadingDublinersAgain: A Lacanian Perspective (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), also discusses “Counterparts” in terms of repetition and mechanization, but from a psychoanalytic perspective.

  13. Ernest Renan, The Poetry of the Celtic Races, trans. W. G. Hutchison (London: Walter Scott, 1897), p. 8.

  14. Matthew Arnold, On the Study of Celtic Literature and Other Essays (1910; reprint, New York: Dutton, 1976), p. 86.

  15. David Cairns and Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), p. 49.

  16. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 5.

  17. Roy Rosenzweig, “The Rise of the Saloon,” in Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds. Rethinking Popular Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 147.

  18. See Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation),” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 127-86.

  19. Vincent J. Cheng, Joyce, Race, and Empire (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 121.

  20. Leonard, p. 175.

  21. Rosenzweig, p. 147, p. 143.

  22. Malcom, p. 112

  23. Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. xii.

  24. Nolan, p. xii.

  25. Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1972), p. 6.

  26. Quoted in Malcom, 81-82; emphasis added.

  27. Nolan, p. 110.

  28. See Michel Foucault, “What Is Enlightenment?” trans. Catherine Porter, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), p. 39.

  29. Kiberd, 266-67.

  30. Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (London: Verso, 1983), p. 14.

  31. David Lloyd, Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 54.

  32. Kiberd, p. 330.

  33. Kiberd, p. 330.

Bonnie Roos (essay date spring 2002)

SOURCE: Roos, Bonnie. “James Joyce's ‘The Dead’ and Bret Harte's Gabriel Conroy: The Nature of the Feast.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 15, no. 1 (spring 2002): 99-126.

[In the following essay, Roos traces the influences of American writer Bret Harte's novel Gabriel Conroy on Joyce's story, “The Dead.”]

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

—Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal,” 1729

“Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.”

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1914

Toward the end of James Joyce's “The Dead” (1907), Gabriel Conroy's wife Gretta cries herself to sleep after telling her husband about Michael Furey, a childhood friend and victim of consumption who died after facing the cold of a winter night to confess his love for her. Disillusioned by the revelation that she had known the romance of having a man die for her (and that she had carried this secret quietly for years), he watches her sleep, wondering about the girlish beauty that must have inspired such adolescent heroism: “He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death” (234). More than a mere acceptance of the transitory nature of beauty, Gabriel's realization expresses a realism that stands in opposition to the romantic ideal of heroic self-sacrifice that Michael Furey embodies. Michael Furey's disease, moreover, a conventional feature of the romantic personality, personifies a sentimentalized notion of Irish national identity predicated on starvation. References to starvation in Irish literature contemporary with “The Dead,” invite speculation about literary representations of Ireland's national trauma, the Great Famine, which so few Irish writers discuss.

In this [essay], I argue that Joyce's writing about the Famine is more complicated than critics have previously understood. He, almost anomalously among his canonized Irish contemporaries, discusses the issue of Ireland's starvation and its relationship to Ireland's colonial status. As Vincent Pecora suggests in his remarkable essay “Social Paralysis and the Generosity of the Word: Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” Joyce's work is a national and political critique of Ireland's complicity in its own colonization. I find that Joyce's allusion in “The Dead” not only confirm Pecora's reading, but bespeak an even sharper critique than Pecora describes. Within traditional Joyce criticism, “The Dead” is connected to starvation through its references to Dante's Inferno 33; more recently, “The Dead” has been connected to Bret Harte's Gabriel Conroy (serialized 1871; 1875), which also begins with a starvation story. Nevertheless, criticism of these two works with respect to Joyce has overlooked the prevalent theme of cannibalism within them and how it relates to the Morkan feast and to Ireland's colonialism. As Pecora notes, Ireland's oppression is due to an ideology that perpetuates a self-sacrificing tradition among the Irish people. In “The Dead,” Joyce faults even more specifically Irish Revival writers, making particular use of W. B. Yeats's “Cathleen ni Houlihan” (1902). These writers, who might be the leaders of Ireland as Joyce implies, refuse to tell the “reality” of Ireland's situation. They inappropriately substitute folklore and fairytales for “truth.” Finally, while Joyce talks about the Famine more directly than his contemporaries, he remains a product of his time. His allusions to cannibalism and its relationship to the aftermath of the Irish Famine expose the truth, but they also cloak his meaning. Joyce's difficulties in expressing his feelings about the Famine are such that they can only be framed through the mediation of two other starvation stories. These difficulties serve as a telling indication of the effects of the Famine on the Irish psyche.

Irish Studies scholars are aware of the facts of the Great Irish Famine of (approximately) 1846-1851; nevertheless, the statistics bear repetition. When Joyce wrote “The Dead,” the number of people who actually died of starvation during the Great Potato Famine was reckoned at over 700,000—almost 30٪ of the population in certain counties; worst hit were the Gaelic speakers and keepers of Irish Culture in Western Ireland.1 This does not include the numbers of people who were visited by epidemics of severe dysentery and scurvy, complications of starvation (Lowe-Evans, 13). As a result of the Famine, over a million emigrants, especially men, left Ireland between 1846 and 1851 (Lowe-Evans 11) for Europe, the United States and elsewhere; this exodus continued until the latter half of the twentieth century.2 By the time Joyce was writing “The Dead,” the population had dropped to roughly half of its pre-Famine level.3 These debilitating effects of the Famine on the cohesion of the Irish nation resulted in Ireland's inability to resist the British Empire. As Mary Lowe-Evans attests, “The ‘docility’ of the people was guaranteed by their indebtedness to their landlords, their colonial status, and most immediately, by their starving condition” (16). The religious fervor of the Irish exacerbated perceptions of this lackluster resistance. Lowe-Evans continues,

The Church had inculcated a scrupulousness of conscience into Irish thinking that devalued secular life and individuality. This scrupulousness manifested itself in the forms of docility, passivity, apathy, and submissiveness to the Church, the most glaring example of which was the national response to the Great Famine.

(Lowe-Evans, 21)

Thus, the English characterized the Irish as enduring the Famine and colonial empire with “docility” and “passivity,” qualities that were perpetuated by the religious ideals of living for the hereafter rather than the present, of giving hospitality to even those who deserved it least, and in the glory of self-sacrifice.

And yet, efforts to romanticize the plight of the seemingly martyred Irish at the mercy of the debauched English were not simple in light of documented evidence. As Christine Kinealy points out, one of the impediments of representing the Famine with historical accuracy was that

the more unpleasant truths about the Famine [had] to be confronted and not avoided. For example, the ships that left Ireland laden with food during the Famine were doing so largely for the financial benefit of Irish merchants and traders. The large farmers who benefited from the availability and sale of cheap land toward the latter end of the Famine were also Irish and, sometimes, Catholic. … Corruption, stealing, hoarding, and even cannibalism are part of the darker reality of the Famine years, and should not be forgotten in an attempt to make the Famine a simplistic morality tale about the “goodies” (the Irish people en masse) and the “baddies” (the whole of the British people).4

As Kinealy suggests, the Irish were in some ways complicit in their continuing colonization. There were, therefore, complications involved in an Irishman's realist depiction of this tragedy and its aftermath. And perhaps also evident is a marked change in the figurative language open to writers to express their vexed sentiments. Irish folklore may have distorted the traditional religious symbolic language depended upon by many artists. One example that derives from the unprecedented misery of the Famine, about children sucking at the breasts of their dead mothers, transforms the traditional image of the Madonna and child. A further development of this motif gives rise to what Patricia Lysaght describes as “the most horrific image of the Great Hunger”:

I heard my grandmother saying—she was from the Kenmare side—that the worst sight she ever saw—she saw the woman laid out on the street [in Kenmare] and the baby at her breast. She died of the Famine fever; nobody would take the child, and in the evening the child was eating the mother's breast.5

Given such horror, as Terry Eagleton characterizes it, Irish writing “is marked by a hiatus between the experience it has to record, and the conventions available for articulating it. How are those conventions to take the measure of a dislocated, fantasy-ridden society in which truth is elusive and history itself reads like some penny dreadful?”6

Whether as a result of these difficulties or simply as an emotional reaction to devastating trauma, for more than fifty years after Ireland's Great Famine, the response of the most canonical Irish writers was either to pretend it and Ireland did not exist (Oscar Wilde; George Bernard Shaw), or to romanticize Ireland with Celtic folklore revivals (Bram Stoker; W. B. Yeats). As June Dwyer comments, “A generation later, the reaction of many revival thinkers and writers to the ugliness of the past was to ignore Ireland's colonial history entirely and instead to base the nation's claim to identity on folklore and legend.”7 Eagleton suggests more precisely that “[t]here is indeed a literature of the Famine. … But it is in neither sense of the word a major literature. There is a handful of novels and a body of poems, but few truly distinguished works. Where is the Famine in the literature of the Revival?” he asks, “Where is it in Joyce?” (13) Thus, in Eagleton's view, the Famine remains unspoken. Though plays like J. M. Synge's “Playboy of the Western World” (1907) suggest the ravages of the Famine—evident in the forbidding, desolate landscape, the dearth of suitable men, and the general desperation of the populace—any discourse about the Famine can only be intuited. The Famine is only implicit in the writings of early Modernist authors.

