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James Joyce 1882-1941

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Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, and critic.

The following entry provides criticism on Joyce's works from 1990 through 2001. See also James Joyce Poetry Criticism, James Joyce Short Story Criticism, Exiles Criticism, The Dead Criticism, and Araby Criticism.

A towering figure in the modernist literary period, James Joyce is considered the most prominent English-speaking writer of the first half of the twentieth century. While he wrote in a number of genres, including drama and lyric poetry, Joyce's reputation rests primarily on his prose works. Joyce's novels, including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), are widely considered ground-breaking works of fiction which not only fundamentally redefined the novel as a genre, but pushed the limits of the English language itself. Joyce is among the most widely-read and studied figures in the history of English literature, and is often considered as significant a talent as John Milton and William Shakespeare.

Biographical Information

Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin. While his family was initially middle-class, their fortunes declined quickly. Despite economic difficulties, however, Joyce was afforded an excellent Jesuit education, some of which is portrayed in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. After graduating from University College in 1902, Joyce left Ireland for the continent. In 1903 his mother's serious illness brought Joyce back to Ireland. Following her death in 1904, Joyce renounced his Catholic faith and permanently relocated to the continent with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. Joyce supported his family by serving as a language instructor in France, Italy, and Zurich, Switzerland, where he wrote most of Ulysses. Following the international renown accorded Ulysses, Joyce gained the financial support of Harriet Shaw and was finally able to devote himself exclusively to writing. He spent nearly all of his remaining years composing his final work, Finnegans Wake (1939). After the publication of Finnegans Wake, Joyce fled Paris and the approaching turmoil of World War II. He died in Zurich of a perforated ulcer on January 13, 1941.

Major Works

Though so disgusted by the narrowness and provincialism of Ireland that he spent most of his life in self-imposed exile, Joyce nevertheless made Ireland and the Irish the subject of all his fiction. Dubliners, a group of naturalistic stories concerned with the intellectual and spiritual torpor of Ireland, is the first product of his lifelong preoccupation with Dublin life. These stories are also important as examples of his theory of epiphany in fiction; each is concerned with the sudden revelation of truth about life inspired by a seemingly trivial incident. His first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is often considered a portrayal of the author's early life. The novel is at once a portrayal of the maturation of the artist, a study of the vanity of rebelliousness, and an examination of the self-deception of adolescent ego. Originally entitled Stephen Hero and conceived as an epic of autobiography, Portrait was thoroughly rewritten to provide an objective account of Stephen Dedalus's consciousness. To heighten sensitivity to the stages of Stephen's maturation, each episode unfolds in a style that approximates the intellectual level of the protagonist at the time. The narrative thus presents an evolving perspective parallel to but independent from Stephen's own nature. Joyce depicts the events of a single day in Dublin—June 16, 1904—in Ulysses. Using the Odyssey of Homer as a basis for the narrative, Joyce focuses on the actions of three characters: Stephen Dedalus, older and more disillusioned than he appeared in Portrait; Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jewish advertising canvasser for a Dublin newspaper; and Molly Bloom, the wife of Leopold and the only one of the three not to spend her day crisscrossing Dublin. Joyce overlays this frame with a masterful depiction of minor characters, taking a delight in the seedy details of urban living. While Ulysses serves as a chronicle of everyday events, Finnegans Wake is meant to be a record of the subconscious thoughts of H. C. Earwicker, a character both real and allegorical. Finnegans Wake is literally a recreation of the English language. In this masterpiece of allusions, puns, foreign languages, and word combinations, Joyce attempted to compress all of human history into one night's dream. Admittedly a dense, complex work, it has inspired a mass of critical exegesis. Joyce's body of work spans the extremes of naturalism and symbolism, from the spare style of Dubliners to the richness of Finnegans Wake.

Critical Reception

Joyce is one of the most thoroughly read and analyzed authors in English literature. Numerous and varied interpretations of his work abound; critics have provided religious, feminist, sociopolitical, historical, sexual, and autobiographical perspectives on his fiction. His brilliant and innovative utilization of language remains a recurring interest of literary critics, as is Joyce's use of humor. Literary critics note that his life has come to symbolize the spiritual alienation of the modern artist, and his work has spawned numerous imitations. A complicated artistic genius, he created a body of work worthy of comparison with the masterpieces of English literature. His literary influence is considered profound, and such writers as Samuel Beckett, William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, and John Irving are regarded as his literary descendants.

Principal Works

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Chamber Music (poetry) 1907

Dubliners (short stories) 1914

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

Exiles (play) 1918

Ulysses (novel) 1922

Pomes Penyeach (poetry) 1927

Collected Poems (poetry) 1936

Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939

Critical Writings of James Joyce (criticism) 1959

John Paul Riquelme (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: Riquelme, John Paul. “Stephen Hero, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Styles of Realism and Fantasy.” In The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, edited by Derek Attridge, pp. 103-30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Riquelme traces the development of Stephen Daedalus as an artist in Joyce's novels.]


Near the end of what has survived of Joyce's unfinished draft of an autobiographical novel, Stephen Hero [SH] (written in 1904-5), the central character, Stephen Daedalus, claims that one function of writing is ‘to record … epiphanies with extreme care’, since ‘they … are the most delicate and evanescent of moments’ (SH 211). In the same passage he defines an epiphany as ‘a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself’. Stephen's statement makes clear that his interest in writing evocative prose vignettes, the sort Joyce himself wrote, is wholly aesthetic.1 Like the real author, the artist character in Stephen Hero and in A Portrait (written 1907-14) has been strongly influenced by the writings of older contemporaries, especially Walter Pater, whose famous ‘Conclusion’ to The Renaissance (1873) emphasizes the special status of art as providing the most direct access to experiences of the highest intensity.2

The Paterian influence is one that Joyce clearly moved beyond, in part by producing in the realistic style of Dubliners (written 1904-7) an antithesis to Pater's lush, late-Romantic writing. But it is less clear exactly how far beyond Pater's influence Stephen moves in either Stephen Hero or A Portrait. [P] Toward the end of part iv of A Portrait, for instance, he thinks admiringly of ‘a lucid supple periodic prose’ (P 167) of the sort Pater wrote, and in the climactic scene on the beach that follows, the narrator renders Stephen's thinking in a vividly Paterian style full of ‘ecstasy’ and ‘trembling’ (P 172). Based on some of their experiences, thoughts, and actions, it is possible, despite the Paterian allegiance, to see Stephen Daedalus and, especially, his counterpart in A Portrait and Ulysses, whose last name is spelled Dedalus, moving tentatively toward the production of original writing comparable in quality to Joyce's and different in kind from Pater's. But numerous readers have come away from their encounter with Stephen with quite a different impression.3

The evidence concerning Stephen's potential as an artist is mixed, and the problem of judging him is a difficult one for several reasons. We may, in fact, be dealing with two distinct characters about whom different judgements can be made, since the narrative of Stephen Hero differs in important ways from the narrative of A Portrait. The difference goes deeper than the spelling of the character's surname. And yet, these characters have a great deal in common. A further complication arises in Ulysses, for Stephen's experiences and views from A Portrait do not carry over with any great force, though they are sometimes in evidence. Given these factors but also the common first name among the three characters, it seems reasonable to identify them only provisionally, as I do in the discussion to follow, and to keep in mind that some sharp distinctions need at times to be made. Another difficulty arises because Joyce assigned so many details from his own life to Stephen. In addition, there is the odd fact from the early publishing history of the Dubliners stories that Joyce sometimes used the pseudonym ‘Stephen Daedalus’ (JJ [James Joyce, by Richard Ellman] 164). Joyce's frequent intimate renderings of his characters' thinking, as in the Paterian passages of A Portrait, also make it hard to distinguish the narrator's perspective from the character's thoughts even though the narration occurs in the third person. Since Joyce is writing fiction and not pure autobiography, it is important not to identify the real author in any absolute way with the young artist character; nevertheless, the texts frequently encourage us to consider the alignment.

In presenting Stephen's development prior to Ulysses, Joyce employs the two epiphanic modes of stark realism—‘the vulgarity of speech or of gesture’—and visionary fantasy—‘a memorable phase of the mind itself’—as delimiting extremes in his character. In both Stephen Hero and A Portrait, Stephen alternates between allegiances to the visionary and to the material, between internal fantasy and external reality. In Dubliners, by contrast, the visionary has been largely displaced by the grim limitations of living and dying. Stephen, however, continues to be attracted by visionary possibilities until very nearly the end of A Portrait, and is clearly influenced by them when he writes both his villanelle and his journal.

The evocations of Stephen's alternative allegiances differ substantially in the two narratives that focus primarily on him. In Stephen Hero Joyce portrays Stephen as both ruthlessly analytical and visionary. At a crucial moment in his development, his encounter with the disturbing reality of death intensifies both his critical bent and his visionary yearnings. In A Portrait, by contrast, Joyce presents the two perspectives of realism and fantasy not primarily as aspects of character but fundamentally as aspects of style. Having now emerged as mutually modifying and mutually challenging attitudes, these styles of Stephen's thinking and of Joyce's writing vie with one another for predominance as they merge and diverge. The realistic and the visionary components become much more complexly intertwined than in Stephen Hero, for they begin to become elements in a style that emphasizes memory. The double temporal orientation of this later style indicates the direction Joyce will take after A Portrait in the more allusive initial style of Ulysses.

We can begin sketching Joyce's stylistic progress, and some of the changes his artist character experiences, by considering Stephen's remembrance in Ulysses of his former commitment to an art that captures spiritual manifestations. Since the recollection concerns Paterian attitudes, it bears on Stephen's potential for becoming an artist and on his possible similarity to Joyce. During the recollection, which occurs in the third episode of Ulysses, Stephen is again on the beach and may be remembering his former allegiance to a spiritual, Paterian notion of art because the surroundings remind him of the earlier beach scene in A Portrait. An important event has occurred, however, between these two scenes, since Stephen's mother has died during the unnarrated period following the end of the journal in A Portrait and preceding the beginning of Ulysses. During the day of Ulysses, the fact of her death almost exactly one year earlier is the often unstated background for all Stephen's thinking, including this memory. In the presentation of Stephen at the beginning of Ulysses, [U] Joyce returns to an encounter with death, like the one involving Stephen's sister in Stephen Hero, as he composes an alternative for both realism and fantasy. Those earlier styles evoked in Stephen Hero in relation to the epiphanies are being complicated and displaced by a style of play that involves a recognition of death. The alternative to those styles emerges as Stephen engages in a kind of mental play that eventually affects his more public performances as well as his thoughts. The newly developed playfulness involves an altered attitude toward audience.

Stephen's remembrance focuses on his epiphanies:

Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola like. Ay, very like a whale. When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once. …

(U 3.136-46)

This brief, mocking remembrance indicates that as an aspiring artist Stephen has taken his epiphanies wholly seriously, as Joyce likely did himself at one time. But the importance he attached to these snatches of sometimes lyrical prose is clearly in the past. The passage gives us part of the context for Stephen's production of epiphanies, and it mixes in new ways elements from earlier presentations of him. It also provides stylistically one of the positions Joyce reaches soon after A Portrait, a position markedly different from his preceding styles. There is nothing quite like this allusive, parodic, internal dialogue in either Stephen Hero or Dubliners. The style of A Portrait comes much closer to it, prepares the way for it, but does not fully reach it.

In this extended moment of self-mockery, Stephen retrospectively places the writing of epiphanies among his grandiose, youthful literary projects, projects he now sees as no more than adolescent fantasies. In all Stephen's references to the mystical traditions, he turns them to ironic purposes. The famous library at Alexandria exists, for instance, only in imagination, since it was destroyed in the first century bc, but it once apparently formed part of Stephen's imagined audience for his writings. Because of its permanent place in a timeless, visionary realm, that audience ostensibly solves the problem of mortality for the immature artist by providing an eternal repository for his writings at his death. As the memory makes clear, the only real audience for Stephen's narcissistic performances was himself. The implied isolation is also evident in both Stephen Hero and A Portrait when Stephen searches, largely unsuccessfully, for a responsive audience for his activities.

Stephen is passing a negative judgement on himself, especially with the reference to Hamlet's whale-like cloud. The final sentence of the passage, however, evokes stylistically another kind of negative judgement, one that shows the double effect the aesthetic tradition of the 1890s has had on Stephen. The sentence parodies quite openly Pater's use of the impersonal pronoun ‘one’ in his essays, as for instance in this sentence from ‘Pico della Mirandola’: ‘He will not let one go; he wins one on, in spite of one's self, to turn again to the pages of his forgotten books …’ (Pater, 67). And it mocks Pater's notion that the writing and reading of texts provides a virtually unmediated access to the past. Pater claims in his essay on Pico, for example, that ‘to read a page of one of Pico's forgotten books is like a glance into one of those ancient sepulchres … with the old disused ornaments and furniture of a world wholly unlike ours still fresh in them’ (Pater, 62). Stephen has clearly read this essay and others in The Renaissance, a collection that had an immense influence on his older contemporaries in Dublin, especially W. B. Yeats and his circle. He has sufficiently mastered Pater's style through careful, and presumably enthusiastic, study to be able now to transform it into an expression of his distance from it. The earlier styles of Stephen Hero and A Portrait, on the contrary, present Stephen's enthusiasm for Pater and for aesthetic, mystical writings and experience with much less (if any) irony. In Stephen Hero, Yeats's prose of the 1890s has a powerful effect on Stephen, as Pater's presumably has in A Portrait, and he shows no self-irony or restraint about the enthusiasms. The difference is reflected in the way Stephen thinks and what he thinks about in each text.

The passage from Ulysses concerning the epiphanies exemplifies a pattern evident in the earlier texts. This is not the first time Stephen has given himself to an enthusiasm and to impulses, only to turn away from them. The turning away is always only partial because the effect of the influence, which was powerful, remains. The most obvious example of the pattern is Stephen's commitment to the Catholic Church. As many critics have pointed out, his childhood and early adolescent religious experiences, including especially his education by the Jesuits, continue to inform the way he thinks, including the way he tries to reject the object of his former commitment. The traces of that commitment linger.

The mixture of intimate knowledge and scepticism in the Ulyssean Stephen's thoughts, his former attraction but present aversion to the intensely serious, even mystical, aesthetic reverence that was the impetus for the epiphanies, points to one of Joyce's major stylistic achievements. We find Joyce developing this double temporal perspective, the perspective of memory, in the works written before Ulysses, especially in A Portrait but to some extent in Dubliners as well, particularly in ‘The Dead’. By means of this double perspective we can experience simultaneously both scepticism and the deeply-felt impact of thoughts and events in the central character's changing sensibility. The inherently double, or multiple, interiorized style is the vehicle Joyce invents to render the deep ambivalence and dissonance of Stephen's mental life, especially in the interplay of critical self-scrutiny and vivid recollection. As Joyce complexly presents them, ambivalence, dissonance, and interplay inform the mental process of creativity.

We can see some of Joyce's strategies and perspectives emerging in the early fiction by noting differences between the episodic fragments of Stephen Hero, the starkly realistic stories of Dubliners, and the discontinuous narrative and flamboyant narration of A Portrait. The new style that Joyce produces in Ulysses as one outcome of his earlier endeavours requires new strategies for reading, which we acquire as we encounter the stylistic changes from book to book and even within each book. The shift is from either fantasies or seemingly objective, realistic presentations to recollections or other moments of mental activity, structured like memories, that are neither fantastic nor objective. Stephen's memory of his epiphanies, for instance, is not itself a fantasy; and rather than being neutral, through its tone it expresses a judgement about the earlier activities. The mediation announces itself stylistically, often through obscure allusions and personal references that hinder as well as enhance our understanding; this style is opaque rather than transparent.

By contrast, both fantasy and objective description present themselves as transparent language that carries its own interpretation with it.4 The heightened language of fantasy announces its immediate access to an extraordinary spiritual realm whose status we perceive because of its difference from the limitations of ordinary reality. Its meaning is the denial of conventional meaning, and once we recognize that ordinary experience is being transcended, no further questions are necessary or perhaps even possible. The quite different, referential language of objective realism promises apparently direct, uncomplicated access to that limited, ordinary reality. The mediated, allusive style of the passage from Ulysses, on the other hand, invites and enables readers to respond to its complications by doing more, often playfully, than they are encouraged to do by a comparatively transparent style. We are asked to clamber over, under, around, and through the obstructions to understanding that it places in our path and to enjoy our energetic motions. Because of the differences from the earlier narratives, including stylistic ones, the passage from Ulysses gives us a version of Stephen's development through and away from mystical aestheticism against which we can gauge the other versions. The trajectory for that development is toward allusive mental play and self-mockery.

The fragments of Stephen Hero, for instance, present Stephen's interest in the occult quite differently and indirectly, through his reverence for some of Yeats's mystical short stories.5 In chapter xxii, during Stephen's second year at the university, he studies even less than before and spends more time on his literary enthusiasms, which include Yeats's stories from The Secret Rose (1897) concerning the mystical, wandering monks, Owen Ahern and Michael Robartes. Stephen's reading of these stories, with their emphasis on a mode of life wildly at variance with societal conventions, dovetails with his whimsical research into Renaissance Italian writings at a little-used Dublin library. His recollection in Ulysses of reading ‘the fading prophecies of Joachim Abbas’ ‘in the stagnant bay of Marsh's library’ (U 3.107-8), which occurs just before the memory of the epiphanies, refers explicitly to this period in his life. Stephen's attraction to Ahern and Robartes is made clear in Stephen Hero in ways that it is not in the later works. In A Portrait they are barely mentioned, and in Ulysses Stephen openly distances himself from other artists who show interest in them. In Stephen Hero, however, he is easily able ‘to believe in the reality of their existence’ since he found himself ‘in such a season of damp and unrest’ (SH 178). Because they are ‘outlaws’ (SH 178) who possess secret wisdom, Stephen can take a stand against the restrictive conventions of Irish culture by identifying with them. He takes the same stand when he begins writing epiphanies.


In the narrative of Stephen Hero, the encounter with Yeats's writing signals an important turning point for Stephen that is rendered almost entirely in terms of his character rather than being evoked primarily through style. The difference in emphasis in the rendering marks a major contrast between Stephen Hero and A Portrait and between our impressions of their central characters. With the reading of Yeats's stories, Stephen becomes more extravagant in his determined protest against the restricting conventions of Irish culture. He is learning here to follow a Blakean revolutionary precept, that ‘the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’, or, in Oscar Wilde's irreverent version, that ‘nothing succeeds like excess’. As had many English and Irish artists of the 1890s, Stephen chooses the road of excess to protest middle-class conventions. We see that excess as extravagance in various scenes in Stephen Hero, but first in Stephen's desire to recite publicly from memory Yeats's story, ‘The Tables of the Law’. Even though he feels ‘acutely the insidious dangers’ in his behaviour, presumably the dangers of losing control and becoming insane, ‘a dull discharge of duties’ would be even more dangerous and frustrating (SH 179). Stephen chooses fantasy and the impulsive behaviour that accompanies it over the dull grind of conventional reality. From this point onward in the narrative, ‘A certain extravagance began to tinge his life’ (SH 179).

Starting in this chapter, not only does Stephen's extravagance become more frequent, it begins to take exaggerated forms. His uninhibited behaviour reaches a memorable climax at the end of the next chapter when he interrupts his Italian tutorial and runs after Emma Clery to propose a night of lovemaking. In his discussion of the incident with his friend Lynch (SH 200), Stephen's evident lack of humour or self-irony about it seems typical. Even though the narrator does not provide an explicit judgement, Stephen's self-serious attitude can be seen as a fault. In both Stephen Hero and A Portrait, Stephen's regular tendencies to think abstractly and with concentration, to practice discipline (though at times selectively), and to turn a serious face to the world do often seem unattractive. But the implications and results of his behaviour are mixed in both narratives. His reasons for responding with dead seriousness are not limited to emotional frigidity, and he responds at times in a different way.

‘The Tables of the Law’ and the spiritual aestheticism it represents are not the cause for Stephen's change in behaviour but rather the first artistic focus he finds for his intense anger toward Irish culture. That anger emerges in the aftermath of his sister's illness and death, for which there are no equivalents in A Portrait. Despite his unconventional views, his eccentricities, his frustration, his isolation, and his arrogance, Stephen's public conduct before her death remains largely within the bounds of convention, and he behaves neither erratically nor with absolute seriousness. In the half dozen chapters leading up to Isabel's death, there are many examples of Stephen's independence in thought and action but also of his sensible, circumspect conduct. Even though he baits Father Butt with a question about unseemly passages in Twelfth Night (SH 28), Stephen's tolerance for the contradictions he experiences in his culture remains for a time fairly high. He can react to them with amusement (SH 29). Later, when the paper he delivers at the Debating Society is attacked, he can still respond in a restrained way, then decide gradually to withdraw without clamour from the groups and activities he earlier frequented. A mixture of prudence and tolerance serves Stephen well until he realizes that the issues are too important for him to continue restraining his responses.

Stephen comes to this realization through the experiences in and around chapter xxii. Immediately after Stephen's presentation to the Debating Society, his younger sister, Isabel, returns home due to a serious illness. The situation with Isabel is mentioned for several chapters until she dies in Stephen's presence at the beginning of chapter xxii. Though the references to her illness are brief, the descriptions suggest unambiguously the deep effect on the entire family, but on Stephen in particular: ‘The lingering nature of her illness had spread a hopeless apathy about the household and, though she herself was little more than a child, she must have been aware of this’ (SH 161). Her condition is so severe that she whimpers when left alone or when she has to eat. Her few moments of animation come in response to the playing of the piano downstairs. We hear only of Stephen playing that piano. She has become his audience, albeit temporarily. It is important that she has, since Stephen has had difficulty finding appropriate audiences. Except for his brother, Maurice, Isabel is the only auditor with whom Stephen is able to establish good communication. By this point in the narrative, he has largely given up not only on the Debating Society but on the group of young people who gather regularly at the Daniels' household, a group for whom he would sometimes sing and play. The moribund Isabel provides a particularly striking contrast to the robust Emma, to whom Stephen's singing at those gatherings had been largely directed. During Stephen's final visit to the Daniels' house shortly before Isabel's death, in an unambiguous, though still mild, gesture of protest, he refuses to perform when asked (SH 158).

Stephen's playing for Isabel is obviously motivated by neither desire, which he feels for Emma, nor rebellious, intellectual comradeship, which he shares with Maurice. There is desperation and determination, as well as pathos, in Stephen's pretence that Isabel is not near death. As part of that pretence he ‘preserved his usual manner of selfish cheerfulness and strove to stir a fire out of her embers of life’: ‘He even exaggerated and his mother reproved him for being so noisy. He could not go to his sister and say to her “Live! live!” but he tried to touch her soul in the shrillness of a whistle or the vibration of a note’ (SH 161). Stephen cannot save her, but they achieve a special kind of understanding when ‘once or twice he could have assured himself that the eyes that looked at him from the bed had guessed his meaning’ (SH 161). In these scenes we witness Stephen putting on his mask of seriousness for a more humane purpose than self-protection. It enables him to undertake a work of kindness and establish communication with an audience that matters to him. Like Isabel, the success is short-lived, and Stephen's moods of selfish indulgence keep recurring, at times in a style that is the precursor for the Paterian ending of part iv of A Portrait: ‘… in his soul the one bright insistent star of joy trembling at her wane’ (SH 162).

The breaking point for Stephen occurs with Isabel's death. At the end of chapter xxi, in a passage that draws on one of Joyce's realistic epiphanies, Stephen's mother interrupts his self-communion at the piano with the disturbing news that ‘There's some matter coming away from the hole in Isabel's … stomach’ (SH 163). Not only do Stephen's reveries not disappear after her death, his commitment to the kind of spiritualized art he finds in Yeats emerges in part because of it. But the situation has changed. In a way that is exceptional in Stephen Hero, Joyce renders the change briefly through style by describing the funeral in chapter xxii realistically: ‘Standing beside the closed piano on the morning of the funeral Stephen heard the coffin bumping down the crooked staircase’ (SH 166-7). Given the piano's regular appearance and its importance in the previous chapter, the closed instrument reiterates the shift indicated stylistically by the grim details. After the funeral, Stephen finally breaks significantly with decorum by choosing to drink a pint with the carriage drivers rather than having a more genteel drink with the middle-class mourners. The gesture does not go unnoticed by Stephen's father, who gives him a hard look at the time (SH 168) and upbraids him much later for his conduct (SH 228). This is a new kind of public performance for Stephen, marking an irrevocable shift in his conduct, his relationships within the family, and his attitude toward the family's Irish social context.

By means of brief uses in Stephen Hero of a Paterian style and, in tandem with it, a realistic style, Joyce is able to suggest Stephen's difficult, contradictory situation and the opposing extremes of his attitudes in a way that is the forerunner for his extended use of those styles for similar purposes in A Portrait. But neither style is suitable for capturing the energy with which Stephen sometimes thinks and reacts in Stephen Hero and in the later books. That energy emerges as clowning and laughter in numerous scenes both preceding and following Isabel's death. In response to a self-deprecating story Maurice tells him, for example, he ‘exploded in laughter’ (SH 59). He has to resist the impulse to express his antic disposition to the President when they discuss the censoring of his paper (SH 94-7). During a Good Friday sermon, he indulges ‘his gambling instinct’ by trying to outpace the priest's various translations of Consummatum est, running quickly through a list of possibilities, wagering ‘with himself as to what word the preacher would select’ (SH 120). Much later, well after Isabel's death, Stephen and Lynch have a funny conversation about love and sex (SH 191-2), and he parodies the mechanical catechism of his Italian lessons by composing his own humorous alternative (SH 192-3).

Joyce moves in such passages toward presenting Stephen not only as serious but as energetically engaged in the way he sometimes is in parts iv and v of A Portrait and in Ulysses. When Stephen deceptively wears a mask of seriousness to cover a mocking interior response, he has already begun pursuing his scheme of surviving by ‘silence, exile, and cunning’ announced in A Portrait (P 247). But Joyce has yet to find an adequate style for presenting at length Stephen's ‘scornful mind scampering’ (SH 97) in active dialogue with itself and its surroundings. By contrast with the condensed, allusive internal dialogue we have already seen in the early part of Ulysses, Stephen's thoughts in Stephen Hero have a ponderous, awkward quality that does not capture the energy he sometimes humorously expresses.

His self-reflections regularly take the form of self-doubts in which Stephen recognizes that he, like his culture, is full of inconsistencies. He thinks about or experiences vacillations at various times, including a moment near the end of chapter xxi, just before the scene in which his mother informs him of the disturbing new development in Isabel's degeneration. There, as elsewhere, the contradictions emerge in Stephen's doubts about himself: ‘Even the value of his own life came into doubt with him. He laid a finger upon every falsehood it contained’ (SH 162). Such misgivings are presented more extensively shortly after the culminating episode with Emma in a segment (SH 204-6) that is stylistically unusual in Stephen Hero because it seems to present at length, though awkwardly, an internal colloquy. ‘An embassy of nimble pleaders’ from the Church state their positions (SH 204), but these ‘ambassadors’ must be internal ones, since Stephen is involved in ‘reflections’. The implications of the passage for Stephen's character are clear. He is engaged in self-criticism and self-testing, motivated by residual fear and insecurity in the face of continuing temptations to conform and succeed. In short, he has yet to move entirely beyond the crisis of his break with the Church.

Joyce attempts in this passage to capture Stephen's predicament, but he lacks the stylistic techniques for presenting it vividly and directly as the shifting to-and-fro of thinking. The report of Stephen's thoughts mixes third and second person, but not first person, in a logical discourse composed of propositions, questions, and direct address. Many of the sentences would not be out of place in an actual dialogue: ‘However sure you may be now of the reasonableness of your convictions you cannot be sure that you will always think them reasonable’. By contrast with Stephen's thinking in Ulysses, the passage lacks the signals Joyce developed later to indicate interior language: frequent colons, exclamation marks, multiple allusions, and condensed or grammatically fragmented statements.

Stephen's tendency toward self-doubt points to ambivalences that are different in kind from those he perceives and despises in his culture, in part because he is willing to consider that he himself may be self-deceived. By recognizing the self-deception around him, he has become sensitive to the potential for it within himself. After Isabel's death, Stephen's encounters with the cultural contradictions elicit some new responses. He recognizes, for instance, that the members of the Debating Society ‘revered’ the ‘memory of Terence MacManus’, a revolutionary patriot, ‘not less … than the memory of Cardinal Cullen’, an ultra-conservative clergyman who spoke out against the nationalists (SH 173). Earlier Stephen might have responded with restrained amusement, but his response takes considerably stronger forms instead: total withdrawal and sarcasm.

Stephen's sensitivity to contradictions leads him to undertake literary projects, including his love verses and his epiphanies, that allow him to position himself against his society by admitting and working with opposing elements set in combination. We first hear about Stephen's love poetry, on which he labours instead of pursuing his academic studies, between the death of Isabel and his infatuation with Yeats's stories. Inspired by Dante's Vita nuova, ‘in his expressions of love he found himself compelled to use what he called the feudal terminology’, but also ‘to express his love a little ironically’: ‘This suggestion of relativity, he said, mingling itself with so immune a passion is a modern note: we cannot swear or expect eternal fealty because we recognise too accurately the limits of every human energy’ (SH 174). In his typically ambivalent fashion, Stephen sees both loss and gain in transforming the idealizing literary language of love. What it loses in ‘fierceness’ it gains in ‘amiableness’. Stephen strives to humanize his love poetry by tempering overstatement with a sense of human limitations.

It is important that Stephen articulates such a goal for his poetry at this point in the narrative, just before he discovers Yeats's mystical stories in The Secret Rose. His doing so indicates in advance an attitude that should protect him from following the path of eternal, visionary fantasies for too long. The later history of Stephen's verses suggests that he has developed a sufficient sensitivity to his own excesses and the alternatives not to rest permanently content with the attitudes he strikes. In chapter xxiv he continues ‘making his book of verses in spite of’ distractions (SH 208) at a time when his differences with his friend Cranly and his parents appear no longer to be reconcilable. But in the next chapter, he tells Maurice he has ‘burned them’ because ‘they were romantic’ (SH 226). Though the tone and style of the statement are different, this is the kind of judgement about his earlier efforts we see Stephen making about his epiphanies in Ulysses.

The concept of the epiphanies, introduced late in Stephen Hero, provides another way for Stephen to proceed by means of contradiction in his literary work. In writing them, he can employ both stark realism and visionary experience in a mode that, like his love poetry, has the potential for being internally differential. In the representing of a vacuous reality, the artist recognizes and rejects its superficialities; in the evocation of visionary realities, the artist displaces debased, ordinary reality with a spiritual alternative. There is no evidence in Stephen Hero, however, that Stephen can transform his dual epiphanic procedure into something more than a double gesture of defiance. An exaggerated swerving between extremes could even become the vertiginous hyperbole of madness, about which Stephen himself expresses concern. The passage from Ulysses ridiculing the epiphanies suggests that they were indeed excessive and narcissistic, a form of writing to be left behind. But the epiphanies hold out distantly the possibility for juxtaposing and perhaps even merging opposites stylistically in a mutually modifying way that might serve to present the to-and-fro of the mind in process. That possibility is one that Joyce is able to actualize only after abandoning Stephen Hero.


Despite the self-indulgent and potentially self-destructive qualities of the epiphanies, Stephen's working by contraries is a step toward achieving the interplay, or oscillation, of perspectives that we encounter in aspects of his thinking and his life in later works. His putting into practice of Blake's precept that ‘Without Contraries is no progression’ has only just begun in Stephen Hero. The results of that practice emerge much later, when the alternation tending toward a process of extremes merging and mutually modifying one another becomes an important structural principle in Joyce's subsequent writing. By using styles that often work by means of oppositions in order to present a character whose thoughts and experiences regularly involve opposing forces, Joyce enables readers to recognize a variety of possible resemblances and differences between the writer and the character. The same language pertains simultaneously, though in different ways, to the writer who has learned to work successfully with contrasts and to the character whose life is filled with them. Various judgements about Stephen become possible. The reader attempting to make them based on A Portrait and Ulysses encounters a much richer, more complex stylistic and structural texture than is the case with Stephen Hero. Part of the new complexity arises from Joyce's developing a differential style for capturing the shifting quality of memory; part of it arises from a narrative structure that emphasizes repetition rather than continuous, chronological development.

In A Portrait we see the swerving in Stephen's life more clearly and more regularly than in Stephen Hero.6 That swerving resembles the abrupt shift in Stephen Hero at the end of chapter xxi and the start of chapter xxii from Stephen's high-flown meditations and self-doubts to the material details of Isabel's death and funeral. In A Portrait Joyce takes maximum advantage of the strong contrast such a shift can evoke when he uses it not just once, as in Stephen Hero, but repeatedly at the narrative's major junctures. At the end of each of A Portrait's five parts, Joyce uses elevated language to suggest that Stephen achieves a momentary insight and intensity through a transforming experience: his communion with nature and his fellow students after complaining to the Rector at the end of part i; his sexual initiation in the encounter with a prostitute at the end of part ii; his post-confession, precommunion peace at the end of part iii; his commitment to art climactically presented as an encounter with an idealized woman at the end of part iv; and the exclamations about hopes for the future in the book's final sentences at the end of Stephen's journal. At the start of each succeeding part, Joyce counters and ironizes the intensity of the preceding conclusion by switching immediately and unexpectedly to a realistic style and realistic details: the bad smell of Uncle Charles's tobacco in part ii; the craving of Stephen's belly for food in part iii; the mechanical, dehumanized character of Stephen's religious discipline in part iv; and in part v the dreary homelife that is the daily context and one frame of reference for Stephen's aesthetic ambitions. The pattern of contrasts is also repeated at various minor junctures in the narrative, for instance, at the end of the first section and the beginning of the second section of part ii, when Stephen's revery about Mercedes is followed by the ‘great yellow caravans’ (P 65) arriving to remove the family's belongings. By alternating and starkly juxtaposing extremes, Joyce arranges the events of Stephen's life without relying primarily on continuity of action. Like Stephen Hero, A Portrait is episodic, and often there is little or no transition from one situation to another, but the later work provides an orienting pattern for Stephen's development. Emphatic presentation of that pattern actually depends on abandoning narrative continuity in order to make moments that are separated in time contiguous in the narration.

Even within the individual, juxtaposed moments of elevated, climactic insight and countering, realistic perception, a pattern of contrast and possible merger sometimes appears. When this happens, a highly complex process of reading can ensue that may be understood to mimic Stephen's process of recollection. The possibilities for this kind of reading emerge most emphatically late in the narrative, once the reader has come to know Stephen's thinking, especially the language of his thinking, well. It would seem that Stephen remembers at some level his earlier experiences, which have become connected with one another and tend at times to merge. The situation is complicated because he apparently remembers and connects elevated moments of insight not just as a group but in some relation to the moments of realistic perception that always follow them. And he remembers and combines other experiences as well. Joyce does not present Stephen explicitly remembering and linking the opposing moments. He depends instead on the reader's remembering, connecting, and anticipating. And he presents Stephen's thoughts in language that, by repeating aspects of earlier scenes, suggests that a remembering and crossing-over may be taking place.

A kind of feedback is created whereby Stephen's later experiences, which are in some ways repetitions of earlier ones, are not in fact exact repetitions, in part because they occur against the background of what has gone before. The reader has access to this feedback through the increasingly mixed language that leads back to earlier scenes of different kinds. Because the language is complexly layered, the reader comes to every scene with frames of reference derived from earlier elements of the narrative, but each scene in turn results in new retrospective framings of what has gone before and new prospective framings of what is to come, and so on until the various frames overlap or nest within one another. The highly unusual effect, which is difficult to describe in an expository way, mimics the process of Stephen's remembering his complicated, differential past as he encounters each new experience, but it depends on the reader's active recollection of earlier passages.

An example may help clarify the complex possibilities the style offers. In the closing pages of part iv, Stephen has an intense experience on the beach, reported in vivid Paterian language, after which he naps in a nest-like, sandy nook. Having decided to lie down, he feels the heavens above him ‘and the earth beneath him’ (P 172). When he wakes, ‘recalling the rapture of his sleep’ (P 173), Stephen holds these oppositions together briefly. He imagines a merging of two realms in his image of the moon embedded in the earth: ‘He climbed to the crest of the sandhill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of the sky like the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools’ (P 173). Visionary and material, heaven and earth, sea and land, process and stasis merge and interact in a promise of harmonious union not nearly so evident in Joyce's earlier narratives. Not only do heaven and earth merge as silver blends with gray, but the tide, though flowing fast, has been humanized: her waves whisper.

The conjunction of opposites extends and fulfils the intense experience Stephen has had on the beach. As with the earlier moments of intensity, this one is quickly followed by its stylistic and experiential opposite at the beginning of part v. There Stephen drinks ‘watery tea’, chews ‘the crusts of fried bread that were scattered near him’, stares ‘into the dark pool of the jar’ of tea, remembers ‘the dark turfcoloured water of the bath in Clongowes’, and rifles idly with ‘greasy fingers’ through a box of pawntickets, whose lid is ‘speckled with lousemarks’ (P 174). As at the beginning of the three preceding parts, a debunking takes place through style. But the situation is more complicated now, because the language at the end of part iv already anticipates some details from the realistic passage that follows it. There are pools of liquid in that earlier passage as well, but also some past participles (‘fallen’, ‘embedded’) that anticipate the numerous past participles in the first paragraph of part v (‘fried’, ‘scattered’, ‘scooped’, ‘rifled’, ‘scrawled and sanded and creased’). The pool of tea is in part an ironic recollection of the pools of water on the beach, but the additional recollection of Clongowes makes clear that these later pools are all embedded in a past and in memories that make any simple contrast of two isolated moments impossible.

The overlap between the two scenes creates a stylistic double helix, in which the experience of visionary intensity with its elevated language and the experience of a grimy reality with its material details mutually frame one another. They have become styles of memory, and part of what they recollect, or help us recollect, is one another. We begin to see each through the lens of the other, and that is an important development because it suggests that Stephen may have begun seeing them in that odd fashion as well.

Joyce provides abundant material for the reader to recognize and work with the complexities by including a kitchen scene (P 163), shortly before the scene on the beach, that contains elements common to both the Paterian and the realistic scenes that follow. The description of the light and the singing there anticipates the light and Stephen's singing on the beach (P 172). But this earlier scene in a littered kitchen that involves Stephen's family, specifically his siblings, is obviously echoed in the later kitchen scene. The ‘knife with a broken ivory handle … stuck through the pith of a ravaged turnover’ (P 163) that Stephen sees there anticipates the later scattered breadcrusts, but it also anticipates the moon embedded in the sand. And that latter anticipation does not necessarily have an ironic implication. Stephen on the beach may himself be recalling the earlier image as he half-perceives and half-creates the later one. In so doing, he can be understood to reaffirm what has taken place in the kitchen on his return home after having decided not to become a priest, when, perhaps to his own surprise, he joined his ragamuffin brothers and sisters in their singing. It seems, oddly, that at the time he rejects a religious vocation and chooses art, Stephen is aligning himself, if not exactly committing himself, to the grim realities represented by the family situation and not just to visionary experience.

To the extent that Stephen's perception of the moon carries a memory of the broken knife and the family along with it, the family situation nests within and contributes to the visionary scene rather than simply debunking it. The two kitchen scenes frame and implicitly comment on the beach scene that comes between them, but since the framed and framing scenes overlap, the implications are multiple and not altogether determinate. Joyce's language invites the reader to pursue those implications.

The thorough imbricating of these various passages gives us access to the complicated network of intertwined elements making up Stephen's life. It does so in a way that enables us to recognize and explore multiple, simultaneous perspectives for understanding and combining those elements as we respond to the narration's twists and turns. If we have recognized some of the repetitions connecting these passages, when we encounter a scene later in which Stephen awakens in ecstasy after a dream and composes a villanelle (P 217-24), the resemblances to the beach scene create a further framing, in this case for the second kitchen scene, which falls between them. A soup-plate from the previous night's supper remains on the table as a link to the description of the kitchen (P 218). Stephen, however, intends his writing to involve ‘transmuting the daily bread of experience’ (P 221). He is intent on ‘shrinking from’ the ordinary world of ‘common noises, hoarse voices, sleepy prayers’ (P 221), though his memories during the writing of the poem keep thrusting that world into his thoughts.7

In this section, even more fully than earlier, the two apparently antagonistic styles of visionary intensity and grim realism merge, though they continue to alternate as well. Both have become characteristic of Stephen's consciousness in Joyce's unusual attempt to represent the mental act of aesthetic creation. In creativity, as Joyce here presents it, fantasy, perception, and memory all mingle and merge as imaginative production. Rather than serving a common purpose of protesting convention, as in the epiphanies, or of mutually debunking one another, fantasy and realism converge in a form of play that is the attempt to produce something new. The convergence occurs in part under the auspices of memory, whose work is presented throughout the section either explicitly or inscribed in the repetition of phrases from earlier sections. With this convergence, the style of Stephen's thinking not only in A Portrait but also in Ulysses becomes possible. The style of visionary intensity has its antecedents in Yeats's ‘The Tables of the Law’ and in the writings of Walter Pater, whose style Stephen's thoughts mimic at the end of part iv and parody in Ulysses. In the ‘Conclusion’ of The Renaissance, Pater characterizes art as the most important of experiences and defines ‘success in life’ as maintaining ecstasy and burning ‘always with this hard, gemlike flame’ (Pater, 222). The flame Stephen attempts to keep burning as he writes his poem is at once the visionary intensity of his dream and the emotion he feels for a real woman. His flame-tending proceeds next to a table on which, in the midst of composing, he notices a real, burnt-out candle, ‘its tendrils of tallow and its paper socket, singed by the last flame’; he must write out his poem as best he can on the back of a torn cigarette packet (P 218). The two styles have been conjoined.

As those styles interact in A Portrait, they carry forward from Stephen Hero and begin actualizing the suggestion of a potential in Stephen for self-recognition and self-correction that may enable him eventually to break successfully from the conventions he inherits and the enthusiasms that for a time occupy him. We see such a break starting to occur at the end of A Portrait when Stephen's oscillations and reversals culminate in self-criticism, as well as intense commitment, in his journal. He explicitly distances himself there, for instance, from his earlier enthusiasm for Yeats's visionary heroes: ‘Michael Robartes remembers forgotten beauty and, when his arms wrap her round, he presses in his arms the loveliness which has long faded from the world. Not this. Not at all. I desire to press in my arms the loveliness which has not yet come into the world’ (P 251). It is not at all clear, however, how exactly that loveliness differs from Michael Robartes's ‘forgotten beauty’.

The criticism in the journal is at times not only self-directed but also humorous. Although we encounter regularly in A Portrait the energy of Stephen's thinking, we do not see his humour as often as in Stephen Hero. Its emergence at the end of the later work is something of a relief, perhaps for Stephen as well as the reader. He even makes fun of his own ambivalent tendency to re-evaluate his experiences when he writes: ‘Then, in that case, all the rest, all that I thought I thought and all that I felt I felt, all the rest before now, in fact … O, give it up, old chap! Sleep it off!’ (P 252). This kind of comment comes as a relief because of Stephen's evident tendency toward emotional frigidity. We see this tendency more clearly in A Portrait than in Stephen Hero, though Stephen's serious demeanour and disciplined responses in both texts create the impression of coldness. In part iv of A Portrait, at the end of Stephen's period of religious fervor, the emotional absence is evident even to him: ‘He had heard the names of the passions of love and hate pronounced solemnly on the stage and in the pulpit, had found them set forth solemnly in books, and had wondered why his soul was unable to harbour them for any time or to force his lips to utter their names with conviction’ (P 149). It is, in fact, a positive sign that he recognizes the problem, for that recognition influences his decision not to follow a religious vocation that would likely reinforce his emotional deadness. Although Stephen's coldness diminishes in the remainder of the book, especially in the journal, even there, the penultimate entry emphasizes what he has yet to learn, at least according to his mother: ‘She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it’ (P 252). Stephen's emotional potential, like his artistic talent, remains to be actualized when he writes the last, hopeful entries in his journal.


In creating the impression of Stephen's coldness in A Portrait, Joyce excised material that holds an important place in Stephen Hero, especially the intimacy between Stephen and his siblings, Maurice and Isabel, who do not appear in the later work. The absence of Isabel's death, with its strong impact on Stephen, is arguably the most significant of many alterations Joyce made. He also chose not to include the death of Stephen's mother, which occurs after the writing of the journal. Even in Ulysses that death, like Molly Bloom's adultery, is not directly presented as part of the realistic narrative. Only in the fantastic scenes of the episode in Nighttown are we given the act of adulterous copulation and the body of May Dedalus, ravaged by cancer. Such moments of death, ecstasy, and betrayal are so powerful in themselves and in their effects that they defy adequate representation in language. They signal certain limits that even Joyce, with his great skills as a stylist, did not attempt to cross in a realistic style.

In Joyce's hands, however, the limits of realistic writing are very wide indeed, so wide that the realistic style becomes a complex means for presenting memory that leads eventually to the allusive style of Ulysses. There is no trace in Dubliners of the Paterian style that Joyce later uses in A Portrait to suggest Stephen's values and attitudes. By avoiding that style entirely and focusing on the limitations of life in Dublin, Joyce responds critically to the mystical writing, such as Yeats's stories, that Stephen fervently admires. With his remark concerning Michael Robartes in his journal, Stephen begins to shift away from an art emphasizing vision and fantasy, as he continues to do in Ulysses. In the seventh episode of Ulysses, centred on the newspaper office, he even narrates a realistic vignette that counters stylistically the highly rhetorical, elevated styles that some of the other characters have used. Joyce went much further in this critical direction even before the writing of A Portrait by focusing resolutely in Dubliners on the grimy surface of ordinary life. He includes, as well, however, some indications of a potentially richer interior life.

Of the two epiphanic modes, the fantastic and the realistic, it is the latter with its ‘vulgarity of speech or of gesture’ that leads to Dubliners, whose stories are all narrated in a realistic manner. The stories and their style share with the epiphanies the goal of criticizing and unmasking a culture that Joyce despised because he considered it paralytic (Letters I 55). The opening story, ‘The Sisters’, involves paralysis literally, and some of the later stories include it at significant moments as a mental condition. At the end of ‘Eveline’, for instance, the central character is so torn between her desire to escape her dreary life in Dublin and her fear of doing so that she cannot move. And at the end of ‘A Painful Case’, James Duffy's mental life reaches a moment of emptiness and stasis, the paralyzing result of his earlier behaviour. Despite the absence of overt commentary by the narrator, an absence that is characteristic of Joyce's fiction, the characters and their culture are generally presented in a harsh light. Many details of the eleven stories from ‘Eveline’ through ‘Grace’ provide material for a severely negative judgement of the events, characters, and society presented in them.

