Places Discussed

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Rowan drawing room

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Rowan drawing room. Well-furnished house in Merrion, a Dublin suburb. It is a warm, late afternoon in June, 1912, with the sunlight just beginning to fade. (June, the month in which James Joyce first met his own wife, Nora, is always a significant time in his writings.) The room and its contents indicate that the family that lives here is moderately well-to-do, educated, and cultured. This is clearly a place of some refinement, which reflects the lives of its residents, and this is a room for quiet conversation and discussions. Joyce’s stage descriptions are extremely detailed, not only specifying the arrangement of doors and furniture but requiring chairs upholstered in “faded green plush” and a floor of “stained planking.” Joyce notes only one piece of art, a framed crayon drawing of a young man that hangs above a sideboard against a back wall.

The detail in Joyce’s requirements for the play’s setting is matched by his careful descriptions of the characters, their clothing and their actions. Richard Rowan, for example, is described as “a tall athletic young man of a rather lazy carriage” who has “lightbrown hair and a moustache and wears glasses.” Later Richard’s wife, Bertha, is described as wearing a lavender dress and carrying her cream gloves “knotted round the handle of her sunshade.” The physical settings of Exiles have an essential role in presenting its artistic meaning.

Hand cottage

Hand cottage. Home of Robert Hand, to which the scene shifts for the play’s second act. It is now evening of the same June day. Hand, Richard’s rival for Bertha Rowan, lives in a smaller, less expensive house in Ranelagh, another Dublin suburb. Again, Joyce provides extensive description of the scene, and the differences between the two settings distinguish fundamental divisions between the two male characters. Where the Rowan house is well and tastefully decorated, Robert Hand’s cottage is self-consciously artistic. It has a piano with open music on it; there is a standing Turkish pipe next to a rocking chair; and on the walls, instead of the single, simple drawing in the Rowan house there are many framed black and white designs. The amount of furniture which Joyce crams into what must be a relatively small space should make the stage seem full, even cluttered—perhaps an accurate reflection of its owner’s state of mind.

If Robert Hand’s cottage is self-consciously artistic, so are his actions while waiting for the arrival of the Rowans. As the act opens Robert is discovered sitting at the piano, where he plays the appropriately moody and romantic opening of Wolfram’s song in the last act of Richard Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser.” Breaking off, he meditates for a moment, then rises to pull out a pump from behind the piano and “walks here and there in the room ejecting from it into the air sprays of perfume.” Done, he hides away the pump and sits, awaiting the arrival of his guests. In such a fashion, Robert’s house as well as his actions and words reflect his elaborate and highly self-conscious “love” of Bertha and contrast dramatically with Richard’s understated and much more sincere devotion and respect for his wife.

Rowan study

Rowan study. The third and final act of the play is set back in the Rowans’ drawing room, and during part of the action Bertha opens a door to reveal Richard’s study, a small, untidy room filled with books, papers, a writing desk and lamp. It is clearly the haunt of an intellectual, perhaps even a true artist. Although glimpsed for only a moment, it presents the audience with a fleeting insight into Richard Rowan’s underlying character and again uses the physical setting to make a telling contrast between the two men.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 162

Bowen, Zack R., and James F. Carens, eds. A Companion to Joyce Studies. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. Devotes an essay to Exiles. Includes a textual history.

Deming, Robert H., ed. James Joyce: The Critical Heritage. 2 vols. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. Pages 130 to 160 in volume 1 contain reviews of Exiles by such writers as George Bernard Shaw and Padraic Colum. Useful for tracing the beginnings of critical opinion on the play.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. 1959. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. References to Exiles throughout. Annotations and biographical information provide background on Joyce’s artistic intentions in Exiles.

Levin, Harry. James Joyce: A Critical Introduction. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1941. A central book in James Joyce studies. A good starting place.

Tysdahl, B. J. Joyce and Ibsen: A Study in Literary Influence. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1968. Pages 87 to 102 discuss Exiles. Argues that Joyce’s well-known debt to Ibsen can mislead readers into reading Exiles as entirely a work of Ibsenesque realism.

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