Against this tendency in Irish literary tradition, I suggest that Joyce sees himself as writing directly about the Famine and its aftermath in “The Dead.” It is not unprecedented in traditional Joyce criticism to link Joyce's most lavish and extraordinary feast, the Irish dinner at the Misses Morkan's Christmas party in “The Dead,” with the opposite theme of starvation. In her comparison between “The Dead” and the works of Dante, Mary T. Reynolds offers a possible literary connection between feast and famine. She suggests that “Joyce's setting, a Christmas feast which calls attention to food as dramatically as Dante's tale of Ugolino portrays starvation, is … an ironical inversion of Inferno 33.8 In Inferno 33, Dante's pilgrim enters the lowest circle of hell—inhabited by traitors against family, guests and nation—to hear the story of Count Ugolino, starved to death in life, whom he finds frozen in a hole with his teeth embedded in the neck and skull of his mortal enemy, the Archbishop Ruggieri. By Ugolino's account, he was unjustly imprisoned for crimes against country together with his beloved children in the Tower of Famine [“titol de la fame”].9 After a premonition of his fate, and by the Archbishop's orders, the guards come at mealtime and, instead of distributing food, nail the doors of the tower shut, effectively leaving those inside to die of hunger (33.46-47). Unable to weep or unwilling to show weakness to his children, and turning to stone inside [“sì dentro impetrai”] (33.49), Ugolino bites his hands [“ambo le man”] in anguish (33.58). Noting their father's actions and mistaking his gesture for a symptom of hunger, the children offer to sacrifice themselves as food to him:

O father, you would make us suffer less,
if you would feed on us: you were the one
who gave us this sad flesh; you take it from us!
[e disser: “Padre, assai ci fia men doglia
se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti
queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia.”]


Ugolino calms himself to placate his children; but on the fourth day, his first son dies, asking “Why don't you help me? Why, my father?” [“Padre mio, ché non m'aiuti?”] (33.69). Ugolino watches the other three sons die day by day until, after the last child's death, the force of “hunger proved more powerful than grief” [più che 'l dolor, poté 'l digiuno] (33.75). According to Reynolds, like Ugolino, Gabriel is a traitor against family, guests, benefactors and country, like the sinners in the lowest circle of Hell (161): he is forced to admit to Molly Ivors, “‘I'm sick of my own country, sick of it!’”; and he sins against family and hospitality, as he wonders bitterly to himself, “‘What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?’”10 As penalty for these offenses, Gabriel Conroy—like Dante's sinners, as Reynolds sees it—is condemned to various punishments within the frozen, snowy “inferno.”

Reynolds's observations are useful because Joyce's predilection for the works of Dante and his stay in Italy invite a natural comparison between Gabriel's snow and the icy snow of Dante's Inferno. But I also want to develop her reading further by investigating the meaning of Ugolino's condemnation, which seems to me critical to understanding Gabriel's crimes and subsequent torture. For example, unwilling to admit their plight, Ugolino's reaction to the demise he faces with his sons is stony and uncommunicative. As Mark Musa explains, Ugolino's sons' Christ-like willingness to sacrifice themselves as food—their bodies as bread for their father's nourishment,

shows that they have greater concern and compassion for their father than he has for them. The word “Padre” is repeated all three times that the children speak, pointing to a spiritual interpretation of their interaction with their father … The children importune the father for spiritual bread and offer their redemptive pity, but Ugolino reciprocates only with silence … Ugolino could in fact have helped his sons—if only with spiritual and emotional consolation—but he did not nor did he try … [Thus his son's unintentionally cruel parting words, “Why don't you help me? Why, my father?” (“Padre mio, ché non m'aiuti?”)] echo those of Christ on the cross: “My God … why have you abandoned me?”11

Ugolino is thus condemned to the hellish Inferno for his crimes against family—his refusal to offer his sons spiritual, if not physical, nourishment by sharing his fears with them honestly. This, I argue, is closer to the nature of Gabriel's crimes against family because Gabriel too refuses real emotional engagement with all the characters at the party; moreover, the refusal of spiritual or emotional consolation through a refusal of truth-telling is precisely the accusation Joyce launches against what he sees as an Irish sentimentalist tradition in Revival writers like Yeats.

Finally, while Reynolds discusses Ugolino's starvation, she does not fully unpack the gruesome implications of this particular story. Musa reports that most early commentators agree that the story points merely to starvation, but more recently, Dante critics see the story as hinting at Ugolino's cannibalism. Suggestions of this possibility abound: Count Ugolino cannibalizes the body of his enemy, Archbishop Ruggieri, in Hell, with his teeth gnawing at the Archbishop's skull. While in the Tower of Famine, Ugolino subconsciously chews his own hands, which his sons interpret as an indication of his desire to eat his own flesh. In response, they offer their bodies to him to eat, though he refuses. Finally, having lived longer than any of his four sons, for Ugolino, “hunger proved more powerful than grief” [più che 'l dolor, poté 'l digiuno], an ambiguous and highly disputed line that has been variously translated, but which may mean that hunger proved more powerful than grief—and so Ugolino dies after them; or alternately, that hunger proved more powerful than grief—and so Ugolino eats his own dead sons. John S. Carroll's 1904 reading of Ugolino as cannibalizing his sons was articulated by the time Joyce was writing “The Dead”; and if Ugolino's last line is a reference to his cannibalism, Carroll reasons,

it would give a peculiar and horrible appropriateness to the savage cannibalism in which [the pilgrim] found the Count absorbed: he now devours to all eternity the man whose inhuman cruelty made him so far forget his fatherhood as to devour his own flesh and blood. It would show us also that to Ugolino himself the worst torture of Hell was not the ice, but the haunting intolerable memory, never to be shaken off, of the unnatural crime to which famine drove him.12

Interestingly, in Ugolino's account of these events, as in newspaper accounts of “savagery” or “barbarism” in Famine Ireland at the time, cannibalism cannot be explicitly spoken—further evidence of the inability to articulate the ugliest realities.

I find Reynolds's claim that Joyce refers to Inferno 33 all the more compelling in light of Joyce's allusion to a second snow and starvation story, Bret Harte's Gabriel Conroy. It bears certain parallels to Dante's version of Hell and in particular, his Canto 33 (as Reynolds suspects); it also confirms Joyce's juxtaposition of feast with famine in “The Dead.” In addition to the significance of Harte's title to “The Dead,” the opening lines of Harte's story are uncannily parallel to Joyce's final paragraph:

Snow. Everywhere. As far as the eye could reach—fifty miles, looking southward from the highest white peak,—filling ravines and gulches, and dropping from the walls of cañons in white shroud-like drifts; fashioning the dividing ridge into the likeness of a monstrous grave, hiding the bases of giant pines, and completely covering young trees and larches; rimming with porcelain the bowl-like edges of still, cold lakes, and undulating in motionless white billows to the edge of the distant horizon. Snow lying everywhere over the California Sierras on the 15th day of March, 1848, and still falling.

It had been snowing for ten days: snowing in finely granulated powder, in damp, spongy flakes, in thin, feathery plumes; snowing from a leaden sky steadily; snowing fiercely, shaken out of purple-black clouds in white flocculent masses, or dropping in long level lines, like white lances from the tumbled and broken heavens. But always silently! The woods were so choked with it,—it had so permeated, filled and possessed earth and sky; it had so cushioned and muffled the ringing rocks and echoing hills that all sound was deadened. The strongest gust, the fiercest blast, awoke no sigh or complaint from the snow-packed, rigid files of forest. There was no cracking of bough nor crackle of underbush; the overladen branches of pine and fir yielded and gave way without a sound. The silence was vast, measureless, complete! Nor could it be said that any outward sign of life or motion changed the fixed outlines of this stricken landscape. Above, there was no play of light and shadow, only the occasional deepening of storm or night. Below, no bird winged its flight across the white expanse, no beast haunted the confines of the black woods; whatever of brute nature might have once inhabited these solitudes had long since flown to the lowlands.13

Joyce critics have long recognized that the name Gabriel Conroy from Joyce's “The Dead” was taken from Harte's novel. Gerhard Friedrich's “Bret Harte as a Source for James Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” published in 1954, provides a brief two-page confirmation of a connection between the writers—which highlights especially Harte's opening paragraphs for his novel (cited above, about a group of travelers caught in a snow storm), and Joyce's enigmatically beautiful final paragraph about snow faintly falling, and falling faintly, “on all the living and the dead.”14 Friedrich also points out the suggestive subtitles in Harte's Book I, “On the Threshold,” including “Without … Within … Gabriel … Out of the Woods—Into the Shadows” (443). Perhaps because he only indicates that correspondences exist between Joyce's “The Dead” and Harte's Gabriel Conroy, Friedrich's article has since been virtually ignored. As Wallace Gray explains, the fact that “Joyce takes Gabriel's name from a novel by the nineteenth-century American writer … has been a puzzle for Joyceans, since [Harte's] character as well as the sometimes sentimental and always adventurous aspects of the novel seem to have no connection to Joyce's story.”15 I would propose that if Joyce's allusion to Harte's novel remains “a puzzle,” the reason has less to do with a lack of “connection to Joyce's story” than that this connection has remained so thoroughly uninvestigated, an oversight which this essay begins to correct.16 In keeping with Friedrich's earlier observations, I will only be discussing the first book, “On the Threshold,” of Harte's novel in any detail, but I believe the connections invite further investigation of Joyce's relationship with Harte and with America more generally.