The same is not entirely true of the opening and closing stories of the volume, though they project no strong optimism about Irish culture. The first three stories, ‘The Sisters’, ‘An Encounter’, and ‘Araby’, and the concluding story, ‘The Dead’, differ in some important respects from the stories they frame. Because of the difference, which is in part stylistic, the collection as a whole creates effects that no one of the stories can when read separately. The central figures in the beginning and ending stories differ from most of the other central characters because they are more aware, at least in retrospect, of their situations and possible alternatives. It is the retrospective orientation in these stories that sets them largely apart from the others and that makes them early precursors for Joyce's later, more elaborate style of memory.

Among the other stories, only ‘A Painful Case’ also presents a central figure who clearly develops a retrospective self-understanding, but for James Duffy the time has passed for self-knowledge to result in a beneficial change in his life. Like Stephen Dedalus and like Gabriel Conroy in ‘The Dead’, Duffy affects a mask of seriousness and has difficulty feeling, recognizing, and expressing emotion. He comes to recognize his own limitations, as does Conroy, through an experience that brings him into contact with death. But by the end of his story, Duffy's case is closed, whereas the outcome for Conroy and the young boy of the first stories is still unclear when their narratives end. As in many of the other stories, the implicit irony of the perspective offered to the reader in ‘A Painful Case’ carries a finality that precludes hope for something better in the future.

By contrast with all the stories that follow them in Dubliners, [D] the first three are narrated in the first person and may all concern the same young boy. As with Stephen in the three narratives in which he appears, the continuity of the central figure in the separate narratives can only be tentatively maintained, especially since he is never named in any of them. But there are also no details indicating unambiguously that the boy is different in any of the stories. The question of continuity aside, all three stories are retrospective narrations, told by an ‘I’ who provides little in the way of overt commentary and explicit judgment but whose narrating skills and vocabulary clearly set him apart from the young boy who is his earlier self. The fact that the boy is much younger than any of the later protagonists contributes to the comparatively more hopeful implications of these first stories. The retrospective form of the narration indicates at the least that he has a future that may consist of more than continuing paralysis, though we do not know what exactly that future will be.

While there is irony in the retrospective narration, particularly in the presentation of the boy's ‘foolish’ (D 30) adolescent romantic desires in ‘Araby’, the distance between narrator and character is never as great as in the stories told in the third person prior to ‘The Dead’. The combination of first-person narration, a relatively innocent, young central character, and an intimate style for rendering his thinking creates a potential for sympathy that is largely lacking in the stories that follow. The intimacy of the narration is evident in all three stories, since the narrator regularly presents the character's thoughts seemingly directly without summarizing or explaining them in language that seems inappropriate for the character. The adjectives in ‘Araby’, for instance, are sometimes descriptive in a psychological rather than an objective way; they originate in the child's thinking rather than in the narrator's. Near the story's ending, when the boy sees ‘the magical name’ (D 34) on the building, it is ‘magical’ only from his adolescent perspective. Having by this point in Dubliners already encountered many similar indications of thinking, the reader will likely realize, even though there is no comment from the narrator, that the word emanates from the child's mind.

The opening sentence of ‘The Sisters’, with its references to a person and a situation about which the reader as yet knows nothing, presents the character's thinking in a less understated way: ‘There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke’ (D 9). It is only after we become acquainted with some details of the boy's life that we understand that ‘him’ refers to an old priest who has befriended the boy and ‘stroke’ refers to the priest's illness, not to a clock. Whereas a realistic style can often seem transparent, apparently giving us direct access to the details of a world that is independent of the style's language and fully intelligible, Joyce here produces a relatively opaque realistic style. It draws attention to its own language because the illusion of transparency is not maintained. In this particular instance, even once we understand the references, there remains the question of the specific circumstances in which the statements are made. These are never clarified. In producing a style that presents memory at work and raises more questions than it answers, Joyce has turned his realistic writing into an allusive style of memory.8

In ‘The Dead’ Joyce brings his early realistic style equally close to his later style when he employs a wide range of strategies for presenting thought in the third rather than the first person. Although Joyce uses many of these strategies in the other stories told in the third person, especially the more complicated ones, such as ‘A Painful Case’, in this one the effect of the narration resembles the intimate effects of the stories narrated in the first person. The kinds of techniques used and the specific ways they are used affect the reader's sense of distance or irony with regard to the characters. In first-person narration a sympathetic response is almost automatically created, unless of course what the character thinks and feels is obviously unpleasant and unattractive. One of Joyce's great achievements as a stylist is his development of third-person narrating strategies that create an effect of intimacy essentially similar to the effect of first-person techniques. By the end of ‘The Dead’, his mastery of these strategies is evident.

In part because the story is longer than the others, in ‘The Dead’ the narrator can rely on the reader's having become sufficiently acquainted with Gabriel Conroy's life and his thinking for an intimate, allusive presentation of his thoughts to be possible. By the time Gabriel and his wife, Gretta, have reached their hotel room after his aunts' party, we have already learned a great deal about his values and the circumstances of his life. Much of the information suggests his limitations, particularly in dealings of an emotional sort. He has failed in his attempt to be friendly with Lily, the caretaker's daughter who is acting as maid at the party, and he has botched his encounter with his colleague, Miss Ivors, who has criticized his anti-nationalist attitudes. It is no surprise that Conroy's attempt to evoke an affectionate response from Gretta is also a failure. It is surprising, however, that he seems to learn something about his own deficiencies from the final encounter. He admits, for instance, that ‘He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love’ (D 223). Conroy's realization about this lack and his decision to help Gretta tell her story are bound up with his new sense of communal relations. Those relations are based on a common mortality he has, until now successfully, tried to forget.

Equally surprising is the lengthy passage rendering Gabriel's thoughts, which begins ‘She was fast asleep’, and with which the story closes; this passage brings the reader in a sustained way into the sometimes ambiguous texture of Gabriel's thinking. Unlike the opening sentence of ‘The Sisters’, the one about Gretta's sleeping has an immediate, though subtle, effect even though the person referred to is not named. There is no need for a name; we know the character's thinking well enough that a pronoun will do. As in ‘Araby’, we understand some of the adjectives as Gabriel's interior language. When we read that the tears filling his eyes are ‘Generous’ (D 223), however, the word can elicit a more complicated response than the adjective ‘magical’ in ‘Araby’. There the discrepancy between the narrator's view and the character's created some sense of distance and irony. Here the word, with its combined psychological and physical meanings, which the reader is invited to recognize as ambiguously conjoined, cannot so easily be assigned to the character's view only. There may not be any irony, since the word can be the narrator's description, too, rather than evoking the character's perspective only, or both character's and narrator's perspectives as somehow separable. The kind of intense activity that such a style encourages from the reader as it captures the multiple, shifting perspectives of the character's thinking in its relations to the narrator's language is typical of Joyce's later writing as well.

That activity is a kind of play, a transformational process that takes many elements and perspectives and combines them variously, at times in a fashion that is nearly aleatory. It is surely no coincidence that the complexities of style that give rise to this activity in Dubliners occur most insistently in such stories as ‘The Sisters’, ‘A Painful Case’, and ‘The Dead’, all of which involve encounters with death and retrospective views. In Stephen Hero, Stephen responds to his sister's death by turning toward realism and fantasy as modes of protest; realism that depicts coldly and without illusion the apparent limits of ordinary experience and fantasy that claims to exceed and escape those limits. The Ulyssean Stephen, who is older but perhaps no better able to respond to death, realizes that fantasy, too, has its limits. He may be on the way to learning that there are alternatives to defensive, self-enclosed, and self-protective styles of writing and thinking. Joyce gives us one form those alternatives can take when he produces a style of recollection, one that recovers and revivifies as it invites engaged responses. By writing stories in a style that evokes memory, Joyce can focus on mortality and yet ask for and enable an active redefining of the apparently unalterable limits all of us face.


  1. Vicki Mahaffey discusses the epiphanies in ch. 8 of this volume.

  2. Walter Pater, The Renaissance (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1961). Hereafter referred to as ‘Pater’.

  3. Wayne Booth discusses the difficulty the reader faces in judging Stephen without explicit guidance from the narrator in a widely reprinted essay, ‘The problem of distance in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, in The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 323-36. Robert Scholes also discusses the difficulty in ‘Stephen Dedalus, poet or esthete?’, PMLA 89 (1964), 484-9. Hugh Kenner, whose negative judgement of Stephen has been influential, discusses Stephen in ‘The Portrait in perspective’, in Dublin's Joyce (London: Chatto and Windus, 1955), pp. 109-33, which has also been widely reprinted. He extends his argument in a more convincing later essay, ‘The Cubist portrait’ in Thomas F. Staley and Bernard Benstock, eds., Approaches to Joyce's ‘Portrait’: Ten Essays (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976), pp. 171-84. S. L. Goldberg provides a more sympathetic judgement of Stephen in his James Joyce (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1962). I argue for a positive judgement of Stephen in Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction: Oscillating Perspectives (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).

  4. Many critics have emphasized one aspect of Joyce's language over another by arguing that his writings are essentially naturalistic, that is, filled with straightforward, external detail, or essentially symbolic, that is, filled with seemingly straightforward details that actually involve spiritual revelations. The terms were set long ago by Edmund Wilson in his seminal book, Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931). William York Tindall's interpretations in James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950) and in A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959), for example, assume that Joyce's narratives are to be read symbolically. Kenneth Burke convincingly challenges the critical tendency toward symbolic readings in his essay on A Portrait, ‘Fact, inference, and proof in the analysis of literary symbolism’ (Terms for Order, ed. Stanley E. Hyman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964), pp. 145-72), in which he outlines a critical procedure that pays careful attention to the shifting meanings of words. More recent critics have also frequently challenged the emphasis on symbols. In James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist (London: Edward Arnold, 1977; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977), for instance, Charles K. Peake takes exception to symbolic interpretations and provides well-reasoned, detailed commentaries on all Joyce's early fiction. In the present essay I argue that we witness in the early fiction a shift in Stephen's allegiances away from a symbolic art toward an art that grapples more directly with the sufferings and uncertainties of mortality.

  5. Readers need to be aware of an error in the chapter numbering in all editions of Stephen Hero to date (edited by Theodore Spencer in 1944, revised by John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon in 1955 and 1963). Hans Walter Gabler explains the error in his ‘Preface’ to Archive 8, ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’—A Facsimile of the Manuscript Fragments of ‘Stephen Hero’:

    The eleven chapters of the University College episode in the manuscripts are numbered [xv] to xxv. Theodore Spencer's edition mistakenly numbers twelve chapters as xv to xxvi. The editorial error arises in chapter xviii. Halfway through the manuscript chapter xviii, at the bottom of page 610, appears the note ‘End of Second Episode of v’ in a large scrawl of red crayon. The text it obliterates is repeated in the margin of the subsequent leaf. This leaf is again headed ‘Chapter xviii’ in blue crayon. These as we now know, are markings related to the composition of Portrait and do not constitute a revision of Stephen Hero. Yet, unfortunately, Theodore Spencer assumed a revisional new chapter division and, introducing ‘xix’, renumbered all subsequent chapters. Users of the Stephen Hero editions must be warned that chapters ‘xviii’ and ‘xix’ consecutively are one chapter, chapter xviii, and the chapters ‘xx’ to ‘xxvi’ should be correctly numbered xix to xxv. Only with this correction can the editions be matched with the manuscript and Joyce's comments on the novel in his letters.

    (p. xi)

    I refer to the corrected chapter numbers throughout my discussion. The order in which the surviving fragments of Stephen Hero are printed in the revised edition can also cause confusion. The fragments published at the end of the volume, which are from the middle of the original manuscript, should precede the much longer segment that comes before them in this edition. A freshly edited critical edition of Stephen Hero is in preparation.

  6. Hugh Kenner was probably the first critic to discuss the pattern of triumph and undermining in the five parts of A Portrait in ‘The Portrait in perspective’, cited above.

  7. The best-known critical discussion of Stephen's villanelle is Robert Scholes's essay, ‘Stephen Dedalus, poet or esthete?’, cited above. Dorrit Cohn provides an alternative perspective in her brief discussion of narration in A Portrait (in her book Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 30-3). Although her book is not primarily about Joyce's fiction, it provides some useful strategies for describing Joyce's varied attempts to present thinking as a process in his writing.

  8. Fritz Senn was the first critic to argue for a close relationship between Joyce's later style and the apparently simpler style of Dubliners. He makes that argument briefly in ‘“He was too scrupulous always”: Joyce's “The Sisters”’, JJQ 2 (1965), 66-72.

Vicki Mahaffey (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11126

SOURCE: Mahaffey, Vicki. “Joyce's Shorter Works.” In The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, edited by Derek Attridge, pp. 185-211. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

[In the essay that follows, Mahaffey discusses the defining characteristics of Joyce's shorter works and examines the relationship between his longer and shorter compositions.]

At first glance, Joyce's shorter works—his poems and epiphanies, Giacomo Joyce, and Exiles—seem to bear only the most tenuous relationship to the books for which Joyce has become famous. It is only by an exercise of the imagination that the epiphanies and Giacomo Joyce can even be called ‘works’; Joyce published neither in its original form, choosing instead to loot them for the more ambitious undertakings that followed, and neither received the painstaking polish that Joyce lavished on his more ambitious productions. Only forty of at least seventy-one epiphanies are extant and their relationship to one another had to be reconstructed from manuscript evidence; the sketches that comprise Giacomo Joyce were similarly composed, arranged, and abandoned, but not destroyed. Chamber Music, although published in 1907, was orphaned when Joyce delegated the final arrangement of the poems to his brother Stanislaus. Pomes Penyeach, as the title suggests, is a modest offering of twelve and a tilly poetic ‘fruits’. Only Exiles [E] continued to hold Joyce's interest as an autonomous composition not destined for immediate verbal recycling.

The status of the shorter works as successful, original, or even finished compositions has always been in question; even in more subjective terms, however, they seem to offer few of the rewards of their longer and better known counterparts. First, and most damagingly, they are humourless; what humour may be discerned in them is bitter or ironic, inspired by pained defiance (as in ‘Gas from a Burner’) or jaded cynicism (‘In my time the dunghill was so high’—E 43). Secondly, they are spare, denuded of the variable styles and elaborate contexts that make Ulysses and Finnegans Wake seem inexhaustible. Finally, they are easily dismissed as immediately derivative of both Joyce's experiences and his reading.

Although the brevity and earnestness of Joyce's minor pieces put them in opposition to the major ones, the relationship between the shorter and longer productions is much closer when viewed in structural and thematic terms. Chamber Music, the Epiphanies, and Giacomo Joyce are all composed of isolated, artistically rendered moments arranged to form a loose progression; the three acts of Exiles loosely divide thirteen unmarked scenes, each an intimate dialogue between two characters, stitched together by the conventions—both social and theatrical—of entrances and exits. The strategy of producing a longer and more complicated text by stringing together a series of formally self-contained units is essential not only to the design of Dubliners, where the structural building blocks are short stories, but also to the increasingly complex episodic structures of A Portrait, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. In short, the minor works make it much more apparent that Joyce's technique—even in the longer texts—is in large part an imagist one, adapted from poetry to narrative and massively elaborated in the process.

If the shorter texts outline the basic structure of all Joyce's works, they also provide the simplest statement of Joyce's most characteristic themes, which are treated polyphonically in his longer compositions: themes of loss, betrayal, and the interplay of psychological and social experience. Strikingly, all of the shorter works record the experience of some loss: the Epiphanies seem to have been arranged to depict the loss of innocence; Chamber Music plays out the loss of youthful love, a theme picked up and translated into predominantly visual terms in Giacomo Joyce. Many of the poems in Pomes Penyeach echo the theme of lost youth, but the collection also includes more anguished treatments of different kinds of loss: in ‘Tilly’, a figurative loss of limb makes the dead speak; it is the illusion of beauty that is lost in ‘A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight’. The list can be expanded to include loss of sight in ‘Bahnhofstrasse’, loss of life in ‘She Weeps over Rahoon’, loss of faith in ‘Nightpiece’, and loss of peace and security in the nightmarish ‘I Hear an Army’; in the words of another ‘pome’, ‘Tutto è sciolto’ (all is lost). Exiles is the most complicated of Joyce's briefer treatments of attrition, since it probes the loss of spontaneity in life and love, which the action of the play suggests is irreparable.

A less apparent symmetry between the shorter and longer works is in the careful balancing of subjective and objective experience. As Scholes and Kain point out, Joyce designed not one but two kinds of epiphanies—one narrative, one dramatic—and then interwove them into a single sequence.1 The careful counterpointing of opposite perspectives—those of dream and observation—constitutes Joyce's earliest attempt to compensate for the distortion of ‘parallax’, the term for the inadequacy of a single vantage point that sparks Bloom's curiosity in Ulysses. The main problem with Joyce's characterization of both kinds of experience in the epiphanies is its naïveté: the imagination is always empowering, and outer experience invariably deflating. The narrative epiphanies celebrate the power of the author's mind; the dramatic epiphanies reduce the stature of those around him (WD 4). The epiphanies, like the manuscript novel that succeeded and partly incorporated them, present the nascent artist as an inevitable Hero.

As heroism is increasingly displaced by humour in Joyce's maturer works, his treatment of the relationship between fantasy and drama, desire and reality, also grows more complex.2Giacomo Joyce and Exiles, as narrative and dramatic treatments of problems that would later inform Ulysses, at first seem to constitute a two-phase attempt to represent the pain of betrayal from an internal and external point of view, respectively: that of the artist's mind and that of a more detached spectator. Giacomo Joyce, from such a perspective, resembles the narrative epiphanies in its depiction of the sensitive artist as dreamer, whereas Exiles, like the dramatic epiphanies, presents the artist exposing the imprecision and lack of integrity of those around him.3

The attempt to define Giacomo Joyce [GJ] and Exiles in terms of the similarities and differences between the two kinds of epiphanies works only up to a point, however, since by the end of each text the oppositions between dream and drama, wish-fulfilment and satire, subject and object have begun to break down. Giacomo Joyce cannot sustain its status as pure fantasy; outer circumstances begin to impinge on its enclosed world when the object of Giacomo's gaze enigmatically announces her preference for a lesser man—‘“Because otherwise I could not see you” … Non hunc sed Barabbam!’—and the speaker's imaginative superiority lapses into self-criticism: ‘It will never be. You know that well. What then? Write it, damn you, write it! What else are you good for?’ (GJ 16).

Just as the subjective cast of Giacomo Joyce dissipates in the strong light of fact, the objective, even clinical mood of Exiles yields to self-pity and hallucination. The upsurge of irrational forces begins when Richard Rowan suddenly sees the hypocrisy of his high-toned opposition to any union between his friend and the mother of his child. He recognizes and confesses the hidden desire that prompted him to watch and passively abet their growing mutual attraction, as the play relentlessly pursues the treachery buried in the accusation of betrayal:

[I]n the very core of my ignoble heart I longed to be betrayed by you and by her—in the dark, in the night—secretly, meanly, craftily. By you, my best friend, and by her. I longed for that passionately and ignobly, to be dishonoured for ever in love and in lust, to be. … To be for ever a shameful creature and to build up my soul again out of the ruins of its shame.

(E 70)

Richard admits that his furtive desire to be betrayed was motivated, paradoxically, by pride, since Bertha has consistently used her faithfulness to shame him: ‘She has spoken always of her innocence, as I have spoken always of my guilt, humbling me’ (E 70). And as Richard is driven towards truth, he is also propelled into a nightmarish world of imagination, the world of Giacomo Joyce. Returning from his hour on the strand he tells Beatrice:

There are demons … out there. I heard them jabbering since dawn … The isle is full of voices. Yours also. Otherwise I could not see you, it said. And her voice. But, I assure you, they are all demons. I made the sign of the cross upside down and that silenced them.

(E 98)

Once we see that Giacomo Joyce and Exiles not only represent an opposition between inner and outer reality but also present complementary accounts of how that opposition breaks down, it is only a short step to an appreciation of how the two dovetail into the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses, which is both drama and fantasy, an extravagant celebration of the actor/viewer's superhuman dreams and subhuman instincts, his generous pride and shameful prejudices, and finally into Finnegans Wake [FW].

The shorter works bear a marked resemblance to their longer counterparts in basic theme and structure, but they also reflect Joyce's characteristic readiness to appropriate the styles and voices of other writers. Whereas in his most famous works this appropriative tendency takes the form of parody or emerges through correspondences, in the slighter pieces it has been dismissed as simply derivative, as evidence of the influence exercised upon Joyce by Christian theology, Yeats, the Elizabethans, or Ibsen. All writing, of course, is derivative; the question that presses is whether a work represents a productive or reiterative reading of its sources: does it replicate the most familiar features of its parent texts, or does it reshape our awareness of those texts?

Not only are the shorter works derived (in part) from identifiable sources, but they, in turn, serve as sources themselves; Joyce reinterprets—and re-uses—them as readily as he uses any other material. And just as the dependence of Joyce's shorter works on the writings of his predecessors can easily obscure the extent to which our understanding of those other writings may change in reference to his, the dependence of Joyce's longer experiments on the shorter ones which frequently contribute to them raises a comparable problem of relation: how can we account for the disjunction between what the shorter works lack (humour, complexity, and a self-consciousness that is acutely philosophical rather than painfully self-dramatizing) and what they share with Joyce's other writings (seriatim structure, concern with betrayal, hunger for experience, and the appropriation of other writers' voices)? One solution is to sever any relationship between the slighter works and their famous siblings by asserting that the shorter works, unlike the longer ones, are unsuccessful on their own terms. Such a contention may be true, but its truth is to some extent irrelevant, since it is not purely on their own terms that any of these documents lay claim to our attention; their value stems largely from their incestuous relationship to other writing, their liminal status as threshold productions that mark the interstices between more apparently autonomous experiments. Whatever Joyce's shorter works have to offer they will not offer in isolation; on the other hand, if they are absorbed too completely into the rest of Joyce's writing we lose a vantage point for reinterpreting his other works. Like Joyce's longer texts, the shorter pieces simultaneously depend upon a larger written tradition and strain to break free of that tradition by exceeding it.

The shorter works are most fruitfully approached not only as half-realized versions of Joyce's more ambitious productions, but also as stilled frames in an ongoing process of reading and writing, a process that he parodied, practised and refined throughout a lifetime of experimentation with language. Like the manuscripts, the shorter works provide information indispensable for reconstructing the ‘continuous manuscript’ of Joyce's writing career,4 an achievement that is both fluid and discontinuous, fragmented and whole. Unlike the manuscripts, though, which give insight into the arrangement of a published text by tracing the genesis of that arrangement and the false starts that help to define the finished shape, the shorter works preserve contextual as well as textual trials and errors: we see Joyce testing, not only phrases, but variant interpretations of problems like fidelity, combining the perspectives of different authors to create complex backdrops for his own treatments.

The most influential critical treatments of the shorter works show how easy it is to upset the fragile balance between a text's individuality and its applicability to larger contexts. In the case of the Epiphanies, the prose bits to which Joyce gave that name are too often digested into the general concept of ‘epiphany’. In contrast, the critical focus on the poems, Giacomo Joyce, and Exiles has tended to be too narrowly biographical or literary. Whether the perspective is telescopic or microscopic, the attitude inclusive or dismissive, what is lost is the depth and flexibility that come from a less consistent, and more Joycean, sense of the continuity and discontinuity of relation.


The main difficulty presented by the Epiphanies lies in the broad application of the word itself, which Joyce used not only to designate the slivers of life that he punctiliously preserved in prose and dialogue from 1900-1903, but also as a metaphor, drawn from classical and Christian myth, for the revelation of the spiritual in the actual. In Greek mythology, epiphany referred to the unexpected manifestation of the divine, and in Greek drama it was used to describe the sudden appearance of a god on stage. Christianity appropriated the term for liturgical purposes to commemorate the day that the Magi brought gifts to the Christ child (which represents the first manifestation of divinity to foreign travellers).

In the manuscript of Stephen Hero, [SH] where the term was first discovered, Joyce uses ‘epiphany’ both to describe his records of moments that blend triviality with significance and to designate the revelatory climax of aesthetic apprehension. He introduces the more local of the two meanings by describing his reaction to a fragment of overheard conversation:

A young lady was standing on the steps of one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of Irish paralysis. A young gentleman was leaning on the rusty railings of the area. Stephen as he passed on his quest heard the following fragment of colloquy out of which he received an impression keen enough to afflict his sensitiveness very severely.

The Young Lady—(drawling discreetly) … O, yes … I was … at the … cha … pel …

The Young Gentleman—(inaudibly) … I … (again inaudibly) … I …

The Young Lady—(softly) … O … but you're … ve … ry … wick … ed …

This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.

(SH 210-11)

The collection of epiphanies receives further mention in Ulysses, [U] where Stephen thinks to himself, ‘Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara’ (U 3.141-4). Several of Joyce's own epiphanies turned up among his papers and those of his brother Stanislaus, and it is Scholes and Kain's arrangement of these into a sequence based on manuscript evidence that constitutes what we now refer to as the Epiphanies.5

In Stephen Hero, after the narrator relates an epiphany and reveals Stephen's determination to collect them, Stephen goes on to explain the idea of epiphany in theoretical terms to Cranly. Epiphany, he argues, is the moment when the spiritual eye is able ‘to adjust its vision to an exact focus’ so as to apprehend ‘the third, the supreme quality of beauty’ in an object, its ‘soul’ or ‘whatness’, which the mind synthesizes from an appreciation of the first two qualities of beauty in the object, its integrity and symmetry:

After the analysis which discovers the second quality the mind makes the only logically possible synthesis and discovers the third quality. This is the moment which I call epiphany. 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.

(SH 213)

When Joyce reworked this portion of Stephen's aesthetic theories for Portrait (P 212-13), he expunged any reference to epiphany, instead describing the moment of aesthetic apprehension as an experience of stasis.6 The emphasis of Stephen's aesthetic theory is significantly different in Portrait; the goal of aesthetic apprehension is no longer presented as a semi-religious celebration of the spirit's ability to manifest itself through matter, but as a rare balance of spirit and matter, imagination and observation, an evenness of apprehension illustrated by the commingling of light and darkness in Shelley's image of a ‘fading coal’ (P 213).7

In philosophical and religious terms, epiphany represents an idealistic, even platonic belief in the superiority of the spirit, its ability to transcend materiality.8 However, as Joyce's brother Stanislaus suggests, Joyce also used epiphany to signify a psychological revelation of repressed or subconscious truth through slips or errors. In his papers, arranged and edited by Richard Ellmann under the title My Brother's Keeper, Stanislaus writes:

Another experimental form which [Joyce's] literary urge took … consisted in the noting of what he called ‘epiphanies’;—manifestations or revelations. Jim always had a contempt for secrecy, and these notes were in the beginning ironical observations of slips, and little errors and gestures—mere straws in the wind—by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal … The revelation and importance of the subconscious had caught his interest.9

According to Stanislaus's account, the epiphanies began as satiric attempts to expose the pretensions of others, and they grew to include brief realizations of unconscious knowledge as it is unexpectedly unlocked by language or dream.

As Joyce matured, he lost the desire to exalt either spirituality or his own authorial privilege, and he increasingly valued more balanced representations of individual with shared realities. The Epiphanies fail to preserve such a balance; although they frequently invite us to entertain two opposed perspectives through puns or dialogue, one is always clearly preferred. In epiphany 32, for example, when Joyce juxtaposes the human race with a horse race, thereby foreshadowing the running puns of Ulysses, the human race clearly suffers by the comparison: ‘[H]uman creatures are swarming in the enclosure, moving backwards and forwards through the thick ooze’. In contrast to the vile human race is the distant, idealized horse race: ‘A beautiful brown horse, with a yellow rider upon him, flashes far away in the sunlight’.

Criticism has tended to favour the concept of epiphany over the prose sketches that bear the same name. Lacking context themselves, the epiphanies have seemed less attractive in their denuded manuscript state than when decked out in the heavy robes of myth, religion, and aesthetics.10 However, most critics have agreed that the importance of the manuscript epiphanies may be traced to a few of their most marked features: the absence of authorial commentary that also characterizes Joyce's later work; the division of the epiphanies into two types; their structure, a sequential ordering of fragments which has the effect of submerging ‘plot’; the interplay of conscious and subconscious awareness; and their reappearance in the richer contexts of Joyce's subsequent works.11

The epiphanies evoke the desire and fear of discovery, but their exposures are all designed to prove the power and authority of the self over the external world. Chamber Music, as we shall see, transposes the theme of disclosure into a new key, taking it out of the psychological and mythic realm and into a private chamber, where attitudes of eroticism and morbidity are paramount.


The nature of Joyce's poetic accomplishment may be momentarily pinned down only by a pointed definition of what exactly is meant by ‘poetry’ in the context of his career. If by poetry we mean a composition in verse that manages, paradoxically, to combine richness of applicability with verbal compactness, bridging public and private experience; if we are talking about poems on the order of Yeats's ‘The Tower’ or ‘Among School Children’, Joyce wrote no such poetry, although it could be argued that he realized comparably ‘poetic’ aims in prose. However, Joyce did not restrict himself to prose; his earliest efforts were primarily in verse, and by the end of his career he had written over one hundred poems, parodies, and poetic fragments. What distinguishes Joyce's poetry from that of someone like Yeats is that Joyce never used verse as a comprehensive form; he seldom strives to integrate different levels of meaning in a single metrical stroke. Instead, Joyce uses conventional poetic forms and meters as a way of simplifying emotional experience, whether in the form of a musical lyric, a satirical limerick, or an angry broadside. Versification allowed him to pare away complexity in favour of a simpler emotional and verbal expressiveness.

It is appropriate for a writer as contradictory as Joyce that his greatest poetry never assumes poetic form. Nevertheless, Joyce did write—and publish—two collections of verse, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927), in addition to two earlier collections that he destroyed, and of which only fragments remain, Moods and Shine and Dark. In addition, he wrote numerous occasional poems, which tend to be comic or satirical—two broadsides, several limericks, regular quatrain poems, and quite a few poems designed to be sung to music.12 His verses represent a wide variety of moods, from anguished nihilism or stung pride to lyrical wooing, but the range of emotion is not matched by a comparable flexibility in poetic technique. Joyce's verses are deliberately constructed, like everything he wrote, and they do manage to create some unusual local effects, many of which gather around Joyce's use of one particular word to magnetize the meaning of an entire poem, but his poems lack formal complexity or variation. For this reason, several critics have suggested that Joyce's poems are, more accurately, songs.

What differentiates Joyce's poetry most markedly from that of Yeats, and from his own most successful prose, is its paucity of voices and its propensity towards enclosure. Chamber Music might not be an inappropriate title for the majority of Joyce's metrical compositions; even the volume that bears that title is fairly representative of what Joyce achieved—and failed to achieve—in verse.13 First of all, there is only one voice in Chamber Music, that of an alternately idealistic and sensual young lover. That voice serenades a conventionally golden-haired young woman who first appears playing the piano in her chamber (ii). The burden of the lover's song is his desire to enter that chamber, which is a room, her heart, and metaphorically, of course, her womb. At first, the enclosed spaces that he longs to enter are depicted as warm and inviting, but after the poem that Joyce identified as the ‘climax’ of the sequence (xiv), those spaces cool and grow shadowy, increasingly representing the darker allure of sleep, and, ultimately, death.

At the outset of the sequence, the lover's desire for his beloved to ‘unclose’ herself to his love emerges by means of the analogies he sets up between his love songs and the music of the night wind, and between his beloved's hidden fire and the dawn. In the first poem, an anthropomorphized Love is wandering (like Yeats's ‘Wandering Aengus’) by the music along the river; in the next poem, it is the young woman's thoughts, eyes and hands ‘That wander as they list’, ‘list’ functioning both as an archaic word meaning ‘inclination’ and as a contraction of ‘listen’. (The woman's frequent attitude of ‘bending’ or ‘leaning’ seems to figure a quite literal inclination, in this case her inclination to listen to the lover's songs and what they portend.) In poem iii, the lover asks her if she has heard the natural and celestial music of ‘the night wind and the sighs / Of harps playing unto Love to unclose / The pale gates of sunrise’. The next poem makes it clear that his music is designed to replicate the music of wind and harps, encouraging her to unclose her gate, at which he is singing. In v the gate is replaced by a window, which he urges her to lean through; in vi he openly expresses his desire to be ‘in that sweet bosom’, which, by the structural similarities that link the two stanzas, is also ‘that heart’ at which he softly ‘knock[s]’. Images of enclosure grow brighter and less confining in successive poems: in vii, ‘the sky's a pale blue cup’; in viii, the ‘chamber’ is a sunny woodland; and in x it is a hollow. In poem xi, the dominant images of enclosure have been reduced in size and domesticated; the constraint of virginity is here represented by the snood that binds her hair and the stays that enclose her ‘girlish bosom’. Picking up on the last word of xi, ‘maidenhood’, xii launches an argument against all ‘hooded’ or cautious counsel, particularly that of the hooded moon and the hooded Capuchin. Finally, in xiii, attention shifts back to the woman's chamber as the lover urges the ‘Wind of spices whose song is ever / Epithalamium’ to ‘come into her little garden / And sing at her window’ (compare Yeats, ‘The Cap and Bells’).

By poems xiv and xv, Love has indeed unclosed the gates of pale sunrise, thereby unlocking the potential for a son to rise; these dawn poems are also celebrations of consummated love. The speaker's love has shifted along the fault of rhyme to become a dove, image of the holy spirit, whom he bids, like the sun, to ‘arise’. Although ‘Eastward the gradual dawn prevails / Where softly-burning fires appear’ (xv), the main impulse of the poems that follow xv is to escape the heat of the sun, whether into the ‘cool and pleasant valley’ of xvi (contrast the hollow of x), the ‘deep cool shadow’ of the dark pine-wood of xx (contrast the green and sunny wood of viii), the prison of interwoven arms in xxii (contrast xi), the mossy nest of her heart (xxiii; contrast vi), the wasted sun and cloud-wrapped vales of xxv (compare vii), or the grave where ‘all love shall sleep’ (xxviii). In xiii, the lover invited ‘The wind of spices’ into his beloved's garden to sing; in sharp contrast, xxix describes ‘Desolate winds that assail with cries / The shadowy garden where love is’. As the lover once knocked at the heart of his beloved, a ‘rogue in red and yellow dress’ is now knocking at a leaving tree (xxxiii) in mocking echo of springtime desire, and in xxxiv, the voice of the winter is at the door, crying to the Macbeth-like dreamer, ‘Sleep no more’. This final poem in the sequence proper (Joyce wrote to G. Molyneux Palmer that xxxv and xxxvi are tailpieces, Letters I 67) is the only one in which voices begin to proliferate, as the voice within the lover's heart clashes with the voice of the winter outside his chamber, one crying ‘Sleep now’, the other forbidding further sleep. Appropriately, the music of the water has been displaced by ‘noise’ in xxxv, and choiring by a monotone. xxxvi is a literal image of nightmare that anticipates Joyce's punning treatment of nightmare in Ulysses and in FW 583.8-9: horses (mares?) come out of the sea—mer—at night, ridden by disdainful charioteers in black armour. The Love of the first poem has been supplanted by war, ‘An army charging upon the land’; the idealized figure of garlanded peace (‘Dark leaves on his hair’) replaced with a multitude of embattled, shouting phantoms shaking in triumph their long, green hair.

The most influential treatments of Chamber Music have all arranged themselves around the linchpin of the title. William York Tindall reflects back on Chamber Music from the perspective of Ulysses, where Bloom thinks of chamber music as the music Molly makes when she urinates in a chamberpot (U 11.979-84). He connects this with the varying stories about how the title was chosen told by Herbert Gorman and Oliver St John Gogarty, both of which involve chamberpots as well, concluding with a strained interpretation of poems vii and xxvi as representations of micturition.14 Tindall identified urination as one among many dimensions of the title's meaning, suggesting that it was also a sequence about wantonness—Elizabethan ‘chambering’.

Chamber Music sparsely records a seduction and its chilly aftermath, but the main implication of its title is that it explores the musical possibilities of a small enclosed space. Joyce emphasized the musical nature of Chamber Music not only through the title but also by setting one of the poems to music himself (xi), and by encouraging Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer to set others: ‘I hope you may set all of Chamber Music in time. This was indeed partly my idea in writing it. The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them to music myself’ (Letters I 67). Stress on the music of the poems has recently been offset by Archie K. Loss's attention to its visual spaces—chamber and wood—in the context of Symbolist art, and by Chester Anderson's interest in its rhythmical gestures and rhetorical figures.15 Such competing perspectives have made it easier to appreciate the economy with which the musical and spatial dimensions of the poems have been integrated. Technically, the stability and smallness of the poems' structure, together with the fact that they are all sung by the same voice, allow Joyce to explore, not the landscapes of Dublin, but a miniaturized interior chamber, which almost imperceptibly transforms itself into an image of the grave (‘We were grave lovers’, xxx). The external landscapes of the poem are all psychological and sexualized extensions of other inner chambers, a technique that Joyce learned from Yeats's The Wind Among the Reeds.

Poetry seems to have remained a slight vessel for Joyce, a vehicle for expressing emotions of isolation, or for preserving isolated moments. As the title suggests, Pomes Penyeach are not worth much individually; they are inexpensive offerings of private moments, one protective and delicate (‘A Flower Given to my Daughter’), another arming the speaker against nostalgia for the simplicity and trust of childhood (‘Simples’), but most agonized or despairing. As Herbert Howarth has suggested, Joyce's poems are the productions of a Henry Flower16 (although ‘A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight’ could have been written by Virag); they are musical, nostalgic, and markedly sentimental—Siren songs, such as the ones Bloom listens to and ultimately rejects in the ‘Sirens’ episode of Ulysses. Joyce betrays an awareness of the danger of such songs in ‘Simples’, where the speaker prays for an Odyssean sailor's ‘waxen ear / To shield me from her childish croon’; the deficiency of his poems is their power to evoke a ‘Flood’ of nostalgia. Joyce never underestimated the power of simple song to seduce the sense and shipwreck the desire for life, which explains why, perhaps, a song from Pomes Penyeach, ‘Nightpiece’, was once the core of the ‘Tristan and Isolde’ episode of Finnegans Wake.17 An early draft of the episode began as ironic marginalia that surrounds and eventually subsumes its sentimental center: the romantic, despairing poem of youth.


Like Chamber Music, Giacomo Joyce is a seduction piece. But if the ‘Sirens’ episode provides a context against which the power and danger of Chamber Music can be read, Giacomo Joyce is best read against ‘Nausicaa’, which takes painting rather than music as its technic. And if the danger of the music that seduces is a function of its univocality and its simplicity, Giacomo Joyce—against the background of ‘Nausicaa’—shows that the danger of voyeurism is comparable to the seductive lure of the lyric. As Chamber Music lacks more than one voice, Giacomo Joyce lacks a view from more than one perspective: it is an example of what Joyce would later see as the distortion that results from failing to account for parallax.

Giacomo Joyce is a series of prose sketches formally akin to the narrative epiphanies. A fair-copy manuscript of sixteen pages transcribed onto eight oversized sheets of heavy paper, most probably in the summer of 1914, it is the only one of Joyce's writings to be set in Trieste, which is also where Joyce left it when he moved on to Zurich in 1915 (GJ xv, xi). The story—told through disjointed images rather than successive songs—loosely follows the lines of the story in Chamber Music, with emphasis falling once again on the waxing and waning of love, a waning that in this case seems to have something to do with the appearance of a rival. Unlike Chamber Music, however, Giacomo Joyce does not contain any suggestion that the love affair it chronicles—Joyce's relationship with one of the pupils to whom he taught English in Trieste, Amalia Popper—was ever anything more than an ‘affair of the eye’, and in this respect it anticipates ‘Nausicaa’. However, its divergences from ‘Nausicaa’ are as important as its similarities: ‘Nausicaa’ provides two perspectives, that of the woman as well as the man, to Giacomo's one. Also in sharp contrast are the two accounts of the affair's climax. Unlike ‘Nausicaa’, in which Bloom's encounter with Gerty spends itself in a comically onanistic display of fireworks, Giacomo Joyce ends more bitterly when the object of the artist's gaze announces her preference for another man, for Barabbas (who is probably Popper's fiancé Michele Risolo) over Christ (Joyce) (GJ 16; see Mahaffey, ‘Giacomo Joyce’, p. 406).

What is most notably missing in Giacomo Joyce is the perspective of the woman, a perspective that is so strategically provided in Ulysses.18 Our first view of her is prefaced by a question—‘Who?’—and she emerges as a montage created by images of a pale face, furs, and quizzing glasses (GJ 1). Typical of the speaker's furtive mode of observing her is the sketch where he looks ‘upward from night and mud’, watching her ‘dressing to go to the play’ (GJ 6). His voyeurism grows more intimate as he pictures himself hooking her black gown, seeing through the opening ‘her lithe body sheathed in an orange shift’. The shift shifts to a ship that ‘slips its ribbons of moorings at her shoulders’ and reveals her silver fishlike body ‘shimmering with silvery scales’ (GJ 7). She edges more closely towards Gerty MacDowell when, ‘virgin most prudent’, her ‘sudden moving knee’ catches her skirt back and the viewer sees ‘a white lace edging of an underskirt lifted unduly’ (GJ 9).

The animality or floral delicacy of her body is frequently available to the eyes of the beholder, but what is withheld are her thoughts, her anxieties, her dreams. This is even the case in the most bizarre sketch of the sequence, the interpolated dream scene that depicts her attacking him with a cold lust mingled with aggression:

—I am not convinced that such activities of the mind or body can be called unhealthy—

She speaks. A weak voice from beyond the cold stars. Voice of wisdom. Say on! O, say again, making me wise! This voice I never heard.

She coils towards me along the crumpled lounge. I cannot move or speak. Coiling approach of starborn flesh. Adultery of wisdom. No. I will go. I will.—Jim, love!—

Soft sucking lips kiss my left armpit: a coiling kiss on myriad veins. I burn! I crumple like a burning leaf! From my right armpit a fang of flame leaps out. A starry snake has kissed me: a cold nightsnake. I am lost!


(GJ 15)

Paradoxically, her coldness inflames and terrifies Joyce; she is portrayed as a snake whose very kiss injects him with venom, producing a fiery ‘fang’. Here in active desire as elsewhere in passive reserve, she remains objectified.

Unlike Chamber Music, Giacomo Joyce seems to have been composed without any other listener (or viewer) in mind than ‘Giacomo’ himself. Partly because of its intense self-referentiality, the course of the imagined affair is difficult for a reader to trace without the aid of biographical information to flesh out the details, or without a guide to the use of unexpected literary allusions to string together disjointed patches of narrative. As a result, most accounts of Giacomo Joyce focus on biography or allusion, and the political implications of Joyce's project in Giacomo Joyce remain largely unexplored. It is not clear, for example, how Joyce's disturbingly ambivalent treatment of the young Jewish woman in Giacomo Joyce accords with his later presentations of women and Jews in Ulysses. The German graphic artist Paul Wunderlich has interpreted Joyce's interest in his student as erotic desire mingled with prophetic compassion for what would later be done to the Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe.19Giacomo Joyce plays on the incommensurability of artistic and social power, as well as that of sexual and racial privilege, but it does so in a way that protects Joyce's privilege as a man, a gentile and a writer. In Exiles, as well as in his maturer works, Joyce is quick to recognize such imbalances of power, devising a variety of strategies for drawing attention to them, but in Giacomo Joyce, as in the Epiphanies and Chamber Music, such privileges are protected by the fear of their reversal.


Chamber Music and Giacomo Joyce record the passing of a carefully controlled passion, but reflect little or no compassion for the figure they idealize. In contrast, Exiles, like ‘The Dead’, aims at exposing the lack of compassion that precludes relationship. Exiles relentlessly exhumes the self-interest buried in conventions of love and friendship, pursuing its grim and hackneyed discoveries unrelieved by Joyce's characteristic humour. As Padraic Colum asserts in his introduction to the play (reproduced in the Penguin-Viking edition), the revelations of Exiles have a ritualistic decorum: ‘In its structure, Exiles is a series of confessions; the dialogue has the dryness of recitals in the confessional; its end is an act of contrition’ (E 11).

Interestingly, the only production of the play that has been generally acclaimed as successful, that of Harold Pinter at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1970 (repeated by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in the following year), also stressed the quiet, threateningly conventional seriousness of the play. Bernard Benstock has described the effect: ‘All the lines were read with precise politeness at a slow tempo, with little emotion ever allowed to violate the proprieties; an undertone of quiet menace pervaded throughout, giving a certain shape even to the most “innocent” lines; and no suggestion of Joycean irony was permitted in the interpretation. It was magnificent, but it was not quite Joyce.’20 Benstock questions the authenticity of Pinter's interpretation because it conflicts with the assumption that a Joycean text is necessarily ironic. It has never been clear, however, whether Exiles is ironic, or whether, like the other shorter works, its ironies are earnest ones.

Concerns about the seriousness of Exiles lie behind most critical assessments of the promise or disappointment of the play. Which way the needle of judgement points depends, in large part, on our expectations. And that is fundamentally what the play itself is about: the discovery that betrayal is only meaningful in response to a prior expectation. Joyce's interest in the egotism of expectation and its relation to treachery is even apparent in the political background of the play. Although Richard disclaims any kinship with Archibald Hamilton Rowan (E 45), Richard's son Archie, who represents future possibility, bears his name. Significantly, the historical Rowan's notable distinction was to be labelled a traitor by both the English and the Irish. Both expected him to support their side, but he did not take sides unilaterally: he refused to help Wolfe Tone in his plans for the revolution of 1798 after he saw the Reign of Terror in France, yet when he returned to Ireland in 1803 he supported Catholic emancipation, which brought the wrath of Peele down on him in 1825.21

In the play, Joyce's main characters are less aware than Hamilton Rowan of the dependence of ‘treachery’ upon expectation: Robert Hand expects Richard Rowan to be a patriot and a possessive lover; when Richard violates these expectations, Robert subtly accuses him of treachery, of having left his country (and his beloved) ‘in her hour of need’. Similarly, Richard expects Robert to be honest rather than secretive about his desire for Richard's companion Bertha, an expectation which is as arbitrary, in a sense, as Robert's expectation that Richard will fight for his ‘property’. It is Richard, not Robert, who values honesty, and it is Robert, not Richard, who is obsessed with possession; the treachery of both is the assumption that the other should share his own values. Does Bertha desire the freedom that Richard wants for her? Does Richard want to be the proud and scornful iconoclast that Beatrice Justice admires in him? Does Beatrice yearn to be a cold, dead model for an exiled writer's work? Does Bertha want to be the embodiment of Robert's ‘dream of love’?

