The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman
The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman is J. P. Donleavy’s seventh novel. Written in the comic spirit, it understands the difference between the serious and the solemn. The novel is about the joy and agony of growing up, but the joy is not elevated to spirituality and the agony is not uplifted into tragedy. Men and women suffer and die, but suffering and dying are not dwelt upon. Nothing, in fact, is allowed to interfere with the hero’s zest in his encounter with life, nor the author’s zest in his encounter with the reader.
This zest is interwoven in the novel’s fabric, part of which is made up of Darcy’s stream of consciousness:
Darcy Dancer leaving the dining room. Chin down. Spine bent. Step back up these few carpeted steps. Treading on the wool woven roses. Go out. Not know where I’m going. Nor care. Why she adored. Walk. On these night time streets. Away through one’s crashing dreams. Under lamplight. On the grey speckled blocks of granite. Leave the fence at Trinity. A pub Lincoln’s Inn. Big closed back gates of the college. Light in the porter’s lodge. Turkish turrets across the street. Down Westland Row. Stone pillars of a church. Iron pillars of a bridge. Train chugging over. Every part of her comes haunting. The slap she gave me in the face. The album of her castles. The ballrooms. The waltzing ladies and gentlemen. Charging at me on her rearing horse. All the way to the moored looming shadowy ships on this black river flowing through this black city.
The syntax of this passage is full of interest. Despite the fact that it represents Darcy silently speaking his inmost thoughts, it is in the third person. Having just seen the woman he is convinced he loves “adoring” another man, Darcy is fighting despair by distancing himself from himself: hence the third person. Verbs are also cunningly used, imperatives like “walk” indicating self-commands of actions ordinarily automatic, participles indicating continuously observed actions. Finally, the variation of sentence fragments and whole sentences—the syntactical rhythm—is part of the meaning. The whole passage consists of fragments except for brief imperatives, until “Every part of her comes haunting.” Again the fragments trip over one another until the gloomy poetry of the final sentence.
Up to the sentence “Every part of her comes haunting,” Darcy is preoccupied with getting out of the dining room, away from Miss von B’s presence. His task is difficult to manage because his feelings keep breaking through—“Why she adored. . . . Away through one’s crashing dreams.” Finally Darcy seemingly masters himself and we see and hear only his observations on his nocturnal sojourn. But self-composure is impossible.—“Every part of her comes haunting.” No more perfect image of lost love seems possible. The catalogue that follows is a mere smattering of this onrush of images, dissolving in the final dark sentence that irretrievably sums up Darcy’s mood.
This paragraph certainly could not exist if it were not for Faulkner’s and Joyce’s experiments with stream of consciousness. But Donleavy’s stream of consciousness is only one step removed from first-person narrative. Darcy, although perhaps not in full control of himself, is certainly in full control of the narrative. The keenness of his sensations give even his despair a buoyancy. So close to himself, he will never escape into real despair. He creates out of his anguish a poem that more than half comes to terms with anguish. Even in emotional pain, Darcy has not lost his zest for life.
Donleavy’s brilliant adaptation of stream of consciousness technique is matched by his brilliance in the use of dialogue. In a boy’s school, Darcy, who asserts himself against the tyranny of the other boys, is about to be punished by them. First, however, they must get a hold on him:
Touch me and each of you will regret it in turn.Grab him.Let go of me. Hold...
(The entire section is 1,790 words.)