Part of what makes Harte unique among his American contemporaries is that, though his novels are often sentimental, he does not mythologize the space of the American West. Harte generally uses some of the most gritty, ugly historical events of American Western emigration to expose the depredation often glossed over in more typical romances. Gabriel Conroy is further distinctive among Harte's novels because of its opening story, about a group of travelers caught in a snowstorm, stranded and slowly dying of starvation—a parallel Joyce draws upon for the party of “The Dead.” Both the will to deromanticize nationalist mythologies and the focus on the issue of starvation probably appealed to Joyce. Harte's sensitivity to the difficulties of articulating historic tragedy within a fictional narrative may have intrigued Joyce as well. Harte's opening book demonstrates his consciousness of this problem, garnered from his years of both journalistic and fiction writing experiences. After the narrative description of the snow given above, Harte's Chapter 1 “Without” opens upon a crudely fashioned sign: “NOTICE. CAPTAIN CONROY'S party of emigrants are lost in the snow, and camped up in this cañon. Out of provisions and starving!” (18-19). As Harte's narrator further explains, “The language of suffering is not apt to be artistic or studied, but I think that rhetoric could not improve this actual record. So I let it stand …” (19). Harte's narrator's appreciation for the difficulties of conveying factual calamity—in this case the lost starving emigrants in the snow—is significant; he admits that what is taken for “fact” in the story is more poignant than any “rhetoric,” or aestheticized language could make it; it cannot be improved upon by the storyteller-artist. This claim is at once complicated by Harte's own fictional adventure writing, which serves as testimony to a history of any number of Western emigrants who set off to make new homes for themselves, but were lost in crossing the Sierras. But even at these early stages in the story, Harte notes the tension regarding the novelist's desire to express the aesthetically inexpressible that is, nonetheless, historical fact. Though the impact of American Western emigrant starvation in no way compared to the magnitude of the Irish Famine's catastrophic effects, in Joyce's attempt to tell a “moral history of Ireland,” he might have appreciated the self-conscious struggle for literary realism expressed in Harte's work.17

Harte's narrator opens with an exploration of the traumatized psyche of the trapped pioneers “on the threshold” of salvation. He explains that several members of the stranded, bedraggled travelers have already died, including their leader, Captain Conroy. Those who remain are desperate. Their scout, the roguish Philip Ashley, returns without having seen any sign of help to the first of their two camps. Though he does not believe it, Philip reassures those inside that help will arrive “Tomorrow, surely!” (22). He knows the other immigrants prefer to hear the hopeful falsity than to face the dire truth of their circumstances. Their plight is also symbolically represented in the pathetic figure of Mrs. Dumphy holding her dead child, which has been replaced with a “doll,” an “effigy,” a “rag baby” (38-39) that she rocks “with a faith that was piteous” (21). In her insanity, she too substitutes a preferable fiction for the truth, the fetishized rag doll for her own dead, flesh-and-blood child. Indicative of the true misery to which this first group of emigrants has descended, the others ignore her mad mourning entirely, their lethargy an eerie testimony to their desperate conditions. But on one occasion, Mr. Dumphy slaps his wife for her insensibility. This slap is a reaction to evidence of Mrs. Dumphy's madness, but also amounts to the cuffing of a mother for grieving over her—and his—dead infant, a blow to the introspection that would be admirable in the ideal woman; not so in these conditions. The result of their desperate circumstances is that all familial vows, all chivalry, all religion, indeed all culture, are lost in this de-romanticized West. Mrs. Dumphy fails to react to this smack and the narrator comments, “the apathy with which these people received blows or slights was more terrible than wrangling” (21). As her Madonna-like “faith” suggests, Mrs. Dumphy, like the others, prays instead for “‘Tomorrow, surely!’” Finally, observing their cruelty, Philip angrily admits it would be better for them all to take their chances in the snow than to stay. But rather than bonding the group more intimately together, hearing the truth causes still more divisiveness. They do not believe that Philip is correct and instead imagine him plotting against them. Gleaned from his attention to historical accounts, Harte's ability to portray the most devastating effects of hunger—the apathy and docility from the physical effects of starvation, the divisiveness, and the emigrants' refusal to honestly confront their situation—are acutely realistic. They are also the very themes that Joyce will draw upon in “The Dead,” in relating the experience of the lost emigrants to Ireland's starving, apathetic, docile masses who also wait for an unrealistic, quasi-religious future salvation.

As the first book progresses, Harte dramatizes the suffering of his characters through a realistic exploration of how the fetishized object serves to veil the truth—a truth that must be faced if the characters are to survive—from the stranded emigrants. As Philip Ashley heads over to the second camp, the members of the first camp proceed to imagine the feast that might be available at a local restaurant:

“Well,” said Mr. March, “It began with beefsteak and injins—beefsteak, you know, juicy and cut very thick, and jess squashy with gravy and injins.” There was a very perceptible watering of the mouth in the party, and Mr. March, with the genius of a true narrator, under the plausible disguise of having forgotten his story, repeated the last sentence—“jess squashy with gravy and injins. And taters—baked.”

“You said fried before!—and dripping with fat!”—interposed Mrs. Brackett, hastily.

“For them as likes fried—but baked goes furder—skins and all—and sassage and coffee and—flapjacks!”

At this magical word they laughed, not mirthfully, perhaps, but eagerly and expectantly, and said, “Go on!”

“And flapjacks!”

“You said that afore”—said Mrs. Brackett with a burst of passion. “Go on, d—m you!”


This feast is repeated by Mr. March, both because of his narrative style and because his listeners question him as to details, especially regarding the potatoes.18 The chapter ends with the starving listeners insisting, amidst oaths, that Mr. March continue, as the “giver of this Barmecide feast [realizes] his dangerous position” (24). The precise danger of this situation is not entirely clear, but whether he ceases or continues to tell the story of this decadent, fanciful and thoroughly American meal, Mr. March, “whose faculty of alimentary imagination had been at once the bliss and torment of his present social circle” (23), finds himself alone and in danger of angering violent, starving people whose actions cannot be predicted. They are so far “without” a sense of culture—outside humanity itself—as a result of their privations as to be what the narrator describes as “squatting like animals, and like animals lost to all sense of decency and shame” (20). And certainly, March's speech, repetitive, circular, and potato-obsessive—a fact not insignificant to survivors of the Irish Potato Famine—points to the lack of food, rather than the excess; his “rhetoric,” try as he might, cannot concretely fill the stomachs to nourish this pitiable group, and only serves to frustrate their longing because it tells a fanciful illusion which cannot be attained. Harte hints not only at the inability of fantasies to compensate for severe lack, but also at the possibility that they exacerbate the difficulties faced. This is precisely Joyce's critique of Irish romanticism.

As Harte's protagonists discover, adherence to stereotypical gender codes—ideal male heroism or perfect female nurturance—triggers moments of severe crisis. Harte's narrative follows the masculine hero, Philip Ashley, to the second camp, occupied by Grace Conroy and her siblings Gabriel and Olympia (Olly). As Philip enters “Within,” the remnants of civility at first appear to be alive and well in the figure of his lover: “Neither the contact of daily familiarity, the quality of suffering, nor the presence of approaching death, could subdue the woman's nature in Grace” (30). Philip's return to Woman is marked, in a special characteristic of the traditional American Western, as a return to civilization, despite the rugged accommodations and imminent starvation. That Grace too believes in this ideal is evident in her persistent belief that she will die—from loss, or love, or grief—if Philip were to leave without her (27). Philip reports honestly, as the others lay asleep, that there is no hope to be expected from outside. He explains, again alluding to an unspoken danger, “We are alone and helpless … The only aid we can calculate upon is from within—from ourselves” (26). But worse yet, as Philip recognizes, their only hope is also their greatest fear: “As a party we have no strength,—no discipline. … Since your father died we have had no leader. … If we kept together, the greatest peril of our situation would be ever present—the peril from ourselves!” (26, Harte's emphasis). Philip denies his capacity for leadership of the contentious party; if he and Grace are to survive, they must abandon the others—indeed, the party as a whole must disperse in lieu of turning on each other. With this argument, Philip persuades Grace to run away with him to fetch help, leaving behind her brother Gabriel to care for their younger sister, “a hopeless impediment” (27).