The possibility of love, or connection, remains shadowy in Exiles because love is only possible when the expectations that strive to shape it are confronted and dissolved. Joyce writes that Richard's jealousy ‘must reveal itself as the very immolation of the pleasure of possession on the altar of love’ (E 114), an attempt that Joyce seems to take very seriously (at times too seriously for optimum dramatic effect). Although the conclusion of the play is clumsily rhetorical (Richard is—for the first time in the play—seeing himself in a dramatic light, which reinforces his egotism), it takes the form it does partly because of its importance in the veiled contexts that inform Joyce's analysis of love in the play: his reading of Nietzsche, Wagner, and their disciple D'Annunzio, in particular.

Much of Joyce's reading centred on the destructiveness of seeking to possess another person in the name of love, of desiring to recreate the loved one in the creator's own image instead of accepting and appreciating the differences that necessarily divide lovers. In The Case of Wagner (which Joyce owned in Trieste), Nietzsche argues that even philosophers misunderstand the nature of love, refusing to see that what we call love is actually mortal hatred between the sexes. He claims that the only conception of love worthy of a philosopher is one that recognizes that people kill what they love by trying to possess it, citing José's destruction of Carmen as an example (see ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, where Stephen uses the same example to illustrate his theory of Shakespeare (U 9.1022-3)). He asserts that people demand a return for loving another person by wanting ‘to possess the other creature’.22 The lover insists on being loved in return, even though the demand results in the ‘death’ of the loved one. In Exiles, Robert yearns for such a ‘death of the spirit’, in sharp contrast to Richard's fear of it. Richard, wielding honesty as the weapon of his will to power, seems to be modelled partly on Nietzsche; Robert, with his equally strong will to illusion, owes many of his most distinctive characteristics to Wagner.23

The most obvious allusion to Wagner occurs at the beginning of the second act, when Robert moves to the piano to strum out Wolfram's aria in Tannhäuser (E 58). Like Wagner, whom Nietzsche characterized as an ‘old robber’, a ‘seducer on a grand scale’ (Case 42, 39), Robert stealthily tries to seduce Bertha, an attempt that Richard, attentive to the ‘robber’ in Robert's name, likens to the act of a thief in the night (E 61). Both Richard and Nietzsche describe the art of their former associates as the art of lying (Case 35, and E 39, where Richard calls Robert's leading articles lies). Most notably, Robert's ‘dream of love’ for Bertha echoes that of Wagner for Mathilde Wesendonck, wife of Wagner's good friend Otto Wesendonck. Mathilde, like Bertha (and like Nora when Prezioso was wooing her), kept her husband informed of everything that happened between herself and her suitor.24 Like Robert, who puts a pink glass shade on the lamp in his bedroom, telling Bertha, ‘It was for you’ (E 78-9), Wagner gave Mathilde a pink lamp shade in 1858 (Wagner to Wesendonck, p. 18). Robert says to Bertha in Exiles, ‘And that is the truth—a dream? … Bertha! … In all my life only that dream is real. I forget the rest’ (E 106). Similarly, Wagner writes to Liszt in December 1854:

As I never in my life have quaffed the actual delight of love, I mean some day to raise a monument to this most beauteous of all dreams, wherein that love shall glut itself quite royally for once. In my head I've planned a Tristan and Isolde.

(Wagner to Wesendonck, p. li)

In the composition of Exiles, Joyce drew not only on Wagner's life—his dream of love for Mathilde Wesendonck—but also on the opera that expressed that dream. Joyce indicates in his notes that the idealized love of Robert and Bertha is indebted to that of Tristan and Isolde (E 123), a suggestion reinforced by the fact that in the ‘Scribbledehobble’ notebook for Finnegans Wake, Joyce entered notes on Tristan and Isolde under the heading for Exiles.25 The most important (and least successful) import from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde is the wound that Mark claims Tristan has given him, which reappears to mar the conclusion of Exiles in the form of Richard's ‘wound of doubt’. In Act ii, when Mark asks Tristan why he has wounded him, Tristan tells him that he cannot truly tell, that what Mark would know can never have an answer (ii: iii), an awareness that Richard already has in Exiles. When Bertha offers to tell Richard what has happened between her and Robert, he replies, ‘I can never know, never in this world’ (E 112; also 102).

The plot of Tristan and Isolde revolves around betrayal, as that of Exiles would later do in its shadow. Isolde accuses Tristan of having betrayed her by carrying her away from Ireland to the land of King Mark (i:iv, i:v); Brangäne betrays her mistress by giving her the love philtre instead of the death potion she requested; Isolde betrays her husband; Tristan betrays his friend and king; Melot betrays his ‘truest’ friend Tristan; Mark accuses Tristan of having betrayed him a second time by dying when Mark has come to ‘prove his perfect trust’ in him. In short, every character accuses every other of treachery, a situation duplicated in Exiles. Bertha accuses Richard of having left her when they were in Rome; Richard accuses Robert of trying to steal Bertha from him craftily and secretly; Robert accuses Richard of having abandoned those who depend on him in their hour of need.

Tristan and Isolde deliberately choose night-time, secrecy, illusion, and death over daylight, openness, truth, and life. As Brangäne warns them, love has put out the ‘light’ of their reason (ii:i), and they persist in living in the darkness of a dream. Tristan's passionate desire for death, illusion, and night is shared by Robert; the gradual dimming of the lights during the scene in Robert's cottage between Robert and Bertha recalls the longing of both Tristan and Isolde for the torch to be extinguished, for the sudden darkness to envelop them, signalling Tristan to come to his beloved. Hatred of light and longing for death are the main themes of the famous love duet in the second act of Wagner's opera (ii:ii). Night is the realm of dreams, and Tristan and Isolde embrace it, insisting that their dreams are the only reality.26

As in Ulysses, where the allusions to Homer criss-cross with references to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Exiles positions itself in relation to not one but two strikingly different authors. If the Wagnerian allusions shadow the relationship between Robert and Bertha, a second pattern of allusion serves to illuminate the relationship between Richard and Beatrice, a pattern which, as Beatrice's name suggests, derives from Dante. For Richard, as for Dante, Beatrice represents the story of his young life, his Vita nuova.27 Aside from Beatrice's name, most of the allusions to the Vita nuova in Exiles are numerological. Dante meets Beatrice when he is nine, he sees her again nine years later, he has a vision of her at the ninth hour of the day, and she dies in June, which is the ninth month of the year by the Syrian calendar, in the year of her century in which the perfect number ten has been completed nine times. Dante's Beatrice dies in June of her twenty-seventh year; Exiles is set in June of Beatrice Justice's twenty-seventh year, and it has been nine years since the departure of Richard and Bertha that so changed all their lives (autobiographically, in June of 1912 it had only been eight years since Joyce left Dublin with Nora). The mysterious union between Bertha, now ‘nine times more beautiful’ (E 86), and Robert takes place at nine o'clock at night (E 83).28

Strikingly, the sensual relationship between Robert and Bertha, like the idealized one that links Richard and Beatrice, has no basis in reality: they are equally delusory. This is what gives the play its power, the gradual realization that there is no essential difference between Dante's Beatrice and Wagner's Isolde, that both are possessed in a way that threatens the life of each. Such a view represents a significant advance upon Joyce's way of thinking in April of 1912, when in answer to an examination question at the University of Padua he set up a weighted contrast between the medieval theologian and the modern journalist. In ‘L'influenza letteraria universale del rinascimento’, Joyce argued that ‘The Renaissance … has put the journalist in the monk's chair: that is to say, has deposed an acute, limited and formal mentality to give the scepter to a mentality that is facile and wide-ranging.’29 In this essay, Joyce illustrates the difference between the theologian and the journalist (whom he would later embody as Richard and Robert) with a comparison between Dante and Wagner, Tristan and Isolde and the Inferno. Joyce expresses a clear preference for Dante, who, he argues, builds the Inferno out of a gradually intensifying idea (the idea of hate), in contrast to Wagner, who expresses the opposite sentiment of love by linking it to sensations of the flesh:

A great modern artist wishing to put the sentiment of love to music reproduces, as far as his art permits, each pulsation, each trembling, the lightest shivering, the lightest sigh; the harmonies intertwine and oppose each other secretly: one loves even as one grows more cruel, suffers when and as much as one enjoys, hate and doubt flash in the lovers' eyes, their bodies become one single flesh. Place Tristan and Isolde next to the Inferno and you will notice how the poet's hate follows its path from abyss to abyss in the wake of an idea that intensifies; and the more intensely the poet consumes himself in the fire of hate, the more violent becomes the art with which the artist communicates his passion. One is the art of the circumstance, the other is ideational.

(Berrone, James Joyce in Padua, pp. 20-1)

Joyce's disdain for an art of the flesh (he goes on to claim that ‘modern man has an epidermis rather than a soul’ (Berrone, p. 21)) is still apparent in Exiles, but it has begun to break down. The ideal figure that once inspired him, as she inspired Dante, is portrayed as cold and dead; as Joyce suggests in the notes, ‘Beatrice's mind is an abandoned cold temple in which hymns have risen heavenward in a distant past but where now a doddering priest offers alone and hopelessly prayers to the Most High’ (E 119). Only Bertha suggests the possibility of life, combining uncommon receptivity with a practical-minded resistance to the desire of others to possess her.30

From a criticism of Wagner's sensuality as it contrasts with the ideality of a writer like Dante, Joyce arrived at a more balanced view of the relationship between ideal and real, partly through the writing of Exiles. Exiles unveils the power of the thinker as comparable to that of the seducer; if Robert has refreshed Bertha's awareness of her loneliness, Richard has confirmed Beatrice's suspicion that she too is isolated. The deadliness of idealization as a more subtle form of possessiveness is brought home in another work that Joyce draws on for Exiles that was itself influenced by the work of both Nietzsche and Wagner, Gabriele D'Annunzio's novel The Triumph of Death.31

The Triumph of Death details the mortal struggle between two lovers to possess one another, a struggle that culminates in murder-suicide of the kind Robert romantically longs for in Exiles: ‘I want to end it and have done with it … To end it all—death. To fall from a great high cliff, down, right down into the sea … Listening to music and in the arms of the woman I love—the sea, music and death’ (E 35). This is how the lovers die in The Triumph of Death, but the climax is anything but romantic: Giorgio and Ippolita have been listening to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde for two days, which transports them into ‘a world of fiction’. He fears that she will enslave him through the power of desire, and he takes her to the edge of the sea: ‘There was a brief but savage struggle, as between two mortal foes who had nourished a secret and implacable hatred in their souls up till that hour’, and they crash ‘down headlong into death, locked in that fierce embrace’ (p. 315).

What Giorgio and Ippolita are struggling over is the power to possess—and to create—one another. From the outset, Giorgio is oppressed by the certainty that he can never possess Ippolita wholly (p. 5); like Gabriel in ‘The Dead’, he is jealous of the very memories that exclude him:

Suddenly a thought will strike me cold: what if I, unwittingly, should have evoked in her memory the ghost of some sensation felt once before, some pale phantom of the days long past? … You become remote, inaccessible; I am left alone in horrible solitude.

(pp. 6-7)

To forestall such infidelity, however inadvertent, he remakes her; as Ippolita meditates, ‘In these two years he has transformed me—made another woman of me; he has given me new senses, a new soul, a new mind. I am his creature, the work of his hands’ (p. 33). (In Exiles, Robert says to Richard of Bertha, ‘She is yours, your work’, E 62.) Later Ippolita repeats to him that she is wholly his creation (p. 119), and he succeeds in feeling ‘the thrill of a creator’: ‘Giorgio had witnessed that transformation, so intoxicating to a lover of intellect—the metamorphosis of the woman he loves to his own image’ (p. 141).

Giorgio's power to create and recreate Ippolita, his ‘thrill’ at creation, is a fantasy of possession. She has sacrificed herself to Giorgio's desire to possess her (p. 188), and he comes to see that he can transform her over and over again at will, into a goddess, an animal, a witch, or a snake: ‘Her form is moulded by my desire, her shadow cast by my thoughts. Her aspects are protean as the dreams of fever’ (p. 229). The narrator warns that ‘his intelligence had reduced his mistress to a mere motive force to his imagination, and stripped her person of all value’ (p. 235) (as Rubek did to Irene in Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken), but just at the point of his greatest triumph he discovers his greatest fear: she has an equal power over him. In his imagination, he hears her telling him that she knows the secret of her metamorphoses in his soul, that she knows all the words and the gestures that have the power to transfigure her in his eyes (p. 237). Both now long to destroy the person they cannot possess, and Wagner's opera serves as the prelude to the destructive consummation that both, in different ways, desire.

Although Ibsen also dramatizes the deadliness of power masked as love in When We Dead Awaken, the intensity of Joyce's exploration of the mortal combat between each of the four main characters in Exiles makes sense only in a larger intellectual context that includes Wagner, Nietzsche, and D'Annunzio as well as Ibsen. Moreover, Exiles celebrates what Ibsen could not, the refusal of lovers to be killed by the people who attempt to possess them; as Joyce writes in his notes, Bertha loves the part of Richard that ‘she must try to kill, never be able to kill and rejoice at her impotence’ (E 118), just as Richard loves and hates the living part of her that is open to experience. The most important aspect of Exiles is its implicit celebration of its characters' refusal to be buried in the snowy avalanche of Ibsen's despairing last play. The alternative to death, however, is acceptance, a hard-won acceptance of human difference that was to usher in Ulysses.


  1. Robert Scholes and Richard 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 University Press, 1965), pp. 3-4. Hereafter referred to as WD.

  2. A duality also discussed by John Paul Riquelme in ch. 5 of this volume.

  3. I have presented such an argument in ‘Giacomo Joyce’, in Zack Bowen and James C. Carens, eds., A Companion to Joyce Studies (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 393.

  4. ‘Continuous manuscript’ is Hans Walter Gabler's term for the successive autograph notations that he uses as the copytext for his edition of Ulysses. See Gabler's Afterword to ‘Ulysses’: A Critical and Synoptic Edition (New York: Garland, 1984), pp. 1894-6.

  5. Of the forty extant epiphanies, twenty-two (in Joyce's hand) are housed in the Poetry Collection at the State University of New York at Buffalo; transcriptions of these were published by Oscar Silverman as Joyce's Epiphanies (Buffalo: Lockwood Memorial Library, 1956). The twenty-five remaining epiphanies are at Cornell; all but one of these are from Stanislaus Joyce's commonplace book, and the remaining one (concerning Oliver Gogarty) is a rough draft in Joyce's own hand. Seven of the Cornell epiphanies are duplicates of those at Buffalo. When Peter Spielberg discovered that the Buffalo epiphanies have numbers on the versos that go as high as seventy-one, Robert Scholes and Richard Kain responded by ordering all the extant epiphanies into a sequence, which they transcribed and annotated (WD, pp. 3-51). Facsimiles of all of the epiphanies have since been published in Archive 7, ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’: A Facsimile of Epiphanies, Notes, Manuscripts and Typescripts, ed. Hans Walter Gabler. Shortly, the epiphanies will be available in a new edition together with the poems, the 1904 ‘Portrait’ essay, and Giacomo Joyce; see James Joyce, Poems and Epiphanies, ed. Richard Ellmann and A. Walton Litz, with the assistance of John Ferguson (London: Faber, 1990).

  6. Both Hugh Kenner and S. L. Goldberg argued that Joyce's omission represents a deliberate attempt on Joyce's part to weaken Stephen's aesthetic theories (see Dublin's Joyce (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1966), ch. 9, and The Classical Temper (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1961), chs. 2 and 3), which prompted Robert Scholes to contest the meaningfulness of the term epiphany in a controversial article, ‘Joyce and the epiphany: the key to the labyrinth?’ Sewanee Review 72 (1964), 65-77.

  7. Morris Beja attempts to get round the difficulty posed by the ‘spiritual’ nature of epiphany by redefining spirituality; see Epiphany in the Modern Novel (London: Peter Owen, 1971), p. 74.

  8. Stephen admits as much in Portrait, when he tells Lynch that for a long time he thought Aquinas' third stage of apprehension signified ‘symbolism or idealism, the supreme quality of beauty being a light from some other world, the idea of which the matter is but the shadow, the reality of which it is but the symbol’, so that the goal of apprehension was ‘the artistic discovery and representation of the divine purpose in anything’ (P 213).

  9. Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber, 1958), pp. 134-5.

  10. See, for just one example, Florence Walzl, ‘The liturgy of the Epiphany season and the epiphanies of Joyce’, PMLA 80 (1965), 436-50. Even Robert Scholes, who was through the greenness of the concept of epiphany when he transcribed and edited the manuscript epiphanies, asserts that ‘the Epiphanies themselves for the most part bear out Stephen's condemnation of them. They are trivial and supercilious or florid and lugubrious, in the main. Their chief significance is in the use Joyce often made of them in his later works’ (‘Joyce and the epiphany’, p. 73).

  11. Morris Beja has found at least thirteen of the extant epiphanies in Stephen Hero, twelve in A Portrait, four in Ulysses, and one in Finnegans Wake. See Beja, ‘Epiphany and the epiphanies’, in Bowen and Carens, A Companion to Joyce Studies, pp. 710-13.

  12. Several of Joyce's poems are literally songs, among the most interesting of which is ‘Post ulixem scriptum’ (to be sung to the tune of ‘Molly Brannigan’). Most of the extant poems and poetic fragments are available in facsimile in Archive 1, ed. A. Walton Litz, and many are listed in Paul Doyle's bibliographical register of ‘Joyce's miscellaneous verse’ (JJQ 2 (1965), 90-6) and his addenda (JJQ 4 (1967), 71). One of the most influential arguments about the musical nature of Chamber Music is that of Herbert Howarth, ‘Chamber Music and its place in the Joyce canon’, in Thomas F. Staley, ed., James Joyce Today (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966), pp. 11-27. On the similarity between Chamber Music and Elizabethan songs and airs, see Myra Russel, ‘The Elizabethan connection: the missing score of James Joyce's Chamber Music’, JJQ 18 (1981), 133-45.

  13. Chamber Music does however pose uncharacteristic problems of attribution, since Stanislaus Joyce told W. Y. Tindall that both the title and the final arrangement of the poems were his. Joyce's arrangement of the twenty-seven poem sequence is that of the Gilvary manuscript: i, iii, ii, iv, v, viii, vii, ix, xvii, xviii, vi, x, xiii, xiv, xv, xix, xxiii, xxii, xxiv, xvi, xxxi, xxviii, xxix, xxxii, xxx, xxxiii, xxxiv. The arrangement of the Yale manuscript is Stanislaus's: xxi, i, iii, ii, iv, v, viii, vii, ix, xvii, xviii, vi, x, xx, xiii, xi, xiv, xix, xv, xxiii, xxiv, xvi, xxxi, xxii, xxvi, xii, xxvii, xxviii, xxv, xxix, xxxii, xxx, xxiii, xxxiv. See Litz, Archive 1.

  14. William York Tindall, ed., Chamber Music by James Joyce (New York: Columbia, 1954), pp. 70-80. For Gorman's story about the title, see his James Joyce (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1939), p. 116; for Gogarty's, see his Mourning Became Mrs. Spendlove (New York: Creative Age Press, 1948), pp. 53-5, 57-60. According to Tindall, Stanislaus denied both stories and recounted a third in a letter to Gorman, arguing that he (Stanislaus) had already chosen the title for the volume by the time the incident took place (Tindall, pp. 72-3).

  15. Archie K. Loss, ‘Interior and exterior imagery in the earlier work of Joyce and in Symbolist art’, Journal of Modern Literature 8 (1980), 99-117, and Chester Anderson, ‘Joyce's verses’, in Bowen and Carens, A Companion to Joyce Studies, pp. 129-55.

  16. See the reference to this article in note 12.

  17. See A First Draft Version of ‘Finnegans Wake’, ed. David Hayman (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963), pp. 210-11.

  18. In her excellent discussion of Giacomo Joyce in ‘Shahrazade's Wake; The Arabian Nights and the Narrative Dynamics of Charles Dickens and James Joyce’ (University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation, 1988), Henriette Power presents Giacomo Joyce as a power struggle between female physicality and male inscriptions. Power argues that Giacomo's attempt to capture a woman on paper takes the form of an artistic dismemberment, contrasting Giacomo's strategy with that of Bloom in ‘Nausicaa’ (pp. 162-80).

  19. Giacomo Joyce, with introduction by Hermann Lenz (Dielsdorf: Mattheiu AG, 1976). The edition of ten lithographs was limited to 125 copies.

  20. Bernard Benstock, ‘Exiles’, in Bowen and Carens, A Companion to Joyce Studies, pp. 361-2. See also J. W. Lambert's review of the Mermaid production in Drama 100 (Spring 1971), 21-3, and John Spurling's review of the Aldwych production in Plays and Players 19 (December 1971), 44-5, 88; a good overview may be found in John MacNicholas, ‘The stage history of Exiles’, JJQ 19 (1981), 9-26.

  21. John MacNicholas, James Joyce's ‘Exiles’: A Textual Companion (New York: Garland, 1979), pp. 197-9.

  22. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. A. M. Ludovici, ed. Oscar Levy, viii (London: Allen and Unwin, 1911), p. 4. Hereafter referred to as Case.

  23. In ‘Joyce contra Wagner’, John MacNicholas also suggests that Joyce ‘superimposes Wagner upon Robert Hand’ (Comparative Drama 9 (1975), 29).

  24. Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, trans. and pref. by William Ashton Ellis, 2nd ed. (1905; rpt. New York: Vienna House, 1972), pp. vi-vii.

  25. Thomas E. Connolly, James Joyce's Scribbledehobble: The Ur-Workbook for ‘Finnegans Wake’ (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1961), pp. 75-85. See David Hayman's treatment of these notes together with some of the parallels between Exiles and Wagner's opera in ‘Tristan and Isolde in Finnegans Wake: a study of the sources and evolution of a theme’, Comparative Literature Studies, 1 (1964), 95-102.

  26. In Exiles, Robert, like Tristan, is associated with darkness, unlike Richard who prefers the light; see Sheldon Brivic, ‘Structure and meaning in Joyce's Exiles’, JJQ 6 (1968), 38-9.

  27. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti's illustrated edition of Dante's La vita nuova (Joyce owned the Italian version in Trieste), Rossetti argues that ‘nuova’, which means ‘new’, also connotes youth, which allows him to assert that Dante's Vita nuova is an ‘autobiography or autopsychology of Dante's youth until about his twenty-seventh year’ (The New Life of Dante Alighieri, trans. and illus. by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (New York: Russell, 1901), p. 25). See also Mahaffey, ‘Giacomo Joyce’, pp. 408-9.

  28. In ‘Dante in Joyce's Exiles’, JJQ 18 (1980), 35-44, Mary T. Reynolds asserts that the nine years Richard corresponded with Beatrice, in the light of her inspiration of him, constitute a significant reflection of the Vita nuova.

  29. Louis Berrone, James Joyce in Padua (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 21.

  30. Ruth Bauerle argues that Bertha is in fact the centre of the play; see ‘Bertha's role in Exiles’, in Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless, eds., Women in Joyce (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 108-31.

  31. Gabriele D'Annunzio, The Triumph of Death, trans. Georgina Harding (London: Heinemann, 1898).

Marilyn Reizbaum (essay date winter 1993)

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SOURCE: Reizbaum, Marilyn. “The Minor Work of James Joyce.” James Joyce Quarterly 30, no. 2 (winter 1993): 177-89.

[In this essay, Reizbaum regards Joyce as a minor writer in the sense that his work is resistant to easy classification and interpretation.]

In a way we've been saying it for years—Joyce is a minor writer. Perhaps it is presumptuous to implicate anyone but myself in this provocative claim—provocative, at the very least, because the work seems demoted or devalued through what could be read simply as a traditional association with the idea of minor; but though I may be among only a few prepared to use the terminology, many of the, in particular, recent readers/critics of Joyce, I would argue, have been meaning what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and a succession of others have been saying when they speak of a “minor literature.” When we speak of Joyce as disruptive, I believe we mean that the work is radically resistant to classification and interpretation, even if at once susceptible to these precisely because of the exhaustive nature of such resistances and disruptiveness and the wish to contain and delimit (nothing seems to stick or everything does); when the formal and linguistic dimensions/innovations of the text are placed in their political contexts, we are pointing to what its theoreticians identify as eminently characteristic of the minor: a (self-reflexive) refusal to be productive in a conventional/canonical sense, through its narrative, its constitution of the subject, or its use of language. Now in order to claim this, I have not only to delineate the notion of minor in terms of Joyce's work, but also to explain why it is possible to dismiss or at least qualify the work's susceptibility to the processes of canonization and, on the other hand, why in doing so I am not also rendering Joyce politically suspect, at least, if not bankrupt. After all, one criticism that has been lodged against the claim of minorness in this critical sense is that it not only valorizes but also privileges the condition of secondariness; another emerges from the critique of deconstruction—the dynamic of resistance, it is argued, obfuscates political responsibility. As I have argued elsewhere, with respect to Joyce's interaction with a writer like Djuna Barnes, in order for Joyce's work to have had the history I claim for it here, it has had to be mis- and perhaps even un-read.1 Joyce's response to being misread/canonical seems to have been Finnegans Wake, which has been (un)read “best”; it remains a minor work in a major way, at once relegated to secondariness by the canonmasters and widely acknowledged as heuristically anticanonical.

But first to Deleuze and Guattari, who, in their work on Kafka, have laid out the theory of a minor literature. My peculiar configuration of the minor as it pertains to Joyce is additionally informed by other proponents of the concept such as David Lloyd and Louis Renza.2 Deleuze and Guattari derive their notion of a minor literature from a diary entry in which Kafka foregrounds a relationship between politics and literature generally by pointing to the immediately political nature of that which has been considered conventionally minor—secondary, lesser in comparison to what has been upheld as the canonical ideal (December 25, 1911). He refers specifically to the condition of Czech Jews who write in German, thereby creating a literature dynamically different in, at least, cultural and linguistic terms from that of their German counterparts.3 Deleuze and Guattari extend and formalize Kafka's ideas by outlining three characteristics of a minor literature: the deterritorialization of language; the connection of the individual to a political immediacy; and the collective assemblage of enunciation (18). And while the terms of these writers are characteristically difficult to translate and/or to gloss, I find the stated and derived import of the concepts immensely useful, both in providing at least a partial terminology for a representation of Joyce's literary practices and in creating a theoretical context for a discussion and definition of what has come to be known as the postcolonial or minority text. Deleuze and Guattari propose that it is only through such a concept as the minor that we can begin to sort out what has been left out:

There has been much discussion of the questions “What is a marginal literature?” and “What is a popular literature, a proletarian literature?” The criteria are obviously difficult to establish if one doesn't start with a more objective concept—that of minor literature. Only the possibility of setting up a minor practice of major language from within allows one to define popular literature, marginal literature, and so on. … Only in this way can literature really become a collective machine of expression and really be able to treat and develop its contents.


In all three of the designated characteristics, we see the expression of and the reconceptualization of literary value in terms of the anti-ideal(ized). In the first instance, the idea of the deterritorialization of language is based on the principle of a minor usage of language, which emerges from the state of being “like a foreigner in one's own language” (119)—as in the (m)other tongue of the postcolonial subject, one might say. This becomes a kind of defamiliarization process, where language is reflective of the condition of the speaker/writer. This position or condition of the minor subject instantiates the second characteristic whereby the relationship between the individual and political realities are experienced/articulated as interdependent. From Kafka's idea here that a minor literature “serves as the ethnic group's collective life,”4 Deleuze and Guattari guard/theorize against a kind of totalizing national (de)limitation of the minor, even though the (minority) national or the cultural or the ethnic becomes a determinative criterion—“We might as well say that minor no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established) literature” (18), and they thereby reiterate the idea of the minor usage of a major language. Through the last characteristic, Deleuze and Guattari provide a critique of the humanistic subject and by extension the master/canon.

But above all else, because collective or national consciousness is “often inactive in external life and always in the process of breakdown,” literature finds itself positively charged with the role and function of collective, and even revolutionary, enunciation. It is literature that produces an active solidarity in spite of skepticism; and if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility.


While he has certain reservations, Lloyd praises their work for providing a means by which to foreground the politics of culture or, more specifically, the “hegemony of central cultural values” (Nationalism 5).

I want to talk about Joyce's work as minor in the contexts of modernism and nationalism, in the first case because of the way in which at least a certain apprehension of modernism(s) not only conforms to, but illustrates the characteristics of the minor as they have been outlined here—as disruptive, anti-ideal, radical; Lloyd admonishes, however, that “[i]f minor literature belongs in the general field of modernism, it does so only as the negative critical aspect of modernism” (Nationalism 23). This observation is significant to the recent revisions of modernism in which the “major paradigms” associated with writers like T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and W. B. Yeats have been set against the literary aims of other writers identified with the movement. The relevance of nationalism here has to do not only with the particular cultural/ethnic dimension of a minor literature, but, more specifically, with the way in which Joyce's ascription or ascension to the modernist aesthetic and thereby to the canon determined his national(ist) position and positioned him in relation to modern Irish writing—as a delinquent or distant relation, one might say.5 In that my own reading of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the minor in these terms has been closely informed by Lloyd's work, I quote from him extensively here:

Radical modernism has been conceived as the critique by art of the institution of art, a definition that would certainly hold for its extreme manifestations in dada and surrealism. … In the general field of modernism, minor literature emerges as writing out the marginalization that afflicts aesthetic culture, and as extending, in writing it out, that condition of marginality. Rather than shore up the notions of subjectivity that underpin canonical aesthetics, and rather than claiming still to prefigure a reconciled domain of human freedom in creativity as even surrealism does, a minor literature pushes further the recognition of the disintegration of the individual subject of the bourgeois state, questioning the principles of originality and autonomy that underwrite that conception of the subject. In doing so, it plays out the contradictions that afflict late capitalist society through its paradoxical modes, refusing to offer the possibility of reconciliation. Minor literature adheres constantly to a negatively critical attitude.

Among the contradictions thrown up by the bourgeois state is that effect of hegemony already noted, namely, that the extension of colonial hegemony requires the creation of an educated native elite without the guarantee that mastery of the instruments of domination will assure assimilation. In the political sphere this has entailed the national liberation struggles of this century and the production of structural dependency as a further extension of hegemonic control. In the domain of culture, the effect of hegemony has been to produce a writing of the colonized that increasingly calls the coherence of the canon into question. What the current crisis, both for canonicity and for the definition of the object of literary studies, involves is the deferred recognition of the end of the canon itself as a viable normative institution. That crisis registers, if only symptomatically, the end of a conception of subjectivity that minor literature itself narrates.

(Nationalism 24-25)

For Joyce's work, this intersection of the national(ist) (they are not necessarily interchangeable but often are in the context of Ireland) and the modernist becomes (at least) a double bind; an Eliotic high-culture aesthetic demands an extraction from and lack of interest in the cultural field (from the Irish one, at any rate), a writing of so-called “internationalism,” while the Irish mainstream, constituting itself increasingly as nationalist, rejects or is alienated by Joyce's work for its modernism or what modernism has made (of) it.6 It seems that modernism and nationalism have read Joyce in the same way, preventing him from becoming minor in a conventional sense; and from becoming, on the other hand, a major contributor to the cultural politics of his generation (or minor in this new critical sense). In the reconsiderations of modernism(s), it has often been argued that modernism paradoxically participated in or reinscribed the mainstream culture while seeming to challenge it—culture's subordination to an aesthetic ideal was mistaken for its undoing or unwriting, while a rendering of the decadence of culture was in fact synonymous with a lament for a lost ideal. Similarly, Lloyd argues that nationalism itself can become a means of maintaining cultural hegemony in its dependence on and assimilation to the apparatuses of the colonizing power.7 Joyce, too, sees this ironic relation, or, at least, his work evinces it. I will argue that Joyce's work is modernist and national(ist) in this minor way, a way that radically critiques an idealized authority or subject in either an aesthetic or national sense.

While the “Cyclops” episode is often used to illustrate the problematics of cultural identity and the nationalist impulse, it is the constellation of episodes around (and including) it that seem to realize in a concentrated way a kind of minor expression of modernist and nationalist issues. From “Sirens,” whose overture is “done” with the strains of Robert Emmet's epitaph of deferral, through the ascension of Bloom to self-righteousness at the close of “Cyclops,” on through the chimed and resonating cuckoos of “Nausicaa,” and finally with the lingual pyrotechnics at the end of “Oxen,” the repetition of the subject(s) of composition directs us to examine the implications and ramifications of cultural, sexual, and linguistic difference.8 Each episode repeats and examines the dynamic relation between the major and the minor, the marginal and the dominant, the canonical and the uncanonical in these terms, but in a way that seems to disrupt the binary relation; opposites do not prevail nor even finally align. What are the relative positions of power, after all, between Emmet and Boylan, the citizen and Bloom, Bloom and Gerty, the Anglo-Saxon text and the speech of Alexander J. Dowie, not to mention the parodic or demystifying presentation of each heroic element or figure?9 One might argue that all the pressing issues of cultural, sexual, and textual integrity have been sacrificed to the aesthetic, that what prevails or connects them all is modernist innovation/Joycean ingenuity (the symphonic/notational element of “Sirens,” the parodic counterpoint of “Cyclops,” the romantic novelization and shifting narratives of “Nausicaa,” the stylistic display of “Oxen”). And in the drama everything—narrativity, subjectivity, language, the text itself—like Robert Emmet's epitaph,10 seems deferred: Emmet's subjectivity, as Lloyd has pointed out (Nationalism 71), is assimilated to the nationalist ideal, Gerty's sexuality to the gender ideal, Bloom's Jewishness to the cultural ideal, the English language, such as it is, to the canonical ideal. In each case, however, continuously and interactively, we have the dramatization of the processes of idealization, universalization, aestheticization; the text becomes “cuckoo”—displaced or out of place, perhaps, but not in deference to a higher ideal. Again, like Emmet's epitaph, which is de facto written (dramatizing sacrifice) despite its admonition and regardless of Ireland's status as nation, Joyce's text takes a (minor) stand, admonishing its readers at the end of “Oxen” to “try it on” (“Just you try it on”—U [Ulysses] 14.1591) either before or at the same time that “Circe” does it for us.

O.K., so everything and everyone is cuckoo; may “cuckoo” in both its conventional and Joycean sense as “abnormal” be seen as synonymous with minor? It might be that what is achieved is what Lloyd calls the “radical non-identity of the colonized subject” (Nationalism xi), his way of describing what registers as a kind of “inauthenticity” or lack of integrity in or about the work of a writer like James Clarence Mangan; both the writer and the work are and/or treat “colonized subjects.”11 In fact, what seems like inauthenticity derives from a refusal to be assimilated to any major paradigm. In this sense (at least), these episodes from Ulysses conform to criteria 1 and 3 of Deleuze and Guattari's characterization of the minor in that they appear to deterritorialize language and to collectivize rather than hierarchize experience. But what of criterion 2? One might still be nagged by a persistent question, one that Joseph Valente asks in his article on “The Politics of Joyce's Polyphony”—what of “effective political action” in or in response to this textual drama?12 Is the question of national identity, for example, undermined, belittled, effectively neutralized by this minor treatment? And, despite the play, the disruption within it of hegemonic values, is the play finally undone by the idea that the “minor was proved by the major,” as Bloom purportedly responds in “Ithaca” to the question of redemption from social or human ills (U17.1101-02). To put it another way, do our conceptualizations of the idea of the minor even in its most radical sense ultimately return to the major paradigm for definition, or, to put it still another way, is the text reterritorialized, “recuperated into performing a major function”? In Kafka's conception of the minor, it was a medium where conflicts are articulated without being resolved, and Lloyd reinforces this idea and Deleuze and Guattari's definition of political immediacy by divorcing any minor expression from a wish to play a “prefigurative and reconciling role” (Nationalism 23). There are many ways to respond to what might be apprehended as at best politically ineffectual: to recognize, for instance, that the minor emerges from a particular cultural and historical moment and that in some sense it seeks or creates the conditions for its own dissolution or obsolescence.13 Perhaps this can be said of the “best” kind of modernism and nationalism; perhaps it can be said of a work like Ulysses.

The question of effective political action haunts the relationship between Joyce and Irish writing. Much of the modern Irish writing establishment has not been talking to Joyce because, they might say, he does not speak to them. At the same time, as I have argued elsewhere, much of that writing has been mired in the (first) condition of the minor: aspiring to the standards of an outside canon with any realization of that aspiration always a reminder of its “failure”; creating itself in other ways as in the eye of the (be)holder—that is, reproducing a mythologized Irish subject forged by the colonizer; or constituting itself as oppositional and nationalist, most often thereby compulsively repeating the very dynamic it wishes to disrupt by creating a fixed oppositional identity determined by that opposition.14 As Lloyd argues, a proposition with which I agree, these first conditions of the minor, the state of or remedial response to being excluded, do not necessarily produce the second “definitive” condition of the minor, that which he claims for Mangan and I have been arguing for Joyce's work—work that by virtue of being not only unsettling but also (territorially) unsettled—stands as a challenge to this kind of (pre)occupation of contemporary Irish writing.

There are a few who do, however cautiously, perhaps unconsciously, or sometimes unself-consciously, demonstrate a sense of ancestral relation with Joyce. The historical characterization of Joyce as apolitical, disinterested, coupled with and/or read from his literary portrayals of national (and sexual) issues, reminds us of the historical imperative for all Irish writers and may bring to mind most immediately a writer like Seamus Heaney. Heaney, who lately has been taken to task inside Ireland for his particular (poetic) positions on the national(ist) question, seems to subscribe to, even recreate, in a poem like “Station Island,” for instance, this historical characterization of Joyce as being remote from what he calls “That subject people stuff.”15 He also appears to emulate that position. He invokes Joyce as a father/creator and seems to suggest an inevitability about the need to create and/or conjure him, exhorting him for permission to, as he puts it there, “step free into space,” “take off from here,” not do “the decent thing” (section XII). He addresses here a subject about which his writing and his Irish audience obsess (the audience obsesses about their own and Heaney's political position in particular): queries and confusion about his cultural position, political commitment, and artistic responsibilities to a national(ist) vision. His invocation of Joyce suggests a kind of oedipalization of that ancestral relation, which can be construed in Bloomian terms or in the Deleuzian-Guattarian sense of the political. His recognition that “subject people stuff” is a “cod's game” is not necessarily to be released from it, to be “set free,” as is proposed or perhaps wished for in the poem; you might say that his work is about the risk of becoming minor.

Part of Heaney's obsession is with the issue of language, specifically the Irish use of the English language. This is the subject of Brian Friel's Translations that, by virtue of the context it establishes (the Irish hedge school in pre-famine Ireland) and its play of language, enacts the history of territorializations and deterritorialization—the take-overs and re-takes, the geography of language. It seems that Joyce has in some way a “minor” influence here too since the text does not take or, at least, worries the nationalist position as regards the English language. Of course, any suggestion of “minor status” in any sense of that idea for either Heaney or Friel will provoke any number of debates. And in the debates, undoubtedly the names of writers like Denis Devlin, Thomas MacGreevy, and Brian Coffey would be invoked as modernist and minor, as more effectively marginalized by the Irish literary establishment. Would they be adducing their marginal relation to Irish literature as a testimony to the degree of their minorness? One might wonder whether the mettle of one's minorness is proven by the measure of canonical failure.

While I have been arguing that Joyce as “minor” literary ancestor stands as a kind of challenge to canonical (pre)occupations in contemporary Ireland, I would turn to certain women writers and thinkers in Ireland, who by forging a dialogue between feminism and nationalism, stand in line, providing a minor response to a major preoccupying force. I am thinking of writers like Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Albhe Smyth, and filmmaker Pat Murphy, who are challenging the prefiguring and sometimes disfiguring force of nationalism (for example, the idealization of Ireland in figures of the feminine).16 Though gender is not directly in the purview of Deleuze and Guattari, it should be clear that minorness may be determined by sex as well as ethnic or national configurations, especially if, as Caren Kaplan points out, one sees the condition of minorness as having to do with subject position rather than essences, especially in the context of a (post)colonial culture like Ireland, where the other Deleuzian-Guattarian conditions for the creation of the minor obtain.17 Certainly a writer like Boland, for example, is concerned with issues of language and history and the way in which gender figures (in) them, and despite attempts to fix—reterritorialize—her work, I believe it eludes them precisely because of its minor usage of major paradigms. So many of her poems “wish to prove” “That the Science of Cartography Is Limited,” that “We are Human History. We are Not Natural History,” or to see what is “Outside History”—to name just a few of her titles.18 Joyce's treatment of these issues seems to me to resonate in these women writers' compelling participation in the debate between gender and culture.19 They are not asking to replace the national(ist) literature, but to be heard by a literary milieu that has been remarkably resistant to the voices and achievements of women; they are investigating the nationalist imperative as one precondition for such dismissiveness; they are calling for a reformulation of what it means to be “acceptable” in nationalist, cultural, and/or literary terms, a reformulation of the poetic voice and the subject position.

Not all women writing in Ireland are addressing the issue of the relationship between gender and culture or nationalism, just as not all Irish writers are minor. Many of these women (and minor) writers might be less than receptive, even vigorously object to Joyce as an informing figure, as having a sexual politics that is truly conversant with or congenial to feminist writing in Ireland today. I am speaking of resonances here, of studies and dramatizations of cultural politics that correspond to the critique of nationalism by feminists and cultural critics like Lloyd. After all, in a consideration of the relations between sex and “race,” Ulysses demonstrates that the likes of Molly and Bloom occupy at least analogous subject positions.

And so I am contending that Joyce and some of his Irish descendants are on speaking terms, even if they are not always speaking exactly the same language. What I am saying is that we should read them all as minor in a less major way.


  1. Marilyn Reizbaum, “A ‘Modernism of Marginality’: The Link Between James Joyce and Djuna Barnes,” New Alliances in Joyce Studies: “When it's Aped to Foul a Delfian,” ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1988), pp. 179-89.

  2. Along with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1986), see Louis A. Renza's “A White Heronand the Question of Minor Literature (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984), and David Lloyd's Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987). Further references to Deleuze and Guattari will be cited parenthetically in the text. References to Lloyd's book will be cited parenthetically as Nationalism. While Joyce is mentioned by Deleuze and Guattari as exemplary, his name curiously does not appear in the index. They contrast Joyce with Beckett, for example, accounting, as they do, for the greater susceptibility of Joyce's work to reterritorialization: “But the former [Joyce] never stops operating by exhilaration and overdetermination and brings about all sorts of worldwide reterritorializations. The other [Beckett] proceeds by dryness and sobriety, a willed poverty, pushing deterritorialization to such an extreme that nothing remains but intensities” (19).

  3. See generally Deleuze and Guattari, pp. 16-27. Their terminology is often slippery, impressionistic. For example when they refer to the Germans as an “oppressive population” and to German as a “paper language,” they are taking for granted a certain linguistic and ethnic distinctiveness that may be at once challenged by the very categories they establish. They use terms like “artificial,” “talent,” and “primitive” without really accounting for their valencies. And while one has to make allowances for certain integral groupings in order to further and establish certain theoretical propositions, they seem a bit glib. This slipperiness also applies to ideas like deterritorialization and territorialization; “Deleuze and Guattari themselves admit that there is a fine line between territorializing and deterritorializing processes, and it is easy for their work to be appropriated to the most divergent and even contradictory of ends” (Dana Polan, Introduction, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, p. xxvi). They omit altogether a consideration of the purposiveness of minor literature, except where they quote from Kafka. For a good discussion of the agency of a minor writer, see Caren Kaplan, “Deterritorializations: The Rewriting of Home and Exile in Western Feminist Discourse,” in the first volume of the special issues of Cultural Critique, cited below in note 5.

  4. Ronald Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 116.

  5. See Cultural Critique, 6 and 7 (Spring and Fall 1987), special issues devoted to “The Nature and Context of Minority Literature,” ed. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd, especially David Lloyd's “Genet's Genealogy: European Minorities and the Ends of the Canon,” (pp. 161-85), where, along with his discussion of the susceptibility of nationalism to the hegemonic project, he compellingly outlines a distinction between minority literature and minor literature as informed by Deleuze and Guattari's idea of a deterritorialized language—a minor usage of a major language; see also Kaplan's piece (pp. 187-98) which helps to bring gender into the discussion, and R. Rhadhakrishnan's “Ethnic Identity and Poststructuralist Difference” (199-222—all of these in 6), which provides one counterpoint to Nancy Hartsock's “Rethinking Modernism: Minority vs. Majority Theories” (7—187-206).

  6. Though national and nationalist should not be interchangeable, they often are in some respects in the context of colonial or postcolonial cultures. Certainly the nationalist imperative in Ireland has governed the modern literary establishment, though there are distinctions in this regard between the North and the Republic. Such governances are being reevaluated within the contemporary milieu, just as modernism as a monolithic movement has undergone a process of reevaluation and redefinition. When I use a small case “m,” I mean to signal the potential within this critical and literary orientation for a number of different approaches, so that the distinction between writers like Eliot and Joyce may be apprehended. Nationalism, too, has been bifurcated, assigned different values so as to attempt to account for the difference between what is potentially oppressive and what is liberating. Lloyd discusses the continuum on which he sees these different nationalisms.

  7. All of these theoreticians of the minor invoke the oedipal paradigm as a way of both representing the dynamic between major and minor and demonstrating the minor variation on this psychodynamic: Deleuze and Guattari discuss Kafka's idea here—“When Kafka indicates that one of the goals of a minor literature is the purification of the conflict that opposes father and son and the possibility of discussing that conflict, it isn't a question of an Oedipal phantasm but of a political program” (p. 17); Lloyd, too, refers to this paradigm as a way of discussing the potential within such representations to invert and therefore reproduce rather than alter the relation of the major and the minor—“While both Freudian and Lacanian analyses open out continually from the subjective domain to ones that are ethical, political, and, in the fullest sense, aesthetic, what is revealed in the very structure of those discourses that aim to produce a transcendent or autonomous subjectivity is the figure of a subject forever indebted to the other who constitutes him” (Nationalism, p. 172).

  8. As the translator of Kafka points out, and as Lloyd acknowledges but does not treat or remedy, Deleuze and Guattari do not really consider gender in their concept of the minor: “for all their talk of devenir-femme, a becoming-woman, Deleuze and Guattari tend to abstract this process away from any tie to the historically specific situation and struggle of women” (Polan, p. xxvi). In his study of Sarah Orne Jewett, Renza certainly brings gender into consideration, though as Lloyd suggests, “Renza defers analysis of the ideological function of the canon and therefore also blurs the distinction that continually haunts his work, that between a radically minor literature and one that is still seeking to ‘fill a major function’” (Nationalism, pp. 4-5). Kaplan's article in Cultural Critique (6) reads gender into the conceptualization of the minor, something which I believe, as I will discuss below, Joyce's work demonstrates.

  9. “Minor modes of writing, as the utterance of those excluded from representation, tend to undermine the priority given to distinctive individual voice in canonical criticism. They adopt, instead, modes of writing that are nonoriginal and anaclitic even in their parodic mimicry of the major work, and in doing so commence the questioning of the founding principles of canonical aesthetic judgments” (Nationalism, p. 23).

  10. Here is the text of Emmet's final words to the court that condemned him to death in 1803: “Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dares now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.”

  11. Lloyd, of course, takes up Mangan's piece, “Dark Rosaleen,” which has become exemplary of the Irish nationalist ballad, to illustrate the, in fact, tenuous relationship between the nationalist and the minor. He argues that it dramatizes rather than promotes or instantiates the nationalist vision: “The tonal pattern of ‘Dark Rosaleen’ repeats formally the suspension of the speaker's desire around the apotheosized woman in whom ‘life, love and saint of saints’ (stanza 3) are condensed, a suspension which is echoed in the verbal dominance of futures which are almost conditionals. In this respect, Mangan's poem becomes the great nationalist ballad it has been taken to be: not as an exhortation, but as a representation of the asymptotic progress of the nationalist project toward an idealized land whose domain is always the future. The perception of the stasis or suspension at the core of this process is peculiarly Mangan's (Nationalism, pp. 87-88). Though one could make the same claim about Joyce's work—that it dramatizes this vision—the patent parody and/or mockery has been read as anti-nationalist, synonymous with modernist, while Mangan's becomes romantic.

  12. In his use of the Bakhtinian model of the polyphonic novel to discuss the “politics” of Joyce's work, Valente unwittingly demonstrates Bakhtin's complementarity with the concept of the minor, while he makes an argument for, as he puts it, the “iridescent irony” in Joyce's own declaration that he cared nothing for politics—“The Politics of Joyce's Polyphony,” in New Alliances in Joyce Studies: “When it's Aped to Foul a Delfian,” ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1988), pp. 56-69. This is a question often asked in contemporary critical considerations of postmodernism with varying responses. Several writers in the special issues of Cultural Critique address this: For instance, in the introduction to 7, Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd argue the following—“The study—the production—of minority discourse requires, as an inevitable consequence of its mode of existence, the transgression of the very disciplinary boundaries by which culture appears as a sublimated form with universal validity. This makes it virtually the privileged domain of cultural critique. Taken in this sense, minority discourse becomes capable of transcending its relegation and recuperation as ideological compensation, precisely insofar as within it theoretical reflection and transformative practice become, at least at the level of institutional formations, one and the same” (9). Hartsock very provocatively challenges such assertions through her critique of the postmodern and/or the theory of the minor: “Somehow it seems highly suspicious that it is at this moment in history, when so many groups are engaged in ‘nationalisms’ which involve redefinitions of the marginalized Others, that doubt arises in the academy about the nature of the ‘subject,’ about the possibilities for a general theory which can describe the world, about historical ‘progress’” (Cultural Critique, 196).

  13. “What the current crisis, both for canonicity and for the definition of the object of literary studies, involves is the deferred recognition of the end of the canon itself as a viable normative institution. That crisis registers, if only symptomatically, the end of the conception of subjectivity that minor literature itself narrates. If minor literature brings us to the end of that conception of subjectivity and of representation, which is also its conceptual limit, it may be that in turn the emergence of a Third World and post-colonial literature begins to constitute a literature of collectivity for which the canon as an institution and representation as a political and aesthetic norm would be irrelevant. Such a literature would entail the end of a minor literature just as it entails the end of canonicity, ironically at the very moment at which it has become possible for both to become distinct objects for criticism” (Nationalism, p. 25). Lloyd's argument here constitutes a certain response to Hartsock's queries (above); and it reminds us of the distinction between minor and minority literature that Lloyd makes elsewhere in which the cultural and historical conditions and their effect on language make for different kinds of products and potential. One might apply this question of subjectivity to Bloom's position in “Cyclops”—can there be cultural identification or collectivity which survives the kind of disruption of the subject position that the episode performs? That disruption within the episode points to the difference between the idea of essence or ethnicity and the political position; in her essay, Kaplan argues that it is the latter that determines the minor and the minor response. In this analysis, the episode would promote, while realizing the historical reasons for the positionality of both the Citizen and Bloom, the need for a change of those subject positions.

  14. I discuss the contemporary Irish writing establishment in terms of nationalism and canonicity in “Canonical Double Cross: Scottish and Irish Women's Writing,” Decolonizing Tradition: New Views of Twentieth-Century “British” Literary Canons, ed. Karen Lawrence (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1992).

  15. Seamus Heaney, Station Island (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), p. 93; section XII of the poem “Station Island” (below) appears on pp. 92-94. See also Darcy O'Brien's “Piety and Modernism: Seamus Heaney's ‘Station Island’,” JJQ, 26 (Fall 1988), 51-65, where he discusses Heaney's invocation of Joyce in the poem and Joyce as literary ancestor.

  16. Eavan Boland, for instance, writes about this historical figuration of Ireland in “The Woman Poet in a National Tradition,” Studies 6, 302 (1987), 148-58, and in her pamphlet, A Kind of Scar: the woman poet in a national tradition (Dublin: Attic Press, 1989).

  17. See notes 5 and 13 above for further citational reference on this topic.

  18. Quoted from “The Science of Cartography Is Limited,” Poetry Review, 81 (Summer 1991), 11. The other titles are of poems in the collection, Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), pp. 44, 50.

  19. One resonance that I have traced in the work of Joyce and in that of a writer like Boland is registered around the issue of betrayal—palpably a feature of what is minor—in both the sense of what is undermined or limited and of what is revealed. In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987), Deleuze and Guattari take up the issue of betrayal in (resonant) relation to Jews. See Bogue's discussion of this in Deleuze and Guattari, pp. 140-45.

Mamta Chaudhry-Fryer (essay date summer 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4190

SOURCE: Chaudhry-Fryer, Mamta. “Power Play: Games in Joyce's Dubliners.Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 3 (summer 1995): 319-27.

[In the following essay, Chaudhry-Fryer examines the games played by children and adults in Dubliners.]

In one of Dubliners' most arresting observations, the boy in “Araby” says he has “hardly any patience with the serious work of life which seemed to me child's play” (26-27). Reading this stunning paradox in reverse offers a way of approaching the stories through Michel Foucault's theories about power and knowledge, as well as Mikhail Bakhtin's analysis of comedy: embodying both subversion and inversion, child's play is the serious work of life.

Foucault argues in Power/Knowledge that the challenge to accepted truths comes through “the insurrection of subjugated knowledges,” admitting into the discourse what has been systematically excluded by the “hierarchy of knowledges” (81-82). Dovetailing with Foucault's theory, Bakhtin's formulation of carnivalesque laughter allows people not only to admit what is normally excluded, but to stand it on its head. Both Foucault and Bakhtin thus argue that certain limits must be transgressed in order to shift power from where it traditionally resides into the hands of the powerless.

But where does power lie? When trying to locate it, Foucault suggests a five-fold inversion of the way that power is usually studied. One should be concerned with power not at the head, but at the extremities, where it becomes “capillary”; not with conscious intention, but with action; not as the rigid and mutually exclusive poles of those who have it and those who don't, but as links in a chain; not at a global or general level, but at a minute and particular one; not with ideological concerns, but with practical applications (96-102). Such a study yields a body of knowledge that subverts existing structures of power.

Bakhtin points out that comedy itself is subversive, because it gives us new ways of seeing situations, liberated from the blinkers of the official viewpoint. The rules of everyday life are suspended and replaced by their contraries (259). This suspension of the prevailing truth and established order allows one to explore “a second life, outside officialdom” (6), in which games play an important role.

Through games, children create their own second life, outside officialdom and its rules. According to Iona and Peter Opie in their extensive studies of children's games, adults seldom realize that, even though children may need looking after, they also have their own society and their own code of jurisdiction. Children's games challenge the world of adults, puncturing the pompous shams of authority through play. Their games resist colonizing by grown-ups: the moment adults want to join in, children change the rules. In the struggle between life's serious work and childish games, subverting authority thus becomes power play.

Like the world of Rabelais, the world of Joyce is filled with games and game playing. Children at play run rampant through the streets of Dublin. They play till their bodies glow and their shouts echo in the street (“Araby”); Eveline remembers the “children of the avenue” frolicking together in the field; everywhere a “horde of grimy children populated the street. They stood or ran in the roadway, or crawled up the steps” (“A Little Cloud”), while the adults, like Chandler walking by, “gave them no thought” (68).1

When children play by themselves, without adult control or supervision, their games fall into several well-defined categories, among them chasing, seeking, hunting, racing, exerting, daring, guessing, and pretending.2 All of these, either singly or in combination, are represented in various Dubliners stories. Surprisingly, it is not just the children who play these games; the adults do, too, and they revert to being childish in the process. Reversion, inversion, and subversion all come together in the games of Dubliners.

The guessing game is one way of coming to knowledge, and children are fascinated by riddles and puzzles, as the first story in Dubliners makes clear.3 In “The Sisters,” the unnamed young boy wishes to penetrate the world of authority, of adult knowledge. Even though it is vacation time, he “studied the lighted square of window” in the priest's house, trying to find some answers (1). He is a young “Rosicrucian,” absorbed in solving mysteries, none more enigmatic than that of the priest's death and character. Old Cotter and the boy's father seem to understand what is going on. But the child—and, by extension, the reader—wishes to know more. The boy is told that knowing too much is bad for children; he should “run about and play with young lads of his own age and not be. …” The father picks up the dropped conversational ball and lobs it back with his own set of ellipses: “Education is all very fine and large. …” The boy is excluded from this back and forth because Old Cotter points out, “When children see things like that, you know, it has an effect …” (2-3). The ellipses signify some hidden knowledge that needs to be excavated.

The child treats it as a game, a riddle: “I puzzled my head to extract meaning from his unfinished sentences” (3). The buried knowledge surfaces in the boy's dreams, in which he juxtaposes strange customs and the priest's smiling face. The boy realizes something the adults do not: the mourners insist that the priest was “resigned” to his death—the word is repeated thrice—but to the boy, the corpse's face looks “truculent,” subverting the role assigned to him. In life, as in death, the old priest with his queer ways breaks the rules as he has broken the chalice. What is a joke to the priest is also transgressive, an indication that the rules of normal life have been suspended. When the other priests, representing the power and authority of the church, see Father Flynn “laughing-like softly to himself,” they realize “there was something gone wrong with him” (11).

In the next story, “An Encounter,” the boys do run out and play with other lads their own age, but an element of subversion underlies all their games. They are possessed by a “spirit of unruliness” (12) and read “chronicles of disorder” (14). Tiring of their mock battles between Cowboys and Indians, they try a different game—playing truant—which challenges adult authority. This game also leads to knowledge about the adult world in an unsettling encounter with an old man, “a queer old josser” (20). Trying to find common ground in books with the young boy, the man remarks that Mahony is “different; he goes in for games” (18). Indeed, Mahony takes pleasure in brandishing his catapult while chasing cats and ragged girls. The protagonist (who doesn't join in the chasing game) feels superior to Mahony, until the old man starts talking about whipping young boys as if he were “unfolding some elaborate mystery” (21). It's another whiff of a Rosicrucian mystery, but the boy no longer wants to play the game. He is afraid of what this knowledge might mean. When adults want to join in children's games, the players are quick to change the rules. That's what the boy does when he tells Mahony that they should assume new identities, just in case “he asks us for our names” (20). He is even sorry for his earlier feelings toward Mahony: “for in my heart I had always despised him a little” (22). The Biblical allusion, which resonates through the entire book, is from 2 Samuel: Saul's daughter, Michal, saw King David “leaping and dancing” before the Lord and “despised him in her heart” (6: 16). But the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem, which occasioned David's carnivalesque and ritual celebrations, also signaled the transfer of power from Saul to David, and “therefore,” David tells Michal, “will I play before the Lord” (6: 21). Michal had missed the significance of David's play, which brought him both knowledge and power. As reproof for despising David, she is condemned to remain childless “unto the day of her death” (6: 23).

In turn, Maria—who is also childless and not terribly far from the day of her death—is despised a little by the children in “Clay.” The adults are moved to pity by the meagerness of Maria's life, which seems to have so few options, but cloak their knowledge with kindness. The children, with all the cruelty of which they are capable, dig up this buried knowledge, both literally and figuratively.4 On Halloween, when games, tricks, and pranks of all kinds (including the author's conjuring tricks of making certain objects disappear throughout the story) are sanctioned by custom, they exhume the usually omitted custom of the saucer of clay, in addition to the saucer with the ring, with water, and with the prayer book. The neighbor's children know that neither marriage, nor fruitfulness, nor retirement to a convent are in Maria's future. The only way of escape dished up to her is death (Walzl 178). Although Mrs Donnelly scolds the children, telling them “that was no play,” loosened from the rules of pretense by the carnival atmosphere of the feast day, the children's prank offers an alternative way of seeing Maria's situation: it is not just pathetic, but also comical in the eyes of the children who are excluded from adult knowledge about the sadness of life.

By contrast, the stout that follows marks Mr Duffy's exclusion from the joie de vivre that comes naturally to children (as the gentleman on the tram tells Maria, “it was only right that the youngsters should enjoy themselves while they were young”). In “A Painful Case,” Mr Duffy withdraws from communal life and enjoyment, choosing to live “as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen” (107), even living “at a little distance from his body” (108). His life is severely compartmentalized. Mrs Sinico is threatening because she transgresses those sharp lines of demarcation (she “emotionalised his mental life”), and Mr Duffy refuses to play along. Ironically, she is killed in a train accident “while attempting to cross the line” (114).

Her death turns into an elaborate charade of deflecting the blame from all the parties involved, and the newspaper report is marked by caution and concealment. Like the boy in “The Sisters,” Mr Duffy tries to excavate knowledge from what is left unsaid. The newspaper cutting becomes a clue to the puzzle of his existence, and he pores over it, trying to make meaning of Mrs Sinico's death and his own life.5 They are meaningless precisely because, while upholding the lonely “rectitude of his life,” he has ignored the possibility of a second life, which transgresses the limits of the quotidian. If he is “outcast from life's feast” (118), he is also outcast from the festive and carnivalesque spirit that allows people to know “the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance” (Bakhtin 9).

Both children and adults use games as a way to knowledge and to power. If power is not fixed but shifting, then the adults “simultaneously undergo and exercise” it (Foucault 98). They, too, rebel against authority, whether religious, political, social, or economic.

In “After the Race,” a historical auto race (the fourth Gordon Bennett Cup Race) serves as a frame for the capitalist power play of nations, a contest within a contest. The car race itself is reminiscent of chasing cats and brandishing catapults on a more glorified level. While the race is elevated, the struggle for nationalist superiority is reduced to a card game, both with their winners and losers. At daybreak, fuzzy with excitement and fatigue, Jimmy finally comes to the realization that it is “a terrible game” (44).

The two gallants of the next story also mount a terrible game. Echoing “Araby,” a quest once again juxtaposes the serious business of life with child's play. One of the gallants, Lenehan, is

a sporting vagrant armed with a vast stock of stories, limericks and riddles. He was insensitive to all kinds of discourtesy. No one knew how he achieved the stern task of living, but his name was vaguely associated with racing tissues.


The stern task is also a sport for Lenehan, who sees the whole enterprise of his companion's cadging money in terms of a hunting game, stalking the quarry and coming away with a trophy. “Is she game for that?” Lenehan asks Corley (48). However uncertain the outcome may be, the two gallants prefer to prey on women, inverting social norms and subverting social niceties that expect men to provide for women. That, says Lenehan contemptuously, is “a mug's game” (49).

Marriage can also be a mug's game. Mrs Mooney in “The Boarding House” regards her daughter's flirtations with the boarders as child's play rather than serious work; the players are only “passing the time away: none of them meant business” (60). Trifling with the daughter is a game, with its own moves and counter-moves. The man trying his hand at it has to contend with Polly's brother, who threatens “any fellow tried that sort of game with his sister” would get his teeth knocked in (66). The more formidable opponent, though, is the mother, who has an ace up her sleeve. When Mr Doran comes on the scene, Mrs Mooney recognizes a player worthy of her mettle. Then she gets down to business, to the serious work of getting Polly married. Even when she recognizes the largeness of the stakes, she treats the project in terms of playing a game: “She counted all her cards … She felt sure she would win” (62). Unable to counter the combined power of social opinion, religious censure, and job security, Doran throws in his hand, and Mrs Mooney does win.6

Farrington, urging his opponent to “play fair” when arm-wrestling, is actually exhorting life, which, he thinks, has not dealt him a good hand. His way of lashing out at the powers-that-be is through mimicry, which implies inversion, parody, and laughter, based on the logic of the “inside out” (Bakhtin 11). The mimicry extends to both areas of frustration, work and home. Farrington imitates those who have power over him (Mr Alleyne) and those over whom he has power (his son).7 Thus, in the chain of power, he is both a victim of repression and a perpetrator. That his games of imitation at work are a form of subversion is clear. So is his playing truant, which the chief clerk spots and comments on: “I know that game” (87). Even his error in copying is a subconscious form of mimicry, in which he doubles the name Bernard. His insurrection fails miserably. He transfers his power play from the sphere of spoken or written language to body language when he arm-wrestles Weathers. This game of exertion becomes another form of mimicry, where the locked hands invert each other's movements in a bid to claim power.

Games as a way of subverting authority are played not only in the private sphere, but also in the public. In a trio of stories dealing with political, cultural, and religious life in Dublin, Joyce again introduces the metaphor of game-playing.

Politicians and their supporters play the game as well as anyone else in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” Not only the political candidates, but also those canvassing votes for money are involved in a contest. Mr Henchy tells Mr Lyons, “I'd get more votes in five minutes than you two'd get in a week” (132). Mr O'Connor has stopped playing the game and come inside because it is raining and “his boots let in the wet” (120). Like children, they gang up on others, in this case in looking askance at Joe Hynes and wondering if he is “a spy.” The whole notion of politics as a game is reinforced by one of the reasons to welcome the King of England: “he's a good sportsman” (134).

In “A Mother,” the lack of good sportsmanship invites the wrath and contempt of the Eire Abu Society down on Mrs Kearney. The story sets up the framework of adults acting as children in the first paragraph, when Holohan is called by the childishly cruel name of Hoppy because he has a “game leg.” Seeing that the battle of wills is not going the way she wants, Mrs Kearney dares the other players to continue, threatening to take her toys and go home. When she regresses to childish name-calling, “I'm a great fellow fol-the-diddle-I-do,” the game is over (153). “After that,” the narrator informs us, “Mrs Kearney's conduct was condemned on all hands.” Her bid to challenge the authority of the Committee has failed. She, like many of the other game players, is despised a little.

However, the medieval authorities of church and state were far from despising games. In fact, as Bakhtin points out, monks' pranks and sacred parodies were extremely popular, influenced by the carnivalesque idiom “of the ‘turnabout,’ of a continual shifting from top to bottom, from front to rear, of numerous parodies and travesties” (11). Just such an idiom is employed in “Grace.” When Tom Kernan falls from the top of the stairs, the two gentlemen in the lavatory, instead of lifting him up, succeed only in “turning him over.” Seeing him safely home, Mr Power promises Mrs Kernan that he will uplift her husband by getting him to “turn over a new leaf” (160).

If the Kernan children's horseplay causes Mr Power to raise his eyebrows, the adult game of raising Mr Kernan from his fallen state gives rise to laughter. While Mr Power despises Mr M'Coy for victimizing him by a “low playing of the game” (166), he is himself engaged in making Tom Kernan “the victim of a plot” (162). Turnabout is fair play indeed.

The serious business of life is once again reduced to child's play—a game between gentlemen, a “four-handed reel” (169)—which succeeds in getting Mr Kernan to the church on time. The sacred and the profane, worldliness and spirituality, God and mammon are juxtaposed not only in the completely turned-around and mixed-up pronouncements of Mr Cunningham (who is as convinced of his own infallibility as of the Pope's), but also in the sermon, which stands Jesus' teachings on its head. While trying to enlighten the congregation, Father Purdon himself remains in the dark about what Jesus meant when he said: “For the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (180).

In “The Dead,” another story that pits light against dark, Gabriel Conroy's much-rehearsed speech refers to one of the best-known games of antiquity, when Paris judged a beauty contest between three goddesses and started the Trojan War. Child's play intersects with the serious business of life—with a vengeance! Although he says that he could never put himself in Paris's position of judging a contest and awarding the prize as far as the Misses Morkan are concerned, in his personal contest with his rival Gabriel knows that his wife's former suitor has already won the game by dying for love. Gabriel acknowledges that he “had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew such a feeling must be love” (235). Gabriel cannot beat Michael Furey, but he can join him. His own identity fades as he approaches the regions of the dead.

His identity has already been challenged by Miss Ivors during their dance together. She plays several games with him—guessing (“Who is G. C.?”), daring him to discover his own country and language, and pretending it is all a joke. Her laughter may be good-humored enough (Gretta calls Molly a “comical girl”), but Gabriel is dead serious. Her games unearth his buried knowledge that he is “sick of [his] own country, sick of it” (199). But because of his engagement in a game with the dead, he reverses his direction—his imagination, instead of carrying him eastward to Europe, his spiritual home, takes him on his “journey westward,” the home ground of Michael Furey.

The festive laughter of the ball allows Gretta and Gabriel to suspend the habits of their everyday life together. For once, they can admit into their conjugal relationship what has been hitherto excluded—the story of Michael Furey. And, as Foucault suggests, a different way of looking at things allows accepted truths to be challenged. Gabriel Conroy's knowledge is powerfully expressed at the end of the story, when he is able to see himself as one of “all the living and the dead” (236).

All the games scattered throughout Dubliners provide a metaphor for the reading of the text, which becomes the ultimate game.8 Joyce is a master of word play. Not only does he link the stories through verbal motifs, he also, like Rabelais, uses figurative language borrowed from games. Corley's belligerent question to Lenehan, “Are you trying to get inside me?” in “Two Gallants,” is an expression from a game of bowls (Gifford 59), while the term “a sure five” which crops up in the middle of a discussion of the Pope's infallibility, is a term from billiards (Gifford 107). The interconnected words (“paralysis,” “gnomon,” “simony”) and images are elaborated by the stories themselves, which consist of interlocking pieces as in a jigsaw puzzle.

Games are an integral part of the comedic spirit. In writing the stories that make up Dubliners, Joyce wanted his countrymen to get “one good look at themselves” in a “nicely polished looking glass” (Letters 1: 64). A mirror image is already a double and an inversion. That image is further doubled and re-doubled through themes and plots which are duplicates or opposites of each other, making the book a hall of mirrors (itself a carnivalesque image), where truth is seen from many angles, leading to the liberation of laughter.9 Carnival laughter is “universal in scope” (Bakhtin 11). So is truth. Joyce told a friend, “I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of all the cities in the world. In the particular is contained the universal” (Ellmann 505). In the face of efforts by printers and publishers to silence him, the book symbolizes an act of insurrection. In Joyce's Dubliners, knowledge leads to power by way of language and laughter.


  1. Dublin is thus rather like the Biblical Jerusalem: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zechariah 8: 5). Iona and Peter Opie use this text as the epigraph to their book on children's games.

  2. I am indebted to the Opies for this information. Joyce also dipped into books of children's games. Many critics, notably Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, and Grace Eckley, have pointed out Joyce's familiarity with Norman Douglas's London Street Games, which he used extensively for Finnegans Wake.

  3. William York Tindall points out that Dubliners opens with “a riddle that seems designed in part to establish the idea of a riddle” (13). Riddles are a recurring theme in Joyce's work. Naturally, he was aware that Penelope recognized Ulysses only when he knew the answer to the riddle of their bed's construction. Like the Odyssey, Ulysses has its own share of enigmas (M'Intosh, for example), while Finnegans Wake, of course, is riddled with them, being itself probably the world's longest riddle.

  4. In her study of Finnrgas Wake, Grace Eckley also makes the connection between children's lore and knowledge.

  5. In the roughly contemporary The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, Ossipon also finds out through a newspaper clipping about the suicide of the woman he has unemotionally abandoned. He reads and re-reads the cutting obsessively, as if looking for the answer to “an impenetrable mystery” which hangs over the “act of madness or despair” (234).

  6. Gallaher expresses similar sentiments on the subject of marriage. “See if I don't play my cards properly,” he boasts to Little Chandler. “When I go about a thing, I mean business” (“A Little Cloud” 79).

  7. Another abusive father—the one in “Eveline”—also employs mimicry and inversion when he dresses up in his wife's bonnet to make the children laugh.

  8. Nancy Morrow stresses the fact that while games are finite, and have a definite endpoint, play is infinite. The game might end, but the play goes on (6). This quality of playfulness might account for the open-endedness of Joyce's fiction, and of many twentieth-century novels (Morrow 168).

  9. Liberation is a stated goal, in fact. Joyce wrote Grant Richards that he regarded Dubliners as “the first step towards the spiritual liberation of my country” (Letters 1:63).

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. Rabelais and His World. Helene Iswolsky, trans. Cambridge: M.I.T., 1968.

Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent. New York: Signet Classic, 1983.

Eckley, Grace. Children's Lore in Finnegans Wake. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1985.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: Oxford UP, 1982.

Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Gifford, Don. Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Signet Classic, 1991.

Letters of James Joyce. Stuart Gilbert, ed. Volume 1. New York: Viking, 1966.

Morrow, Nancy. Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1988.

Opie, Iona and Peter. Children's Games in Street and Playground. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

Rose, Danis, and John O'Hanlon. “Norman Douglas' London Street Games Guess Where.” A Finnegans Wake Circular. 1.4 (1986): 85-92.

Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce. New York: Noonday, 1959.

Walzl, Florence. “Dubliners.” A Companion to Joyce Studies. Zack Bowen and James F. Carens, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1984.

Kevin J. H. Dettmar (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15776

SOURCE: Dettmar, Kevin J. H. “The Dubliners Epiphony: (Mis)Reading the Book of Ourselves.” In The Illicit Joyce of Postmodernism: Reading Against the Grain, pp. 76-105. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.

[In the essay below, Dettmar contends the textual clues in the stories of The Dubliners are “Joyce's means of reinforcing the story's hermeneutics, and pulling us, kicking and screaming, into a text with which we would prefer to keep a purely professional relationship.”]

One of Joyce's strategies for unsettling our reading habits in “The Sisters” is the liberal use of that detective fiction stock-in-trade, the red herring. False clues proliferate throughout the story, at least one per page, and seemingly in proportion as we look for them. As Hugh Kenner writes, “Joyce delights in leaving us … queer things we may misinterpret, as if to keep alive in us an awareness traditional fiction is at pains to lull, the awareness that we are interpreting.”1 A short list would begin with the story's puzzling title; thereafter Joyce throws out curious words, phrases, objects—signs apparently in need of interpretation, signs to which we critics have been only too willing to apply our ingenuity:

paralysis, gnomon, and simony”;

“faints and worms”;

“that Rosicrucian”;

“let him box his corner”;

“Umbrellas Re-Covered”;

“stories about the catacombs and about Napoleon Bonaparte”;

the boy's dream, the ending of which he cannot remember;

the “heavy odour in the room—the flowers”;

“the empty fireplace”;

the breviary “fallen to the floor”;

“And then his life was, you might say, crossed”;

the “chalice that he broke”;

“they say it was the boy's fault”

Every one of these textual cruxes has elicited its own critical commentary; literary critics, when confronted with such a hoard of virgin signs, have a field day. The title, for example, has sent critics off in many different directions trying to explain the apparent discrepancy between the importance accorded the sisters in the title and their relatively minor role in the story. Edward Brandabur, for instance, resolves the problem by asserting that “the title, ‘The Sisters,’ refers not only to Nannie and Eliza, but to an effeminate relationship between the priest and his disciple.”2 While clever in its way, such an explanation in no way enriches our experience of the story; Brandabur constructs a story parallel to the text we're given, a story that spells out a good deal that “The Sisters” leaves unstated. In the end, we cannot help but feel that he is reading an altogether different story from the rather impoverished one Joyce wrote.

The story's most famous puzzle is no doubt the three mysteriously linked words paralysis, gnomon, and simony, that the boy intones in the first paragraph. Colin MacCabe writes that in the final version of “The Sisters,” “the theme of paralysis is introduced and this word together with ‘gnomon’ and ‘simony’ provides a collection of signifiers which are not determined in their meaning by the text. … The reader is introduced to a set of signifiers for which there is no interpretation except strangeness and an undefined evil. The opening of the final version of the story displays a certain excess of the power of signification (the production of a surplus meaning).”3 Many elaborate structures have been devised to explain the thread that connects these three magical words; entire readings of the story, and indeed of the volume, have subsequently been built around this hieratic trinity. And yet their relationship is stated explicitly right there on the page, and it seems strangely appropriate that a man named Herring should be the one to point it out to us: “No logic binds these three italicized words together—only the strangeness of their sounds in the boy's ear.”4 These “clews” are related to one another only as signifiers, not as signifieds; in and of themselves they provide the reader no means of escaping the flat realistic surface of the text.

Phillip Herring's is a scrupulously mean reading, an interpretation that bears in mind Joyce's 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” (L [Letters] 2:134)—whatever he has seen and heard and read. For the red herrings in “The Sisters” are just that—what the French call faux amis; rather than providing us with a means of transcending the spare surface of the story, these “reader traps”5 are instead Joyce's means of reinforcing the story's hermeneutics, and pulling us, kicking and screaming, into a text with which we would prefer to keep a purely professional relationship.

The most common response for critics when they come across a red herring unaware is of course to make a symbol of it. And “The Sisters” certainly has its share of ostensible symbols, the most glaring of which would be the chalice that Father Flynn has dropped. Over the years the “symbol” of the chalice has been understood in a number of ways, as standing for the Church, the phallus (male or female), the Grail, and so forth. And yet surely the demise of Father Flynn is meant in part as an allegory of the dangers of overinterpretation that any reader of the story must heed. The chalice itself, as Eliza remarks, was of no real importance—“they say it was all right, that it contained nothing, I mean” (D [Dubliners] 17). But Eliza herself, as her locutions show, is not quite so sure (“they say …”); and indeed the incident of the dropped chalice is made the centerpiece of her narrative of the Father's final “insanity” (“That affected his mind, she said. After that he began to mope by himself, talking to no one and wandering around by himself” [D 17]). Of course, we do not know how the incident was interpreted by the priest; but we can see quite plainly that those close to him took the breaking of the chalice, in retrospect at least, as an omen, the chalice itself having been invested by them with too much symbolic importance.

Homer Brown surely has this episode in mind when he writes that “at least part of the symbolism of Dubliners has to do with the failure or inadequacy of the symbol”;6 the chalice in “The Sisters” is as self-evident a symbol as any reader could hope for, but when its significance is examined, it becomes an antisymbolic object, a “symbol” that alerts us to the dangers of reading symbolically. Again, Brown remarks that “in a sense, the symbolism of these stories consists in the failure of the symbolic, the emptiness of the symbol”;7 the chalice is an object so overinvested with meaning that it deconstructs as a symbol and returns to the realm of pure realistic detail, what Barthes calls “the sumptuous rank of the signifier.” In the same way, the Catholic Church itself is seen in Dubliners as a dangerously overvalued symbol, which is liable at any time to crash. The chalice “contained nothing”; as a result, it is immediately filled with the needs and desires of the characters, and is made a receptacle for all that menaces them.

If this style of reading—the reader as detective—tends unjustifiably to turn objects into symbols, it simultaneously turns characters into the figures of allegory. Tindall sees the figure of the Irish “Poor Old Woman” (the Shan Van Vocht) behind Maria of “Clay,” the slavey of “Two Gallants,” and Mrs. and Kathleen Kearney of “A Mother”; but of “The Sisters” he complains: “Why are there two of them? I should find it easier if there were only one. A poor old woman (the traditional figure) could serve as an image of Ireland. …”8 I should find it easier! We should all find Joyce's texts easier would they simply obey the call of our desires; but they resist us, and so we tailor them to the shape of our need as best we can. It's not always a good fit. As Garry Leonard writes, “Readers do not mind disagreeing on the particulars because all agree she [Maria] means something—and that is the main thing—that she mean something. … And so Maria's tiny shoulders have supported various interpretations that substitute what she ‘means’ for what critics lack.”9

The sort of red herring with which Joyce taunts us in “The Sisters” is a recurring structural feature of Dubliners. The second paragraph of “Araby” is similarly littered with these false clues—The Abbot, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq—and again Herring has resisted the temptation to read these details “symbolically”: “the titles probably have just enough relevance to encourage readers to inflate them with meaning. (After all, Joyce supplied the pump.) There is no indication that the boy has read them, especially since he views them as physical objects, preferring the one with yellow leaves.”10 Sometimes, even in Literature, objects are just objects; and for readers trained to read texts as storehouses of symbols, such a scrupulously mean reading requires extreme discipline:

so much depends
a red wheel

After all, Freud himself is said to have remarked: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Anyone who has taught Dubliners knows that students approach these texts as puzzles; in their estimation, the main task in reading is to figure out what the ending “means.” Of course, this is only a slightly less sophisticated version of what Joyce's critics have done from the start. Reviewing the French translation of Dubliners in 1926, Jacques Chenevière was one of the first critics to praise Joyce for resisting simple conclusions: “a French novelist—a logician and always, in spite of himself, a moralist even when he considers himself unimpressionable—would begin and end the narrative precisely at the point when even the mysterious would be explicit. Joyce, however, only conducts the reader with a weak hand from which, however, one does not escape. He rarely informs us and does not conclude. … Sometimes this fog bothers us, accustomed as we are to life, translated literally and appearing logical. How dare art guide us so little and yet remain master of us!” (Deming 1:71). Most early critics, however, were not as sympathetic to Joyce's interest in, as John Cage expresses it, “keeping things mysterious.”11 The majority of critics have seen in the conclusion of “The Sisters,” for instance, a moment of terrible, and perhaps incommunicable, insight for the young narrator. In Suzanne Ferguson's reading the story ends in an epiphany for the reader, in which she, in a flash of insight, synthesizes the various “clues” set out in the story and realizes that Father Flynn is guilty of a subtle form of simony.

If we are honest, however, for many of us the story ends not in epiphany but in utter muddle. At least part of our confusion stems from Joyce's refusal to state his moral; one contemporary reviewer complained that “his outlook is self-centred, absorbed in itself rather; he ends his sketch abruptly time after time, satisfied with what he has done, brushing aside any intention of explaining what is set down or supplementing what is omitted” (Deming 1:61-62). Joyce's refusal to “conclude” is understood by this early reader as self-absorption, and it provokes the critic's venom; but at least contemporary reviewers were in a position to see that Joyce had indeed refused to conclude. We are now so used to the institutionalized readings of these stories—“The Dead” is probably the prime example—that we can no longer even sense their wildness. William Empson's irritated remarks about the inconclusive nature of Ulysses are at least as appropriate as a description of Dubliners: “The difficulty about Ulysses,” he writes, “as is obvious if you read the extremely various opinions of critics, is that, whereas most novels tell you what the author expects you to feel, this one not only refuses to tell you the end of the story, it also refuses to tell you what the author thinks would have been a good end to the story.”12

If we turn to a poststructuralist critic like MacCabe, however, we can see how Joyce's refusal to conclude in these stories has recently been transvalued—what was described as arrogant convention flaunting in the contemporary reviews is now felt to be an integral component of his genius: “The text works paratactically, simply placing one event after another, with no ability to draw conclusions from this placing. … The movement of the text is not that of making clear a reference already defined and understood; of fixing the sense of an expression. Instead the text dissolves the simple scenes of Dublin as a city, as a context within which people live their lives, and replaces it with the very text of paralysis.”13 The close of “The Sisters” is precisely this “text of paralysis”; the narrative trails off in ellipses as Eliza begins to repeat yet again the story she has “written” to explain her brother's death, and Joyce resolutely refuses to come in at the end, even in the person of his narrator, in order to give us any guidance. A postmodern ending is a matter neither of appearance nor of grammar—it has to do, finally, with avoiding “the sense of an ending” (Kermode). Think, for instance, of the ending of the first part of Molloy: “Molloy could stay, where he happened to be.”14 Beckett gives us proper grammar, and even a kind of narrative closure, and yet suggests the influence of chance operation, creating an unsettling sense that nothing has been concluded. The postmodern ending is a conclusion (“termination”) that reaches no conclusion (“inference”).

At the close of “The Sisters” the narrator appears to us frozen—puzzled and paralyzed—and we cannot help but ape his response. Not only do we remain unenlightened; we cannot even decide who, if anyone, in the story has seen the light. But some sort of enlightenment—either for the character, or for the reader—is the traditional goal of a reading of the Dubliners story. That famous moment of enlightenment is what Joyce criticism, (mis)taking its clue from Joyce himself, has dubbed the epiphany. Zack Bowen points out, with reference to “The Sisters,” that “the question of who is having the epiphany is a central issue of the story”:

If the epiphany belongs to the Flynn sisters, then the statement “So, then, of course, when they saw that, that made them think that there was something gone wrong with him” (D 18) constitutes the truth of the story. The priest's laughter is indeed madness. Few of us, however, subscribe to this. The question is really whether the priest, the boy, or both have an epiphany. … We are left to our own conclusions about whether the insight was about a senile and decadent way of life which the sisters merely confirmed. Even if that is the substance of the epiphany which presumably we share with the boy, we are still not sure if the priest is a seer of eternal truth or merely a disoriented and demented old man. At any rate, for the purpose of the present discussion, we have at once to ask ourselves where the eternal verities might lie in the case. The answer is that they depend upon the beholder: the sisters' perception is different from Father Flynn's, the boy's, or the readers', who may in themselves differ. Each of us fashions his own truth and sees it as the unalterable law of God.15

It is of course extremely difficult to maintain that “The Sisters” ends in an epiphany—as Bowen wants to do—if readers cannot agree on who has had the epiphany, or of what it might consist. Indeed, even the most cursory glance at the wide variety of readings of “The Sisters” over the years will suggest at once that we must not only question whether any of the characters have an epiphany, but even doubt that readers share any universal understanding of the mystery of “The Sisters,” which Donald Torchiana calls “the most controversial piece in Dubliners.16 Sherlock Holmes, at the end of his cases, relates the logical process by which he came upon his epiphany—the solution to the crime; but, as we have seen, the boy in “The Sisters” enjoys no such triumph.

Epiphany is Joyce's paleonym that just won't die. Our critical tradition has long privileged authors' pronouncements on their own works over the commentary of any rank “outsider,” and the word epiphany from Joyce's pen has stuck stubbornly to Dubliners (even though, as we shall see, he never used the term to describe his short stories). In fact, his earliest impulse was to describe the method of Dubliners using the metaphor not of epiphany, but of epiclesis; in the oldest surviving reference to his story collection, he calls them “a series of epicleti—ten—for a paper” (L 1:55). The difference between the two terms, in brief—reverting to the nomenclature of chapter 3—is this: an epiphany evidences one's ultimate mastery of a situation, while epiclesis is instead the moment of submission to mystery.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, epiclesis is the priest's invocation of the Holy Ghost to transmute the elements of the Lord's Supper, a feature of the Mass that had been dropped by the Roman Church before the medieval period. In the Divine Liturgy of Saint Chrysostom, the priest intones these words in a low voice: “Moreover we offer unto Thee this reasonable and unbloody sacrifice: and beseech thee and pray and supplicate; send down Thy Holy Ghost upon us, and on these proposed gifts.”17 The difference between the Greek and Latin Church on this point is not without consequence. In the Eastern view, the efficacy of the sacrament depends upon God's response to the prayer of his priest; but in the Roman Catholic service, the elements are transformed as a direct result of the priest's reciting the words of institution—and the aspect of divine intervention is easily forgotten.18 Thus when Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait [P] figures himself as “a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of ever-living life” (P 221), his words suggest that he will be able to effect that transubstantiation himself, without divine assistance. The reasons for Stephen's error are made patently clear in the text: earlier, during his interview with the director of Belvedere College—in response to whose luscious evocation of the power of the priest of God Stephen fashions his own vision of the priest of art—Stephen had heard the heretical suggestion that the priest has “the power, the authority, to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar and take the form of bread and wine” (P 158). The director has substituted pure selfish power for the moment of epiclesis—mastery for mystery; and Stephen's repetition of the gesture later suggests its attractiveness to him. But epiclesis is the tacit admission that neither the priest, nor certainly the artist, has such powers—it's a gesture of self-abnegation that neither the director of the college nor his rebellious disciple is capable of.

The method of epiclesis is the method of mystery courted and invoked, evoked. When he had been at work on Dubliners for about ten months, Joyce wrote in a 4 April 1905 letter to Stanislaus that “The Sisters” called to his mind the Eastern Orthodox mass: “While I was attending the Greek mass here [Trieste] last Sunday it seemed to me that my story “The Sisters” was rather remarkable.” Joyce doesn't bother to spell out the connection between “The Sisters” and the Mass; the letter, however, goes on to describe the distinctive elements of the Greek service: “The Greek mass is strange. The altar is not visible but at times the priest opens the gates and shows himself. He opens and shuts them about six times. For the Gospel he comes out of a side gate and comes down into the chapel and reads out of a book. For the elevation he does the same. At the end when he has blessed the people he shuts the gates …” (L 2:86). Admittedly, the connection here is tenuous: but the act of elevation, in the Orthodox service, is accompanied by the priest's reading of the epiclesis. Thus, one of the elements of the Greek Mass that seems to have captured Joyce's imagination—and reminded him of his own short fiction—is the Eastern Church's act of invocation.19

In his memoir My Brother's Keeper, Stanislaus Joyce records a conversation in which Joyce again makes use of the metaphor of the Eucharist to talk about the method of Dubliners: “‘Don't you think,’ said he reflectively, choosing his words without haste, ‘there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has permanent artistic life of its own … ?’”20 If Stanislaus has been as careful in his recording as he says his brother was in his conversation, Joyce here focuses in not simply on the Eucharist itself, but on the mystery of the Eucharist; and once again, that particular mystery has a name: epiclesis. The method of the epiphany, however, especially the “curtain” epiphany that an entire generation of readers has found the perfect ending to these stories, is a means for dispelling mystery, for resolving unbearable tensions—providing a facile closure to that which in reality cannot be neatly tied up. The stories of Dubliners are, as we will explore shortly, militantly anti-epiphanic. The whole notion of manifestation or self-revelation is severely undercut in tale after tale; and even the comfortable critical commonplace that the reader, at least, is enlightened is finally an illusion difficult to maintain. No one, I am persuaded, realizes the full import of these stories upon a first reading; our illumination, if indeed we experience any, is not a sudden “Eureka!” but a soft, gradual, hard-won appreciation.

The epiphany has become one of Joyce criticism's most effective methods for mastering the discomforting, uncompromising qualities of these texts—to close them off, to impose closure where in fact none inheres; it is, in other words, a way to fight off the intense disquiet caused by Joyce's “scrupulous meanness.”21 Joyce would find no little irony in this situation, for the epiphanic method, as first practiced in his notebook of Epiphanies, was a resolutely decontextualizing, disorienting, discomforting technique. As MacCabe writes, Joyce's “earliest prose writings, the Epiphanies, lack any appeal to reality which would define what the writing produces. The conversations and situations which make up these brief ten- or twelve-line sketches, lack any accompanying explanation or context. In place of a discourse which attempts to place and situate everything, we have discourses which are determined in their situation by the reader.”22 Thus in spite of their original spirit, the name epiphany has become one of the Joyce industry's tactics for dealing with these willful and unruly texts—subjugating them in the name of Joyce the Father, Joyce the Creator.

More has been written about the epiphany than any other stratagem in the Joycean text; and no doubt due to the short, lyric quality of Joyce's stories, epiphany is discussed more often in connection with Dubliners than with any other of Joyce's writings. Morris Beja, who has written a study called Epiphany in the Modern Novel, writes elsewhere that “probably no other motif has so pervaded critical discussions of both the volume as a whole and its individual stories”;23 and in a note he goes on to list more than a dozen influential critical investigations of the epiphanies in Dubliners. As many have pointed out, Joyce himself never used the word epiphany in reference to Dubliners, nor are any of the forty surviving Epiphanies housed at Buffalo and Cornell made use of in the stories. But while none of Joyce's early sketches were incorporated wholesale into the text of Dubliners, subsequent critics have nevertheless found Joyce's term a durable one, and the moment of “manifestation or revelation” it describes central to what Stephen Dedalus would call the quidditas of these texts; and teachers and critics have found in Joyce's metaphor a powerful heuristic device.24

One primary difficulty with using epiphany as a term for criticism, however, is that it has accrued a fairly wide range of meanings, depending on the purposes of the critic. This is, after all, the process by which the term first entered the vocabulary of literary criticism, Joyce putting his own spin on a word brought from Greek into ecclesiastical English in the fourteenth century. In English, “Epiphany” originally referred to a feast day, “the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi; observed on January 6th, the 12th day after Christmas” (OED). Given this heritage, it is no doubt ironic that “The Dead” takes place on Twelfth Night, the Feast of Epiphany; this is a point to which we shall have to return. But Joyce's redefinition stripped epiphany of its festive and religious, if not its mysterious, connotations. In a famous passage in Stephen Hero, [SH] we are told that the term as Stephen used it “meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments” (SH 211). It is perhaps not insignificant that Joyce's only explicit treatment of the doctrine of the epiphany is found in a text kept unpublished during his lifetime; like the Homeric titles for the chapters of Ulysses, which in spite of Joyce's removing them from the text critics insist on restoring to the novel, the epiphany is largely a way of writing, rather than a way of reading. Joyce, in rewriting Stephen Hero as A Portrait, omitted Stephen's now-famous disquisition on the epiphany; we might, for the novelty of it, assume for the time being that he knew what he was doing.

Joyce's brief discussion suggests two different sorts of epiphany, according to whether emphasis is placed on the object or event—the occasion—of the epiphany, or instead on an observer's emotional (or “spiritual,” as Joyce has it) response to that instigating episode. Hence Joyce's epiphanies, as Scholes and Litz write, “were mainly of two kinds … they recorded ‘memorable phases’ of the young artist's own mind, or instances of ‘vulgarity of speech or of gesture’ in the world around him. In practice this resulted in two quite different styles of epiphany: prose poems in which a mental phase of the artist was narrated, and dramatic notations of vulgarity.”25 With respect to the archetypal epiphany, the appearance of Christ to the Magi, a Joycean rendering of the scene could conceivably capture two distinct epiphanies (and were the nativity a Dubliners story, both would likely be included): the first, an “objective,” dramatic epiphany, focusing on the infant Christ, the scene in the manger; and a second, “subjective,” psychological epiphany, focusing on the response of one Magus to the child. What is common to both styles of epiphany is the breaking forth of the mysterious through the dull veneer of the everyday; its emblem is the divine Christ in a Bethlehem stable, what Yeats called “the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.”

The concluding page of “Araby” makes a convenient testing ground for any discussion of Joycean epiphany in Dubliners, for there we are ostensibly presented two epiphanies, one of each type, in rather close proximity.26 The first is a dramatic epiphany, very similar in style and content to the specimen Stephen records just previous to the passage from Stephen Hero cited above.27 The snatch of conversation reported in “Araby” runs this way:

At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listed vaguely to their conversation.