Philip's arguments for leaving are convincing. He and Grace, as well as the rest of the party, are doomed to die if no one goes for help; Grace is swayed by his words, and believes in his heroism, as do we, Harte's readers, who recognize him as the most rational person among the camp. And yet there is an inconstancy with this heroism: Philip does not attempt to persuade the others in the camp to leave, though he knows staying means their death; moreover, he refuses to bring Gabriel and Olly, leaving the youngest of the party—Grace's only remaining family, no less—to fend for themselves among the desperate people Philip fears, who are “capable of any sacrifice—of any crime, to keep the miserable life that they hold so dear just in proportion as it becomes valueless” (26). Philip's masculine heroics fall short here. And Grace who, in pursuit of her “love” for Philip willingly abandons Gabriel and Baby Olly, seems less than maternal. With increasing realism and against reader expectations of sentimental style, Harte portrays a de-romanticized West where idealistic gender roles and conventional heroism are undermined and a more complicated realism, with less clear divisions between right and wrong, is introduced. For Joyce, Philip's realist assessment of their plight must have seemed reminiscent of Ireland's situation, where help could not be expected from the outside, where many emigrated to avoid starvation, where since the death of Parnell there had been no one capable of leading them.

Harte's chapter entitled “Gabriel” is our first introduction to the title character of his book; Grace and Philip have gone for help while Gabriel lies asleep. He wakes with a note pinned to his shirt, explaining their absence and is then described as follows:

Added to his natural hopefulness, he had a sympathetic instinct with the pains and penalties of childhood, not so much a quality of his intellect as of his nature. He had all the physical adaptabilities of a nurse,—a large, tender touch, a low persuasive voice, pliant yet unhesitating limbs, and broad, well-cushioned surfaces. During the weary journey women had instinctively intrusted [sic] babies to his charge; most of the dead had died in his arms; all forms and conditions of helplessness had availed themselves of his easy capacity. No one thought of thanking him. I do not think he ever expected it; he always appeared morally irresponsible and quite unconscious of his own importance, and, as is frequent in such cases, there was a tendency to accept his services at his own valuation.


Abandoned by the “heroic” male and leading lady, Harte's Gabriel Conroy is left to care for Olly, his baby sister, who is otherwise helpless to care for herself among the motley and dangerous party. The result of this dependency upon Gabriel as caretaker is a man who develops, as R. B. Kershner attests, peculiarly feminine attributes, with “all the physical adaptabilities of a nurse,” a “tender” man to whom even women instinctively entrust their children, an angel of mercy in whose arms “most of the dead had died.”19 In addition to being unknowingly feminized, Gabriel, unlike Philip Ashley, is not a realist. He possesses a “natural hopefulness” exemplified by his care for Olly. Gabriel's immediate concern is in comforting Olly over the loss of her sister, the “mother-like” Grace. He hits upon the idea of replacing Grace with Mrs. Dumphy and her “rag baby,” who have been staying in the first camp. When Olly reluctantly agrees to this replacement for Grace, Gabriel brings Mrs. Dumphy back to their camp with him. “So alternately they took care of the effigy, the child simulating the cares of the Future and losing the Present in them, the mother living in the memories of the Past” (38). The plan pacifies the child momentarily and sets traditional gender roles back in their accepted place for a moment. Gabriel's simplicity manifests itself in the revival of Mrs. Dumphy, rekindling Olly's faith in the future and in an ideal mother figure. And yet there is the danger that Olly's future, like Mrs. Dumphy's previous child, will result in death from starvation: Olly will become the doll(y) Mrs. Dumphy holds. Though designed for the sake of the child's comfort, the plan is perverse in that Gabriel's “hope” is predicated on Mrs. Dumphy's continuing madness, providing her a second child to replace the one she lost. The lack of sister/mother is replaced by a second, less capable mother/madwoman, who will shortly die and leave the child terrified once again. Harte's Gabriel is unable to articulate to Olly the danger that confronts her; rather than share his fears with her, expanding their sibling intimacy in his own care for her, he chooses to palliate their dire circumstances by covering them up, hiding his own possible fears and sense of abandonment from her. In this masking of the real problem with an inadequate substitute, Harte's Gabriel is not unlike Mrs. Dumphy nursing her doll-child, or the other miserable emigrants who imagine a feast they cannot eat—or Irish romantic writers telling hopeful stories that cannot correspond to harsh realities of Ireland's present. Joyce uses Harte's Gabriel's romantic “hopefulness” to speak to the misguidedness of sentimental fictions because they hide the truth, exacerbating the alienation of those who cannot therefore articulate their loss or tragedy; they prevent consolation that might arise by facing the truth together. For though Harte's Gabriel's lie to his sister is well-intentioned, it precludes their facing the situation honestly and building their own intimacy, just as Ugolino refuses to use his last moments with his sons to share their misfortune.

For Harte's Gabriel, this obsessive, sentimental practice of inadequate replacement ends abruptly with the development of “the party's” last horrific substitution. Gabriel returns to the first camp to report the news of Mrs. Dumphy's death, but never gets past the door:

What he saw there he has never told; but when he groped his fainting way back to his own hut again, his face was white and bloodless, and his eyes wild and staring. … He stopped only long enough to snatch up the sobbing and frightened Olly, and then, with a loud cry to God to help him—to help them—he dashed out, and was lost in the darkness.


Harte's Gabriel flees from something unarticulated, but the cause of his flight is decipherable from correspondences Harte makes between his story and the newspaper accounts. Harte alludes to one of the most infamous stories of Western expansionism to have captured our fascination for the grotesque since its journalistic documentation. In the winter of 1846-47—a time coincidentally parallel to the beginning of the Irish Famine—a group of emigrants known as the Donner Party crossed the Sierras and were trapped in the mountains by an early snowstorm.20 Many of the party starved to death, and those who survived did so by eating the flesh of their dead comrades. At least two Indian guides were killed prior to their natural deaths for food—a possible reference to Mr. March's desire for “injins”—and other incidents of foul play in the deaths of various members of the party were suspected. This is the notorious story upon which Harte draws for the opening book of Gabriel Conroy. And though the narrator never explicitly identifies what horrifies Gabriel enough to make him strike out on his own with Olly, the numerous allusions to the history of the Donner party tragedy, recognizable to the American reader of the moment and explicitly noted in Harte, suggest he finds the party cannibalizing one of their dead … or even killing the unfortunate Mr. March for food. This horror that cannot speak its name in Harte's story is the iconic culmination of inadequate substitutions and alienated dehumanization, sustained by the deluded, idealist hope that salvation might arrive in time. This second allusion to cannibalism, of course, further confirms a connection between Harte's story and Ugolino's, and invites great speculation on the nature of the great feast in Joyce's “The Dead.”

But the chapter “Out of the Woods—Into the Shadow” is also closely related to Joyce's ending. In Harte's story, Grace and Philip have managed to escape starvation by killing a few animals discovered on their way. But when Philip waxes poetic about their improved situation, Grace is “in no mood for poetry,—even a lover's” (45). She exhorts him to return for the others, while she, suffering from a sprained ankle, awaits their return. Philip is bitter about her request, and wishes she were more romantic:

He thought how, at the risk of his own safety, he had snatched this girl from terrible death; he thought how he had guarded her through their perilous journey, taking all the burdens upon himself; he thought how happy he had made her … and yet here, at the moment of their possible deliverance, she was fretting about two dying people, who, without miraculous interference, would be dead before she could reach them. It was part of Philip's equitable self-examination—fact of which he was very proud—that he always put himself in the position of the person with whom he differed, and imagined how he would act under the like circumstances. Perhaps it is hardly necessary to say that Philip always found that his conduct under those conditions would be totally different. In the present instance, putting himself in Grace's position, he felt that he would have abandoned all and everything for a love and future like hers. That she did not was evidence of a moral deficiency or a blood taint.


Because Grace wants to return for the brother and sister she has abandoned, Philip believes her to have betrayed him and their love. For all that we see in Philip many of the attributes of a traditional Western hero, his insensitivity points to his moral deficiency, not Grace's. He tells her bluntly: “It is five days since we left the hut; were we even certain of finding our wandering way back again, we could not reach there before another five days had elapsed; by that time all will be over. They have either been saved or are beyond the reach of help” (46). He imagines she would give up anything for a love like his, including her family. But she is not an adventurer; she is a woman who had believed in him. He finally tells her, altering between bitterness and kindness of tone, that in the morning they will see what can be done, while she falls asleep sobbing.