—O, I never said such a thing!

—O, but you did!

—O, but I didn't!

—Didn't she say that?

—Yes. I heard her.

—O, there's a … fib!

(D 35)

If this is indeed an epiphany—and no critic seems to have argued that it's not—then we might pause for a moment to consider both its message and its audience: what does this epiphany mean, and to whom is it meant to speak?

Critics almost universally agree on the meaning of the epiphany: Bowen for instance writes that “In ‘Araby’ presumably the boy's epiphany of the absurdity in going to the fair and in his aggrandizement of Mangan's sister is brought home by the shallowness of the conversation in the confessional-gift stand at the fair.”28 In fact, however, we cannot be certain what the scene has meant to the boy—how he has interpreted or read it. Joyce, through his narrator, refuses to establish a position (explicitly at least) outside the boy, a still point in the text from which we might take our bearings. In this regard, Joyce's procedure is in marked contrast to Virginia Woolf's. She is nearly as famous for her focus on the “moment of being” as Joyce is for the epiphany; yet Woolf confirms Lily Briscoe's epiphany at the conclusion of To the Lighthouse in a way that Joyce scrupulously avoids: “With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”29

Woolf's third-person narrative gives a certain objective distance on the scene narrated, and we are given no reason to doubt the narrative's assertion. Joyce however gives us no comforting voice from beyond the text; all we have is the boy's own words—in his retrospective narration of the incident. With that as the only concrete evidence, we're forced to conclude that he hasn't learned his lesson. The same problem that arises here has been the focus of intense debate in A Portrait; perhaps because of its deceptive simplicity, however, or perhaps because of Joyce's offhand description of its style as “scrupulously mean,” “Araby” has not been subjected to the kind of close stylistic scrutiny that A Portrait has come in for. It will prove worthwhile therefore to digress for just a bit, to consider what Wayne Booth has called the “problem of distance” in Joycean narration, especially as it is manifest in A Portrait.

Booth, in his comments on A Portrait, declares that as a result of Joyce's “refining himself out of existence,” “we must conclude that many of the refinements he intended in his finished Portrait are, for most of us, permanently lost. Even if we were now to do our homework like dutiful students, even if we were to study all of Joyce's work, even if we were to spend the lifetime that Joyce playfully said his novels demanded, presumably we should never come to as rich, as refined, and as varied a conception of the quality of Stephen's last days in Ireland as Joyce had in mind.”30 According to Booth, Joyce in A Portrait has afforded us no firm ground for judgment; any decision as to whether Stephen's more remarkable rhetorical flights are to be taken seriously or ironically can finally be based only on a reader's personal predilection, since the text gives us no context for such a judgment (Booth himself uses material from Stephen Hero in an attempt to clear up this ambiguity).

Writing almost twenty years later, Hugh Kenner, although not responding to Booth by name, does implicitly challenge his conclusions about A Portrait. In his book Ulysses, Kenner argues that while the author takes no explicit moral position regarding his character, his judgments are to be found motivating the style: “Stephen's way of experiencing and judging may seem so thoroughly to pervade the Portrait that there is no way he can be appraised: whatever he says or does seems utterly reasonable. A written style, however: that is something to appraise, once we become aware of it; and the Portrait makes us highly aware of the style by the unusual device, much extended and complicated in Ulysses, of changing the style continually.”31 The argument here hinges on Joyce's use of free indirect discourse—what Kenner in another book needlessly dubs the “Uncle Charles Principle.”32 If we hold Joyce responsible for word choice and syntax throughout A Portrait—“But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face”—we call this (as Wyndham Lewis did) simply bad writing; but according to the tenets of free indirect discourse, we are to understand that the narrative has been subtly (or not so subtly) colored by the consciousness it narrates. So that when presenting Stephen's Uncle Charles, the narrative borrows some of the phrasing that Charles would no doubt use himself; and when describing the would-be artist as a young man, the prose takes on a slightly precious quality that we come to associate with Stephen. In particular, Kenner zeros in on Stephen's frequently overdone alliteration, and his penchant for the rhetorical figure of chiasmus, as tip-offs that we're to be suspicious of Stephen's writing, or rather of the seeming objectivity of the third-person narrative that shapes itself to the contours of his mind and spirit.

In the first three stories of Dubliners, the problems of narrative distance are considerably simpler than in A Portrait; all use the relatively common convention of the story of youth written in maturity. Since the boy protagonists in the first three stories are at most young adolescents, we cannot believe them to have written these narratives at the time the incidents occurred, as we are to believe the close of A Portrait to have been written by the postgraduate Stephen. In A Portrait, the age of the protagonist seems to approach the age of the writer almost asymptotically, Tristram Shandy-like, so that by the close we are told of incidents “just as they happen.” The final sentence, the final diary entry, is of course about nothing more than its own writing, and we can imagine Stephen's penning that entry as the completion of the manuscript of A Portrait. Conversely, while we might wish to characterize the prose style of the “stories of childhood” as immature, they are most certainly not written by adolescents; rather, we are to imagine these tales written by their protagonists grown into men who, for their own narrative purposes, pepper their texts with some of the verbal infelicities of their youthful minds (such as, for example, the confusion on the part of the narrator of “The Sisters” between “reflection” and “refraction” in the story's first paragraph).

The closing page of “Araby” contains a very clear “dramatic” epiphany, one in which most critics have found the story's “moral,” the lesson that our protagonist is intended to learn. As a result the boy presumably experiences psychological epiphany; but his response to the conversation overheard at the gift stall is so hyperbolic as to seem almost a non sequitur: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (D 35). The boy sends his gaze into the darkness at the top of the hall, and in that darkness his mind's eye sees “reflected” “a creature driven and derided by vanity.” Has he then, like Lily Briscoe, “had his vision”?

The critical consensus is that he has indeed. Clearly, the boy represents himself as having been possessed of a terrible insight; and yet the form, or better the style, of his confession betrays its ostensible revelation. Many commentators have called the boy's self-evaluation too harsh; but it is much more than that. Like Saul of Tarsus, who goes from thinking himself God's anointed to believing himself chief among all sinners, the boy in “Araby” can conceive of himself only in melodramatic black or white—either chivalric knight in service of his lady fair or, when that illusion is forcibly wrested from him, the blackest of sinners. This is a pattern we see played out in other of the stories, most notably “The Dead”; Gabriel Conroy fluctuates wildly between expansive good humor and believing himself “a ludicrous figure, acting as pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist” (D 220). As Yeats's Michael Robartes says in another context, “there's no human life at the full or the dark”; and yet Gabriel and the “devout communicant” of “Araby” both carefully avoid having to negotiate that perilous intermediate gray area called life.

This brings us back to the question: What possible criteria do we have for judging the efficacy of the boy's insight at Araby? His revelation might be evaluated in the same way we would a religious conversion, for the language of the closing page is the language of a young man who believes himself to have been spiritually transformed. If in fact he has been transformed, we may reasonably ask whether a new spirit dwells within him, and whether that new spirit has resulted in a new quality of life. For we may state as a working principle that there is no epiphany without efficacy; “Every good tree,” the Lord declared, “bringeth forth good fruit” (Matt. 7:16-17). It makes no sense to speak of a character's having an epiphany in spite of all evidence to the contrary, just because we readers have seen what she has and believe that we have seen the light. The genuine experience of epiphany cannot remain without effect, in either life or art. Of those to whom more has been revealed, more shall be expected; as Eliot puts it in “Gerontion,” “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?”

According to the argument put forward by Beja, however, all such considerations are beside the point. What we think about a given character's epiphany is irrelevant; “What matters is what a given character feels about an epiphany or the revelation it provides. An epiphany need not, after all, be ‘objectively’ accurate; as I have argued elsewhere, an epiphany is in its very conception and description a subjective phenomenon. So whether Mr. Duffy and the boy at the end of ‘Araby’ are ‘correct’ is much less relevant than how they feel about what they have learned.” Following Beja's rubric, then, it is possible to experience an epiphany that is wholly delusional—so that he can say that “even Eveline” has her epiphany “before she represses all awareness.”33 Surely this distorts the term epiphany beyond all usefulness. To begin with, the text proffers absolutely no support for the idea that Eveline has reached any kind of higher self-awareness; indeed, it unrelentingly exposes her process of rationalization. Frank, for instance, who has been seen as a life preserver, is transformed into a millstone once Eveline realizes she cannot leave with him: “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them; he would drown her” (D 41). But even if Beja is right—even if Eveline does have a penultimate flash of insight—her ultimate action is to take no action, effectively nullifying any epiphany we might wish to find in her tale. An epiphany is, as Beja insists, by its very nature intensely personal—but that does not mean that it is not available to evaluation by outside criteria.

This is the argument that Bowen makes. “Epiphanies may be false,” he writes, “because the meaning of experience, when transformed by either the artists' perception or the perception of less gifted characters may in fact be self-delusion.”34 It is this false epiphany that I am calling epiphony. Although the experience of epiphany is always ultimately subjective, the validity—the efficacy—of a character's epiphany is available to scrutiny. Two possible avenues for verification are available to us: confirmation from the narrative itself (as in the passage of To the Lighthouse discussed above) or the subsequent “life” of the character. But Joyce consistently refuses explicit narrative comment on the ostensible epiphany's efficacy; nor do the stories present any “postconversion” life by which we might judge.

The narrator of “Araby,” though, is the story's protagonist at an advanced age. The text of “Araby” is a product of what Ulysses calls “the retrospective arrangement”: “No longer is Leopold, as he sits there, ruminating, chewing the cud of reminiscence, that staid agent of publicity and holder of a modest substance in the funds. A score of years are blown away. He is young Leopold. There, as in a retrospective arrangement, a mirror within a mirror (hey, presto!), he beholdeth himself” (U [Ulysses,] 337). Does the text that the protagonist of “Araby” chooses to write give us any reason to believe that he's outgrown this youthful vanity? The boy's closing remark—his artfully rendered epiphony—calls attention to itself for its highly wrought, exquisite style. In his discussion of A Portrait mentioned above, Kenner has identified alliteration and chiasmus as two of the early warning signs that we're reading the free indirect discourse of an immature artist, and not surprisingly, perhaps, we find both symptoms here. The paired adjectives in the first clause—“driven and derided by vanity”—fabricate an urgent momentum out of all proportion to the motive event; those of the second clause, too—“my eyes burned with anguish and anger”—are chosen on the basis of sound, not sense. This is not the prose of a humbled man, a man whose vain romanticism has been painfully torn from him.

There have been foreshadowings of this decorative, slightly precious style throughout the story: “The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns”; “I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood”; “Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds” (D 30, 31). When used to transform—to elevate, to “poeticize”—a landscape, such purple (or “ever-changing violet”) prose is harmless enough, if somewhat wearying in the long run. Indeed, one of the “paper-covered books” the boy finds in “the waste room behind the kitchen,” Walter Scott's The Abbot, could serve him as a (turgid) stylistic model: “It was upon the evening of a sultry summer's day when the sun was half-sunk behind the distant western mountains of Liddesdale, that the Lady took her solitary walk on the battlements of a range of buildings, which formed the front of the castle, where a flat roof of flag-stones presented a broad and convenient promenade. The level surface of the lake, undisturbed except by the occasional dipping of a teal-duck or coot, was gilded with the beams of the setting luminary, and reflected, as if in a golden mirror, the hills amongst which it lay enbosomed.”35

However, the truth, Ezra Pound was to insist, makes its own style.36 While the florid scenic descriptions of a novel like The Abbot or a short story like “Araby”—wrought in what Pound liked to call “licherary langwidg”—transform a landscape, they can only falsify the self-presentation of a writing subject. Stripped of its lush, romantic atmosphere, we can imagine “Araby” ending with another, more economical, self-exposure: “—I suddenly realized how vain I was.” To make such a spare confession, however, is clearly not to the narrator's taste. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes declared simply “Vanity of vanities—all is vanity”; but such a scrupulously mean disclosure is not enough for the boy. Like the Apostle Paul, who is not satisfied to confess himself a sinner but declares instead that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15), our protagonist is not content simply to condemn his vanity, but must do it in the most self-important, most theatrical—the most vain—manner imaginable.

In a well-known letter to Grant Richards, Joyce said that he wanted to give the Irish people—those few who would read Dubliners—“one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass” (L 1:64). Such a project is, of course, fraught with danger; writers who set out to change their readers are more often than not ignored, and while some of Joyce's contemporaries may have come to see Dublin, and themselves, in a very different light after reading Dubliners, most doubtless remained unshaken. So too, most of his characters at the end of their tales seem unchanged; but then Joyce never promised that his characters would have that “one good look” he promised his readers. Indeed this is the final epiphany of the most powerful stories in Dubliners: our realization, as readers, that the characters have not had their epiphany. Believing that they have transcended, believing themselves finally to be free, characters like the narrator of “Araby” and Gabriel Conroy pathetically verify their prison—this is perhaps the most bitter paralysis in all of Dubliners.

It was this quality of Chekhov's plays, the carefully constructed dramatic illusion of freedom which tragically confirms the characters' slavery, that impressed Joyce. In conversation with Arthur Power he remarked that “As the play ends, for a moment you think that his characters have awakened from their illusions, but as the curtain comes down you realize that they will soon be building new ones to forget the old” (CJJ [Conversations with James Joyce] 58). This is precisely the situation of Joyce's Dubliners: the moment of epiphany, Stephen Dædalus warns in Stephen Hero, is “the most delicate and evanescent of moments,” and while it comes to many in Dubliners, it is accepted by none. For as Stephen says, “it [is] for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care,” and in Dubliners Joyce has done just that; the actual and would-be “men of letters” who experience these epiphanies in the stories, however—the boys in “The Sisters,” “An Encounter” and “Araby,” Little Chandler, James Duffy, and Gabriel Conroy—cannot restrict themselves to Joyce's “style of scrupulous meanness,” and instead (mis)shape that delicate moment to their own ends. With the exception of the narrator of “The Sisters,” they operate without Joyce's conviction, expressed to Grant Richards, that “he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard” (L 2:134).

While we have come to think it characteristic of the Dubliners story, the closing tableau in which the protagonist appears to experience a moment of self-realization actually occurs in fewer than half. Most of the characters self-evidently end the stories the same way they began them—blithely unaware of any serious problem. In what was originally to have been the volume's closing story, “Grace,” for instance, none of the characters, least of all the exegete Father Purdon, learns a thing; in fact, his message is commended to Mr. Kernan's attention by his friends precisely because it requires nothing of its hearers.

In half a dozen of the stories, however, the endings are much more problematic, the tone more complex, the style more opaque; the characters here do seem to hover on the brink of some deeper self-awareness.37 But the closing epiphonies in these stories, while not quite the “cracked lookingglass of a servant” that Stephen speaks of in Ulysses, are distorted and distorting mirrors of words, words of the characters' own choosing, in which they get back the flattering reflections they wish to see. Stephen's “reflection” on language in chapter 4 of A Portrait seems almost an ironic commentary on this trait: “Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey-fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?” (P 166-67). Like Stephen, the boy of “Araby” is in love with “the rhythmic rise and fall” of a “supple periodic prose”—this love, finally, being more real to him than his breathless romantic passion for Mangan's sister, or the vanity he claims to have rooted out from deep within his soul. This flattering portrait, rendered in prose from his own pen, is infinitely preferable to him—to all of the paralytic Dubliners—than having “one good look at themselves” in Joyce's “nicely polished looking-glass.” Thus, there are at least two contradictory ways to read the last sentence of “Araby.” It begins, “Looking up into the darkness, I saw myself. …” At first blush, we might think the boy is telling us that the blackness at the top of the tent forcibly brought home to him the blackness in his own soul. But instead, his language suggests the gesture of looking at oneself in a mirror, a leitmotif throughout Dubliners.38 The boy pretends that the void, the darkness is a mirror; but we know that if he sees anything at all in that darkness, it can only be a figure projected from his own imagination. Thus the dramatic conclusion of his story is a foregone one, an epigram he's been carrying around for some time and trying to find an occasion to use.

Indeed, while Joyce thought of the stories as looking glasses held up to the reader, the characters in those stories look not into a mirror but into the genial illusions of their own making. Eveline in the end throws Frank over, for “he would drown her,” she convinces herself, and although hers was a hard life, “now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life”; Maria doesn't want “any ring or man either,” she assures us with eyes that “sparkled with disappointed shyness,” and has no desire to go live with the Donnellys, having “become accustomed to the life of the laundry”; Bob Doran overcomes his cold feet (and his embarrassment at Polly's vulgar locutions “I seen” and “If I had've known”) by asking himself a hard-nosed, commonsensical question: “But what would grammar matter if he really loved her?”

We see much the same dynamic in the ending of “An Encounter.” The young narrator replaces the mystery with which “The Sisters” closes with mere mystification. At least one critic of the story has seen through the false bravado of that story's closing epiphony; Herring writes, “The last line—‘And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little’—contains no ellipses [as does ‘The Sisters’], but as a final statement it is certainly elliptical in meaning, and supports the general theme of deception. It is a good example of Joyce's uncertainty principle at work in closure, for readers are invited back into the story on a wild goose chase for evidence that will help them understand what masquerades as an epiphanic moment. But the closural incongruity seems downright flippant, for ‘An Encounter’ is not about how superior the protagonist feels to Mahoney, but about how necessary to youth is the bold spirit of adventure that the young ‘Indian’ personifies.”39 “An Encounter” ends not in epiphany but in rhetorical flourish; this writer, even if he has not learned anything of lasting importance about himself from his experience on the bank of the Dodder, has at least learned how to bully his reader into believing he's pointed his story's moral. But it's only trompe-l'oeil.

Compared to the peculiar endings of the first three stories, the closing section of “A Little Cloud”—set off by Joyce from the body of the story with a row of dots—sounds rather flat. Although this too is the tale of a would-be artist (“He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet's soul” [D 73]), it is told not by T. Malone Chandler, but rather subtly ventriloquized by him through free indirect discourse. In all the later stories, the narrative situation is similarly complicated by Joyce's use of free indirect discourse—Flaubert's style indirect libre, in which “the narrator takes on the speech of the character, or, if one prefers, the character speaks through the voice of the narrator, and the two instances are then merged.40

But the resolute flatness of the close of “A Little Cloud” by no means authenticates Little Chandler's moment of self-awareness. Nowhere in the course of the story do we witness Chandler taking responsibility for his own situation; instead he blames his dissatisfaction on fate (“He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune”), his home town (“You could do nothing in Dublin”), his fellow man (“He would never be popular: he saw that. He could not sway the crowd but he might appeal to a little circle of kindred minds”), and finally, in the closing scene, his frustration is transferred onto his wife and child—“He was a prisoner for life” (D 71, 73, 74, 84). Yet while he obstinately kicks against the pricks that “oppress” him, the fault lies with him. Though married, Little Chandler has, like Mr. Duffy, the instincts of the celibate; and his celibacy poisons not just his marriage relation, but all his human relationships: “He turned often from his tiresome writing to gaze out of the office window. The glow of a late autumn sunset covered the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and decrepit old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving figures—on the children who ran screaming along the gravel paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad” (D 71). Little Chandler's self-pity is so pervasive that it is in the end a kind of paralysis, transforming all of experience into further evidence of his victimization.

Dubliners's next self-styled man of letters, Mr. James Duffy, makes a similar, though more conscious, decision to beat a retreat from life. Perhaps Mr. Duffy's case is especially “painful” precisely because a genuine realization of the true poverty of his life is so very close to the surface. But it is never allowed to break through; his repeated protest, for instance, that “he had been outcast from life's feast” takes his very real status as an outsider and translates it, via the logic of the victim, into something that's been done to him rather than something he's chosen for himself. The story begins by telling us rather pretentiously, in prose that bears the stylistic stamp we will come to recognize as Duffy's own, that “Mr. James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen” (D 107); his isolation is a choice for which, however, in the last analysis, he refuses to take responsibility.

Throughout “A Painful Case,” Mr. Duffy's eyes are fixed unwaveringly ahead of him: his gaze is never directed inward. He is not merely an outcast, but in fact a voyeur at life's feast; rather than joining in, he looks out his windows, lives “at a little distance from his body,” looks down on the “venal and furtive loves” in Phoenix Park. Instead of looking at himself, he sees himself—flatteringly portrayed—in his autobiographical prose: “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” (D 108).41

Duffy's egotism is such that even in his moment of most intense and private pain, seemingly on the verge of admitting a fault in himself, he again retreats into a rôle: “One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame” (D 117). Yes, one human being had seemed to love him; but what was the cost for him of having denied that love? Neither he nor the reader can ever know what the consequences of that rejection were for Emily Sinico; and although she's dead, Mr. Duffy is, ostensibly at least, still alive. Bowen points out that “A close reading reveals that Mrs. Sinico did not begin to drink for a year and a half after Duffy terminated their relationship. Duffy merely assumes that he is the cause of her death. It may very well be the case that Duffy's ego has erroneously prompted him to think that he had condemned Mrs. Sinico to death.”42 Duffy thus seems to have been driven to his musings as a result of faulty arithmetic; even pure mathematical reasoning, it would appear, can be colored by the reckoner's needs and desires. But while Duffy's equation is wrong, the insight it prompts is right; his is indeed a painful case, for we see him not only in his moment of illumination, but also as he chooses to ignore the light and continue to walk in darkness: “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” (D 117). As Joyce said of Chekhov's characters, we realize that as the curtain comes down, Mr. Duffy will soon be building new illusions to forget the old.

Finally we must consider, if only briefly, the most hotly contested of all the epiphanies in Dubliners, Gabriel Conroy's final vision in “The Dead.” For many that famous final tableau has become, through repeated exposure, almost invisible, and yet critical etiquette dictates that I quote it here:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

(D 223-24)

The skill involved in writing a passage like this one has so far as I know never been called into question; even T. S. Eliot, ordinarily chary of his praise of his contemporaries, called “The Dead” “one of the finest short stories in the language.”43 But we may be excused a measure of skepticism about the authenticity of the transformation to which it pretends when we reach “The Dead” after reading the fourteen stories that precede it, stories in which false epiphanies—epiphonies—have repeatedly been foisted upon us as the real thing. Even before Gabriel's final “vision,” we have reason to question his veracity, for he has “had” two other epiphanies—as a result of his encounters with Lily and Miss Ivors—and those rebuffs, now that he's safely in his room at the Gresham, haven't phased him a bit. After his patronizing and vulgar treatment of Lily, for instance, Gabriel's “self-awareness” is limited to a blush: “Gabriel coloured as if he felt he had made a mistake” (D 178; emphasis added). As a result of his embarrassment, Gabriel forces a coin on Lily, as if he could buy a clean conscience, and goes on his way.

These minor episodes, however, are merely preparation for the lush outpouring that closes the story.44 The dangerous merging of decorative scenic description with the soul's anguished cry that we witnessed in “Araby” is again played out here, although in a more complex and treacherous way; indeed, it is difficult in this final paragraph to tell where ego ends and world begins. Many commentators, of course, have pointed to precisely this blurring of the boundaries of the self as a healthy sign of Gabriel's imminent renewal; he has come to realize his relatively small place in the larger, cosmic order, they argue, and in this renunciation of ego Gabriel has won (and demonstrated) his salvation.

“Isn't it pretty to think so?”—as Brett was overheard to say to Jake. As with the other epiphonies we've examined, our suspicions, which arise on the level of plot, are confirmed in the prose style of Gabriel's vision. Once again we must assume Gabriel responsible, courtesy of free indirect discourse, for the “supple periodic prose” in which his closing vision is presented; and once again Zack Bowen, who has so regularly seen the emptiness at the heart of these epiphanies, has registered the falsity of that presentation: “Gabriel, in order to characterize his own lack of feeling, presents a picture of beauty which belies the very characterization he attempts to develop. … He breathes the life of his imagination into the portraits of both Furey and himself, because his dual role as artist, the creator eternal and perishable buffoon, is reflected in the majesty of his vision and in its slightly overripe language. The final truth is indeed magnificent, but rather than the revelation of Gabriel the reviewer-turned-poet, it is the far subtler vision of Joyce the writer.”45 The “slightly overripe language” of which Bowen speaks is in fact quite similar to some of the free indirect discourse surrounding Stephen in A Portrait. Kenner's remarks on Stephen's penchant for chiasmus, for instance, provide a fitting commentary on the closing paragraph of “The Dead,” as well: “Shortly before he enters the University he has a period of conspicuous indulgence in chiasmus: ‘The towels with which they smacked their bodies were heavy with cold seawater; and drenched with cold brine was their matted hair.’ Subject1 was [predicate]: and [similar predicate] was likewise Subject2. In celebrating its rituals of finality, chiasmus leaves after-vibrations of sententiousness by which the young man does not seem to be troubled. ‘There's English for you,’ part of his mind is saying, and his fondness, at this period, for this figure … affects his very perceptions with a certain staginess. …”46 The closing pages of “The Dead” are the last Joyce wrote before beginning the process of transforming the clumsy prose of Stephen Hero into the cunningly stylized writing of A Portrait; we should not be surprised to see him, then, playing the same stops that Kenner has pointed out so clearly in A Portrait in this, the earlier text.

While many critics want to see Gabriel's transfiguration in his moving evocation of the snow, in fact his epiphony occurs a few pages earlier: “He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead” (D 220). This is the characteristic gesture of all those Dubliners (like the boy in “An Encounter” and “Araby,” Little Chandler, and James Duffy) who have been blessed—or is it cursed?—with an extra measure of self-awareness and sensitivity. Mirror, window, and darkness dominate the last scene of “The Dead”; Gabriel consciously turns away from the mirror, and away from the light—eschewing that “one good look,” eschewing self-awareness, eschewing enlightenment. In this moment of truth, Gabriel covers his nakedness with a rhetoric not much better than the sort he has used to dress up his after-dinner speech. We have already seen him to be a man more concerned with style than with honesty; and surely Gabriel is to be more strictly judged as a result of his greater awareness. If Mr. Farrington in “Counterparts” fails ever to see the light, there's surely no surprise in that; but for Gabriel, for James Duffy, for the boy in “Araby,” there seems at least to have been a chance: “Joyce's insight,” Bowen writes, “is that Gabriel is in fact forming a rationalization and at the same time a work of art about that rationalization. In short, while the epiphanies of Dubliners are only as accurate as the characters from whom they emanate, the process itself has an artistic integrity which goes far beyond the truth or falsity of the revelations themselves.”47

Dubliners contains no psychological epiphanies for its protagonists—not even for Gabriel Conroy. Finally, epiphanies are equally a characteristic of Joyce's texts and an experience of their readers; we see epiphanies because we need to see epiphanies—the characters are enlightened because we need them to be. This is not the way the stories have traditionally been read. Harry Levin's James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, the first book-length study of Joyce's work (1941), early on fixed the relationship between one interpretation of the epiphany—the epiphany as the story's “punch line”48—and the plot dynamics of Dubliners. The closing epiphany, according to this reading, is roughly equivalent to the moral of the story, which the epiphany enacts rather than pronounces—and enacts in a way that the protagonists, or at least the artist protagonists, of the volume themselves recognize. By the time William York Tindall comes to discuss Dubliners in his Reader's Guide (1959), his assessment of the importance of the epiphany in Dubliners is a statement of critical orthodoxy: “The moral center of Dubliners … is not paralysis alone but the revelation of paralysis to its victims. Coming to awareness or self-realization marks the climax of these stories or of most at least. … The little boy of ‘An Encounter’ and ‘Araby’. … comes to such knowledge; the coming to awareness of Little Chandler and James Duffy is far bitterer and more terrible because longer delayed; and the self-realization of Gabriel, the bitterest and most comprehensive of all, is not only the point and climax of ‘The Dead’ but of Dubliners.49

It is this understanding of the epiphany in Dubliners—the character's coming to awful self-knowledge—which constitutes the most widely disseminated understanding of the text, the reading that most college students carry away from their literature courses. Among a more recent generation of Joyceans, Morris Beja has become the most forceful spokesperson for this reading of the stories: “At the end of ‘The Dead,’” he writes, “Gabriel achieves epiphany; other characters in Dubliners stories come to similar revelations as well (the narrator of ‘An Encounter’ and the narrator of ‘Araby,’ for example, or Little Chandler in ‘A Little Cloud,’ or notably Mr. Duffy in ‘A Painful Case’—or even Eveline, before she represses all awareness).” Beja concludes his piece by asserting that “Gabriel Conroy and several characters within the volume, then, have had in the end that ‘one good look at themselves.’”50

The dynamics of these texts, however, is not so easily contained. As Bowen points out regarding the epiphany at the close of “The Sisters,” each of us involved in interpretation—in the case of “The Sisters,” the boy, the sisters, Father Flynn, the reader—“fashions his own truth and sees it as the unalterable law of God.”51 The epiphony that closes many of the Dubliners stories, rather than a Grimm's fairy tale moral, is a relativity phenomenon, governed by what Herring calls “Joyce's uncertainty principle”; our interpretation is ineluctably slanted by the position from which we regard the text, and by the glasses through which we are constrained by gender, race, class, religion, and theoretical allegiances to read it. The readings of Levin, Tindall, and Beja—names that stand in here as proper-noun synecdoches for an entire critical tradition—are mediated by rose-colored glasses, the result inevitably being rose-colored glosses. In their desire for narrative closure, for the “happy ending”—a desire which burns within all of us, a desire of which Joyce was fully aware, and exploited for his own fictive purposes—critics are sometimes led into passionate misreadings, readings which mistake pseudo-epiphanies (epiphonies) for “the real thing.” The fact that a text is written in a style of scrupulous meanness does not insure that it will be read in such a manner.

The word “misreadings,” of course, grossly overstates the situation; we might instead refer to these interpretations as mistyreadings, in honor of the “generous tears” that fill our eyes, as they do the eyes of Gabriel Conroy and Joe Donnelly at crucial moments in their stories, and prevent our seeing things quite distinctly. Who among us, on a first reading, did not wish—indeed, did not passionately believe—that Eveline would run off with Frank to Buenos Aires? Ah yes, we're all too sophisticated now to be taken in by that ruse; we've read the story many times, and read the readings of the story, and now see plain as day from the first paragraph the ghostly written traces of Eveline's paralysis. But what was that first reading like?

The New Criticism, of course, has not encouraged us to look at the changing shape of our responses to these texts. As Jane Tompkins points out, Wimsatt and Beardsley's 1946 essay “The Affective Fallacy,” one of the central documents of the New Criticism, rules out a reader-oriented criticism: “The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results. … It begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological effects of a poem and ends in impressionism and relativism.”52 According to New Critical dogma, texts are verbal icons, to be apprehended in a timeless moment—taken in whole. In fact, this understanding of artistic experience is implicit in Stephen Dedalus's comments in the fifth chapter of A Portrait: “The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space” (P 212; emphasis added). Such a model effectively proscribes a reader-response analysis; yet the Dubliners stories are so process-oriented that any reading that does not take into account the way our experience of the stories changes over time cannot satisfactorily account for the way these texts work.

Our first readings of these texts must always be mistyreadings, for read innocently this is the response they provoke in us. But reading Dubliners, or any of Joyce's texts, is not a one-time act, but an ongoing process. To criticize an earlier generation of critics for falling for the “reader traps” in Dubliners is cheap sport; their sometimes credulous first wrestlings with these texts, which provide the foundation upon which a newer generation of readers has ungratefully built, are neither more nor less than carefully articulated records of their seductions by the text, a seduction which we too have undergone but have learned not to acknowledge.53 Reading Dubliners is a dialectical process; our first reading is a product of seduction, while later rereadings employ cool intellection. But the second term of this interpretive dialectic does not obliterate the first; mistyreading, too, is a necessary stage in a fuller understanding of these stories. The reader, like the man of genius in Stephen's formulation, makes no mistakes: “His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery” (U 156).

Mistyreadings: for Joe Donnelly's tears at the end of “Clay” provide the perfect example of the kind of distortion that can result when Joyce successfully taps into our hidden narrative agendas. Tindall like Levin before him argues that “Clay” ends with an epiphany for Joe; he believes that after Maria has finished her rendition of “I Dreamt That I Dwelt,” with its significant “mistake,” “Joe detects the meaning of her omission. ‘Very much moved’ by it, he calls for the missing corkscrew (one of many lost or misplaced things in the story) and presumably for another bottle in which to drown his understanding.”54 The corkscrew is not lost: but misty-eyed and “screwed” himself, Joe cannot see what is plainly in front of his face. Indeed, though he is about to have yet another drink, it would be a mistake to think that Joe's understanding is not already drowned.

Although Tindall reiterates just three words from the last paragraph of the story, they are the three crucial words, though not for the reason he thinks. Here they are again, recontextualized: “But no one tried to show her her mistake; and when she had ended her song Joe was very much moved. He said that there was no time like the long ago and no music for him like poor old Balfe, whatever other people might say; and his eyes filled up so much with tears that he could not find what he was looking for and in the end he had to ask his wife to tell him where the corkscrew was” (D 106; emphasis added). The prose of this last paragraph testifies against the idea of Joe's sudden awakening on at least three levels. The first is the level of plot. Joe, like the “colonel-looking gentleman” on the tram, is well into his cups at this point; we have watched him drinking throughout the story, trying at each refill to force Maria to drink with him, although she chooses other means to forget her troubles. As readers we realize—as Maria herself must—how easily a gentleman is moved to tears “when he has a drop taken,” and view Joe's effusions with a certain skepticism. The second damnation is contained in Joe's encomium: readers steeped in Joyce's writing—again not necessarily first readers, but rereaders, readers who have slogged through both “The Sisters” and “The Dead”—cannot mistake the disdain with which Joyce records Joe's praise of the moribund: “He said that there was no time like the long ago and no music for him like poor old Balfe, whatever other people might say. …” A character who utters such sentiments in one of Joyce's texts has not had his epiphany.

The third stroke comes in the phrase that Tindall quotes—“very much moved.” When read in the larger context of the story this description is meant to tip us off to what is—and is not—happening here. The word “very” occurs no fewer than sixteen times in the seven pages of “Clay,” and is always associated with the prose of Maria's desire—the free indirect discourse shaped by Maria's mind. “Very” is one of “Maria's words,” like “nice” and “little”; the first sentence of the text's description of Maria, for instance, reads: “Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very long chin” (D 99; emphasis added). The locution “very much moved” suggests that something insincere, something automatic and falsifying is happening in the narrative. That something is that Maria, influencing the free indirect discourse of the closing paragraph, is misrepresenting Joe's sloppy, intoxicated sentimentality as genuine sympathy for Maria's unspoken plight. It is not.

At the end of “Clay,” Joe is about as far from epiphany as one can easily imagine. Tindall's interpretation is too credulous; but that is certainly no accident, for it is a reading that Maria herself would “very much” appreciate. In Margot Norris's words, “narrative speech in ‘Clay’ is, for the most part, uttered in the language of Maria's desire; it is Maria's desire speaking.”55 In Joyce's hands, this free indirect discourse is even more insidious, more subversive of narrative certainty, than the use of a limited narrator by a writer like Faulkner; for in “Clay” and a handful of other stories in Dubliners, the narrative is colored by an unreliable non-narrator—one who not only has a vested interest in the outcome of the story, but additionally refuses to acknowledge her hand in it. In Tindall's reading of “Clay” Maria's discourse of desire has intersected the critic's interpretive predilections, and he has as a result been seduced; “In the end,” Norris writes, “the reader of ‘Clay’ is read by the text.”56

“Clay” is an extremely seductive story, but finally no more so than any number of others in Dubliners. The stories all demonstrate dramatically the connivance of interpretation with desire; the texts cooperate with their narrators' (or protagonists') desires; we then read the stories through the lenses of our desires. For it is only through the desire of Joyce's characters, subtly manifest in the texts they would have liked to have written, that our own desire—our interpretive desire—can be seduced into the light of day, or into cold print. The man who reviewed Dubliners for the Times Literary Supplement, for instance, in what is overall a perceptive and sensitive review, nevertheless proceeds within a fairly small space to mistyread significant aspects of three of the stories: “The author, Mr. James Joyce, is not concerned with all Dubliners, but almost exclusively with those of them who would be submerged if the tide of material difficulties were to rise a little higher. … One of them—a capable washerwoman—falls an easy prey to a rogue in a tramcar and is cozened out of the little present she was taking to her family. Another—a trusted cashier—has so ordered a blameless life that he drives to drink and suicide the only person in the world with whom he was in sympathy. A third—an amiable man of letters—learns at the moment he feels most drawn to his wife that her heart was given once and for all to a boy long dead” (Deming 1:60). My argument is that these are not “wrong” readings of these stories, or at least not stupidly incorrect readings; these are the wrong readings that Joyce—that Maria, James Duffy, and Gabriel Conroy—have set out for us. We must fall prey to the critical protocols that can account for such essential early misreadings; this is exactly as it should be.57 Maria wants us to believe her plumcake stolen, rather than having to take responsibility for having forgotten it; Duffy desperately needs to believe himself the cause of Mrs. Sinico's tragic death, to have meant something to someone; and Gabriel's melodramatic imagination insists that if his wife's heart was once pledged to another, it was therefore “given once and for all,” and never belonged to him.

It should come as no surprise that this happens, to Tindall, or to the TLS reviewer, or to ourselves—for we have been set up. In the stories of Dubliners we read the text of narrative desire; this is the characteristic use to which Joyce puts his free indirect discourse. Norris writes that Joyce's purpose in “Clay” is “to dramatize the powerful workings of desire in human discourse and human lives”;58 and that drama is played out not only on the page, but also in the reader. Our mistyreadings, then, are not simply the product of a willfully perverse writer, nor yet the careless errors of ignorant readers, but instead the result of an intricate pas de deux in which, when we discover our “errors,” we simultaneously find that Joyce has anticipated and cunningly prepared them. The stories of Dubliners are Rorschach inkblots wherein we read the text of our desire in the course of (mis)reading the book of ourselves.

Dubliners is a text that implicates us in the deadly work of paralysis, and reveals to us our own paralysis. A “superiority complex” is either a contributing cause or a symptom of paralysis in many characters in Dubliners (for instance the boy in “An Encounter”—“I was going to reply indignantly that we were not National School boys to be whipped, as he called it” [D 27]); and yet we think their problems do not touch us, and therein we too are paralyzed. The standard reading of the Dubliners stories—that the protagonists of “An Encounter,” “Araby,” “A Painful Case,” “A Little Cloud,” and “The Dead” all reach a new level of self-awareness by story's end—is powerful evidence of the narrative of desire that runs all through Joyce criticism. When examined closely, however, the texts simply do not support such a reading; these are not stories with happy endings, but stories that resist our desire for closure, for interpretation, for Meaning. Dubliners, beginning with “The Sisters,” whispers: Give up the flattering project of interpretation; give in to the mystery which is life.

The stories of Dubliners turn us not toward certitude, but toward the void; and while we like to believe ourselves above Joyce's “poor fledglings,” Joyce's texts reveal us to be as willfully blind, as “driven and derided by vanity,” as any of his characters. Like the sisters in the opening story, we need to believe the paralysis extrinsic to our world. Who, after reading this text, can say “I am a Dubliner”? We are quick to point a finger from our superior position and pronounce Corley a paralytic, or Duffy a paralytic. Garry Leonard makes this point early on in his recent book on Dubliners: “Rarely in fiction do characters suffer as exquisitely for the benefit of readers as they do in Dubliners, and I propose that readers explore their kinship with the characters' moral paralysis rather than self-righteously suggest various cures for it.”59 In an interview, Kathy Acker has talked about this phenomenon as characteristic of one class of texts: “What the reader wants—what the reader's trained to want I should say—is to be at a distance and say, Look at those weird people over there!” Acker goes on to insist, though, that “I never wanted to say that ‘over there’”; neither, I am arguing, did Joyce.60 What these texts force us to confront is that Dubliners is not a dramatic tableau, but a mirror—and that we, like all of Joyce's Dubliners, steadfastly refuse that one good look at ourselves in his nicely polished looking glass. This response was for Jonathan Swift the defining characteristic of satire. He writes in the preface to The Battle of the Books: “Satyr is a sort of Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body's Face but their Own; which is the chief Reason for that kind of Reception it meets with in the World, and that so very few are offended with it.”61


  1. Hugh Kenner, The Mechanic Muse (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), 77.

  2. Edward Brandabur, A Scrupulous Meanness: A Study of Joyce's Early Work (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1971), 42.

  3. Colin MacCabe, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 34.

  4. Phillip Herring, Joyce's Uncertainty Principle (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), 10.

  5. Clive Hart uses this term in rather a different sense in his discussion of the “Wandering Rocks” episode in Clive Hart and David Hayman, eds., James Joyce's “Ulysses”: Critical Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1974).

  6. Homer Obed Brown, James Joyce's Early Fiction: The Biography of a Form (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve Univ. Press, 1972), 40.

  7. Ibid., 48.

  8. Tindall, Reader's Guide to James Joyce, 15.

  9. Garry M. Leonard, Reading “Dubliners” Again: A Lacanian Perspective (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1993), 203, 204.

  10. Herring, Joyce's Uncertainty Principle, 28. I certainly do not mean to suggest that a careful reading of the popular literature with which Joyce litters his texts, such as Brandy Kershner has performed in Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature, is without value. But Kershner is quite clear about what the value of such a source study is; the titles are not symbols or clues that will magically unlock the mysterious texture of the stories.

  11. Cage, Conversing with Cage, 208.

  12. William Empson, “The Theme of Ulysses,Kenyon Review 18 (Winter 1956): 36.

  13. MacCabe, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, 29.

  14. Beckett, Molloy, 91.

  15. Zack Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept: A New Approach,” Journal of Modern Literature 9 (1981-82): 106-7.

  16. Donald T. Torchiana, Backgrounds for Joyce's “Dubliners” (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986), 18.

  17. “Liturgy of S. Chrysostom,” in Liturgies Eastern and Western, ed. F. E. Brightman, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1896), 1:375.

  18. Although since Vatican II (1962-65), an epiclesis has been added to the canon of the Roman Catholic Mass.

  19. Thus, clearly, I read this letter rather differently than does Richard Ellmann, who comments that while living in Trieste Joyce “often went to the Greek Orthodox Church to compare its ritual, which he considered amateurish, with the Roman” (JJ 195).

    Furthermore, in the Orthodox service the elements of the Eucharist are hidden, but the priest at intervals rends the veil and reveals himself. Joyce's description of the Mass was of course written long before the memorable words he put into the mouth of Stephen Dedalus, in which Stephen likens the artist to the God of creation, who remains “within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails” (P 215). Joyce's fascination with the Greek priest who reveals himself, rather than the Roman priest who conceals himself, suggests a certain distance from Stephen's artist-creator fantasy that I'd like to explore further in chapter 5.

  20. Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber, 1958), 116.

  21. While critics have expended considerable time and ink puzzling over exactly what Joyce meant by “a style of scrupulous meanness,” the fact is that we will never know with any certainty. In the face of that uncertainty, I am inclined to believe that “scrupulous meanness” refers to the surface stylistic poverty of most of the volume's narrative—the most noticeable characteristic for Dubliners's first generation of readers. For example, Gerald Gould, writing in the New Statesman: “He has plenty of humour, but it is always the humour of the fact, not of the comment. He dares to let people speak for themselves with the awkward meticulousness, the persistent incompetent repetition, of actual human intercourse. If you have never realised before how direly our daily conversation needs editing, you will realise it from Mr. Joyce's pages. One very powerful story, called ‘Grace,’ consists chiefly of lengthy talk so banal, so true to life, that one can scarcely endure it—though one can still less leave off reading it” (Deming 1:63). Or, more pithily, Ezra Pound: “I can lay down a good piece of French writing and pick up a piece of writing by Mr. Joyce without feeling as if my head were being stuffed through a cushion” (Deming 1:66).

  22. MacCabe, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word, 28.

  23. Morris Beja, “One Good Look at Themselves: Epiphanies in Dubliners,” in Work in Progress: Joyce Centenary Essays, ed. Richard F. Peterson, Alan M. Cohn, and Edmund L. Epstein (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1983), 3.

  24. Scholes and Litz write in their edition of Dubliners that “critics have applied the notion of epiphany to that moment in a Dubliners story when some sort of revelation takes place. … ‘Epiphany’ thus comes to mean a moment of revelation or insight such as usually climaxes a Dubliners story” (D 255).

  25. D, 254. Stanislaus Joyce seems to have had only this second type of epiphany in mind in his well-known description of the epiphanies: “Another experimental form which his literary urge took … consisted in the noting of what he called ‘epiphanies’—manifestations or revelations. Jim always had a contempt for secrecy, and these notes were in the beginning ironical observations of slips, and little errors and gestures—mere straws in the wind—by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal” (S. Joyce, My Brother's Keeper, 134).

  26. Tindall suggests that this pairing of epiphanies is Joyce's usual procedure in Dubliners: “In most of these stories, there are two epiphanies, similar but not identical: one for the reader, the other for the hero or victim” (Tindall, Reader' Guide to James Joyce, 28).

  27. This is the epiphany Stephen records there:

    The Young Lady—(drawling discretely) … O, yes … I was … at the … cha … pel …

    The Young Gentleman—(inaudibly) … I … (again inaudibly) … I …

    The Young Lady—(softly) … O … but you're … ve … ry … wick … ed … (SH 211)

  28. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 107.

  29. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (New York: Harcourt, Brace, World, 1955), 310.

  30. Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, 2d ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), 335-36.

  31. Hugh Kenner, Ulysses (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982), 6.

  32. See Hugh Kenner, Joyce's Voices (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1978). I'm the first to admit that Kenner's ear for Joyce's voices is better than anyone's in the business; my objection is to his predilection needlessly to coin new terms for time-honored phenomena. What he calls the Uncle Charles Principle—suggesting, along the way, that Joyce created it—differs in no way from the style indirect libre that Flaubert was exploiting in the mid-nineteenth century.

  33. Beja, “One Good Look at Themselves,” 10, 9.

  34. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 106.

  35. Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1887), 14-15.

  36. In a letter to R. W. D. Rouse, 30 December 1934 (Ezra Pound, Selected Letters, 1907-1941, ed. D. D. Paige [New York: New Directions, 1971], 263).

  37. Setting aside “The Sisters,” about which critics are almost evenly divided, only five of the stories are consistently understood as closing with the protagonist's epiphany—“An Encounter,” “Araby,” “A Little Cloud,” “A Painful Case,” and “The Dead.” These are also, perhaps not coincidentally, all stories which critics have identified as especially autobiographical. For those who find epiphany in these endings, this fact no doubt suggests that Joyce wished to work out his own salvation through these autobiographical characters, and through them assert his superiority to the rest of the Dubliners; I would instead argue that critics' identification of these characters with their author has colored their readings, and that we hesitate to criticize the boy in “Araby,” or Gabriel, because to damn them would seem to be to damn their creator as well.

  38. Though the instances are too numerous to discuss in any detail here, Joyce systematically undermines the traditional symbolic equation of the mirror with self-awareness throughout Dubliners. Two representative examples, from “The Boarding House”: at the story's close, Polly Mooney looks into her mirror but doesn't see herself; she simply touches up her mask: “Polly sat for a little time on the side 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” (D 68). So too Mrs. Mooney: “Nearly the half-hour! She stood up and surveyed herself in the pier-glass. The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied her …” (D 65). Vicki Mahaffey has examined Joyce's use of this topos in Ulysses; see Reauthorizing Joyce, 104-14.

  39. Herring, Joyce's Uncertainty Principle, 24-25.

  40. Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1980), 174.

  41. While critics are fond of citing Duffy's odd habit, none seems to have noticed that the sentence following this one is a perfect example of that habit: “He never gave alms to beggars and walked firmly, carrying a stout hazel.” That the narrative itself so closely conforms to Duffy's own compositional predilections lends further credence to the idea that he is, in some sense, the author of this “adventureless tale,” or at least the unacknowledged shaper of its style.

  42. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 107.

  43. T. S. Eliot, “A Message to the Fish,” in James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens (New York: Vanguard, 1963), 468.

  44. “Lush” seems to have been a term of abuse for Joyce. Ellmann tells the story of Joyce's hearing some of Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover read aloud: “Joyce asked Stuart Gilbert to read him some pages from it. He listened carefully, then pronounced only one word: ‘Lush’” (JJ 615n).

  45. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 109-10.

  46. Kenner, Ulysses, 7.

  47. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 110.

  48. Margot Norris reports that her students inevitably come to class having “figured out” that “clay” equals “death”—“as though this constituted some sort of punch line, some sort of illumination that makes sense of an otherwise meaningless joke” (Margot Norris, Joyce's Web: The Social Unraveling of Modernism [Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1992], 121). My reading of “Clay”—indeed, all of Dubliners—is indebted in more ways than citation can indicate to Norris's discussion; her chapter on “Clay” painstakingly elaborates the mechanics of Maria's “desirous edition” of the text of “Clay,” and should be consulted in its entirety for the light it sheds not only on “Clay,” but on the dynamics of narrative desire that informs all of Dubliners.

  49. Tindall, Reader's Guide to James Joyce, 4-5. As I have noted above, Tindall's claim that self-realization constitutes the climax of “most” of Dubliners's stories is an exaggeration, since only six of the fifteen stories have been read as ending in the protagonist's self-realization with any consistency.

  50. Beja, “One Good Look at Themselves,” 9, 13.

  51. Bowen, “Joyce and the Epiphany Concept,” 107.

  52. Jane P. Tompkins, ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), ix.

  53. Norris, although more honest than most, herself falls into this trap, making it clear that she has not been seduced: “‘Clay’ is a ‘deceptively’ simple little story by design: its narrative self-deception attempts, and fails, to mislead the reader” (Norris, Joyce's Web, 120).

  54. Tindall, Reader's Guide to James Joyce, 31.

  55. Norris, Joyce's Web, 123.

  56. Ibid., 125.

  57. Thus in this instance I disagree completely with the position Kenner puts forth in The Mechanic Muse. Using the analogy of the Dublin Corporation men who are paid to “watch holes”—presumably so that no one will fall into them—Kenner writes: “No other body of fiction so resembles a city in necessitating such guides and such watchmen. Nor does any other body of fiction so resemble a city in containing such holes into which the naive may fall, or such loose stones over which they may stumble” (82). My argument, again, is that we're meant to stumble, to tumble—indeed, it's good for us; Kenner, one of the best of Joyce's “guides and watchmen,” cannot seem to appreciate this point.

  58. Norris, Joyce's Web, 120.

  59. Leonard, Reading “Dubliners” Again, 6.

  60. Kathy Acker, “Devoured by Myths: An Interview with Sylvère Lotringer,” in Hannibal Lecter, My Father (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 15.

  61. Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub with Other Early Works 1696-1707, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), 140.

Robert Alter (essay date summer 1997)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5598

SOURCE: Alter, Robert. “James Joyce's Comic Messiah.” American Scholar 66, no. 3 (summer 1997): 452-61.

[In the following essay, Alter perceives the character of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses as a version of the Greek epic hero.]

The reasons that drew Joyce to cast his modern Everyman in the mold of the classical Ulysses have been broadly evident to readers since the first publication of the novel. Of all the epic heroes of antiquity, Ulysses is the one who most fully engages the alluring multiplicity of human experience (“many sided” is one of his Homeric epithets), moving from seductress to sorceress to monster to welcoming princess, flung from proud commander to naked shipwreck survivor, then springing from disguised beggar to triumphant king. The exigencies of the quotidian, piquantly entrammeled with the fabulous, are more palpable in his story than in any of the other classical epics, and domesticity is the inner sanctum of the political realm itself—that conjugal bed built round a living olive tree that the returning hero will reclaim at the end.

And for all the traditional martial prowess of the epic warrior that Odysseus exhibits in savaging Penelope's suitors, he makes his arduous way across the Mediterranean to Ithaca chiefly through wiliness, ingenuity, resilience, and toughness of spirit. In all this, one readily sees the delightful correspondences—only some of them ironic—between the Homeric hero and Joyce's middling modern man, frustrated in marriage, work, and parenthood; cuckolded, yet longing to reclaim his Penelope (who, even while reveling in the afternoon's infidelity, proves to be faithful to Bloom in her fashion); an Eccles-Street homebody but also a voyager of sorts in the fabulous streets of Dublin, and, still more, a habitual mental voyager to exotic bournes where dulcimers play and melon-ripe maidens beckon.

What complicates Joyce's version of Ulysses and, I think, produces a shift in the thematic implications and tonalities of the figure as he represents him, is that he grafts onto the Homeric hero a cluster of allusions to that other set of Mediterranean texts that has been foundational for the Western tradition—the Hebrew Bible. This crossbreeding of intertextuality in part reflects Joyce's delight in playing inventively with received ideas, and I think it is never easy to distinguish in his writing between sheer literary play, self-pleasuring ingenuity, and the kind of invocation of archetypes that gives real resonance to his characters, though in my reading of Bloom the resonance is what mainly comes across. Hebraism and Hellenism are, of course, in different formulations a familiar schematic division of Western culture (Matthew Arnold duly makes a cameo appearance in the face of a deaf gardener near the beginning of the first chapter), and it is Joyce's clear aim both to exploit this opposition—in “Ithaca” Stephen is elaborately aligned with Hellenism and Bloom with Hebraism—and to collapse it.

Thus Joyce makes his version of the Greek epic hero a Jew, or, strictly speaking, a vestigial and ambivalent Jew, who, we learn at one point, is not even circumcised. “Jewgreek and Greekjew meet” not only in the encounter between Bloom and Stephen but within the character of Bloom himself. Joyce's most obvious move in collapsing a distinction as old as the Pauline Epistles is to wed the heroic wanderer of Homer's epic with the wandering Jew of post-biblical Christian lore: the brilliant epic survivor in this way is fused with the outcast, the marginal man, the perennial object of persecution and reproach. Less transparent, perhaps because at first it seems it could be only ironic, is the association of Bloom with the biblical idea of redemption.

Allusions to the Bible abound in Ulysses, being nearly as frequent as allusions to the Odyssey. There are, of course, certain recurrent references to the New Testament, since Bloom as Messiah is at a number of points linked with Christ, but the invocation of Hebrew Scripture is considerably more prominent, with a special concentration on the Exodus story (a tale of national redemption, Bloom lined up with Moses), on the figure of Elijah (who, according to Malachi, is to be harbinger of the Messiah), and on Isaiah and some of the other prophets who articulated visions of redemption. Tracing such networks of allusion is a standard operation of the Joyce industry—no other major modern writer has created so many irresistible temptations for the scholar's impulse of pedantry—but more noteworthy is Joyce's extraordinary sense of realistic rightness in introducing the biblical materials mimetically into Bloom's world as elements of consciousness, confused shards and fragments, notions misperceived yet perennially relevant, the flotsam and jetsam of an ancient past that plausibly, and often comically, surfaces in the present. In this respect, the biblical allusions often work differently than do the Homeric ones, which by and large do not reflect the consciousness of the characters but rather are ingeniously superimposed on the narrative by the novelist.

Here, for example, is Bloom walking through the office of the Freeman's Journal, in the subsection headlined AND IT WAS THE FEAST OF PASSOVER. Ever curious, he watches the compositor setting the type for Paddy Dignam's obituary, reading the letters backward (“mangiD. kcirtaP.”). This odd feat of reading from right to left, against the grain, as it were, of prevailing cultural practice, makes Bloom think of his father, reading the Hebrew text of the Hagadah, the narrative of the Exodus recited at the seder on Passover night (this fascination with the idea of reading from right to left will recur at the end of “Nightown”): Poor Papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem. Dear, O dear! All that long business about that brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage alleluia. Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu. No, that's the other. Then the twelve brothers, Jacob's sons. And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher and then the angel of death kills the butcher and he kills the ox and the dog kills the cat. Sounds a bit silly till you come to look into it well. Justice it means but it's everybody eating everyone else. That's what life is after all.

Bloom's confusion and bemusement over these half-remembered pieces of Hebrew tradition are realistically precise for the kind of Jew he is, and they are both funny and touching. Since the Passover, or Pessach, service is a recitation of the first national redemption of Israel, it appropriately concludes with the declaration of messianic hope, “Next year in Jerusalem,” which Bloom properly recalls. Then his earnest but imperfect memory begins a characteristic skid. The biblical phrase, used in the Hagadah, “that brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” is scrambled to read “into the house of bondage,” so the announced redemption is short-circuited, Israel turning back from Egypt into bondage. The alleluia is then sheer free association with biblical phrases—or, perhaps, a subliminal recollection of Psalm 113, which appears in a sequence of hallelujah psalms, and is later quoted from in the Vulgate version in “Ithaca.” Through alleluia Bloom stumbles on to Shema Israel, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” but breaks off, realizing, “that's the other”—that is, the declaration of faith which would be the one other scrap of Hebrew beside some phrases from the Hagadah that a Jew of his ilk might still retain.

The irrelevant recollection of Jacob's twelve sons is another effort of Bloom's to find the thread he has lost among these bits of tradition he barely remembers. (Perhaps the theme of fraternal hostility prepares for what immediately follows.) Then he gets on to Had Gadia, “An Only Kid” (Joyce substitutes a lamb), a children's song written in a melange of Hebrew and Aramaic sung at the end of the seder, a few minutes after the chanting of “Next year in Jerusalem.” The song is structured like “This is the House that Jack Built” the kid being eaten by the cat, who is eaten by the dog, who is beaten by the stick, and so on up to God, who kills the angel of death (an eschatological last stanza suppressed in Bloom's summary). But in remembering, more or less, “An Only Kid,” Bloom has in fact found the thread he needs, the thread to the wry, realistically diminished, comic messianism with which he will be associated as the novel unfolds. “Justice it means,” he says to himself, perhaps vaguely thinking of that last eschatological stanza he has not managed to remember, “but it's everybody eating everyone else. That's what life is after all.”

Stephen Daedalus states matters more dramatically, or more apocalyptically, in his famous invocation of history as a nightmare from which we are trying to awake, but Bloom is more of a chagrined realist, duly noting that dog eats dog, or rather dog eats cat, is the rule of the world—“what life is,” and yet stubbornly clinging to the idea that there has to be some possibility of justice emerging from the whole murderous mess. He presents in effect a soberly reduced version of Isaiah 11, where the promised ideal king is imagined judging all the downtrodden of the earth in justice, and where the lamb, instead of being eaten by the cat in a cosmic chain of depredation, dwells in peace with the wolf. But Bloom's very longing for justice, however confused, is a reflection of his reiterated association in the novel with the messianic heritage, and it marks a significant shift from the figure of Ulysses, who is chiefly concerned with getting back what is personally his: “a limited notion of justice” within household and kingdom rather than justice as the hallmark of a transfigured global order.

Motivic and allusive reminders of the messianic dimension of this Ulysses continue to appear until the last chapter of the novel, when Molly takes over, with her own female and pervasively pagan vision of redemption. Before that point, the two principal arenas for the display of Bloom's messianism are barroom and whorehouse, with Bloom as comic messiah seen first in the sharp light of satiric realism (“Cyclops”) and then in the psychedelic illumination of farcical fantasy (“Circe”).

In Barney Kiernan's pub, Bloom, the well-meaning inveterately fumbling spokesman for the idea of universal justice, is caught in a crossfire of critical perspectives: first, that of the nameless vernacular Irish narrator who is inclined to see him as a figure of fun (“with his dunducketymudcoloured mug on him and his old plumeyes rolling about”), and then, that of the habitues of the bar, whose attitudes toward Bloom range from tolerant condescension to the seething hostility of the xenophobic Citizen. It is the latter who sarcastically puts the name of Messiah squarely on Bloom: “That's the new Messiah for Ireland!” To which one of his interlocutors rejoins, both whimsically and sardonically, but in words that in some degree reverse the Citizen's sarcastic negation: Yes … and every male that's born they think it may be their Messiah. And every jew is in a tall state of excitement, I believe, till he knows if he's a father or a mother.”

Bloom as Ulysses is a peripatetic and mental adventurer, dreaming of a return to the satisfactions of conjugality, that happy realm of “Warm beds: warm full-blooded life.” Bloom as Messiah is a talker rather than a doer, a preacher of truth to the gentiles (hardly a Homeric role) who touchingly trips through confusions as he argues for the necessity to escape the terrible cycle of slaughterer and ox, stick and dog:

—Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it. Perpetuating national hatred among nations.

—But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.

—Yes, says Bloom.

—What is it? says John Wyse.

—A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.

—By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that's so I'm a nation for I'm living in the same place for the past five years.

The genius in the double irony with which Joyce represents his character as the voice of messianic hope is that Bloom's manifest intellectual incapacity is intertwined with his moral capacity. Having invoked the idea of the hatred among nations, he makes it apparent that he has only a dim notion of what a nation might be (and the facts of persecution to which he refers are more pertinent to the relation between national majorities and minorities or individuals than among nations). This confusion is linked to another confusion, about what the Jews are—a nation, a religion, an ethnic group, or, in the modern era, a disparate collection of individuals in transition from being Jews to being something else. When Bloom is pressed to defend himself as a Jew, he offers a little catalogue of famous Jews that comprises three baptized Christians of Jewish extraction and one excommunicated Jew, to which he adds, inflaming the Citizen to the point of violence, Jesus and his Father.

The general conceptual muddle, however, about what a nation might be carries a certain paradoxical moral authority. This whole scene, we should recall, was written in the midst of the First World War, at a moment when the technologically advanced European states were, for the supposed cause of the nation, maiming and slaughtering each other's young men on a scale unprecedented in history. Bloom's indignation about persecution seems more important than his fumbling the concept of nation, or, indeed the very fumbling may be Joyce's way of suggesting that it is an empty concept, nothing worth killing for.

To put this paradox of moral capacity in intellectual incapacity somewhat differently, Joyce suggests through his incorrigibly middlebrow hero that there may be moral truth in banality itself because in his view the fundamental truths about the human condition are simple and self-evident and have not changed through the ages. Joyce's belief in this sort of unchanging truth is what ultimately underwrites his use of two sets of ancient Mediterranean archetypes to shape his modern epic. A few minutes later in the barroom debate, when the Citizen sarcastically asks Bloom whether he is talking about the New Jerusalem and Bloom answers, “I'm talking about injustice,” he goes on to explain, in a characteristic mixture of sincerity and simplicity, what he means:

Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the opposite of that that is really life.

—What? says Alf.

—Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.

The moral authority of the commonplace is explicitly identified by Bloom when he says, “everybody knows.” Behind Bloom, Joyce knows that love as a universal principle of life affirmation is a soppy cliche as well as a truth, and so he wards off sentimentality by introducing, after a few satiric remarks by Bloom's interlocutors, a whole burlesque paragraph on love: “Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair gentleman. Le Chi Han lovey up kissy Chi Pu Chow. …” And so forth.

Both the force and the limitation of Bloom's inveighing against hatred, persecution, and injustice have to be understood in connection with who he is and where he is located in the world. An Irishman of Jewish-Hungarian extraction, no more than half-accepted by his fellow Dubliners, intermittently exposed to outbursts of hostility like the one unleashed by the Citizen, remembering, at least in principle, a long history of persecution, he has personal knowledge of the corrosive workings of prejudice and hatred, and a kind of self-interest in imagining a society where there would be neither outsider nor insider, neither oppressor nor oppressed. At the same time, he lacks the intellectual equipment to hold in clear view the historical phenomena and social institutions that are the concrete medium of injustice—and, an ineffectual figure hovering on the margins of his own society, he is scarcely in a position to do anything to implement his vision of a world founded on justice. In the end, Bloom as Messiah must slide back into Bloom as Ulysses, a man intent chiefly on getting back into his own conjugal bed, a latter-day hero who will “defeat” Molly's real and imagined suitors not by slaughtering them—“I mean the opposite of hatred”—but by accepting them, in returning to his Penelope, as painful yet finally inconsequential necessities of the irremediably absurd human condition.

Toward the end of the great, moving catechism in “Ithaca,” Bloom thinks of “the preordained frangibility of the hymen, the presupposed intangibility of the thing itself … the continual production of semen by distillation: the futility of triumph or protest or vindication: the inanity of extolled virtue: the lethargy of nescient matter: the apathy of the stars.” Given this destiny of resignation and this situation of social impotence (there are ambiguous intimations in the novel that it may be sexual impotence as well), it makes perfect sense that Bloom's vague messianic hopes, articulated realistically in the representation of his consciousness and his conversation, should then be recycled as farce: in a stubbornly unredeemed world, the figure of the would-be redeemer becomes a point of high hilarity for Joyce's verbal vaudeville. This begins in the vivid mock-biblical paragraph that concludes the “Cyclops” episode: Bloom, one recalls, is fleeing the wrath and missiles and snarling dog of the Citizen in a hackney carriage, which Joyce proceeds to convert into Elijah's heavenbound fiery chariot:

When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: Elijah! Elijah! And he answered with a main cry: Abba! Adonai! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of forty-five degrees over Donohoe's in Little Green Street like a shot off a shovel.

For all the high jinks of parody, the novel at this point is still flooded with the level daylight of realism, and so the soaring fantasy of Bloom as Elijah or Bloom as ascended Messiah is bounced against a solid counterpoint in the material world, that wonderful last glimpse of Bloom zipping off “at an angle of forty-five degrees over Donohoe's … like a shot off a shovel.” The narrative then proceeds through “Nausicaa,” where pulp-fiction romance is the chief literary point of reference and “Oxen of the Sun,” where the long history of English style controls the chapter, to the climactic phantasmagoria of “Circe,” where the constraints of realism no longer affect the playing out of Bloom's sundry messianic images.

It is necessary, I think, to speak not of a messianic image but of sundry images, because in the long Nightown episode—aptly characterized by Nabokov as the hallucination of the novel itself rather than of Bloom—Joyce's bumbling spokesman for the idea of universal justice is made to veer wildly from one role to another. At one end of the spectrum, he is identified by two other Dublin Jews who appeared earlier in his stream of consciousness as an out-and-out fake in his messianic pretensions. First Hornblower, the porter of Trinity College, announces Bloom as scapegoat in ringing biblical language:

And he shall carry the sins of the people to Azazel, the spirit which is in the wilderness, and to Lilith, the nighthag, and they shall stone him and defile him, yea, all from Agendath Netaim and from Mizraim, the land of Ham.

The ritual of the scapegoat, Azazel, from Leviticus 16 is joined aptly with Lilith, the primordial demon woman or seductress of rabbinic legend, whose Hebrew name is accurately translated here as “nighthag,” for Bloom is, after all, in a brothel, and, throughout, his consciousness confuses messianic aspirations with erotic daydreams. The stoning is probably intended to recall the end of the “Cyclops” episode, except that here those who cast the stones are not only gentiles (the denizens of Mizraim, Hebrew for “Egypt”) but also Jews, who are associated with Agendath Netaim, the Zionist “planters' association” that first came to Bloom's attention in the newspaper advertisement he spotted in the pork butcher's.

The recurring Zionist motif is one of Joyce's most ingenious ploys for conflating the figures of Ulysses and the Messiah. Ulysses is a hero headed homeward, where he will reclaim his wife and re-establish his sovereignty over his kingdom. The Messiah in Jewish tradition is to lead his people back to its long-lost homeland and re-establish national sovereignty there. Molly, born in Gibraltar at the other end of the Mediterranean from the Promised Land, is associated with it in Bloom's mind both metaphorically—her “Oriental” sensuality, her connection with lush gardens and melons and other ripe fruit—and also by a kind of stretched metonymy—the Mediterranean itself. But the atoning ritual of Hornblower's prophecy immediately degenerates into humiliating farce:

(All the people cast soft pantomime stones at Bloom. Many bonafide travellers and ownerless dogs come near him and defile him. Mastiansky and Citron approach in gabardines, wearing long earlocks. They wag their beards at Bloom.)


Belia! Laemlein of Istria, the false Messiah! Abulafia!

The prophesied stoning turns into a dreamlike charade and the biblical “defilement” into Bloom's being peed on by dogs and passersby. Mastiansky and Citron, two Jews of Bloom's acquaintance, appear here as old-style Orthodox pietists, dressed in gabardines (that is, caftans) and sporting earlocks and beards in order to stress that they speak on behalf of an “authentic” Jewry in their denunciation of Bloom. What kind of Messiah, they suggest, could this down-at-the-heels advertising canvasser be, uncircumcised, married to a Christian, coming upon his vision of the Return to Zion in a pork butcher's wrapping papers? And so they place him on the roll-call of infamy of false messiahs who led the Jews astray, rejecting his claim, a few minutes earlier in the Nightown psycho-farce: “Yea on the word of a Bloom, ye shall ere long enter into the golden city which is to be, the new Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future.” Perhaps for them the bogusness of his messianic self-annunciation is betrayed by the very fact that the “colossal edifice” that commands the landscape of the new Bloomusalem is “built in the shape of a huge pork kidney.” Yet precisely what is endearing about Bloom's elevation to revealed Messiah in Nightown is the exuberance with which it is carried off, an exuberance that represents a heightening to wild hyperbole of his stubborn ethical optimism in the face of repeated defeat that is visible in the realistic sections of the novel. His notion of the messianic age is derived from the modern progressivist commonplaces that are his mental stock-in-trade, here huddled together with reckless elan: “New worlds for old. Union of all, jew, moslem and gentile. … Electric dishscrubbers. Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendicancy must now cease. … No more patriotism of barspongers and dropsical imposters. Free money, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state.”

Through all this, the comic possibilities of Bloom the vestigial Jew as Messiah are brilliantly exploited. At one memorable juncture, rams' horns, which according to the prophet Malachi are to announce the coming of the redeemer, blare, and the standard of Zion is raised. Then Bloom himself speaks, according to his lights, in the language of the prophets: “Aleph Beth Ghimel Daleth Hagadah Tephilim Kosher Yom Kippur Hanukah Roschaschana Beni Brith Bar Mitzvah Mazzoth Askenazim Meshuggah Talith.” These solemnly intoned words are a wonderful potpourri of gibberish, just the sort of scraps of Hebrew lexicon that a marginal Jew such as Bloom would retain from childhood memory: the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet; the Hagadah or Passover homeservice referred to earlier by Bloom; tephilim, the leather boxes containing biblical verses and attached to thongs worn by Jewish males during the daily morning service; the names of three holidays; Beni (actually, B'nai) Brith, the Jewish fraternal organization; Bar Mitzvah, the confirmation ceremony; Mazzoth, the unleavened bread eaten on Passover; Askenazim, the general term for Central and East-European Jews; Meshuggah, crazy (the Hebrew term that becomes pungently standard in colloquial Yiddish); and Talith, prayer shawl. In the midst of all these sits Kosher, a term Bloom knows, but a practice which, as a purchaser of pork kidneys, he definitely eschews.

There is hardly a messianic message in this Hebrew word-salad, though it is certainly quite funny and a faithful reflection of Bloom's cultural world as a vestigial Jew. The only character in Nightown who speaks a proper Hebrew sentence is not Bloom but Zoe the whore. After appearing in the phantasmagoria as the beloved woman of the Song of Songs, “Murmuring singsong with the music, her odalisk lips lusciously smeared with salve of swinefat and rosewater,” she pronounces the untranslated words, “Schorach ani wenowach, benoith Hierushaloim,” that is, “Dark am I but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Bloom, taking note of the pronunciation, which does not necessarily prove that he understands the meaning, is “fascinated” and remarks, “I thought you were of good stock by your accent.”

The general aim of the “Circe” episode is to extrude as surreal comic theatrics whatever is merely implicit elsewhere in the characters of the novel and their relationships. If Bloom does not share the blustering, boastful male assertiveness of the more typical Dubliners, if he is more wifely than husband to Molly, in “Circe” he can be presented as “the new womanly man” who, at the point of condemnation by an angry mob, is pardoned because he is about to have a child and then gives birth to eight sons, all of whom have names suggesting money and at once become captains of industry and public administration. This amounts to a benign comic version of the paranoid fantasy of a worldwide Jewish monetary conspiracy, as in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Joyce is quick to link it with Bloom's messianic profile, for immediately after the birth of the eight sons a Voice asks, “Bloom, are you the Messiah ben Joseph or ben David?” and Bloom, echoing Jesus's words to Pilate, replies, “(Darkly.) ‘You have said it.’”

The Jew as an archetype of Western lore and legend characteristically figures as a father or old man—because he represents an older, superannuated dispensation and because he is associated with the “Old” Testament that is displaced by the New. In the anti-Semitic versions of this archetype, Norman Cohen has persuasively argued, he is a castrating or vampiric father, perhaps because he is dimly perceived by Christendom as having imposed upon it an onerous and restrictive moral code. In Joyce's deft hands, the whole archetype is given a decidedly philo-Semitic spin. He neatly binds together the Jew as father with the Homeric image of Ulysses the father seeking reunion with Telemachus his son. Bloom is actually only thirty-eight, but he feels much older: experience has bruised him, crumpled him, left him with a certain sense of fatigue and diminished capacities, and that youthful moment when he lolled in the grass with Molly on Ben Howth seems hopelessly distant.

In normal literary circumstances, comedy is a young man's game: it is the young lovers who are the locus of the desire of comic fulfillment while the old folks create the obstacles the younger generation must overcome. One of the distinctive features of Joyce's Ulysses is that it creates a resonant comedy of middle life: Molly in her thirties can still dream, quite exuberantly, of a horizon of fresh mornings bursting with flowers and love; and Bloom, dog-tired from his wanderings, bearing a lifetime's sackload of failures, can fantasize becoming a father again, at least symbolically, and can sense in his return to Molly's recumbent body “the islands of the blessed, the isles of Greece, the land of promise … adipose posterior female hemispheres, redolent of milk and honey and of excretory sanguine and seminal warmth.” Precisely in this regard, Joyce grasps the potential for a reversed directionality in the historical archetype he exploits. The exiled people of Israel, seen from without, is the Wandering Jew, the ancient, undying figure of the blighted outcast; seen from within the people that stubbornly clings to its messianic expectations through long exile, praying, “Renew our days as of old,” is the very type of hope triumphing over experience, nurturing through adversity the dream of return to the warm seedbed of origins and new birth.

All this works beautifully in Joyce's novel because it is not merely an idea, cleverly elaborated, but a rich attitudinal ambiance that is generated through the realized individual character of Bloom, who is often ridiculous, sometimes pathetic, and frequently ignorant or even foolish, but nevertheless persists in his hopefulness and his simple decency, like Sancho Panza (with a strong admixture of Quixote), or like Chaplin's Tramp. This poignancy of Bloom as comic hero is nowhere more vivid than in the moment he leads Stephen through the early morning darkness with a candle—“a light unto the gentiles”—to the rear entrance of his home. Bloom's last act of fumbling (he has forgotten his key) becomes a seriocomic image of his role as existential Everyman. “What comforted his misapprehension?” asks the catechist-narrator, referring to Stephen's philosophically fraught, and drunken, words just spoken that Bloom has not altogether grasped.

That as a competent keyless citizen he had proceeded energetically from the unknown to the known through the incertitude of the void. In what order of precedence, with what attendant ceremony was the exodus from the house of bondage to the wilderness of inhabitation effected? Lighted Candle in Stick borne by BLOOM.

Diaconal Hat on Ashplant borne by STEPHEN. With what intonation secreto of what commemorative psalm?

The 113th, modus peregrinus: In exitu Israel de, Egypto: domus Jacob de populo barbaro. What did each do at the door of egress? Bloom set the candlestick on the floor. Stephen put the hat on his head. For what creature was the door of egress an ingress? For a cat.

What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

The way not to read this passage, or Ulysses as a whole, is to take the symbolism too seriously. Joyce is obviously playing with Dante but it is a game, not rigorous emulation. He pointedly invokes Dante's system of layered significances by quoting the very psalm Dante used in his letter to Can Grande to illustrate the traditional four levels of simultaneous meaning that he sought to use in The Divine Comedy. (But note the satiric paradox in the transition from “the house of bondage” to “the wilderness of inhabitation.”) The enrapturing vision of the stars vouchsafed Bloom-Virgil and Stephen-Dante is of course a citation of the last line of the Inferno, though elaborated by the metaphor of the celestial tree heavy with nocturnal fruit.

Yet Bloom is not really Virgil but only a comic gesture toward him, and toward Ulysses, and toward the Messiah. He is a “guide” to Stephen only in the limited sense that, even with his modest intellectual resources, he is more in touch with the carnal and ethical imperatives of human existence than Stephen is, though it takes an optimistic reader to imagine this will lead Stephen to change his life. And so we remain with the image of a middle-aged man and a young man—the one bleary with fatigue and the other with drink—standing together in a Dublin backyard by the cat door, looking up at the starry sky and seeing in that silent heaventree a sidereal efflorescence of the recurrent dream of luscious fruit and beauty that Bloom has nurtured from the start. It is a moment of genuine vision, and through the next few pages it will launch Bloom on a mental trajectory across light years and eons. The messianic side of Bloom is drawn back to these dizzying, perhaps restorative, perspectives of cosmic vastness, of perfection and beauty. Bloom as “Messiah” serves the purpose of repeatedly projecting out of the represented world of the novel a horizon of other, and better, possibilities. Bloom, however, is not only imagined by the novelist with uncompromising realism but, for all his quixotic impulses, is finally a realist himself; and this earthbound other side—is it the Ulyssean side?—of the visionary hero leads him to the conclusion, after a few minutes' reflection, “That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia … a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space, remobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its actual spectators had entered actual present existence.” This is perhaps comedy's greatest gift, to convey a sense of real things, unsparingly shorn of the veil of illusion, and yet to sustain, as Bloom under the vastness of the heavens goes on to do, the stirring prospect of hope for a more perfect order of things.

Marian Eide (essay date summer 1997)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7041

SOURCE: Eide, Marian. “The Language of Flows: Fluidity, Virology, and Finnegans Wake.James Joyce Quarterly 34, no 4 (summer 1997): 473-88.

[In this essay, Eide explores Joyce's “fluidity of language” in Finnegans Wake and asserts that the book “performs an exploration of the interactive relationship between oppositional entities.”]

Walking along the edge of the Irish Sea on Sandymount Strand, Stephen Dedalus reflects on the relation between the water's movement and language: “These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here” (U [Ulysses] 3.288-89). In “Proteus,” Stephen envisions language as a heavy sediment whose surface is disturbed by the implacable and constantly changing influences of water and wind. While in this episode of Ulysses Joyce suggests that language is a solid though alterable element, in Finnegans Wake language appears on the page in a constant, liquid state of flux. Joyce's last book records the tracings of water on land, the interaction of ALP and HCE, in a protean language aptly represented by the babbling flow of the river Liffey's fluidities as they wash against the weighty sediments of two changeable shores. While Stephen envisages writing as sand itself, Finnegans Wake is presented as the writing of water on sand. If this prose is not fluent, in the usual sense of the term, it is turbulently fluid with the currents of varied languages and idioms.

The fluidity of language in Finnegans Wake demands of its readers (and at the same time demonstrates the methods of) a fluidity of perception, interpretation, and understanding. Fluidity is also Joyce's sign for the negotiation of difference between nations in the colonial situation, between siblings in a family, and between genders in a marriage. The necessary adoption of fluid perception trains Joyce's readers in an alternative mode of understanding opposition. As a complement to the fluid mechanics provided by the text, I offer a virological approach, arguing that the exchange of genetic material in a viral invasion illuminates Joyce's exploration of oppositional interaction in colonial invasion.

The river Liffey, an embodiment of the character Anna Livia Plurabelle, provides an image for flexibility and fluctuation both in the writing of Finnegans Wake and in the perceptual habits necessary to interpret this text.1 In other words, fluidity is a sign in the text, but it is also a sign of the text. The river signifies a perceptual system, which, informed by the mechanics of fluids, creates an assemblage operating between water and embankments, fluids and solids, writing and interpretation, the reader and the text.2

In varying contexts throughout the work, the river is portrayed flowing between its two opposing banks in an image that illustrates the mediation between rival factions. The banks of the river are represented as the oppositional and yet merging brothers, Shem and Shaun. Between them, the river that is their mother moves against her banks in such a way as to create a constant flux in the relationship between her twin sons. Presenting this familial and geographical interaction, Finnegans Wake [FW] performs an exploration of the interactive relationship between oppositional entities.

In exploring this relationship, Joyce draws on his enduring interest in the theory of Giordano Bruno of Nola concerning the coincidence of opposites. According to Joyce's 1903 essay, “The Bruno Philosophy,” Bruno professes that “[e]very power in nature or in spirit must evolve an opposite as the sole condition and means of its manifestation; and every opposition is, therefore, a tendency to reunion” (CW [Critical Writings]134).3 Bruno's philosophy unsettles a metaphysics of difference that depends on a preordained, hierarchical arrangement of oppositions such as body and spirit, passion and reason, feminine and masculine, colony and imperial center. Joyce sets Bruno's theory at the center of his text and illustrates it in multiple contexts that emerge from the central metaphor of the warring and yet mutually dependent brothers. By illustrating Bruno's theory, Joyce simultaneously performs a narrative critique of the philosophies of dualism. Following Bruno, he notes a collapse of the double entities into a singular reality by embodying difference as an identity of opposites.

Unlike Bruno, however, Joyce also opens up a new, fluid space between dueling elements by illustrating the flow of the river between two opposite banks. The river's physical appearance touches on opposition in order to destabilize it. Moving against opposite banks, the river enacts the principles of Bruno's theory as it draws by erosion the properties of the one into the other and makes one possible only by the existence of the other. And building on that first step, the river's currents pick up speed in the middle, altering the inflexibilities of binary forces with the playful complexities of currents in the stream. The river is the image through which Joyce critiques a history of dualist philosophy and begins to perform at its limit another approach that flows from the properties of fluid mechanics. Joyce's critique addresses dualism as a philosophy that made possible, by a metaphysics of separation and a preordained, hierarchal arrangement of difference, the dominant ideology of colonialism.

Responding to the agonistic legacy of dualist theory, Joyce's introduction of fluid mechanics integrates the oscillating movement of fluids as a strategic model for negotiating the obstacles of opposition. In “Nightlessons,” Joyce refers to Bruno's theory in which that oscillation is described through the metaphor of the river: “totum tute fluvii modo mundo fluere, eadem quae ex aggere fututa fuere iterum inter alveum fore futura, quodlibet sese ipsum per aliudpiam agnoscere contrarium, omnem demun amnem ripis rivalibus amplecti” (FW 287.25-28).4 Recognizing that we understand objects by way of comparison, that language arises out of an integrated system of differences, the dynamics of opposition in the model of the river erode both agonism and identity to touch on possibilities of integration. The rival banks of the river are locked in a mutual dependence that wears away the positions both of rivals and of twins.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, pursuing the same river metaphor, develop their theory of “between-ness” by locating the negotiation of difference in the rapid currents between opposite river banks.

The Middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle.


Instead of locating opposition on the permanent river banks, Deleuze and Guattari find difference within the impermanent movements of the stream. The differential motion of currents within the water represents a theoretical conception of opposition as a transient interaction of current differences.

Writing about the mechanics of flow, which she associates with women's writing, Luce Irigaray in This Sex Which Is Not One describes an activity whose process, she asserts, is at its crucial level metonymic.5 The metonym, which relies upon contiguity, facilitates a language of “touching upon” and creates writing enabled by a logic of relation and connection or contact: what lies next to or is a part of the whole. Irigaray's idea of metonymy suggests a revolutionary resolution of the conflicts between identity and difference.

In an essay on fluid mechanics, Irigaray lists the shared properties of metonymy and fluidity, suggesting the role that those properties might play in the negotiation of difference:

determined by friction between two infinitely neighboring entities—dynamics of the near and not of the proper, movements coming from the quasi contact between two unities hardly definable as such … easily traversed by flow by virtue of its conductivity to currents coming from other fluids or exerting pressure through the walls of a solid; … makes the distinction between the one and the other problematical; … already diffuse “in itself,” which disconcerts any attempt at static identification.


The physical properties of fluids provide Irigaray with a model for the possibilities of cohesion between the “one and the other.” The conductivity of fluid undermines the solid distinctions between “unities.” By flowing between, for example, the river mingles the solid materials of the banks and the stream and makes problematic the idea of their distinct and separate identities. In a fluid system, as in metonymy, differences are associated through proximity rather than separated by their distinctive properties, as is the case in metaphor.

Irigaray argues that interpreting the flow of women's writing has been perceived as difficult because most readers have been accustomed to “solid” models for interpretation. If a reader falls back on habitual methods and congeals fluid language or paralyzes it, crucial information is lost. Finnegans Wake, like the women's writing she discusses, makes these habitual processes impossible; this writing demands a constant movement of perception between fluid and solid in order to achieve any recognition or understanding of the text.

The mechanics of the fluidity informing Finnegans Wake, like the mechanics of the river moving between its two banks, are in a constant process of negotiating opposites. This movement does not produce homogeneity, nor does it prefer one side of the opposition to the other. Rather, the river allows for internal frictions between its two banks of contradiction. At points, the language, like a river, can bring pressure to bear on one side while leaving behind a residue at the other. Sometimes the flooding of water over its banks is later replaced by the resistance and containment of the shore. There is a constant renegotiation between the fluidity of the stream and the solidity of the land that alters the banks by either erosion or accretion. This model for language becomes a conceptualization of the colonial politics of cultural difference that emerge in Finnegans Wake.

In contrast to the combined fluid and solid mechanics defined here, traditional methods of composing and reading a text might be said to obey only the laws of solid mechanics. Based on a model of extraction, solid mechanics depend on orthodox and utilitarian connections between code and significance that narrow the gap in perception between expectation and gratification. The fluid associations in Finnegans Wake erode solid interpretive connections and disrupt a reader's habitual procedures of deriving significance.

The interaction of fluid and solid mechanics is evident in ALP's “languo of flows” (FW 621.22), the Wake's version of the “language of flowers.” This phrase describes the writing of ALP's letter in defense of HCE in the terms of her flowing river waters. The “languo of flows” recalls the codified language of flowers in which each bloom carries a burden of traditional meanings. In Ulysses, for example, Leopold Bloom receives a pressed yellow flower enclosed in his correspondence from Martha Clifford. He remarks on the heavy stylization both in her letter and in the language of flowers that relies on the stable or solid connection between bloom and sentiment.

He tore the flower gravely from its pinhold smelt its almost no smell and placed it in his heart pocket. Language of flowers. … Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don't please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha's perfume.

(U 5.260-66)

Bloom's mischievous interpretation of Martha Clifford's words plays on the language of flowers, indicating the solid interpretive connection between each bloom and its corresponding sentiment.

The languor of flows in ALP's monologue moves through and over the language of flowers to enact its own, different method of engaging perception. The Wake's “languo of flows” disrupts received codes by the “undecidable” gesture of water's language.6 It is a writing that, as it moves through and touches upon, is in constant flux and cannot be held in one stable signifying position before it flows into another.

Following the currents of this kind of movement, the method employed to write Finnegans Wake, seen in the changes from draft versions to eventual publication, was accretive and expansive. Joyce worked with associative methods to add later impressions to his drafts of initial ideas. These methods allowed friction against earlier assumptions and invited complication from the borders into the mainstream of his prose.

Joyce's writing in Finnegans Wake demands an altered process of reading that is compatible with the workings of fluidity, a reading that allows for selective intrusions of interpretation without collapsing into solidifying habits of extraction. The fluid disorganization of the text redefines signification as that which accrues to the movement of language as it passes over and draws along a reader's intellectual debris. A reader, following the interaction between fluid and solid in the river, gets in the way of the flow at certain passages, putting boulders into the stream to draw water around her own questions; at other times, a reader widens the banks of conceptual impositions to allow for the erosion that language enacts upon the expectations with which he had tried to contain the text.

Joyce's composition relied not only on fluidity of perception but also on practices of exchange. He composed by adding on to early drafts the connections arrived at both from outside sources (in history or geography, for instance) and from the internal sources in his own unconscious, which constantly exposed submerged patterns of connection. Reading compatibly with this permeable text demands not just comprehension but exchange. A reader might allow viral transformations of genetic code to form an assemblage between Joyce's mutating language and his or her reading. Interpretation is infected with the virus that moves through the text in order to permeate the reader's intelligence and initiate another series of fluid associations.

The connection that I am making between fluid mechanics and viral infection is not only strategic but also etymological; the Latin word virus means slimy liquid,7 an obvious source of poisonous infection and an apt description of the filthy waters of the Liffey. The river's language resembles a dangerously active virus; infecting the reader in the space between text and understanding, it shifts and reorganizes our perceptions.

The fluid disruptions within Joyce's language recall the workings of a virus, a strand of genetic code that mutates constantly within itself by moving through the chromosomes of various organisms and scavenging bits of genetic material. The virus is a machine of chromosomal subversion; it survives by entering parasitically into a host cell and altering the cell's genetic structure to disrupt the functioning of that cell.8

According to Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus:

a virus can connect to germ cells and transmit itself as the cellular gene of a complex species; moreover, it can take flight, move into the cells of an entirely different species, but not without bringing with it “genetic information” from the first host.


The viral infection forms temporary and surprising connections between disparate elements. The flu virus, for example, maintains its contagion by transmitting “genetic information” between animal species. Attaching itself to the genetic code of one species, the flu mutates by scavenging partial codes from that species and altering its genetic profile in order to bypass the antibodies of another species. To use one of Deleuze and Guattari's examples, when virus C moves from baboon to cat it carries into the cat some of the baboon's genetic material, creating a strange conversation across species.

The genetic or linguistic changes in Joyce's Wake have the effect of fluidity. Each cell or word in the text transmutes itself constantly, resolving into one genetic pattern before altering into another, reflecting through these changes the movement of fluid currents in the Liffey.

The slimy liquid of the infectious virus and the principles of fluid mechanics both work to form fleeting and unexpected connections between disparate elements. These heterogenous and multiple bonds are surprisingly resilient; the hybrid forms that result are well-adapted to survive. To temporarily shift the frame of reference, this connective movement reflects also the dynamics of a marriage that, like that of HCE and ALP, is also always an adultery.9 Marriage is a bond that, by virtue of its linkage of disparate elements in an adulterous union, is always in the process of altering.

One of the most compelling examples of Joyce's viral or fluid language occurs during an interruption in the children's guessing game in II.i. In a passage describing, among other things, the marriage of HCE to ALP, the influence of ALP's babbling river voice disrupts solid understanding. Her language infects “foriverever” (FW 242.31), transferring chromosomal material between signs, mutating language by carrying genetic code through bodies, and scavenging bits of genes along its way. To begin to interpret the word, I fall back on orthodox methods, extracting from “foriverever” familiar strands of code.

The sound of the word babbling nonsense or the sound of water flowing over stones draws attention to the disruptive potential of the river on the surrounding land. And the word “river” that glides through the middle of the word performs this disruption. “River” separates “forever” just as ALP's water flows between two banks formed by her sons, Shem and Shaun, whose spacial configuration models the literal placement of “for” and “ever.” But, just as the banks of the stream form one entity—the land, the father, or HCE—so do these words recombine into one, “forever,” which surrounds and contains the river like the more permanent land surrounding and containing the “impermanent waves” of water. “Foriverever” begins to signify a simultaneous marriage and divorce, disruption and connection between two differentiated elements, between “river” and “forever,” between fluid and solid, water and land, ALP and HCE. The elements of the word merge and coalesce; at the sight of the overlapping “R” where the left bank and the stream meet to form “foriverever,” there is an inextricable interdependence; the elements lean together in the muddy region where they share this “R.”

At the end of the “Ricorso,” adulterous marriage is interactive on a number of different levels. ALP reflects on her marriage to HCE in a language that is constantly fluctuating; each of her conclusions about that relationship is grafted to its own contradiction or exception. That complication of essential differences is repeated in the interactions of fluid and solid. Because ALP is figured as the fluid river Liffey throughout the text and HCE as the solid land of Dublin, the monologue reflects the exchange between fluid currents and the solid landscape. The result is a more mutable version of Stephen's language: “These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here.”

The idea of the river Liffey winds through ALP's inscription of herself as she signs her letter in defense of HCE: “Alma Luvia, Pollabella” (FW 619.16). The names that she chooses for herself and that Shem transcribes for her mark her connection to the river. The “Polla” embedded in her surname refers in Italian to a spring of water; the source of both the river and author is represented as a spring from which water emerges. And the source of fluidity is also the fall of tears. Polla is written over another version of her family name, Plurabelle, written over pleur, the fall of tears, or crying, the wail that will form her final monologue. The “Luvia” in “Alma Luvia” approximates the Latin diluvium, a deluge of water.

The river's flow is bounded on both sides by the warring riverbank brothers, Shem and Shaun, who enact the movements of opposition and strife in the book. The river of their mother flowing between them does not work to bring them into unity or erase their differences. Rather, difference is placed under erasure.10 It is scored through in its present condition only to underscore, to highlight and embrace, another logic of dissimilarity. Oppositional orders are defined, examined, touched on, and moved through, after which we find our concepts slightly altered.

At the beginning of her monologue, ALP describes her warring sons: “The sehm asnuh. Two bredder as doffered as nors in soun. When one of him sighs or one of him cries ‘tis you all over” (FW 620.16-17). On the most overt level of her narrative, ALP describes here two brothers as different as north and south, locked in opposition. This difference is placed under erasure by her correction in the next sentence: when one of them sighs or cries, they remind her of HCE, of “you”; they are him “all over,” unified in their shared similarity to another. The distinction between them can arise again but more subtly; they might only be as different as noise and sound (“nors in soun”), still different but in a subtle and moving opposition. In this case, the difference depends upon the position of the perceiver, on what language we speak. If we are not Norse (“nors”), then the “soun” (written zoen in Dutch but pronounced “soun”) will be more likely to affect us as mere noise (nors) than as meaningful sound (soun).