In her turn, Grace may be morally upstanding, or she may have deceived herself for love, but conscience over abandoning her family returns, as she realizes too late,

if Philip had said this before, she would not have left the hut. … Perhaps it was the tears that dimmed her eyes, but his few words seemed to have removed him to a great distance, and for the first time a strange sense of loneliness came over her. She longed to reach her yearning arms to him again, but with this feeling came a sense of shame that she had not felt before.


At this moment when she had imagined sharing a sworn secret with her lover, adding to their mutual intimacy, Grace instead discovers that she does not know Philip as well as she thought, and is ashamed of her actions in abandoning her family and following love; seeing Philip “sitting gloomily under a tree” (47), she realizes they cannot now overcome the gulf that has arisen between them. She thought he was a hero who could be trusted to return for her brother and sister and in whom she placed her faith. Rather, he is practical; it does no good to return for her brother and sister at this point. Neither is the ideal of which the other dreamed. Philip Ashley and Grace Conroy are confronted with the inadequacy of their subjective realities in comparison with their fantasies. With their romantically-spun ideals destroyed, a gulf widens between them. Only after many years will they reunite and move, significantly, East together, to be followed by Gabriel and Olly—Harte's last unravelling of the traditional American western.

Following Harte, Joyce uses his characters' fetishization of inadequate substitutes to point to their disavowal of the dismal circumstances they face. Particularly, Joyce's Gabriel Conroy clings to his romantic illusions to defend his own apathy and obscure the unbearable truth, though the nature of his—Ireland's—affliction is less immediately evident in the 1890s, about 40 years after the Great Famine. This refusal to see reality is evidenced from the moment he enters the house. When Gabriel first speaks to Lily, for example, he works to exchange pleasantries about the weather and her schooling, veiling any difficulties they face in their lives in Ireland with polite conversation. Whereas Harte's story merely hints at religious idealism, Joyce makes this religious allusion—so germane to Ireland's continued romanticism, as Joyce sees it—overt. Lily is “the caretaker's daughter” (183) who gladly serves his aunts, a pale-complexioned figure whose name itself suggests the Virgin Mary. Gabriel's reading of Lily's conformity to religious ideals is emphasized in his memory of Lily “nursing a rag doll” (185), an innocent figure. But Joyce does not appropriate Harte's image of the rag doll—for that is the doll's source—to suggest Lily's religious obsession, unless it were to reveal it as a childish devotion. At present, Lily is not caught up in any mythology of self-sacrifice, for her surly response to Gabriel's question suggests a less-than forgiving, all-merciful character. When Gabriel naïvely asks Lily about when she might be married, she retorts in a rare moment of bitter honesty—not unlike Philip's abrupt, unwanted truth—that “‘The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you’” (186). Confronted with this honesty, this lack of men who remain in Ireland, Gabriel is disconcerted and begins to suspect something has happened to Lily since his departure. Showing no understanding of her complaint or its implications about the problems Ireland faces, he offers her money. In lieu of trading truth for truth, Gabriel escapes by offering her an inadequate substitute for his own honest thoughts, a gift she neither wants nor needs, and scurries away. The money is Gabriel's attempt to cover up this dearth; its presence hides the loss of men in Ireland for Gabriel, just as the doll hides the loss of Mrs. Dumphy's baby child, though Lily is not taken in by this substitution. As Joyce will emphasize, Ireland's financial dependence upon England is largely responsible for the lack of men that remain.

It is significant that Gabriel's identification of Lily with the Madonna is placed within the frame of a memory about her. Like so many of Gabriel's women who refuse to conform to a stereotypical Christian ideal, Lily is, as Aunt Kate soon confirms, “not the girl she was at all” (190). Only in memory can Gabriel cultivate his idealism without admitting his sentimentalism. In other words, even as a child, Lily never conformed to Gabriel's religious ideals, and what woman could? Yet Aunt Kate's comment about Lily not being the girl she was comforts Gabriel because she calls attention to Lily's changed mannerisms, not to his illusions. Gabriel's concern that Lily does not conform to his memory of her as a child constitutes his own nostalgic obsession; these tendencies, perpetuated through Catholic religion, both atone for and conceal the dearth of beautiful ideals within the gritty reality of life in Dubliners' Ireland.

Gabriel himself is an insufficient replacement, as he eventually suspects, for Ireland's lack of men. And for Joyce, as for Harte, revealing a resultant destabilization of traditional gender roles is critical to breaking down the illusions of the Irish populace as well. Joyce initially uses the masculine qualities of Harte's Philip to model Gabriel's behavior as he sees himself, and as he would like others to see him. Like Philip, Joyce's Gabriel is the looked-to hero of the evening, and by extension, of the Irish. The opening scene of “The Dead” has everyone, especially Aunt Julia, Aunt Kate and Lily, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Gabriel, beloved kinsman and successful teacher, who will save them all from the indignities of the likely-to-be-drunk Freddie Malins—whose last name, non-traditional Irish, may be French for “malignant,” or “evil,” if humorously so. They are afraid Gabriel, their Christ-like savior, is “never coming” (185). Of course, Gabriel does arrive, and he does, at least to some degree, mitigate the havoc that Freddie causes throughout the evening. Certainly Gabriel wants to see himself in this highly inflated position: he wants to be the man, for Lily, who isn't “all palaver and what they can get out of you,” which is why he offers her an ironic gift of money. He wants to believe that “literature was above politics” (197), which is why he is so hurt and troubled by Molly Ivor's estimation of his excellent review as an anti-nationalist, “West Briton” product. He fails at these attempts at heroism, both because the women for whom he performs these deeds have idealistic expectations about his role as a man, and also because, unlike Harte's Philip Ashley, Gabriel fails to be a realist. Rather than abandon the “party,” he works to live up to his own impossible ideal of himself as leader and teacher; in contrast to Philip Ashley, Gabriel fails to recognize that he is unequal to guiding this motley group. Caught up in his illusions, Gabriel relaxes as he succeeds at what he sees as a triumph of masculinity, which parallels his heroic triumph over the clownish Freddie: “Gabriel took his seat boldly at the head of the table and, having looked to the edge of the carver, plunged his fork firmly into the goose. He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table” (207). Only at the moment it fails to matter, Gabriel finds himself confident in his maleness.

Though Gabriel may want to be a heroic benefactor, he is not. He compares less accurately with Harte's figure of (realist) masculinity—Philip Ashley—than he does with his naïve namesake, Harte's Gabriel Conroy. On the surface, Joyce's Gabriel seems a direct contrast to Harte's Gabriel: whereas Harte's Gabriel underestimates his own importance, which is thereby underestimated by those about him, Joyce's Gabriel inflates his own importance, as do those around him; Joyce's Gabriel's inflated sense of self-importance is tempered by his self-consciousness—a product of an intellect and education inaccessible to Harte's Gabriel. But like Harte's Gabriel, Joyce's Gabriel has been abandoned and feminized. Joyce's Gabriel does not possess the realist qualities of Harte's Philip Ashley that would allow him to leave Ireland. Those men that do emigrate, as Joyce himself explains, are both masculine and realist:

[W]hen the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality … [I]ndividual initiative is paralysed by the influence and admonitions of the church. … No one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove.21

By Joyce's own account, the “individual,” free-thinking, masculine men—like Joyce himself—leave Catholicism and Ireland behind; those who remain are feminized and lack, as Joyce's Gabriel does, “self-respect.” Joyce's Gabriel's sense of his own inadequacy is perpetuated by the fact that he has been left behind as feminized nurse-figure to care for his elderly aunts (just as Harte's Gabriel is left behind to care for Olly) instead of emigrating in search for better possibilities. He may be a symbol of his aunts' escape, but only vicariously so. His romantic, heroic, religious ideals of duty and self-sacrifice keep him firmly trapped and rooted in Ireland, among the dead.

Like Harte's Gabriel, like Ugolino, and perhaps because of the bitterness over this abandonment, Joyce's Gabriel is neither emotionally present, nor even particularly observant. His concerns and anger remain unspoken, as do the needs of his family. Despite his conviction and that of his aunts, Gabriel does not fulfill his role as their caretaker: Just as Harte's Gabriel finds Mrs. Dumphy, Joyce's Gabriel has found Lily—who, albeit ignored and underappreciated by the Morkans sisters also does lack the maternal nurturing that they need—to replace him in this familial role. He seems oblivious to the fact that his aunts are becoming older, poorer, moving to a smaller house, giving music lessons to support themselves, ingratiating themselves to their rich students; perhaps this is the last Christmas dinner of such extravagance they will ever have, although imminent death makes their economic situation of less immediate concern.22 The rather stout Gabriel is wealthier, always visiting the continent and staying in hotels, and sees his aunts little more than once a year. In fact, the obsession of everyone, from Molly to Gretta to his aunts, over Gabriel's importance points, once again, to a lack: Gabriel's personal failings, a paucity of true leadership, a shortage of men who stay in Ireland. He fills a rather empty role of this leadership, a near-ineffectual replacement for the actual leaders, by performing signifiers of their duties: controlling Freddie, carving the goose, giving a speech, “caring” for his aunts. But as with Harte's Gabriel, the actions of Joyce's Gabriel point to his desire to replace lack with inadequate substitutions, mollifying the populace with claims of filial, national, or religious zeal rather than addressing the real problem and sharing his sentiments with them.