The first sentence contains an anagram of the two names (“sehm”-Shem, “asnuh”-Shaun) of the oppositional brothers. But phonetically, the first sentence also reads “the same as new.” The brothers mark both oppositional positions and repetitions of the same position with the slight change of the new. In the next sentence, ALP illuminates the idea of the brothers as different sides of the riverbank; “bredder,” which sounds like the English “brother,” is spelled like the Norwegian word for riverbanks. The Norwegian context arises at the end of the sentence, where we are reminded of the presence of “nors” (Norse) elements. Similarly, in her phrase, “[w]hen one of him sighs or one of him cries,” each brother has both a singular identity, “him,” and a share in the combined entity formed by a reader's tendency to read “him” as “them” in this sentence.

The difference between the brothers is not only directional, north and south, but also qualitative. In Dutch, “nors” is surly while “soun” means peace, reconciliation, and the kiss. But it is the same anew. It is not only “and” that is written between “nors” and “soun,” but the sound of the written “in” merges into the sound “and,” allowing us to interpret the word as a conjunction. The written word “in,” however, also suggests that the elements of each can be located within the other. We are offered two brothers: the surly in the peaceful, difference within the same anew.

As the rivalry of opposition is placed under erasure by the language of flows, strategies of difference converge also on the strategies of identity. While a politics of opposition requires a set of well-defended subject positions that can be encapsulated and transmitted in language, Finnegans Wake undermines the permanence of opposition by means of the process through which we have just seen the two brothers described. Each word in the novel is infected by a virus. Writing over itself, the text constantly reveals its own process and the associative logic that contributed to that process. “Work in progress” is the state that the text reaches us in, always still being written.

It is with this “double and undecidable stroke” that ALP touches upon disparate moments of colonial history in simultaneous gestures. Mingling similar and dissimilar dynamics, she is able to demonstrate that polar positions can erode to touch upon each other, so “that everything recognises itself through something opposite & that the stream is embraced by rival banks.”11

The actual geography of the river Liffey is a constant presence in Joyce's narrative because of its fluid mechanics. Like most other rivers that flow through major cities, the Liffey is hemmed in by concrete embankments on either side. The immobility of the river's banks in the city of Dublin seems to refute quite physically any argument concerning the revolutionary action of fluids upon solids; the erosion or accretion that can occur in the interaction between concrete and water is minimal. In fact, the purpose of the concrete embankments within the city is to prevent this mutable interaction between fluid and solid. If this is the river that ran through the author's imagination when he wrote ALP's words and designed her interactions with her sons (the banks of that river), how are we to understand the relations between fluid and solid in the geographical image provided by the city of Dublin?

Stephen Conlin and John de Courcey, in their book, Anna Liffey: The River of Dublin, indicate that from 1600 “the Liffey has been progressively confined within quay walls, land reclamations and the great walls in the bay.”12 1600 also marks an era of increasingly organized English control in Ireland. Roy F. Foster begins his indispensable history, Modern Ireland, with the year 1600, which he marks as a pivotal point in colonial rule.13 In that year, “[t]he last great Gaelic counterattack under Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was challenging the imposition of Englishness” (3). By 1607, however, the defeated O'Neill was living in exile. The concrete embankments of the Liffey with their attendant dissolution of interaction, emphasis on conformity, and distortion of fluid lines provide a particularly potent image of the results of colonization.

The city of Dublin was the center of colonial power in Ireland under both the Vikings and the English. The river's straitened shores within the city illustrate the constraints of colonial rule, a rule that ossifies the line of difference between cultures.14 Under colonial influence, the oppositional organization of perception hardens difference into immutability. The traffic of thought is deployed between solidified, binary borders, like the river's dirty waters between their concrete shores.

But it is also at the colonial center, where the embankments are most concrete, that the river moves out into the Irish Sea and to a decrease in the influence and importance of its containing banks, to a concentration on flow and movement. It is precisely at the point at which the contrary structure of thought is organized most inflexibly and authoritatively that differentiating potentials begin to erode completely. The river flowing between its cement embankments through Dublin and out into the Irish Sea is a visual reminder that structures of rigid authority carry within them the potential for resistance and the means of self-destruction.

Elsewhere along the course of the river, however, the banks are more flexible; there are points outside the city of Dublin where the interaction between fluid and solid is more supple. While this interaction in thought is increasingly obvious outside the boundaries of authoritative thinking, before ideas become concrete, the interaction continues even within authoritarian structures. Relying on a visual or geographical analogy, the river still erodes its banks even if they are made of stone; it is only that the pace slows to imperceptibility. Similarly, the relationship between the structure of contraries and the fluid infections of Joyce's thought proceeds at different paces and with varying results. Our recourse to solid or to fluid models of perception fluctuates, as does the geography of the river.

We have looked at the way that the river wields its influence on the solid banks of opposition that frame its waters. The site of opposition from this perspective is in the relationship between two banks. A slight shift of focus indicates another site of differentiation, that of the fluid currents in the river from the solid land that surrounds it. To express this in terms of the characters that these geographical signs indicate, we have seen difference residing in the struggle between the opposing brothers who, locked in opposition, nonetheless recognize themselves in the mirroring of that opposition. But we can also examine the difference between the watery ALP and her solid husband, HCE, whose body makes up the landscape of Dublin, and in this case the issue of difference emerges in a gender problematic. The issues of sameness and difference emerge differently in the framework of gender competition than in the context of a sibling rivalry.

Joyce explores colonial ideology through his metaphor of the differential interaction of the river with the land that borders it and through the marriage of ALP and HCE. The reconfiguration of the issue of difference within the marital situation gives his readers complex access to understanding systems of difference. Looking at the strategies for maintaining separation within the union of marriage, we find patterns of compromise and cohesion as well as betrayal and subversion of control. Joyce's treatment of the marriage between his central characters also incorporates much of the violence and coercion characteristic of a colonial system.

It is through the marriage of contrasts in the union of ALP and HCE that Joyce allows us to see difference as not merely structurally oppositional and irresolvable but often as viral, infectious. Marriage in Finnegans Wake is a fearsome, violent, colonizing exchange, but it is also a transition into unity, a transference of genetic material between separate elements, a conversion.

ALP describes the ways in which invader and invaded touch upon one another, the masculine and the feminine become dependent on each other, and fear and joy are participants in the same emotional cues: “I was the pet of everyone then. A princeable girl. And you were the pantymammy's Vulking Corsergoth. The invision of Indelond. And, by Thorror, you looked it! My lips went livid for from the joy of fear. Like almost now” (FW 626.26-30). ALP's discursive ambiguity unsettles stable assumptions about both marriage and colonial history. Rather than obscuring clear issues, she intensifies clarity by acknowledging complication. First, we plainly see the structure of personal history written over by Irish history and repeated once again in her memory. She recounts the story of her seduction by HCE and his invasion of her body; at the same time, she illuminates a history of the seduction and colonization of Ireland by, successively, the Vikings and the English.

HCE, to whom she addresses herself, is both “pantymammy,” a version of himself dressed in women's clothes, and “Vulking Corsergoth,” the invading or penetrating hypermasculine “hero.” But HCE only touches on these stereotyped roles, merely pantomiming the “pantymammy's Vulking Corsergoth.” Pantomime engages the dynamic of mimicry, approaching the object without actually taking up the place of the original. Thus HCE's pantomime imitates both the ultra-masculine conqueror and the “feminized” conquered.15 By touching on these oscillating possibilities, ALP's language recognizes each in the other. HCE is both a colonized Irishman and Thor (“by Thorror, you looked it!”), the god of the conquering Norwegians.

The livid horror with which ALP contemplates her conquering hero beautifully encapsulates the conjunction through which the incommensurable positions of different cultures are joined in colonization, just as different genders are joined in the act of seduction that she describes. The dread is experienced on both sides and is a reaction engendered by the uncanny experience of absolute difference and absolute familiarity appearing simultaneously. In ALP's evocation, horror is double and interchangeable, for while we can imagine HCE in his coarse Viking Visigoth guise, experiencing an abomination of her native Irish difference, the words here define, first, ALP's fear of the violence of her conqueror, the assumption of his difference from her perhaps more peaceful ways. But the next sentence—“My lips went livid for from the joy of fear”—describes a simultaneity of horror and pleasure in her mutual recognition and abhorrence of HCE's colonizing strength. “By Thorror,” says ALP, pantomiming the colonizing portrayal of such as herself and turning it back on the process of colonization itself. The projection of colonization doubles in her discourse as each member of the opposition is confronted with itself in the mirror of that opposition: “everything recognises itself through something opposite.”

The ambiguous negotiation of contradictions in this passage does not move in any singular direction—with the influence of English colonization on Ireland, for instance. Influences also move centripetally from the marginal colonized subject into the central power. “The invision of Indelond” refers, then, not only to the invasions of Ireland and India but also to the invasion of England by Irish and Indian visions. The “lond” in “Indelond” reminds us of London and of the entire country of England, the land east of Ireland. Invasion in this discourse is matched up with envisioning, vision inward or imagination.

ALP describes not only opposites recognizing themselves in each other—invader and invaded, for example—but also colonial histories moving across seemingly huge differences to have similar visions. Ireland and India are woven together in the “invision of Indelond.” ALP's “invision” arranges a palimpsest, inscribing a series of echoing subversions, betrayals, uprisings, and suppressions over the received codes of colonial history.

“Like almost now,” as ALP ends this particular memory. That “like” encapsulates her pantomime method throughout the passage. She creates through simile a trope that carves out a certain distance or space between its objects, allowing one to touch upon the other like a river upon its banks without removing the identity of one in order to appropriate it into the image of the other. In each of her moments of simile, one object of discourse touches upon, approximates, or recognizes itself in other ideas or images. But this overlapping does not allow for complete replacement.

The amalgamation of marital remembrances and political history superimposed together in ALP's words unleashes an association to a strong current in Joyce's theory of the colonization of Ireland. It is through the immediate domestic circumstance, and through the differential of gender within marriage, that Joyce is able to imagine and transmit a theory of colonization that clearly encounters and contemplates the mutuality and ambivalence of this experience. Joyce complicates our understanding of the lines of colonial history by restaging the terms of conquest in the situation of seduction, by understanding political power in the terms of marital negotiation.16

It is important to remember, however, that the particular marriage Joyce uses to make this argument, that of ALP and HCE, is an adulterous bond, a bond that is always changing, always other to itself.17 We must not presume that these spousal positions will remain constant. ALP will not always represent a colonized and subjected Ireland, domesticated and domineered over in her marriage. Nor will HCE always play the role of conquering invader and brutal husband. The roles that this adulterous couple enact alter and change course, mutating with the virus of Finnegans Wake.

Joyce recognizes that ossified, stereotypical readings of history become less true as they become more stable. If we are tempted to pair ALP with mother Ireland and HCE with the Viking Dane, if we position ALP always as the subject of HCE's violent colonization, we need only remember one of their first mutations in the text. In the first chapter, the fable of the prankquean and Jarl Van Hoother changes the valences in the equation of colonization. ALP mutates into a figure much like the pirate Grace O'Malley, “grace o'malice” (FW 21.20-21), and invades the land at Howth on the outskirts of Dublin, terrorizing the local lord and stealing his children. The fable mutates these cadences again when it concludes with the domestic scene in which the prankquean settles into the Lord's home with his children and “they all drank free. For one man in his armour was a fat match always for any girls under shurts. And that was the first peace of illiterative porthery in all the flamend floody flatuous world” (FW 23.07-10). The relations of power are ambiguous in this concluding scene of the prankquean episode. Though the pirate woman has been domesticated and “matched” by her mate, she is also a powerful (“fat” or fair) match for him though he wears “armour” (both armor and love) and she is only a girl “under shurts.”18

The Wake intervenes in a colonial ideology of opposition by marking the space in which fluid and solid simultaneously meet, interact, and separate. We might imagine ourselves drifting upon the fluidity of the text, tempted at any time to trail our solid fingers in the currents of the stream. And by doing so, we create a wake that attracts our attention. The disturbance we create in the text by our intervention produces a smooth space in the general turbulence of the waters. The Wake that we read by these interventions is the space of interaction between the fluid and the solid; it is the smooth space created in the wake of a vessel's movement through water.


  1. The fluid mechanics that inform the writing of Finnegans Wake do not emanate specifically and solely from the voice or writing of ALP. Rather, there is an aggregation of disruptive influences in the language of the Wake around the figure of the river, which, as we know, is one of the figures for ALP. It is because of ALP's association, by way of the river, with fluidity and because of the disruptions performed in and by water that I link this perceptual and creative method with ALP, not because the character is responsible in any naturalistic fashion for the stylistic innovations in the text.

  2. On the idea of “assemblage,” see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Masumi (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1983). The concept of “assemblage” is discussed within the system of linguistics (see chapter 4, “November 20, 1923: Postulates of Linguistics,” and especially pp. 79-80). “Assemblage” can also be understood as one of the functions of a “desiring-machine.” Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text. For an earlier discussion of “assemblage,” see Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp. 1-50.

  3. Joyce paraphrases here a footnote concerning Giordano Bruno in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's essay XIII of The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), p. 94: “Every power in nature and in spirit must evolve an opposite, as the sole means and condition of its manifestation: and all opposition is a tendency to re-union.” Coleridge goes on to write:

    This is the universal Law of Polarity or essential Dualism, first promulgated by Heraclitus, 2000 years afterwards republished, and made the foundation both of Logic, of Physics, and of Metaphysics by Giordano Bruno. The Principle may be thus expressed. The Identity of Thesis and Antithesis is the substance of all Being; their Opposition the condition of all Existence, or Being manifested; and every Thing or Phaenomenon is the Exponent of a Synthesis as long as the opposite energies are retained in that Synthesis. Thus Water is neither Oxygen nor Hydrogen, nor yet is it a commixture of both; but the Synthesis or Indifference of the two: and as long as the copula endures, by which it becomes Water, or rather which alone is Water, it is not less a simple Body than either of the imaginary Elements, improperly called its Ingredients or Components.

    (p. 94)

    I quote Coleridge's treatment of Bruno at length in order to draw attention to his example of water as the substance that exemplifies the coincidence of opposites.

  4. Roland McHugh translates this passage as “the fact that the whole of the river flows safely, with a clear stream, & that those things which were to have been on the bank would later be in the bed; finally, that everything recognises itself through something opposite & that the stream is embraced by rival banks”—see McHugh, Annotations toFinnegans Wake,” rev. ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), p. 287.

  5. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977) pp. 106-18. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

  6. See Jacques Derrida, “The Double Session,” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 173-285. The concept of “undecidability” is discussed most specifically in pp. 210-11 and 222.

  7. See Alfred Grafe, A History of Experimental Virology, trans. Elvira Reckendorf (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1991), p. 1.

  8. There are several recent books that provide a layman's insight into the biology and genetics of virus. Among the best are Robin Marantz Henig, A Dancing Matrix: Voyages Along the Viral Frontier (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993) and Peter Radetsky, The Invisible Invaders: The Story of the Emerging Age of Viruses (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1991).

  9. The word adultery is derived from the Latin verb adulterare, which stems from alter or “other,” indicating change, alteration, or othering.

  10. I am greatly indebted, as my language indicates, to Derrida's discussion of the flux between differing properties in “The Double Session” from Dissemination, pp. 173-286, and in Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1976), especially in the section “The Written Being/The Being Written,” pp. 18-26.

  11. See McHugh's translation in endnote 4.

  12. See Stephen Conlin and John de Courcy, Anna Liffey: The River of Dublin (Dublin: O'Brien Press, 1988), p. 11.

  13. See Roy F. Foster, Modern Ireland: 1600-1972 (London: Penguin Books, 1988), pp. 3-5. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

  14. Vincent Cheng's Joyce, Race, and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995) details the extent of this colonial insistence on difference with an extensive discussion of the “othering” of the Irish by English discourse and representation. See especially his introduction (pp. 15-74).

  15. I refer here to theories proposed by Ashis Nandy, in The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 4-11, that the process of colonization entails a certain “feminizing” of colonized populations, in that they are represented as having the attributes and characteristics usually associated with women. Because those feminine attributes are perceived as a form of degradation, the complication of gender difference becomes a salient means for examining colonial difference.

  16. Imagining the colonial situation through an abusive marital bond recognizes the real damage inflicted on the subjected partner in the relationship. But Joyce's examination of both versions of domination shifts the emphasis from victimization to complicity. He has noted, for example, that colonial rule fosters self-betrayal in the indigenous population, making Ireland a partner in her own domination. Though that complicity is passive and unconscious, it is nonetheless troubling.

  17. By drawing attention to power shifts in this marriage, I do not intend to imply that these changes are equivalent exchanges or that the partners merely switch roles within a stable hierarchy. Rather, I wish to indicate that the power hierarchy itself is constantly changing, evolving, and solidifying into new patterns as the figures within it alter.

  18. For a more complete treatment of the Grace O'Malley myth in Finnegans Wake, see Vicki Mahaffey, “‘Fantastic Histories’: Nomadology and Female Piracy in Finnegans Wake,Joyce and The Subject of History, ed. Mark Wollaeger, Victor Luftig, and Robert Spoo (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1996), pp. 157-76.

Joseph Valente (essay date 1998)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13363

SOURCE: Valente, Joseph. “Thrilled by His Touch: The Aestheticizing of Homosexual Panic in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” In Quare Joyce, edited by Joseph Valente, pp. 47-75. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, Valente explores homoerotic elements in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.]

In his letters and essays, Joyce alludes repeatedly to the homoerotic activities supposedly rife in English or Anglo-Saxon boarding schools and implicit in their representative social and athletic customs (see especially SL [Selected Letters of James Joyce] 74, 136; CW [Critical Writings of James Joyce] 201-2).1 In the process, he not only displays a familiarity with the burgeoning scientia sexualis of his day, he flaunts a facility with the subcultural argot, dropping arcane phrases like “captain of fifty's regime” in the manner of a cognoscente (SL 136). Yet he does so by way of disclaiming any and all knowledge or awareness with such things. The dynamic that Freud called disavowal, admitting to consciousness by way of a qualifying refusal, is instinct in virtually every one of these references.2 At the same time, Joyce seems to have scrupulously avoided the use of terms that name same sex desires and relations directly, preferring the sort of euphemisms that punctuate Stephen's discussion of Shakespeare in “Scylla and Charybdis”: “brothers in love” (U [Ulysses] 9.1046), “Tame essence of Wilde” (U 532), “play the giddy ox” (U 1.171), “cities of the plain” (SL 86), “captain of fifty” (SL 136), “lady highkickers” (SL 74), and so forth. To paraphrase yet another of these prevalent euphemisms, Joyce does not speak the name of homosexuality so much as he names the absence of such speech. Nowhere is this lack of plain speaking any plainer than in Joyce's essay “Oscar Wilde: The Poet of Salomé, in which he refuses to give Wilde's “strange problem” or “crime” a name, even as he judges it “the logical and inescapable product of the Anglo-Saxon college and university system, with its secrecy and restrictions” (CW 204; emphasis added).3 What could account for this unwonted circumspection from a man long since resigned to offending hypocritical sensibilities with his writing (SL 83)?

When one considers Joyce's own educational career at an elite, all-male boarding school, Clongowes Wood College, it becomes apparent that he has constructed homoeroticism along the lines of what Jonathan Dollimore has called “the proximate.”4 Being socially adjacent to the self, the proximate is that which can be most effectively dissociated from the self. Because it is right here, I can see or grasp it, and so it cannot be right here; the near-me can only be the not-me. And yet owing to this adjacency, the essential reality of the proximate, the full extent of its relations to the self, always remains to be discovered; it can always be turned back upon the self, a vous, or even accommodated by the self in other guises and contexts. Like the colonial forms of ethnoracial affiliation (English vs. Irish), like the socially marked idioms of a given language (slang vs. “standard”), homo- and heterosexual affect are at once constituted symbiotically and defined disjunctively, the perfect ideological condition for the concept of “proximate-ness” to emerge. In Joyce's case, his critical and epistolary allusions to homosexuality insist upon a disjunctive definition, asserting his heterosexual identity through a professed ignorance of its designated other; yet their enunciative context and performance repeatedly belie his intent, pointing to the fundamental imbrication of these erotic tendencies.

What makes the proximate at once ineluctable and dangerous, of course, is also what gives it a specific shape, valence, and site of operations—the existence of normative power relations. In the modern world of male entitlement, the proximate-ness of homo- and heterosexuality has taken on a particularly explosive form to which Eve Sedgwick has given the name “homosexual panic.”5 Sedgwick summarizes patriarchy itself as a “set of relations between men which have a material base and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.”6 Patriarchal institutions, accordingly, like the elite male boarding school, be it Anglo-Saxon or Irish Catholic, serve to promote what Sedgwick calls male homosocial desires: a chain of fellowship, affection, boosterism, and engagement, competitive and otherwise, of which the conventional misogynistic heterosexual relationship can be seen as a defining articulation. Appropriated by, circulated among, and situated between men as objects of contest, rivalry, and reconciliation, women have traditionally been conscripted as the vehicles of a homosocial desire that excludes and devalues them. That is, the “intense and potent bonds” that women share with men work to enforce the deep-structural complicity of men in preserving their own privilege.7 The heterosexual imperative functions as the handmaiden of the law of the father.

But precisely because homosocial desire is consolidated by the putative “otherness” of heterosexuality, which opens the space of gender inequity, homosocial desire finds itself rent by the putative “sameness” of homosexuality, which, by short-circuiting the approved wiring of desire, threatens to upset the homosocial flows of power. And yet, Sedgwick notes, male homosexuality emerges from these same patriarchal institutions as a particular form of male homosociality:

the continuum of male homosocial bonds has been brutally structured by a secularized psychologized homophobia, which has excluded certain shiftingly and arbitrarily defined segments of the [same] continuum from participating in the overarching male entitlement, in the complex web of male power over the production, reproduction and exchange of goods, persons and means.8

Richard Dellamora seconds this point, mapping its precise social and historical coordinates:

Late in the century, masculine privilege was sustained by male friendships within institutions like the public schools, the older universities, the clubs, and the professions. Because, however, the continuing dominance of bourgeois males also required that they marry and produce offspring, the intensity and sufficiency of male bonding needed to be strictly controlled by homophobic mechanisms.9

And yet, no bright line can be drawn separating homosocial affects and intimacies and homosexual ones. Quoting Sedgwick once more:

the paths of male entitlement required certain intense male bonds that were not readily distinguishable from the most reprobated bonds, an endemic and ineradicable state of … male homosexual panic [anxiety over what is, what is not, who is, who is not] became the normal condition of male heterosexual entitlement.10

The modern educational system in general and the elite boarding school in particular, where boys learned the ways of male entitlement under the pressure of powerful and labile erotic pulsions, have afforded a prototypical arena for the experience of homosexual panic.

Joyce not only betrays just this sort of sexual unease in his private correspondence, but, I will be arguing, he transfers these attitudes to his fictive alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, in a more extreme, explicitly “panicky” mode, which systematically shapes the most crucial decisions that Stephen enacts: his appeal to Conmee, his refusal of the priesthood, his assumption of an aesthetic vocation, his self-exile. A number of critics have, over the years, pointed to the operation of homoerotic energies in A Portrait—for example, in the smugging episode or in Stephen's final interview with Cranly—and a couple have even asserted the importance of these same energies as a component of Stephen's psychology.11 I would like both to extend and to challenge this scholarship by demonstrating that these homosexual energies are indissociable from Stephen's phobic denial of them; that this denial constitutes a fundamental determinant of the novel's basic narrative structure and hence of Stephen's destiny; and that in his elaboration of Stephen's denial, Joyce stages and thereby transvalues his own disavowal of the homoerotic.

By taking this approach, of course, I do not mean to imply any simple autobiographical identification of the figure of Dedalus with that of Joyce; the panic and denial that Stephen displays are not synonymous with Joyce's unease and disavowal, but heuristic parodies or exaggerations thereof, in keeping with what Hugh Kenner has called Joyce's cubist method of self-portraiture. I do mean to propose, however, that the combination of projection, misrecognition, and self-awareness connecting author and alter ego comprises a certain homoerotic ambivalence, whose operation in the text helps to demystify Stephen's strongest claim to being Joyce's surrogate, his will to artistry.


The very title of the novel invokes fin de siècle homoeroticism and does so in a characteristically Joycean fashion, by establishing, at the outset, the text as intertext. As Vicki Mahaffey suggested to me, the phrase “a portrait of the artist” is a quite peculiar locution, which makes its derivation from one work in particular, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, that much more assured, especially since Dorian's portrait keeps him a young man. During the opening scene of Wilde's famous novel, Basil tells Henry:

every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter … who reveals himself.12

In this light, Stephen can be taken either as a self-portrait in the ordinary sense or as a self-portrait strictly by virtue of being “a portrait painted with feeling,” a condition likely to disfigure the ordinary self-portrait with a certain self-indulgence. Stephen must, therefore, not only be seen as both Joyce and not Joyce; he must also be seen as revealing Joyce precisely to the extent that he is not a self-depiction (being instead merely a portrait painted with feeling) and disfiguring Joyce to the extent that he is a self-depiction, altered by that feeling.

But Joyce's interest in the intercourse between revelation and representation in Wilde exceeded questions of the pragmatics of self-portraiture. It had a nakedly ethicopolitical edge as well. Joyce's primary response to The Picture of Dorian Gray was disappointment that Wilde had dissembled in presenting the homosexual charge binding Dorian, Basil, and Henry, that Wilde's own complex self-representation had not been more of a (sexual) revelation.

I can imagine the capital which Wilde's prosecuting counsel made out of certain parts of it. It is not very difficult to read between the lines. Wilde seems to have had some good intentions in writing it—some wish to put himself before the world—but the book is rather crowded with lies and epigrams. If he had had the courage to develop the allusions in the book it might have been better. I suspect he has done this in some privately printed books.

(SL 96)

Like this letter, however, which conspicuously declines to develop “the allusions in the book” any more than Wilde does, leaving the homosexuality therein an “open secret,”13 Joyce's title repeats the gesture of circumspection, leaving the homotextual relations between his novel and Wilde's at the level of “epigram.” Or perhaps it would be truer to say, Joyce's title answers Wilde's deliberate circumspection with an unconscious disavowal; it simultaneously reveals and conceals the intense homotextual relation between his bildungsroman and his precursor, revealing the “textual” affinity, in its most Derridean sense, while concealing or eliding the “homo.” Whereas the “feeling” that makes Dorian's portrait a “portrait of the artist” involves Basil's homoerotic attraction to his “sitter,” as Joyce recognizes, Joyce's “feeling” for his “sitter” could only be construed as narcissistic, a modality of desire properly understood as the precondition for any object relation, homo- or hetero-. By remaining at the level of epigram, the title, A Portrait of the Artist, translates the open secret of Dorian Gray's sexual economy into an open option or open possibility. That is to say, whereas Dorian Gray veils its specific erotic “truth” in order to betray it selectively, enacting a classic economy of repression and desire, A Portrait [P] announces but does not specify its erotic truth, entertaining a jouissance of suspension and volatility—a point to which I will return in my conclusion.

By the same token, the improbable Greek surname of Joyce's alter ego, the marker of his prospective artistic identity, would inevitably be construed, in the aftermath of the entire Wilde controversy, as invoking the Hellenistic cultural movement that the name Dorian Gray had served to sensationalize. But here again, the name Dorian alludes specifically to the homoerotic component of that late Victorian cult of aestheticist self-development, the Dorians being regarded as the prototypical exponents of “Greek love.” The name Dedalus, by contrast, carries far less determinate sexual connotations: the “old artificer” (P 253) not only fathered Icarus on a slave girl, he mentored and then murdered Perdix, and he pandered to the unnatural lusts of Pasiphaë, the queen of the Cretans, who were themselves generally reputed to have introduced the institution of paiderastia into Greece (a belief built into the etymology of the word itself).14

A similarly displaced homotextual relation presents itself in the symbol of Stephen's Irish art (no, not the cracked mirror [U 1.143-44], though it is telling that Wilde presides there as well), the impossible green rose. Stephen's aesthetic career begins on a significant pun, significantly repeated.

                    O, the wild rose blossoms
                    On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.

(P 7; emphasis added)

And again,

Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colors. And he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place.

(P 12; emphasis added)

Joyce underlines and clarifies the pun in Finnegans Wake, [FW] where it serves to stake the process of history itself on the wages of illicit sexuality:

has not the levy of black mail from the times the finish were in it, and fain for wilde erthe blossoms followed an impressive private reputation for whispered sins?

(FW 69.2-4; emphasis added)

With this in mind, Stephen's subsequent musing—“But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could” (P 12)—unmistakably recalls Wilde's famous “green carnation,” which was an aestheticist emblem of imaginative artifice, the conventional reading of Stephen's rose, and, correlatively, a badge of the homosexual subculture of fin de siècle England,15 a sense that Stephen's flower intimates sotto voce. By deploying this symbolic nexus in this fashion, Joyce puts Stephen in the position of registering, “owning” in some sense, the emergent cultural identification of artistry and homoeroticism that the aestheticist movement had adumbrated, but he simultaneously avoids any suggestion that Stephen could himself be aware of, or even subliminally invested in, such an identification. Joyce thereby sets up a recursive dynamic wherein Stephen's preordained vocation will have been grounded in an inarticulate homoeroticism once, and only once, his exposure to the taboos informing compulsory heterosexuality have catalyzed same-sex desire as a dread of the unspeakable, something to be expressed only in the negative form of a denial. So even before Stephen's homosexual panic begins to condition the contents of his life narrative, its genesis works a significant complication in the form of that narrative. Instead of unfolding on the latency model, which neatly conforms with the linear, quasi-organic development typical of the Künstlerroman, Stephen's homosexual affects irrupt in an anachronistic knot or fold known, in Freudian terminology, as a “deferred action,” in this case the retroactive generation of a subsequently phobic desire. To speak of Stephen's homoerotic investments, accordingly, is always to speak of his simultaneous experience, denial, and diversion of them, galvanized in his Clongowes education.

Stephen's speculation on the green rose immediately follows his reflections on the widely suspect Simon Moonan. The homoerotic overtones of this interlude nicely encapsulate the temporal knot of deferred action, for they reveal both a naïveté too complete to be inhibited and a knowingness too acute to be innocent.

We all know why you speak. You are McGlade's suck. Suck was a queer word. The fellow called Simon Moonan that name because Simon Moonan used to tie the prefect's false sleeves behind his back and the prefect used to let on to be angry. But the sound was ugly. Once he had washed his hands in the lavatory of the Wicklow Hotel and his father pulled the stopper up by the chain after and the dirty water went down through the hole in the basin. And when it had all gone down slowly … made a sound like that: suck. Only louder. … There were two cocks that you turned and water came out: cold and hot … and he could see the names printed on the cocks. That was a very queer thing.

(P 11)

I have quoted this passage at length because

1. through the repeated use of terms like suck, queer, cocks, and so forth,16 it lays down psychosymbolic associations among Stephen's developing fever, his ongoing fascination with, and aversion to, standing water and waste, and a retroactive homosexual panic;

2. as a link in the reversible chain of Stephen's psychic development, it puts an erotic spin on the sort of homosocial roughhousing that lands him in the square ditch and causes his fever. Stephen, remember, a designated mama's boy, will not trade his dandyish “little snuffbox” for Wells's macho “hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty” (P 10); the box and the nut function as genital symbols for the respectively feminized and masculinized positions of Stephen and Wells. Since the incident exemplifies the sexualized aggression that Joyce attributed to English boarding-school activities, and since Joyce was likewise shouldered into the ditch, with similarly febrile consequences (JJII [Richard Ellman. James Joyce, 2d ed.] 28), it is worth noting that the square ditch runs along the perimeter of Clongowes and forms its boundary with the old English pale.17 It is, in other words, a border zone where the masculinized Anglo-Saxon “conqueror” and the feminized Irish conquered meet and, partly as an effect of the conquest itself, where their ethnoracial differences are both marked, even exaggerated, and overridden, even erased. With respect to Joyce's cherished distinction between the rampant homoeroticism of English public-school life and the comparative innocence of its Irish counterpart, the square ditch constitutes an objectified instance of “the proximate” itself, that is, a thin margin of dissociation into which the subject might always land or be pushed, and his kinship with the other be uncomfortably reaffirmed;18

3. in light of points one and two, it establishes a basis on which to overcome an inveterate critical assumption, that because Stephen does not fully grasp the implications of the “smugging” scandal until later on, he is not really party to the homosexual energies circulating among the Clongowes students as they remember or recount the “crime” and anticipate the similarly titillating punishment. The mode of Stephen's knowledge is unconscious, which is to say it unfolds in the futur anterieur.

As it turns out, these three narrative functions are strictly correlative. For what most powerfully eroticizes the Clongowes scene for Stephen is not the prosaic specification of Moonan and Boyle's offense (“smugging”), nor even the poetic rehearsal of their punishment (“It can't be helped / It must be done / So down with your breeches / And out with your bum” [P 44]). It is rather the way the taboo on their activity (i.e., a prohibition enforcing secrecy and enforced by shame) molds Stephen's private elaboration of these accounts and the way his elaboration, in turn, interacts with other environmental cues like the sound of the cricket bats.

As Stephen speculates on the offense, his effort to exculpate Moonan in his own mind lends a distinctly libidinal complexion to his memories of the boy, as if the sense of transgression itself, any transgression, carries its own highly labile erotic current.

What did that mean about the smugging in the square. … It was a joke, he thought. Simon Moonan had nice clothes and one night he had shown him a ball of creamy sweets that the fellows of the football fifteen had rolled down to him along the carpet. … It was the night of the match against the Bective Rangers and the ball was made just like a red and green apple only it opened and it was full of the creamy sweets.

(P 42; emphases added)

Stephen's earlier fantasy about leaving on vacation already incorporated his experience with Moonan in a plainly, if unconsciously, homoerotic fashion: “The train was full of fellows: a long, long chocolate train with cream facings” (P 20; emphases added). This is a classic instance in which commonplace homosocial reinforcement, highlighted by the affiliation with team sports, merges almost seamlessly with the “most reprobated” sexual imagery and investments. Once again, Stephen undergoes the panic this double bind arouses as an “agony in the watercloset” (U 15.2643), a dread associated with waste and standing urine:

But why in the square? You went there when you wanted to do something. It was all thick slabs of slate and water trickled all day out of tiny pinholes and there was a queer smell of stale water there.

(P 43)

Being the site of a certain mutual genital exposure, the male lavatory space always carries some homoerotic potential; as a result, the introduction of a more explicitly sexual element, tapping as it does Stephen's existing fear and confusion, renders the excremental function itself “queer” and therefore unspeakable for him. You went to the lavatory to “do something” that apparently dare not be named.

As Stephen speculates on the punishment, his dread and his desire come simultaneously into view.19 He imagines the prospect of being caned less in terms of pain than in terms of “chill”: “It made him shivery to think of it and cold … it made him shivery” (P 45). That this chill bespeaks a sexualized frisson becomes immediately evident in Stephen's focus on the ceremonial unveiling of the “vital spot” (P 44): “He wondered who had to let them [the trousers] down, the master or the boy himself” (P 45). Stephen's consideration of the protocol involved suggests a mutuality of participation in the act of undressing that bares the sexual energy animating the exemplary discipline. His subsequent vision of the caning itself implies a literalized dialectic or reciprocity between beater and beaten that issues in a sense of positive and implicitly homoerotic pleasure.

Athy … had rolled up his sleeves to show how Mr. Gleeson would roll up his sleeves. But Mr. Gleeson had round shiny cuffs and clean white wrists and fattish white hands and the nails of them were long and pointed. Perhaps he pared them too like Lady Boyle. … And though he trembled with … fright to think of the cruel long nails … and of the chill you felt at the end of your shirt when you undressed yourself yet he felt a feeling of queer quiet pleasure inside him to think of the white fattish hands, clean and strong and gentle.

(P 45)

As the passage mushrooms into a full-blown if displaced sexual fantasy, Stephen takes center stage as the subject of warring sensations, an outer chill and an inner glow, an anticipated pain and an experienced pleasure, an involuntary engagement but a voluntary imagining, a sexual affect at once savored and denied. Indeed, Joyce exploits the equivocality of the word “queer” in this passage in order to mark not only the homoerotic nature of Stephen's ambivalence, but also to mark the ambivalent, uncanny impact of the homoerotic upon Stephen, his mixture of fear and fascination, attraction and repulsion, which is the recipe for a “panic” born of “proximate-ness.”

This proximate-ness, in turn, with its ambivalent affect, gives a sharply ironic twist to Stephen's subsequent pandying. It is not just that Stephen receives punishment for something he never did, scheme to break his glasses, nor even that he is made the scapegoat for a sexual scandal he imperfectly comprehends, which is how he comes to interpret the matter (P 54); no, what is ironic is that in the unconscious, where the thought or wish can stand for the deed and carry the same transgressive force,20 there is indeed a recursive symmetry, if not equity, to Stephen's punishment. If, as Stephen and the other boys suspect, the pandyings actually respond to the homoerotic indulgences of the smugging “ring,” then Stephen can be seen as an accomplice after the fact, participating vicariously in these indulgences through his fantasy construction of Mr. Gleeson's discipline. In fact, the imagined caning and the real pandying communicate with one another precisely through Stephen's erotic preoccupation with his masters' hands. Having taken a “queer quiet pleasure” from the contemplation of Mr. Gleeson's “white fattish hands, clean strong and gentle,” Stephen seems to expect something of the same gratification from the prefect's fingers, in which he initially discerns a like quality, and Stephen finds Father Dolan's betrayal of this sensual promise to be, in some respects, the most galling aspect of the whole episode. His mind returns to it obsessively in the aftermath.

[H]e thought of the hands which he had held out in the air with the palms up and of the firm touch of the prefect of studies when he had steadied the shaking fingers.

(P 51)

He felt the touch of the prefect's fingers as they had steadied his hand and at first he had thought he was going to shake hands with him because the fingers were soft and firm: but then in an instant he had heard the swish of the soutane sleeve and the crash.

(P 52)

And his whitegrey face and the nocoloured eyes behind the steelrimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand first with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better and louder.

(P 52; emphasis added)

Since we are dealing with Stephen's perception of the scene, the insistent, fetishistic repetition of “soft,” “firm,” “fingers,” “touch,” and “steadied,” along with the bizarre causal priority accorded Dolan's duplicitous touch, must be seen as recalling some sort of baffled desire as well as trauma, or rather an overlapping of the two psychic movements. Stephen's trauma at the pandying fixates upon the master's touch because that is where Stephen's unconscious wishes insert themselves into both the smugging scandal and the larger homosocial-sexual economy of Clongowes. It is the point at which he has eroticized, and so from a certain point of view merited, the priests' brutal sanctions on such eroticism.

Stephen's subsequent protest at the injustice of his thrashing likewise belies his fascination with the male body, which is, of course, the impulse being disciplined.

[A]nd the fifth was big Corrigan who was going to be flogged by Mr. Gleeson. That was why the prefect of studies had called him a schemer and pandied him for nothing. … But he [Corrigan] had done something and besides Mr. Gleeson would not flog him hard: and he [Stephen] remembered how big Corrigan looked in the bath. He had skin the same colour as the turfcoloured bogwater in the shallow end of the bath and when he walked along the side his feet slapped loudly on the wet tiles and at every step his thighs shook a little because he was fat.

(P 54)

Stephen wants to assert a distinction between guilty, robust Corrigan and poor, little innocent Dedalus. But in doing so, he discloses a familiarity with Corrigan's physique apparently gleaned from watching his “every step” “in the bath,” and the desire such familiarity would suggest seems further corroborated by the way Corrigan's bodily image simply takes over Stephen's juridical meditation. At the same time, his comparison of Corrigan's pigmentation to the dirty water in the bath recalls his own immersion in the square ditch and so indicates how profoundly this desire interfuses with dread.

Far from resolving this double bind, Conmee's vindication of Stephen and his schoolmates' ensuing homage only cements it. After his interview with the rector, Stephen is “hoisted” and “carried … along” (P 58) in a homosocial bonding ritual that obviously makes him quite uncomfortable, for he immediately struggles to extricate his body from their grasp. And it is only once “[h]e was alone” that “[h]e was happy and free” (P 59). He then proceeds to dissociate himself in a categorical fashion from any sense of triumph over the prefect and so, by extension, from the celebratory fellowship of his peers. The reason is not far to seek. The very image in which his sense of gratification crystallizes, a sound “like drops of water in a fountain falling softly in a brimming bowl” (P 59), is but the inverse of his image of the dreaded “smugging” square, “all thick slabs of slate and water trickled all day out of tiny pinholes.” The aestheticized emblem of personal fulfillment thus encodes and carries forward the cloacal image of taboo sexual longing. Just as the prospect of painful social humiliation—being singled out for a caning—triggers in Stephen a “queer quiet pleasure” amid anxiety, owing to its homoerotic undercurrents, so the fruits of Stephen's social victory trigger an unconscious anxiety amid validation, an anxiety registered along the associative chains of Stephen's mental imagery.

In this regard, the fact that this ambivalent water rhapsody actually emanates from a game of cricket, a sport exported from the elite playing fields of England to those of Ireland, implicates the author's unconscious as well in the structure of homoerotic disavowal. As Trevor Williams has argued, Joyce frames Stephen's success with a motif of colonial-cultural hegemony as a way of qualifying or undercutting its ultimate meaningfulness, in keeping with the alternating elevation/deflation mechanism of the narrative as a whole.21 But in the process, Joyce necessarily undermines his own cherished distinction between the athletic customs of English and Irish boarding schools at precisely the moment when the sexual anxiety that distinction was designed to forestall infiltrates the crowning symbol of Stephen's young life—the brimming bowl.

The resurgence of Stephen's “homosexual panic” in spite, and even because, of his social triumph presages Joyce's treatment of the issue throughout the remainder of the novel, beginning with Stephen's entry into officially heterosexual activity, from courtship rituals to whoring excursions. Joyce consistently surrounds Stephen's participation in these practices with conspicuous forms and indices of sexual/gender inversion, which, by the end of the century, was the dominant model of homosexuality in both the popular imagination and in the burgeoning discourse of sexology.22 Foucault even goes so far as to claim,

the psychological, psychiatric, medical category of homosexuality was constituted from the moment it was characterized … [as] a certain way of inverting the masculine and the feminine in oneself. Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.23

That is to say, homosexuality was paradoxically conceived in and as resistance to the very possibility of same-sex desire, reassimilated in its very emergence to the heterosexuality from which it was seen to deviate. As Christopher Craft observes, “sexual inversion explains homosexual desire as a physiologically misplaced heterosexuality … referable not to the sex of the body … but rather to a psychologized sexual center characterized as the ‘opposite gender.’”24

Uranian activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs gave the earliest and most enduring public expression to the idea of sexual inversion when he described male homosexuals as having “a feminine soul enclosed in a male body.”25 In 1870, Carl Westphal transposed this formulation into a medical/psychiatric register. His paradigm of a “contrary sexual instinct,” where a person was physically of one gender and psychically of another, was embraced in turn by such prominent psychosexologists as Ellis, Symonds, Carpenter, Freud, Krafft-Ebing, and Burton, (all of whom Joyce read and, on this score, credited).26 Krafft-Ebing located various gradations of sex/gender inversion in a “neuro-(psycho)pathic state” in his clinical tome, Psychopathia Sexualis, which was of course Joyce's primary resource for his representation of Bloom's encyclopedic perversions in “Circe”; and Burton traced a liability to sex/gender inversion to certain geoclimactic zones in The Thousand Nights and a Night, which played a no less decisive role in Joyce's conception of Finnegans Wake.27 In addition to being pervasive in Joyce's intellectual milieu, the inversion formula proved amazingly tenacious, so much so that Ellis and Freud continued to espouse or assume the model even after they had controverted or repudiated it, and Symonds and Carpenter felt compelled to assent to the model despite fairly deep misgivings.28 This tenacity, I would suggest, proceeded directly from the hegemonic force of the heterosexual norm, which inversion preserved, as Eve Sedgwick has noted, within homosexual desire itself.29

Joyce's deployment of this received idea, however, as with so many others, works to reverse or disrupt its received social force. Interwoven as they are with distinctively masculine, heterosexual rites of passage, the inversion motifs in A Portrait situate homoeroticism neither as a simple alternative to, nor an anomalous deviation from, some naturalized heteroerotic incitement, but as an element uncannily symbiotic with that incitement and menacing to its normalization. Firstly, just before the Harold's Cross children's party—Stephen's “coming out” as a heterosexual male—an old woman mistakes him for a female, repeating the phrase “I thought you were Josephine” several times (P 68). Often treated as an isolated epiphany, this incident has little if any pertinence to the rest of the narrative, other than being the first of several instances in which gender inversion attaches specifically to Stephen. As such, it can be read as one of those incompletely processed “lumps” in which the subterranean concerns of a text concentrate themselves in a nearly illegible form. In support of this thesis, I would note that just after the party, Stephen actually bears out this gender (mis)identification in terms of the standard Victorian sexual typology. On the tram ride home with E. C., he assumes what was thought to be the essentially, even definitively feminine role of sexual passivity and withdrawal, receiving without responding to her perceived sexual advances.30

Once again, just before her attendance at Stephen's Whitsuntide performance, their first encounter since the party, a significant instance of gender misidentification supervenes. There appears backstage “a pinkdressed figure, wearing a curly golden wig and an oldfashioned straw sunbonnet, with black pencilled eyebrows and cheeks delicately rouged and powdered.” The presiding prefect asks facetiously, “Is this a beautiful young lady or a doll that you have here, Mrs. Tallon?” It turns out, of course, to be the “girlish figure” of a boy, “little Bertie Tallon,” a circumstance that provokes “a murmur of curiosity” and then “a murmur of admiration” from the other boys. In Stephen, however, this transvestite spectacle precipitates a telling “movement of impatience. … He let the edge of the blind fall … and walked out of the chapel” (P 74). Why would Stephen react or overreact in this fashion? Perhaps because the superimposition of the signifiers of feminine desirability upon a schoolboy's already “girlish figure,” the accompanying expression of the other schoolboys' admiration, and the disingenuous participation of the prefect combine to tap the ambivalence at the heart of Stephen's sexual desire, by recalling the roots of that ambivalence in his own school experience as the “little” boy, the mama's boy, the feminized boy. A subsequent passage, however, indicates that still more is at stake.

All day he had thought of nothing but their leavetaking on the steps of the tram at Harold's Cross. … All day he had imagined a new meeting with her for he knew that she was to come to the play. The old restless moodiness had again filled his breast as it had done on the night of the party but had not found an outlet in verse. The growth and knowledge of two years of boyhood stood between then and now, forbidding such an outlet: and all day the stream of gloomy tenderness within him had started forth and returned upon itself in dark courses and eddies, wearying him in the end until the pleasantry of the prefect and the painted little boy had drawn from him a movement of impatience.