Gabriel's romanticism, to be fair, is no worse than that expressed by most of the other characters in the story, and their subsequent denial of truth. Gabriel's aunts, for example, share his suspicions about those who speak the truth in the household, refusing to stand for “back answers” (184), and they too cover this truth with inadequate, often economic replacements that reveal themselves in the form of food: “Though their life was modest they believed in eating well; the best of everything” (184). This current excess of food—nowhere better evident than in Joyce's extravagant table23—forms a stark contrast to the starvation of Harte's emigrants and Ugolino's family, as well as a stark contrast to Ireland's previous lack of food during the Famine. But particularly, it serves to cover up Ireland's current lack of nourishment. For example, when Aunt Kate questions the Pope's removal of women from choirs, her comments are explained as “quarrelsome,” a result of “hunger” for, one would suspect, food. Mary Jane quickly intervenes to insist, “‘We really are all hungry and when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome’” (204). But as June Dwyer notes, in contrast to the time of the Great Famine, the Morkan party guests are not at all hungry (42), at least not for food. Whereas Harte's emigrants have plenty of cultural narratives that serve as an inadequate substitution for real food, Joyce's Irish have plenty of real food, sustained by their sense of economic stability, that serves as an inadequate substitution for their cultural nourishment—something that might be supplied by Irish writers and artists but is not. The result is that the “party,” like Harte's party, is both quarrelsome, as Aunt Kate and Mary Jane's actions confirm, and yet not quarrelsome enough. The women refuse to confront the reality of Ireland's colonial status and to take action against their complacency; instead, they argue amongst themselves, preferring to defend Catholicism against Mr. Browne's innocuous Protestantism.

Within the frame of Joyce's double allusion to cannibalism in Inferno 33 and Gabriel Conroy, inadequate substitutions should be expected at the table of the Misses Morkans' annual Christmas “feast,” which Gabriel so confidently leads. Joyce's description begins with a “fat brown goose” opposite “a great ham” and a “spiced beef,” the two ends of the table laden with different traditional Irish dishes.24 Then militaristic “lines” of side-dishes run between these “rival” ends, suggesting internal Irish disputes intensified by what lies between them. Among the side dishes are blancmange and red jam, custard with nutmeg, Smyrna figs, raisins and almonds. The center of the table boasts oranges and American apples, port and sherry. These “side” dishes—that, physically, occupy the center of the table—are interesting, because they displace the Irish main dishes at the ends of the table with foods that are less than Irish: the blancmange, a French word but a thoroughly English dish can be prepared from Irish moss; the nutmeg, almonds, raisins and Smyrna figs were not grown in Ireland, but were imported there, likely from English colonial territories; the chocolates and sweets, wrapped in foil, are once again, in that form at least, a recent English invention, in fact, developed—again coincidentally—on the eve of the Great Potato Famine.25 At the center of the table are American apples and oranges—certainly not Irish—guarded by “sentries” of port (from Portugal) and sherry (from Spain), both colonial powers. Traditional Irish drinks of stout and ale are relegated to the area behind the pudding on the piano. Outside of Gabriel's celery, there is an emphatic lack of anything green on the table, though Brussels sprouts, salad or celery soup might well have been served at such an event. Indeed, all greenery or other symbols of traditional Irishness seem to have been set aside to make way for products that, if not English, are at least only possible in a bourgeois family with access to privileges gained through British Imperialism. Even the potatoes—so prominent in Harte's story, “Mary Jane's idea” in Joyce's—are a belated afterthought in the feast, and are displaced, not served at the table at all. The framing conversation, pre-dinner dancing, music and discussion of operas, are equally lacking in Irishness and demonstrate the alienation and divisiveness among the Irish themselves. This Anglophilic display, coextensive with the dehumanization of the Irish by the Irish, brings to mind Kinealy's claim that “the ships that left Ireland laden with food during the Famine were doing so largely for the financial benefit of Irish merchants and traders. The large farmers who benefited from the availability and sale of cheap land toward the latter end of the Famine were also Irish and, sometimes, Catholic.” By this logic, the Morkans sisters' meal economically feeds the English—and the English oppression of their colonies. The table confirms that the Morkan sisters are complicit in their own colonization, which historically led to the deprivation of Ireland's future. In light of this symbolic cannibalism—worse, the eating of one's own—it is significant that Molly Ivors, the true Irish nationalist, will not stay to eat even a little morsel before heading on her way.

If, by Molly's precipitous departure, Irish Nationalism proper is not critiqued, the exploitation of the myth of self-sacrifice, so common in the Irish Revival movement and epitomized in the work of Yeats, is sharply rebuked. For religion is implicated in Ireland's division, as suggested by the “minsters” of red and yellow jellies that also serve to separate the two Irish ends of the table. Indeed, Joyce ridicules this and any other potential Christian symbolism of the table by undermining it: no “grace” is said by Gabriel or anyone else at this vociferously Catholic table, and at a religious feast; and the “three graces” of Dublin, a lighthearted joke of a trinity, are not destined to provide anyone, least of all Ireland, with everlasting life. Moreover, Joyce's table recalls the Last Supper.26 At the biblical table of twelve disciples, Christ teaches his disciples the Eucharistic tradition that will remain the bedrock of Christian symbolism and prepares to sacrifice himself for mankind's salvation. Significantly, the transubstantiation is the site of the most codified distinction between Catholicism and Protestantism: Protestants took transubstantiation as a ritual, symbolic exercise, whereas the Catholics held that at the communion ritual, the bread and wine were actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ; Stephen Dedalus's comment in Portrait that “Ireland is an old sow that eats her farrow,” is a likely allusion to this Catholic belief.27 As Stephen's comment suggests, when carried to its logical conclusion, the transubstantiation functions as cannibalistic ritual. Joyce's table reenacts this fundamental Christian myth of self-sacrifice, which those seated prefer to the reality of their exploitation of their brethren; their futile wait for a heavenly “Tomorrow, surely!” over action now; and their deluded faith in Revival fairytales over a more bleak, but potentially unifying, realist consolation.

In keeping with the narrative structure of The Last Supper, this carnivalesque charade is punctuated by Gabriel's speech, which highlights an Irish nationalism that he does not feel, articulated in language that is not Irish, and emphasizes an Irish self-sacrificing hospitality by which he does not willingly abide. His speech, all the more poignant in Gabriel's assumption of the roles of leader, teacher and writer, explicitly condones and encourages Irish complicity in colonization: “our country has no tradition which does it so much honour and which it should guard so jealously as that of its hospitality” (213). As Gabriel cheerfully admits, this “genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality” (213) is “‘rather a failing than anything to be boasted of. But granted even that, it is, to my mind, a princely failing, and one that I trust will long be cultivated among us’” (213).28 In comfort and economic plenty, Gabriel covers up the truth of Irish experience with sentimental ideals. Leading the meal, and ending it with his speech makes Gabriel responsible for crimes against hospitality and country, as Reynold's claims. He effectively shuns the people and the nation who have given him the privileges of his own economic station by encouraging their passivity in the British Empire and reproducing the very mindset that originally led to the Irish Famine. As Pecora notes about this speech, and about “The Dead” in general,

Not surprisingly, then, given Joyce's expressed anxiety over his earlier treatment of Dublin life, “The Dead” does seem to be about the institution—the great tradition—of “genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality,” but not in any uncritical or laudatory way. Rather, the socially embedded attitude toward hospitality and generosity that Gabriel invokes in his speech becomes in the end nothing more than the codified expression of the myth of self-sacrifice, of grateful oppression, lying at the heart of Joyce's Dublin.


This “myth of self-sacrifice” is precisely the romanticization Joyce will critique not only in Gabriel, but in Irish Revival writers epitomized in Yeats, in the emotional final scene between Gabriel and Gretta. For Joyce, Gabriel's speech fails not only because it is sentimental rubbish, but also because it represents the kind of fault revivalist writers commit at the very moment when the “truth-telling” or emotional consolation might really unify the Irish populace, might really save them. Gabriel, like these writers, will fall short of saving the Irish when looked to for spiritual nourishment. As with Harte's Gabriel and Dante's Ugolino, Joyce's Gabriel is unable to articulate his message of salvation from his heart, and will instead offer only a false, placating comfort, and even a Mother England. Insofar as the party of Dubliners is concerned, Gabriel is “never coming,” and his speech is therefore crowned with the victorious, devilish image of “Freddie Malins acting as officer with his fork on high.”29

But “The Dead” does not end with Gabriel's speech, and there remains some hope that Gabriel will recognize and express his fears about Ireland; Joyce once again looks to Harte's story of Grace and Philip's disillusionment with each other to structure Gabriel's potential epiphany. For Gabriel, like Philip, imagines his lover is more ideal than she is; and Gretta, like Grace, compares her uninspired lover unfavorably to a romantic hero: this makes emotional intimacy between them difficult. Joyce's Gabriel longs to escape what he sees as their dreary and unromantic lives: “He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls' tender fire” (225). Gabriel longs for adventure, especially sexual adventure, and imagines that in Dublin, away from “Monkstown,” he has managed to find it: “he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure” (227). But just as Grace does not want Philip's loving poetry, Gretta is in no mood to encourage Gabriel's sexual ardor once they are in Dublin, a site of Ireland's most profound cultural memories. Gretta, like Harte's Grace Conroy, is preoccupied with mourning the loss of a loved one, in Gretta's case, Michael Furey. And like Philip Ashley, angry with Grace for reminding him of the plight of those left behind instead of being joyous in their love together, Gabriel imagines that “While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another” (231).

But whereas Philip fails to see Grace's perspective, Gabriel successfully puts himself in the position of those with whom he differs: “A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror” (231-32). While from his attempt to enter someone else's subjectivity, Philip Ashley is always confirmed in his own opinions, Gabriel is self-aware, perhaps for the first time, in seeing as others see him. Though he is overly-critical, the vision he has is correct: he does act the “pennyboy” for his aunts at their party; he is a “nervous well-meaning sentimentalist” in his speechmaking; he does “[idealize] his own clownish lusts.” But in the case of Joyce's Gabriel, perhaps as testimony to the possibility of their improved relations, Gretta divulges her secret more fully than Grace.

In addition to its biblical symbolism, Gretta's belief that Michael Furey died for her situates this final scene within a colonial context once more. Her words are a pointed allusion to W. B. Yeats's one-act scene “Cathleen ni Houlihan,” which glorifies Irish peasant resistance. In the play, Michael (Gillane)—engaged to be married the following day to a beautiful, wealthy girl—instead decides to abandon her to fight for Ireland. Ireland appears to him in the form of an old woman, Cathleen ni Houlihan, who has no home because there are “Too many strangers in the house,” and her “land … was taken … [Her] four beautiful green fields” (186). The old woman sings Michael a song she once knew about a man hanged in Galway who “died for love of me: many a man has died for love of me” (187). There are, she insists, “others that died for love of me … there were a great many in the west, some that died hundreds of years ago, and there are some that will die tomorrow” (188). When asked what she wants, the old woman refuses food, shelter and money. She insists, “If anyone would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all” (189), and adds, “It is not a man going to his marriage that I look to for help” (190). Michael abandons his bride to serve Ireland who, as she leaves the house, becomes young and beautiful. In this mythic space and time, Yeats urges that love, as well as money and comfort, be set aside in favor of patriotism. He also implicitly praises the noble Irish peasantry, keepers of Irish culture, for their hospitality, in their willingness to help Cathleen ni Houlihan, and their meaningful self-sacrifice—much in the manner of Gabriel's after-dinner speech. The heroic Michael of Yeat's play fuses with Gretta's Galway Michael, also remembered in song: both die for love. Gretta's sentimentalism reveals Ireland's dependence upon self-sacrificing ideologies. But Joyce critiques even more severely the perpetuation of these illusions by Revivalists like Yeats. Whether Michael Furey is a Christ-like savior, a romantic nationalist in the form of Yeat's Michael Gillane, or Charles Stuart Parnell—who, like Michael Furey, died of overexposure to the rain (Pecora 216)—he embodies the kind of heroicism that can only exist in fantasies; these romantic stories of noble peasants and heroes, as Parnell's own history eminently attests, function all too often as substitutes for facing up to the aftermath of Ireland's bleak, but defining national tragedy.30 Joyce posits Ireland's death by ideological and capitalist “consumption” rather than starvation.

More central to the story is how Gabriel reacts to Gretta's idealization. In his last stream-of-consciousness moments prior to falling asleep, Gabriel reviews his newfound realism. At first, he sees Gretta (and Gretta as Ireland) for the first time with realist lenses, and sees, not unkindly, that she/it is no longer beautiful; Ireland has “no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death” (234). In contrast to Yeats's Ireland, which is old but allegorically becomes young again, Gabriel recognizes that Gretta possesses all the imperfections and changes that accompany a woman of middle age. He realizes his own capacity for leadership is limited, and that when the time comes for consoling Aunt Kate on the death of her sister Julia, his words will be “lame and useless” (235) to comfort her. Gabriel finally admits, as Philip Ashley does in Gabriel Conroy, that he is unequal to the heroic tasks that confront him.

But Gabriel's realism is fleeting. Imagining that those dead were more laudable, he determines, “Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age” (235), as he and Gretta seem to do. In this light, Gabriel's love for his wife, realistic and genuine, pales in comparison to Michael Furey's death for love. He believes that unlike Michael Furey's adoration of Gretta, “He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love” (235).31 He falls victim to Gretta's illusions, and finds himself so inadequate that he “generously” wishes to exchange his life for Michael Furey's. Gabriel fantasizes this exchange as he sees Michael, and imagines his swooning soul, once associated with his sentimental wooing of Gretta, now approaching “that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead” (235). Gabriel reverts to his tendency to offer up inadequate substitutions, feeding off of the dead Michael's youthful affections made Christ-like and miraculous, instead of valuing his own love for Gretta. This undervaluation is emphasized in Joyce's allusion to the final image of Harte's Gabriel Conroy (the 1875-76 publication), significantly entitled “The Dead”: Ol' Pete, religious servant/slave to the consumptive Jack Hamlin, prays that God might exchange his life for his master's. Conditioned by repressive regimes to serve his oppressor,32 Ol' Pete is so domesticated—and perhaps frightened by the possibility—that this futile wish for self-sacrifice occurs at the very moment when Jack Hamlin's death grants him his first taste of freedom. For Joyce, Gabriel has been inculcated by an equally oppressive regime, and like Ol' Pete, initially reacts with fear and religious fervor—the only world he knows—at this glimpse of freedom from illusions.

Even so, the Ireland defended by people like Michael Furey, and Charles Stuart Parnell, is no longer a case of “goodies” and “baddies” for Gabriel. He tries to see the world as having potential for purity and goodness, simple black and white: “He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight” (236). And certainly, this last moment of nostalgia determines Gabriel to embrace an artificial search for roots, as he decides to undertake a journey to the mythic West of Ireland. But Gabriel's disillusionment will eventually continue. This last paragraph, as has been noted, bears evidence of parallels to the opening passages of Harte's Gabriel Conroy. Like the once idealistic Philip Ashley chasing idealized dreams in America's West, Gabriel will soon be trudging forward in the “Infernal” snow, destined to have his romantic ideals crushed. As he discovers that the West is not what he imagines, a more realistic understanding of the world around him will inform his future. He may even choose to abandon family, friends and country, and emigrate—to Europe, like Joyce, or America, like Philip Ashley—even if he will eventually return home. But until this burgeoning realism is unavoidable, Gabriel will remain with his ragged party, like the wearied Philip Ashley, long enough to tell the other emigrants that there is no sign of help, but that, if they wait and pray, it will arrive tomorrow, surely.33 Meanwhile, if they cannot express the truth by avoiding the Famine and its after-effects, the only option remaining for the undernourished Irish writers is the dearth of cultural artifacts left them is the cannibalism of other literatures; and especially in his use of Bret Harte's opening paragraphs, Joyce makes himself complicit, alongside Gabriel, in this project.

Joyce uses Bret Harte's Gabriel Conroy, as well as Dante's Inferno 33 to a lesser degree, as an allusive framework for “The Dead” to make visible the subtle indoctrination of the Irish by the effects of colonization and the Famine. He works to do so with a realist story that critiques religious traditions and Irish Revival writing—exemplified by W. B. Yeats's “Cathleen ni Houlihan,” an exploitation of Christian mythologies of self-sacrifice. Joyce tries to speak more openly, more honestly about this defining national tragedy; he sees this realism as essential to uniting the Irish and provoking action. In that Joyce creates direct, realist discourse of the Famine and its aftermath through allusions to Harte and Dante, Joyce does what other Irish writers fail to do. But neither is Joyce exempt from the trauma that silences his compatriots. He veils his discussion of the Famine and Ireland's colonial history in these very same allusions. Particularly, he obscures his history in the allusion to Harte's Gabriel Conroy that, as a less-canonical American text, was not the same literature likely to be read by Joyce's ideal readers. After all, “Gabriel Conroy” is a perfectly unassuming Irish name. It is for this reason that it takes nearly 50 years after the writing of “The Dead” for the allusion to be published, and nearly another 50 for it to begin to be investigated. Moreover, there is little in the way one reads “The Dead” to suggest the severity of Joyce's critique of Ireland and its part in colonialism. There is nothing overtly sinister in the dinner the party sits down to eat; and though he is pompous, Gabriel is compelling because his insecurities are worn on his sleeve and because he is a terribly unromanticized and fragile figure. Though Joyce believes himself to be touching more directly on these issues than other Irish writers, he also, probably unconsciously, masks the claims he makes. In this sense, he is as much a part of his historical context—deferring and evading the effects of the Famine in his writing—as any other Irish writer of his moment. Indeed, “The Dead” serves as testimony to how pervasive the traumatic effects of the Famine were, when even a writer of Joyce's caliber, with conscious determination to articulate the unspeakable, remains unsuccessful in expressing the truth.


  1. Mary Lowe-Evans, Crimes Against Fecundity: Joyce and Population Control (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989), 11. Lowe-Evans borrows this statistic from early twentieth-century estimates, particularly L. Paul-Dubois's 1908 Contemporary Ireland, who cites the number as 729,033 (72). This statistic has recently been called into question. See also Ruth-Ann M. Harris, “Introduction,” in The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora in America, ed. Arthur Gribben (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 8. Harris does suggest that Northern counties fared poorly as well: “If population loss is any measure of distress, county Fermanagh with a 26 percent population loss ranks as high as county Clare (26 percent) and almost as high as Galway (27 percent) and Mayo (29 percent).”

  2. For more information on the precise relationship between the United States and Ireland during the time of the Great Famine and after, see particularly Kerby A. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). See also William T. Going, “America in Joyce's Dubliners,Ball State University Forum, 17.4 (1976): 46-49.

  3. Christine Kinealy, A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland (Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997), 151: “The population continued to fall [after the Famine] throughout the remainder of the century, a combination of emigration, delayed marriages and celibacy. By 1900, it had fallen to approximately half of its pre-Famine level. The population decline did not finally reverse until the 1960s.”

  4. Christine Kinealy, “The Great Irish Famine—A Dangerous Memory?” in Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora, 248, her italics.

  5. Account qtd. in Patricia Lysaght, “Women and the Great Famine: Vignettes from the Irish Oral Tradition,” in Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora, 37.

  6. Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso, 1995), 224.

  7. June Dwyer, “Feast and Famine: James Joyce and the Politics of Food,” Proteus: A Journal of Ideas 17.1 (2000), 41.

  8. Mary T. Reynolds, “Toward an Allegory of Art,” Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 161.

  9. Dante Alighieri, Inferno, trans. Mark Musa, vol. 1 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 33.23.

  10. James Joyce, “The Dead,” Dubliners (New York: Signet Classic of Penguin Books, 1991), 199, 202. Subsequent references will be made parenthetically.

  11. Mark Musa, Inferno: Commentary, vol. 2 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 436-47.

  12. Rev. John S. Carroll, Exiles of Eternity: An Exposition of Dante's Inferno, 2nd ed. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 447-48.

  13. Bret Harte, Gabriel Conroy (Hartford, CT: American Publishing Company, 1876), 17.

  14. Gerhard Friedrich, “Bret Harte as a Source for James Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” Philological Quarterly 33.4 (1954): 443-44.

  15. Wallace Gray, “Gabriel,” World Wide Dubliners by James Joyce: Wallace Gray's Notes for James Joyce's “The Dead,” ed. Roger G. Blumberg and Wallace Gray. Online. Brown University Scholarly Technology Group. Internet. 12 Jan. 2001.

  16. A few other short comparisons do exist, but discuss the relationship only minimally, and in the context of popular culture. See Chester G. Anderson, “Should Boys Have Sweethearts?” and R. B. Kershner, Introduction, Joyce and Popular Culture, ed. R. B. Kershner (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996): 1-19; 49-63. See also Harte criticism, especially Gary Scharnhorst, Bret Harte (New York: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1992).

  17. The citation “moral history of Ireland,” comes from James Joyce, The Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann, vol. 2 (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 132.

  18. The “injins” or “Indians” to which March refers (three times) are probably corn or onions, though possibly turnips.

  19. R. B. Kershner, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 148-49. Kershner is one of the few critics who does work to articulate the relationship between the writings of Joyce and Harte; his primary observation is that, like Joyce's Gabriel, Harte's Gabriel's “outstanding qualities are all conventionally coded as feminine” (148).

  20. On Harte's use of the Donner party, see Michael Clark's “Bret Harte's ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ and the Donner Pass Tragedy,” Short Story 1.2 (1993): 49-56. A great deal of new writing was done at the 50th anniversary of the Donner Party tragedy. See especially “Unfortunate Emigrants”: Narratives of the Donner Party, ed. Kristin Johnson (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996), and The Archaeology of the Donner Party, ed. Donald L. Hardesty (Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1997).

  21. James Joyce, Critical Writings, ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1959), 171.

  22. For a more developed reading of the economics of the Morkan sisters and Gabriel, see Bernard Benstock, Narrative Con/Texts in Dubliners (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), and especially the chapter “Pounds/Shillings/Pence: The Economics in the Tales”: 84-108.

  23. On the fetishization of the table, see especially Vincent P. Pecora, “Social Paralysis and the Generosity of the Word: Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” Self and Form in Modern Narrative (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 227. See also Dwyer, 42.

  24. See Monica Sheridan (The Art of Irish Cooking [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965], 51, 84-86, 68-70) for details on the closeness of Joyce's description to traditional Irish holiday recipes. For further information on particular Joyce recipes, see Alison Armstrong, The Joyce of Cooking: Food and Drink from James Joyce's Dublin (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1986).

  25. The kind of chocolate that is made into candy, “mixed with sugar and additional cocoa butter to make sweet (eating) chocolate, [was] developed by the English firm of Fry and Sons in 1847,” according to the article “Chocolate,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Online, Internet, 16 Apr. 2001, available: tocid=0.

  26. There are twelve at the table, with Gabriel and Gretta, Aunt Julia, Aunt Kate and Mary Jane, Freddy and Mrs. Malins, Mr. Brown and Bartell D'Arcy, and three of Mary Jane's students—Miss Furlong, Miss Higgins and Miss Daly, wealthy clients who are given the first cuts of meat—and as Molly was expected to stay, there might have been thirteen.

  27. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Viking Press, 1964), 203.

  28. For a more extended analysis of the relationship of the heroic, self-sacrificing moments in the story and their relationship to Ireland's politics, see Pecora's essay.

  29. For more on Freddie as carnivalesque devil, see particularly Edna Kelman, “Dialogue and Carnival in ‘The Dead,’” ORBIS Litterarum 54.1 (1999): 71-77.

  30. I refer to Ireland's division over Parnell's relationship with Kitty O'Shea.

  31. See Pecora.

  32. I do not mean to suggest that Jack Hamlin is unkind to Ol' Pete. Within the text, he is merely empowered in their relationship by social conditions of the moment, and has never questioned this privilege—just as Pete has never apparently questioned his comparative servitude.

  33. This is, of course, one of the most disputed paragraphs in Joyce's writing. In addition to sources already mentioned, see Jack Foran, “The Strange Sentence in ‘The Dead,’” Modern Language Notes 113.3 (1998): 1151-59; Joanna Higgins, “A Reading of the Last Sentence of ‘The Dead,’” English Language Notes 17.3 (1980): 203-07; Cóilín Owens, “The Mystique of the West in Joyce's ‘The Dead,’” Irish University Review 22.1 (1992): 80-91; Donald T. Torchiana, “The Ending of ‘The Dead’: I Follow Saint Patrick,” James Joyce Quarterly 18.2 (1981): 123-32; and Florence Walzl, “Gabriel and Michael: The Conclusion of ‘The Dead,’” James Joyce Quarterly 4.1 (1966): 17-31.

Further Reading


Gibbons, Luke. “‘The Cracked Looking Glass’ of Cinema: James Joyce, John Huston, and the Memory of ‘The Dead.’” The Yale Journal of Criticism 15, no. 1 (spring 2002): 127-48.

Assesses John Huston's cinematic interpretation of James Joyce's story, “The Dead.”

Murphy, Michael. “‘The Dead’: Gabebashing in Joyce Country.” English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 81, no. 1 (February 2000): 41-55.

Disputes several feminist critical assessments of Joyce's story, “The Dead.”

Owens, Cóilin. “Harry Lauder: ‘A Little Cloud.’” James...

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