(P 77)

And why does the moodiness attached to Stephen's sexual “growth and knowledge,” not to mention the restlessness accumulated over his day of brooding on Harold's Cross, vent themselves specifically in response to a schoolboy's drag performance? Perhaps because Stephen's sexual ambivalence, tapped by this transvestic scenario, persists in such a way as to disturb the ease of his enlistment in the rolls of compulsory heterosexuality, his dalliance with E. C. being a critical step in this process. Notice, in this respect, that Stephen figures his feelings for E. C. as a “stream of gloomy tenderness” moving “in dark courses and eddies,” a metaphor that unmistakably keys into and recirculates the homoerotic valences and associations of Stephen's past experience with dark or eddying courses of water: the square ditch, the sink at the Wicklow Hotel, the shallow end of the bath at Clongowes. Given this commingling of the “streams” of heterosexual affect with the “courses” of (water)closeted homosexual desire, Stephen's prescription for calming his heart after he misses E. C., the “odour” of “horse piss and rotted straw” (P 86), seems a recognizable-enough displacement.

Finally, Stephen's venture into the brothel area is characterized by a literal and symbolic inversion of the phallic mode of heterosexual activity. He serves as the object or locus rather than the agent of penetration. First, “subtle streams” of sound “penetrated his being” (P 100). Then, “His hands clenched convulsively and his teeth set together as he suffered the agony of … penetration” (P 100). Upon entering the prostitute's room, it is Stephen who becomes “hysterical,” Stephen who is “surrendering himself,” and Stephen who is passively penetrated by “the dark pressure of her softly parting lips” (P 101). Moreover, Joyce frames Stephen's long-anticipated (hetero)sexual transfiguration with lavatory motifs familiar from Clongowes. He depicts Stephen prowling “dark, slimy streets,” penetrated by “subtle streams” of sound, and issuing “a cry which was but the echo of an obscene scrawl which he had read on the oozing wall of a urinal” (P 99-100). In this way, Joyce unsettles the popular, bildungsmythos of a young man's self-conscious graduation from homosexual play to heterosexual maturity and (re)productivity, and he replaces it with an ambivalent complication, a progressive overlapping and interfolding of sexual preferences that is registered at one level of self-narration only to be denied or externalized at another. Such interfolding even extends to Stephen's repentance for these sexual excesses at the religious retreat. For his nominally heterosexual sins, he imagines an eternal punishment expressive of his profound dread at his unacknowledged homosexual desires: a weedy field of “solid excrement” populated by bestial creatures with long phallic tails and faces whose similarity to and contact with the weedy field give them an anal cast (P 137).

Keeping this sexual ambivalence at bay (what we might call the normative working through of homosexual panic) exerts a subtle yet potent pressure on the subsequent course of Stephen's development. On the one hand, his unconscious anxiety about the homoerotic component of his sexual drives can be seen as fueling his repentance and renunciation of their illicit enactment. On the other hand, and more importantly, a gradual accretion of images and associations of sexual inversion and memories of the homosocial interplay at Clongowes work to hold Stephen back from the logical terminus of his recovered piety, turning his consideration of the religious life toward a relieved demurral.

The latter point becomes evident over the course of his vocational interview with the director of Belvedere. The director opens the interview with a comment on “the friendship between saint Thomas and saint Bonaventure” and goes on to criticize the feminine design of “the capuchin dress” known as les jupes (P 154-55).31 Stephen's silent, embarrassed response is a meditation upon the “soft and delicate stuffs” of women's clothing followed by a meditation on the Jesuit body, in both senses of the term.

His masters, even when they had not attracted him, had seemed to him always intelligent and serious priests, athletic and highspirited prefects. He thought of them as men who washed their bodies briskly with cold water and wore clean cold linen.

(P 155-56)

In a context thus informed by questions of homosocial affection and institutionalized cross-dressing, the director's ensuing gesture of releasing the blind's cord suddenly cannot but trigger, in both Stephen and the reader, the unconscious memory of Bertie Tallon in drag and Stephen's own impatient response: letting the edge of the blind fall.

As Stephen leaves the director, he begins to envisage his daily life as a priest in more concrete detail, and the (homo)eroticized traces of the past gather more thickly and affect Stephen more intensely.

The troubling odour of the long corridor of Clongowes came back to him. … At once from every part of his being and unrest began to irradiate. A feverish quickening of his pulses followed.

(P 160)

An olfactory cue, always the strongest for Stephen, puts him in the grip of an excitement that can be explained neither on a purely nonsexual basis nor in terms of simple attraction or repulsion, but only by way of the annihilating proximate-ness of a taboo desire, its alien and (self-)alienating intimacy. The memory of the bathhouse atmosphere at Clongowes returns to Stephen with precisely this quality, being in and yet not of him.

His lungs dilated and sank as if he were inhaling a warm moist unsustaining air which hung in the bath in Clongowes above the sluggish turf-coloured water.

(P 161)

The last phrase, it should be noted, substantially repeats Stephen's mesmerized description of big Corrigan's naked body. So when Stephen goes on to ground his refusal of the clerical life on “the pride of his spirit which had always made him conceive himself as a being apart in every order” (P 161), he represses one of his libidinal aims in the service of the larger economy of desire that feeds his “panic.” Stephen does not, as he later thinks, refuse the priesthood simply by obedience to a “wayward instinct” (P 165), but also out of fear of yet another “wayward instinct” implicated in his possible acceptance. This misprision resonates specifically in the odd, ambiguous phrase “apart in [not from] every order.” To be “apart in” an order, after all, is also to be “a part in” that order; it is to find oneself in a situation of belonging and estrangement simultaneously, the condition of the proximate.

That Stephen's professedly homosocial discomfort cannot be dissociated from homosexual anxiety grows even clearer during the climactic scene on the strand, where Stephen receives his “true” calling. His fetishistic (which is to say implicitly misogynistic) overvaluation of the bird girl's physical presence follows a correspondingly aversive overreaction to the physical presence of his unclothed schoolmates.

It was a pain to see them and a swordlike pain to see the signs of adolescence that made repellent their pitiable nakedness. Perhaps they had taken refuge in number and noise from the secret dread of their souls. But he, apart from them and in silence, remembered in what dread he stood of the mystery of his own body.

(P 168)

The phallic (“swordlike”) nature of Stephen's pain, his confounding of his dread of others with a dread of self and, finally, the now familiar solace he takes in a fantasy of dignified solitude, all indicate a recurrence of Stephen's homosexual panic. The representation of his state of being upon removing himself from the spectacle of his naked classmates even recalls the description of his state of mind upon extricating himself from his classmates' celebratory embrace at Clongowes.

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life.

(P 168)

He was alone. He was happy and free.

(P 59)

The crucial development on this occasion is that Stephen is able to legitimate his resource of splendid isolation through the romantic myth of the artist.

The bird girl can serve as Stephen's muse only insofar as she confirms this phantasmatic self-conception and thus delivers him from the embarrassments of censored and ambivalent sexual impulses. This function would go some way toward accounting for the extraordinary rapture she incites in him.32 Stephen might be seen as placing her in a transferential position between himself and his naked peers, in much the same way that individual women, according to Sedgwick, are consistently being enlisted as eroticized points of mediation “between men” in order to forestall the “panic” that arises with the arbitrary, institutionalized disjunction between homosocial and homosexual practice.33 At the same time, in order to perform this function, the bird girl must appeal to the braided homo- and hetero-cathexes motivating Stephen's gaze, and on apparently straightforward heterosexual grounds. That is, she must enable a simplification and sublimation of Stephen's perverse desire, which is where the aesthetic framework becomes crucial. In this regard, it is important that she is not a bird woman, but a bird girl, poised in her incipient physical maturity between complete and incomplete gender differentiation. The repeated description of her look as “girlish” stresses as much by connecting her with that other “girlish figure,” little Bertie Tallon. In fact, Joyce sets up a sort of textual ratio between the performances of Bertie and the bird girl, each of which constitutes a species of “drag” in that (a) each induces in its respective audience an admiration entirely bound up with some kind of aestheticized semblance: Bertie's garish overlay of feminine cues, the bird girl's concealed displacement of masculine ones; and (b) each induces in its respective audience an admiration that is itself in disguise, its homoerotic component hidden from consciousness.

Understood in these terms, the bird girl fits into Stephen's psychic economy in much the same way that Sybil Vane fits into Dorian's, as an objective correlative of a straightforward heterosexual investment that only exists “on stage,” through aesthetic misrecognition. That is to say, in keeping with his reading of Dorian Gray, Joyce associates Wilde's brand of aestheticism not with his sodomite inclinations but with his dissimulation of them. For this reason, Joyce has Stephen's soaring inspiration express itself in what amounts to a broad stylistic parody of Wilde and Walter Pater, and he thereby establishes a subtle link between the sublimity of Stephen's aesthetic delirium and the repression and displaced release of the homosocial affect aroused by the swimmers (a dramatic irony perfectly in keeping with the cultural identification of art and same-sex desire fostered by Pater and consolidated by Wilde). It is remarkable, in fact, the extent to which the entire episode unfolds under (a pun on) the name of Wilde. Stephen's “ecstasy of flight made … wild his breath and … wild and radiant his windswept limbs,” and “an instant of wild flight had delivered him” (P 169). “A new wild life was singing in his veins” (P 170). “He was … near to the wild heart of life … willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air” (P 171). “He strode … singing wildly to the sea” (P 172). Once “her image had passed into his soul,” the bird girl is figured as a “wild angel” (P 172). Just as the first signature song of baby Stephen touches punningly and significantly on Wilde, focusing upon a “wild rose” (P 7), later to transmogrify into the impossible “green rose” (P 12), so Stephen's first moments as a self-proclaimed artist have Wilde written all over them—over his flight, his song, his aesthetic object. From its flowering back to its roots, the narrative of Stephen's aesthetic destiny is staked upon his obsessive en-crypting of homoerotic desire, that is, his encoding of this desire and his laying it to rest. And the name of Wilde, always there and not quite there, re-marks this mechanism of denial.

Much the same structure characterizes Stephen's theoretical colloquium with Lynch. Sexualized byplay, such as Lynch's rubbing of his groin, is mediated by reference to an aesthetic ideal of female beauty, the Venus of Praxiteles, and routed through her mutual appropriation by the interlocutors. When Stephen introduces the question of body with the exhortation, “Let us take woman,” and Lynch fervently responds, “Let us take her!” (P 208), they align themselves in an aestheticized version of the erotic triangle that Sedgwick takes to be the paradigmatic figure of homosociality/homophobia. It is important to recognize in this regard that notions of triangulated same-sex desire much like Sedgwick's were already abroad in the late nineteenth century and were readily available to Joyce. In The Renaissance, for example, Walter Pater, whose prose we saw parodied in the decidedly homosocial “beach” episode, advanced an equally homosocial interpretation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, opining that “one knows not whether the love of both Palimon and Arcite for Emelya, or of those two for each other, is the chiefer subject”—a reading that seeks to place an ideal of male love at the heart of the aesthetic experience.34 For Stephen, of course, the aesthetic is the discursive mode that raises the mind “above desire and loathing” (P 205), and yet it is precisely this nominal status that makes art the perfect cover for the taboo, which is itself defined by the cooperation of what “the flesh shrinks from” and “what it desires” (P 206). Stephen's sense of the aesthetic as being properly sequestered “in a mental world” (P 206) is what allows it to facilitate covertly the discharge of homosexual libido. Witness, for example, the sublime culmination of his theoretical communiqué. The vision of the archetypal artist, God, “paring his fingernails” (P 215) harnesses and transforms the desire attached to Stephen's memories of the sexually ambivalent hands of Tusker (Lady) Boyle and the punishing yet pleasure-giving hands of Mr. Gleeson.

Here we have then the erotic hinge on which the Künstlerroman aspect of the narrative can be said to turn. Whereas the religious life figures for Stephen the perilous slide of homosocial relations toward homosexual exposure, prompting his flight, the aesthetic vocation figures the sublimation of homosocial ties through the elaboration of a heteroerotic ideal. It thus serves him as a kind of supplement to the heterosexual imperative, a subsidiary distancing or mediating agency of homosocial bonds. That the heterosexual imperative should need the supplement of aesthetic transformation, however, is a sign of its ultimate vulnerability.

Such vulnerability is borne out in Stephen's friendship with Cranly, which features the closest thing A Portrait has to a French triangle: Stephen projects upon Cranly a mutual competitive interest in E. C. This triangle is modeled in turn onto an oedipal triangle, in which the paternalistic Cranly remonstrates with Stephen over the proper devotion to be paid his mother. We seem, in other words, to be moving toward what Sedgwick would see as a normative heterosexual/homophobic resolution. But it does not work. For if Stephen requires a heteroerotic ideal to sublimate his stubborn homoerotic ambivalence, his rarefaction of E. C. paradoxically renders her too shadowy and insubstantial a figure to mediate his powerful homosocial relationship with Cranly. Stephen's fleeting sense of romantic rivalry notwithstanding, Cranly increasingly comes to take over the place of E. C. as Stephen's object of affection. True to the terms of the novel outlined thus far, this transfer of erotic intensity and intimacy to a male figure passes through the register of religious intercourse.

Shortly before Stephen's initial thoughts of Cranly, there occurs a moment of gender misidentification of the sort that occurs prior to Stephen's first date with E. C. Stephen's father adverts to him as a “lazy bitch” (P 175). Joyce hereby intimates a structural parallel between Stephen's relations with E. C. and Cranly, a sort of dueling courtship. Stephen's thoughts themselves are fairly bursting with a barely repressed homoeroticism. He begins by wondering

Why … when he thought of Cranly he could never raise before his mind the entire image of his body but only the image of his head and face.

(P 178)

The habit of mind Stephen observes would seem to locate Cranly, like the aestheticized image of Venus, exclusively “in a mental world,” in this case by substantially blotting out his bodily existence. But the “mental world” in which Stephen would cloister his friend is sacerdotal rather than aesthetic, and as the following passage indicates, Stephen's identification of the clerical orders with marked homosocial-sexual bonding has survived his rejection of them.

The forms of the community emerged from the gustblown vestments. … They came ambling and stumbling, tumbling and capering, kilting their gowns for leap frog, holding one another back … smacking one another behind … calling to one another by familiar nicknames … whispering two and two behind their hands.

(P 192)

The largely confessional nature of Stephen's mental intercourse with Cranly, in which he recounts “all the tumults and unrest and longings of his soul” (P 178), plugs directly into this homoerotic fantasy of church life, too directly in fact to escape Stephen's notice altogether. Even as he contemplates Cranly's “priestlike face,” Stephen is brought up short remembering “the gaze of its dark womanish eyes,” and “through this image” of gender inversion “he had a glimpse of a strange dark cavern of speculation” (P 178)—the very cavern, I would submit, that the present essay has traversed.

Stephen does not really explore this “cavern” until his last interview with Cranly, when he announces his imminent departure from Ireland. Most readers of this scene have followed Richard Ellmann in taking the homosexual implications to emanate largely, if not entirely, from Cranly—“Stephen's friend is as interested in Stephen as in Stephen's girl” (JJII 117).35 But Stephen is the one taken with Cranly's “large dark eyes” (P 245), which he earlier finds “womanish”; Stephen is the one who inquires, with significant double entendre, “Are you trying to make a convert of me or a pervert of yourself?” (P 242); and Stephen is the one whose sexual interests are left most ambiguous.

Yes. His face was handsome: and his body was strong and hard. … He felt then the sufferings of women, the weaknesses of their bodies and souls: and would shield them with a strong and resolute arm and bow his mind to them.

Away then: it is time to go. A voice spoke softly … bidding him go and telling him that his friendship was coming to an end.

(P 245)

Stephen here follows the cultural script of placing the figure of woman between himself and his homosocial counterpart, just as he did with the swimmers and with Lynch, but beside Cranly she disappears into a vapid generality. By the end of the passage, in fact, it is hard not to see Cranly as Stephen's real object of sexual rivalry rather than a rival for the favor of another. As if to emphasize this reversal, when an actual woman appears further on, mediating “the strife of their minds,” Stephen perceives her in transgendered terms; he sees her “small and slender as a boy” and hears her voice “frail and high as a boy's” (P 244). That the transferential woman now figures in Stephen's mind as boyish, a Bertie Tallon in reverse, reflects the preeminence of Cranly in his affections.

Finally, if Cranly initiates the physical contact in this encounter, Stephen is the one who responds positively to it. Moreover, having eroticized the priestly office since his time at Clongowes, Stephen insistently positions Cranly as a cleric manqué, a priest without portfolio or “the power to absolve” (P 178). In this way, Stephen can himself experience sexual frisson without institutional subordination. This may in fact be the key to Stephen's relationship with Cranly. In order that Stephen may resolve the trauma of the doubtful or duplicitous “touch” of his masters, such as Father Dolan, he enlists Cranly to extend to him the “touch” of a doubtful mastery, a touch that elicits a less immediate sense of dread. But precisely because Stephen can be so “thrilled by his touch” (P 247), Cranly embodies the most profound danger yet to Stephen's heterosexual self-conception. He not only represents the persistence of Stephen's religious sensibility in, and despite, his apostasy (“Your mind,” he says, “is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve” [P 240]); he also represents the persistence of its homoerotic attractions in and despite Stephen's aesthetics of Woman.

As the vessel of this persistence, I would suggest, Cranly plays the decisive role in motivating Stephen's self-exile. For at this point Stephen can only reconstruct the aesthetic mission as a safely heterosexual adventure by making its completion somehow contingent upon separating himself from the “one person … who would be more than a friend” (P 247), however much Stephen would like to project that sentiment onto Cranly alone. Surely it is no coincidence that this pivotal conversation with Cranly breaks off, assuring Stephen's departure, just when the possibility of homosexual attraction and involvement, which has been diverted, displaced, and misrecognized throughout the novel, is finally, if inconclusively, broached. Stephen's last unanswered question, “Of whom are you speaking” (P 247), virtually epitomizes homosexual panic as a neurotic obsession with the identity, status, and location of homo-hetero difference and virtually defines Stephen as its captive.


Can we extend this diagnosis to Joyce and to his leave-taking? This question cannot but return us to the pragmatic riddles concerning self-revelation and fictional representation introduced at the outset of this essay. The unstable differential equation between Stephen and Joyce, wherein the portrait necessarily distorts or disguises the author in the process of portraying him, means that fictional self-exposure is by its nature a refuge as well, a way of confessing, as Stanislaus Joyce said, “in a foreign language” (quoted in JJII). Such self-portraiture requires no deliberate forms of secrecy, none of the “lies” or evasions with which Joyce charged Wilde, for it disrupts the logic of the closet itself, insofar as any space or practice of concealment is predicated on some theoretically decidable onto-epistemological difference between the referencing subject (sujet d'enunciation) and the subject of reference (sujet d'enonce).36 Not only does the generic hybridity of A Portrait (fictive autobiography/“factive” bildungsroman) work to inmix these textual positions, but so too does the novel's peculiarly claustrophobic style indirect libre, which persistently confounds, without wholly conflating the perspectives of narrator and protagonist.

The effect of these overlaid strategies of rhetorical foreshortening is to disable the boundaries between autobiographical expression and elision, display and dissimulation. First of all, any disclosure Joyce might have packed or wished to pack into his depiction of Stephen, including the stirrings of homoerotic desire and discomfort, ultimately prove indistinguishable from the exercise of poetic license as a mode of denial—which is not to say that denial is necessarily all, or even a part, of what such disclosures in fact amount to. By the same logic, Joyce's anatomy of Stephen's defensive or self-closeting strategies, particularly those involving homosexual panic and artistry, remains indeterminably an act of self-exposure, based on the implied correlation between author and alter ego, and an act of self-mystification, based on the generic incertitude surrounding the nature, degree, currency, and reliability of that correlation. In either case, the (epistemological) indeterminacies of Joyce's sexual self-representation encode a certain (ontological) instability of authorial selfhood as their originating condition, an irreducible slippage between the ego and alter ego that implies the alterity of the ego itself.

From an epistemological standpoint, the distinctive generic modality of Joyce's novel—detailed, accurate, yet decisively fictional self-portraiture—makes the sexual candor that Joyce demanded of other writers easier, less risky, because it makes the credulity of the reader impossible. A portrait of the artist is an open closet. But from an ontological standpoint, the generic modality of A Portrait shows the sexual candor that Joyce recommended to be harder, more problematic, because it altogether subverts the Imaginary author, the illusion of a unitary identity, whose authentic, interior core can be alternately expressed or occulted. An open closet betokens a liminal subject-construction, one that lives both within and beyond psychic enclosure.

The last thesis is perhaps best illustrated by drawing the contrast between my concept of the open closet and D. A. Miller's famous construct of the open secret. Defining the open secret, Miller writes that “in a mechanism reminiscent of Freudian disavowal, we know perfectly well that the secret is known, but we nevertheless must persist, however ineptly, in guarding it.”37 We do not simply hide a given piece of intelligence, in other words, we conceal our collective knowledge of that intelligence, allowing the secret to pass in a paradoxically unsecreted state. Our motives for doing so would seem to go to the very structure of subjectivity in liberal bourgeois society. Only the withholding of secrets enables each of us to build and consolidate a privatized interior space that counts as our “real” estate, that is, our proper self and our property. The openness of these secrets, in turn, enables us to signal the existence of this still-inviolate space to others, thereby securing the social value without which our (self-)possession would have no reality. As Miller puts it, the open secret, far from collapsing the binarisms established by the dynamics of secrecy—“private/public, inside/outside, subject/object”—instead “attests to their phantasmatic recovery.”38 It performs this function by sustaining within its discursive form that apparently decidable difference between the inner substance of personal identity (sujet d'enunciation) and the dissembling manifest practices that guarantee it (sujet d'enonce). The pretense of ignorance at work in the open secret offers phantasmatic confirmation that there is indeed something to be known about the subject, the importance of which is proportionate to the energy expended in hiding it. Since the Victorian era, the epicenter of this “secret subject” has typically been the complex itinerary of his or her sexual desire.39

In “Oscar Wilde: The Poet of Salomé,” Joyce briefly anticipates Miller's analysis, arguing that the Wilde affair pivoted less on the commission of sexual misdemeanors than on the violation of the (homo)sexual as open secret.

Whether he was innocent or guilty of the charges brought against him, he undoubtedly was a scapegoat. His greater crime was that he had caused a scandal in England, and it is well known that the English authorities did everything possible to persuade him to flee before they issued an order for his arrest. An employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated during the trial that, in London alone, there are more than 20,000 persons under police surveillance, but they remain footloose until they provoke a scandal.

(CW 203-4)

And yet as we have seen, and as the wording of this passage bears out, Joyce participates in the dynamic of open secrecy through his reliance on strategies of euphemism and “Freudian disavowal,” which lay a discreet silence over the erotic practices he addresses even as he addresses them, and even as he denounces the “secrecy and restrictions” surrounding them (CW 204). As such, Joyce's essay would seem to exemplify the power of the open secret to extend indefinitely the regime of the closet by circulating speech itself as a form of censorship.

In A Portrait of the Artist, Joyce reverses the terms of this discursive economy. Instead of a rhetorical form, the open secret, which establishes the subject's essential truths in the act of pretending to disguise them, Joyce fashions a rhetorical form, the open closet, which suspends or undermines such truths in the act of pretending to divulge them. Whereas the former mode centers the subject in terms of its unspoken desire, the immanent signified of its sexuality, the latter decenters the subject across a chain of signifying positions in which its desire is articulated. In the first case, the subject harbors a profound mystery to be exposed; in the second, the subject instances a radical uncertainty that remains flush with the text of its exposition—hidden, if you will, in plain sight. To illustrate the open secret in literary practice, Miller observes that Dickens, having “abandoned autobiography for the Novel,” “encrypts” his secrets in the figure of David Copperfield.40 Joyce, by contrast, having reclaimed autobiography for the novel, uses Dedalus to “screen,” in both contradictory senses of the word, his own sexual desire and anxiety. Dedalus's sexual ambivalences veil Joyce's while putting them on display and display them while putting them under a veil of doubt. The open closet consists precisely in this practice of double inscription, and, as such, it orchestrates what, in Lacanian parlance, might be called a sexuality of the “not all,”41 that is, a sexuality that defeats the categories of identity on which it continues to depend or, to turn things around, a sexuality that is framed by categories that cannot finally contain it.

On the one hand, this “not all” is the enabling condition of jouissance, the extreme verge of erotic intensity which, far from consolidating subjectivity, effracts it.42 On the other hand, it is structurally homologous with the proximate, the rigid enabling condition of Joyce's sexual unease and Stephen's homosexual panic. Both the proximate and the “not all” figure border zones where the fundamental psychosymbolic difference, the difference between sameness and otherness, collapses. Jouissance registers this interval as a site of ecstasy; the proximate registers it as a site of anxiety. The distinction between them, in other words, is purely evaluative, and it hinges on the relative affective priority accorded the jointly compelling aims of finding oneself and losing oneself, of solidifying one's social identity and of escaping that identity to engage some form of alterity.

A Portrait of the Artist does not so much reflect as enact an ideological slide along this continuum. At the narrative level, Joyce caricatures his already exaggerated concerns about his own status (sexual, artistic, class, etc.) in a figure undecidably “identified” with himself. At the narrational level, through his distinctive use of the free indirect style, he continues to participate in the perspective being caricatured. To use the familiar terms of Joyce criticism, by maintaining a certain stylistic “sympathy” with his self-portrait, Joyce becomes subject to the very “irony” he directs at Dedalus. He thereby challenges, while continuing to acknowledge, his egoistic obsession, and in this very process, he shifts from the more defensive address of his letters and essays to a more expansive one. For the subject of self-portraiture that he winds up projecting is not at all a closed, coherent identity but an ongoing transference between painter and sitter, authorial and alter ego, voice and image—a subject in whom there is perpetually something of the “not all.” In a very real sense, then, Joyce is “thrilled”—his subjectivity made to quiver or tremble—by the “touch” of his own self-portrait. Stephen's narcissistic anxiety proves essential to Joyce's narcissistic jouissance, Stephen's homosexual panic indispensable to Joyce's open closet. Joyce's strategy of disavowal, with which this essay began, is not so much dissolved or transcended in A Portrait as it is internalized and sublated. Instead of disavowing the homoerotic as an intimate threat or disturbance to his identity, Joyce disavows the identity so disturbed and threatened, owning and disowning Stephen Dedalus in the same literary motion.


  1. Richard Ellmann notes Joyce's association of homosexuality with public-school education (SL 74, 96). Joyce's opinion that English public schools were an incubator of homoerotic passion and practice conformed both with the popular sense of things—as described by Ed Cohen in Talk on the Wilde Side: Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1993), 38—and with the writings of prominent contemporary sexologists and commentators, including Ellis, Symonds, Carpenter, Stead, Benson, and Jerome. See Havelock Ellis and J. A. Symonds, Sexual Inversion (London: Wilson and MacMillan, 1897), 37, 138, 141, and 267 (where they cite Ulrichs, the father of the inversion model, to the same effect); J. A. Symonds, “A Problem in Modern Ethics,” in Studies in Sexual Inversion (privately printed, 1931), 112; Edward Carpenter, The Intermediate Sex (1896; London: Mitchell Kennedy, 1912), 85. Joyce apparently read all of these books. See Richard Brown, James Joyce and Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 78-107. For Stead, Benson, and Jerome, see Alan Sinfield, The Wilde Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 65.

  2. “Negation,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1953-74), 19:235-39.

  3. Here again, Joyce's attitude consists with contemporary sexual studies, echoing in particular Edward Carpenter in The Intermediate Sex, 90-91. See also Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 208: “As male homosexuality became visible in public and in texts during the 1890's ‘the emphasis on gender construction of the British male’ that characterized the schools began to be perceived as problematic.”

  4. Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 14-17.

  5. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 182-212, and Between Men (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 83-96. On page 195 of Epistemology, Sedgwick doubts whether the “arguably homosexual” objects of her own analysis properly bear out or embody the experience of homosexual panic, which “is proportioned to the non-homosexual identified elements of … men's character.” Accordingly, she continues, “if Barrie and James are obvious authors with whom to begin an analysis of male homosexual panic, the analysis I am offering here must be inadequate to the degree that it does not eventually work just as well—even better—for Joyce, Faulkner, Lawrence, Yeats, etc.” In this respect, my essay can be seen as a continuation of Sedgwick's project, an attempt not only to explore Joyce's writing by way of her conception but also to demonstrate the adequacy of her conception by way of Joyce's writing.

  6. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 184.

  7. Sedgwick, Between Men, 25-26.

  8. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 185.

  9. Dellamora, Masculine Desire, 195.

  10. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 185.

  11. These critics include James F. Carens, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” in A Companion to Joyce Studies, ed. Zack Bowen and James F. Carens (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), 255-359; Jean Kimble, “Freud, Leonardo, and Joyce,” in The Seventh of Joyce, ed. Bernard Benstock (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 57-73; Chester Anderson, “Baby Tuckoo: Joyce's Features of Infancy,” in Approaches to Joyce's Portrait: Ten Essays, ed. Thomas Staley (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970), 136-42; and Sheldon Brivic, Joyce between Freud and Jung (Port Washington, Wash.: Kennikat, 1980), 28-29, 47.

  12. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in The First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. Robert Ross, vol. 12 (1908; London: Dawsons, 1969), 8.

  13. I will be treating D. A. Miller's concept of the open secret at length later in the essay. See The Novel and the Police (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 192-220.

  14. For the Dorians and Greek love, see J. A. Symonds, “A Problem in Greek Ethics,” in Ellis and Symonds, Sexual Inversion, 179-86. For a history for the Cretans and paiderastia, see 183. For a history and anatomy of the Hellenistic movement in its divers phases—sociopolitical, aesthetic, and erotic—see Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994). For Daedalus's checkered career, see Mark Morford, Classical Mythology, 2d ed. (New York: McKay, 1977), 394-96.

  15. In his own words, Wilde “invented that magnificent flower,” the green carnation, as a “work of art.” Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Vintage, 1987), 424-25. The green carnation became a symbol of aestheticism memorialized in Robert Hichens, The Green Carnation (New York: Dover, 1970). According to Alan Sinfield, with The Green Carnation, “The consolidation of queer identity began to take shape around Wilde” (The Wilde Century, 118).

  16. Elaine Showalter correctly contends that the term queer had homosexual connotations before the yellow nineties (Sexual Anarchy [New York: Viking, 1990], 112). All subsequent references to and uses of the term will assume a distinct homosexual valence. For the homoerotic resonances of the above passage, see also Leonard Albert, “Gnomonology: Joyce's ‘The Sisters,’” James Joyce Quarterly 27 (winter 1990): 360-61; Brivic, Between Freud and Jung, 24; Kimball, “Freud, Leonardo, and Joyce,” 66.

  17. For this information, I am grateful to Vicki Mahaffey, who gathered it on a visit to Clongowes in 1992.

  18. This dynamic of proximate-ness played itself out quite humorously in Joyce's indirect dialogue with H. G. Wells. Wells objected to the “cloacal obsession” of A Portrait. Joyce's reply to Frank Budgen reveals the kind of ethnoracial dichotomy that we have been adducing: “Why it's Wells' countrymen who build waterclosets wherever they go.” But in a private comment to another friend, Joyce acknowledged “How right Wells was” (JJII 414).

  19. James F. Carens speaks of the Clongowes episode as denoting an element of sexual ambivalence in Stephen. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” 319.

  20. This is what Freud means by the omnipotence of the unconscious wish, a crucial motif everywhere in his work. See, in particular, Totem and Taboo, in Standard Edition, 13:94-124.

  21. Trevor L. Williams, “Dominant Ideologies: The Production of Stephen Dedalus,” in The Augmented Ninth, ed. Bernard Benstock (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988), 316.

  22. See Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire, 199; and Sinfield, The Wilde Century, 110. I use the hybrid term sexual/gender inversion here advisedly. Although George Chauncey Jr. has argued that some distinction between sexual and gender inversion had evolved by the late nineteenth century (see “From Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality,” Salmagundi 58-59 [1982-83]: 114-46), all of the contemporaneous studies that I will be citing exhibit a hopeless entangling or conflation of the two categories. One outstanding example of this tendency can be found in the influential nineteenth-century study, Albert Moll, Perversions of the Sex Instinct (Newark: Julian, 1931), 63-77. Moll was even known to quote a male homosexual as declaring, “We are all women.” See Ellis and Symonds, Sexual Inversion, 119. Another outstanding example can be found in the work of Ellis and Symonds themselves, who proclaim, “There is a distinctly general, though not universal, tendency for sexual inverts to approach the feminine type, either in psychic disposition or physical constitution, or both.” Sexual Inversion, 119.

  23. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 43.

  24. Christopher Craft, Another Kind of Love (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 77.

  25. Quoted in Sinfield, The Wilde Century, 110.

  26. Carl Westphal is quoted in Craft, Another Kind of Love, 35. See Ellis and Symonds, Sexual Inversion; Carpenter, The Intermediate Sex; Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on Sexuality, in Standard Edition, 7:136-48; Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis (1892; New York: Stern and Day, 1965), 186-294. The sex/gender inversion model is also espoused by somewhat lesser known sexologists such as Tarnowsky, who differentiated inborn from acquired inversion; Gley, who “suggested that a female brain was combined with masculine glands”; and Magnan, who “hypothesized a woman's brain in a man's body.” See Symonds, Studies in Sexual Inversion, 126, 135-36. For Joyce's reading in this area, see R. Brown, James Joyce and Sexuality, 78-107. Brown claims that Joyce's sexological views most closely approximated those of Havelock Ellis, perhaps the most comprehensive exponent of sex/gender inversion. One notorious incident in particular confirms Joyce's subscription to the gender inversion model. According to Ellmann, he “scandalized a homosexual poet,” Siegfried Lang, “by placing two fingers in [a pair of miniature ladies'] drawers and walking them towards the unhappy poet” (JJII 438), a taunt that recalls the phrase “lady highkickers” (SL 74).

  27. Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, 223; Richard Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1884; New York: Limited Editions, 1934), 6:3771-73.

  28. Christopher Craft remarks that despite Freud's “deconstruction” of any “natural object of desire” in Three Essays, the “inversion metaphor … nonetheless continued to operate with impressive immunity throughout Freud's subsequent writings on homosexuality” (Another Kind of Love, 37-38). In 1913, Ellis gave a major address that aimed to dissever “inverted” behavior, sexual and otherwise, from same-sex desire, but he went on to reassert the connection two years later in the third edition of Sexual Inversion. See Chauncey, “Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality,” 122-25.

    Symonds saw Ulrichs's inversion theory as based on a “somewhat grotesque and metaphysical conception of nature,” but he embraced it as an antidote to the alternative degeneration model (Studies in Sexual Inversion, 140). Carpenter likewise both downgrades Ulrichs's ideas and the inversion metaphor they popularized and yet entertains it and finally celebrates the “normal type of the Urian man,” who fits Ulrichs's conception perfectly, “possessing thoroughly masculine powers of mind and body [and] combin[ing] them with the tenderer and more emotional soul nature of a woman—and sometimes to a remarkable degree” (The Intermediate Sex, 27 and 31). On this point, I dissent from Tim Dean's reading of Carpenter in “Paring His Fingernails: Homosexuality and Joyce's Impersonalist Aesthetic,” later in this volume.

  29. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 87. Her argument is borne out in the words of Ellis and Symonds themselves: “Even in inversion, the imperative need for a certain sexual opposition still rules in full force” (Sexual Inversion, 130).

  30. For Ellis and Symonds, to feel as a man toward an object of affection means taking the active role in sexual relations; to feel as a woman means taking the passive role (Sexual Inversion, 63). Freud identifies male inversion with sexual passivity in “Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood” (1910), Standard Edition, 11:86-87. Later, Freud actually declared of the Wolf Man, “He understood now that active was the same as masculine, while passive was the same as feminine.” The History of an Infantile Neurosis, Standard Edition, 17:47.

  31. Kimberly Devlin reads the director's elliptical swipe at the Capuchin dress as a “test” intended to ascertain whether Stephen's interest in holy orders might be motivated by homosexual or transvestite impulses, a gambit that is “scandalously reinterpreted” in the Butt and Taff episode of the Wake dream as a sexual overture on the part of the father. “In the Wake,” she concludes, “the patriarch's flaws are located not in any mere intellectual limitations, as they are in A Portrait (see P 156), but rather in … his repressed and unacknowledged interest in the sexually taboo.” But the director is, in fact, uncertain as to whether Stephen has any interest in the clerical life at all, so that as a test his unspoken stricture on les jupes seems premature. Moreover, as I will presently demonstrate, the patriarch's flaws are only restricted to “mere intellectual limitations” in A Portrait so far as Stephen's conscious mind is concerned; unconsciously, Stephen registers and reacts to intimations of homoeroticism in the priest's words. The interview, in other words, is not just “scandalously reinterpreted” as a sexual overture in the Wake, it is scandalously interpreted as such all along. See Kimberly Devlin, Wandering and Return inFinnegans Wake” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 23.

  32. Speaking more generally, Sheldon Brivic contends that “it is because heterosexuality is a reaction against homosexuality in our artist that it is held so intensely” (Between Freud and Jung, 47).

  33. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 184-85.

  34. Elsewhere in The Renaissance, Pater treats Abelard's nominally heterosexual desire for Eloise as a cover for same-sex desire, prompting Wilde to comment, in “The Critic as Artist,” “We have whispered the secret of our love beneath the cowl of Abelard.” The “cowl” that E. C. is wearing during the previously discussed tram episode (P 70, 222) may well owe something to the “cowl of Abelard,” especially since Stephen makes a cowl of his blanket during the composition of his “villanelle” to E. C., which confesses “the secret of [his] love,” under the cover(s) of a feminine identification (P 221-22). See Dellamora, Masculine Desire, 152-53 for all relevant quotations.

    Another crucial articulation of triangulated same-sex desire that Joyce certainly read is Stoker's Dracula. This Irish novel is organized from start to finish around the homosocial/homophobic relations between the count and his adversaries (Jonathan Harker, Seward, Van Helsing, etc.) as mediated by the novel's two women, Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra. Bram Stoker, Dracula, in The Essential Dracula, ed. Leonard Wolf (New York: Plume, 1993).

  35. An outstanding exception is James Carens, who takes specific issue with Ellmann, arguing that Stephen is “drawn” to Cranly and partakes of “the current of latent homosexuality in the scene” (“Portrait of the Artist,” 304, 323).

  36. Reading this essay in its earlier, shorter version, Tim Dean construed my formulation of the open closet as “a form of evasion or hypocrisy,” a not unreasonable interpretation that I try to correct herein. See his essay “Paring His Fingernails: Homosexuality and Joyce's Impersonal Aesthetic” in this volume. I am, accordingly, obligated to him for pressing me to clarify my argument and thus helping to instigate a rather extensive revision/expansion of the essay's concluding movement. For the sujet d'enunciation-sujet d'énonce distinction, see Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1966), 800-801.

  37. Miller, Novel and Police, 207.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Miller explicitly equates the “open secret” with the “secret subject” and follows Foucault in centering that subject in terms of sexuality. See Novel and Police, 205; and Foucault, An Introduction, 69-70.

  40. Miller, Novel and Police, 199.

  41. For Jacques Lacan's concept of the “not all,” see his essay “God and the Jouissance of the Woman,” in Feminine Sexuality, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (New York: Norton, 1982), 134-48.

  42. I am indebted for this thread of the argument to Tim Dean, “Hart Crane's Poetics of Privacy,” American Literary History 8 (spring 1996): 83-109.

Joshua Jacobs (essay date spring 2000)

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SOURCE: Jacobs, Joshua. “Joyce's Epiphanic Mode: Material Language and the Representation of Sexuality in Stephen Hero and Portrait.Twentieth Century Literature 46, no. 1 (spring 2000): 20-33.

[In the essay below, Jacobs investigates the ways in which Joyce's shorter works, especially his manuscript fragments known as the Epiphanies, influence his later, more mature fiction.]

James Joyce's transformations of themes, language, and characters from one of his own works to another have long been among the signal preoccupations of Joyce's readers. The manuscript fragments known as epiphanies, written in the years 1900 to 1903, are the earliest sources of specific scenes and more general interests which we can see Joyce draw upon in all his longer works of fiction.1 While Joyce's theorization and use of epiphany from Stephen Hero onward have been central to many readers' understandings of his work as a whole, the connection of this general aspect of Joyce's work to the specific records of scenes and interactions represented in the epiphany manuscripts has been of secondary interest. Perhaps remembering (with some embarrassment) along with Stephen in Ulysses his “epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if [he] died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria” (3.141-42), Joyce's readers have not often given serious attention to the ways in which his mature works use the material first developed in these fragments.

The most common critical approach to the epiphany fragments has been to examine their themes and Dublin locations and to suggest specific places in Joyce's later fiction in which these epiphanic elements are deployed. But this focus on the epiphanies as sources for the later works can obscure the particular workings of language in the epiphanies and in Joyce's earliest integrations of epiphanic material into his fiction. The linguistic contexts of these early uses of the epiphanies—from the passage in Stephen Hero in which Stephen first defines epiphanies, through scenes of Stephen's intense sexual or artistic feeling in Portrait—have a significance beyond their possible prefiguration of Joyce's later fiction. These moments where Stephen theorizes epiphanies or experiences overpowering feelings are not, for the most part, straightforward recyclings of Joyce's original epiphanies; however, in these passages Joyce's language echoes Stephen's initial encounter with an epiphanic scene in order to focus the tensions between Stephen's attempts at rigid self-definition and Joyce's more ambiguous constructions of selfhood.

What is chiefly at stake in these climactic passages is Stephen's alternating mastery and helplessness before his nascent sexuality and the extent to which he can define his intellectual and physical self as discrete from his context. Though Stephen tries to assert an intellectual source for his own language, the language Joyce uses to convey Stephen's assertions is insistently grounded in the corporeal and in several characteristic tropes such as murmuring, which stress the material nature of language itself. This dispersion of the source and nature of language beyond the confines of a discrete, fully cognizant agent undermines Stephen's attempts to assert such an agency for himself. By staging the materiality of language and the diffusion of the self within the context of Stephen's sexual crises, Joyce also links Stephen with the corporeality and diffusion of sexuality more firmly than can Stephen's hyperbolic denials or embracings of his sexuality.

I shall argue that, more than merely constituting a progression in theme between the epiphanies and climactic passages in Portrait, these moments and the defining passage in Stephen Hero are linked by their framing in language this tension between Joyce's and Stephen's constructions of self and sexuality. Because of this continuity of evocative language across distinct climactic moments, we can address this mode of language as a particular force and isolate its specificity and power. I use the term “epiphanic mode” in this essay to refer to this general practice of representing Stephen's nascent selfhood and sexuality, which Joyce develops first in the Stephen Hero passage—with its particular tension between the epiphanic text and Stephen's theorization of epiphanies—and then expands in his rendering of Stephen's emotional climaxes in Portrait, which have varying connections to the epiphany fragments.

The first explicitly noted example of an epiphany that appears in Joyce's fiction—the “Ballast Office clock” passage of Stephen Hero—is a revealing demonstration of Joyce's development from fairly straightforward use of material from the manuscript epiphanies toward the more general practice, or “epiphanic mode,” seen in Portrait. In the central moment of the relevant sequence in Stephen Hero, Stephen overhears a conversation, and is struck by a subsequent artistic imperative:

The Young Lady—(drawling discreetly) … O, yes … I was … at the … cha … pel …

The Young Gentleman—(inaudibly) … I … (again inaudibly) … I …

The Young Lady—(softly) … O … but you're … ve … ry … wick … ed …

This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. (211)

Stephen goes on to describe to his friend Cranly his theory of epiphanies, in an early version of his statements on aesthetics in Portrait (204-15). Given that in Portrait the event of the epiphany itself is removed from the theorization that had been linked to it in Stephen Hero, it is not so surprising that much of the critical dialogue has focused on the implications of Stephen's aesthetic critique and how it changes from the earlier work to the later. But the initial framing of this theory in uneasy juxtaposition with a scene of “triviality,” and Stephen's description of the “collecting” process as something separate from these scenes as such, suggests that we should avoid mimicking Stephen's attempts to distance the office of the “man of letters” from the events and language of these moments. A closer look at the exemplary epiphany shows that Stephen's self-assured argument for clarity is in fact a reaction against an unsettling multiplicity of language and sexuality.

The epiphany section of Stephen Hero begins with Stephen infuriated by his mother's religiosity, an anger that is quickly refocused on Emma Clery. Stephen is frustrated by his inability to fully criticize or ignore her: “In every stray image on the streets he saw her soul manifest itself and every such manifestation renewed the intensity of his disapproval” (210). The narration, explicit in criticizing Stephen in a way the Portrait narration is not, then somewhat mockingly relates Stephen's proposed “theory of dualism which would symbolize the twin eternities of spirit and nature in the twin eternities of male and female.” Thus Stephen's nascent desire to stabilize identity provides the background for the epiphanic encounter itself, which defines a correspondence between fragmented, stylized speech and the sexuality that pervades its utterance.

With these structuring factors in mind, Stephen's theoretical attention to the fixed relation of parts to the whole object (or claritas; see Stephen Hero 213) seems much more a practical attempt at control than an abstract paradigm. The free play and agency of “parts”—parts of the body and the soul within the body—will pervade the representation of Stephen's artistic and personal development in Portrait; here we can see this diffusion of discrete identity in the manifestation of Emma's soul in “every stray image of the streets.” Given its unbidden repetition, this consuming encounter has as much power to define Stephen as he has power to fix it within his categorizing scrutiny. The particular rephrasing of this line in the paragraph that follows the epiphanic scene—as a “sudden [and thus singular] spiritual manifestation”—suggests Stephen's attempt to make both himself and the ambiguous inspirations of epiphanic scenes stable in time and in language. Equally important is the epiphanic exchange itself, which despite being surrounded by qualifiers such as “triviality” and “vulgarity of speech” is clearly more central to Stephen's imaginative process than the Ballast Office clock (which becomes the official exemplum). The repeated “stage direction,” “(again inaudibly),” shows how Stephen's codifying impulse is frustrated by his incomplete observation; also, the separation of syllables by ellipses conveys a materiality of language that I feel corresponds to its sexualized context, particularly in contrast to the graphically unremarkable language that surrounds the epiphany text.

The tension in this passage between the epiphany and Stephen's grapplings with its implications establishes several key tropes of material language and dispersal of the unified self, which Joyce will use in Portrait to frame Stephen's drive toward greater rigidity. Joyce's central positioning here of female characters (and their characteristic use of language) as factors that weigh against Stephen's ideals of control and of discrete selfhood suggests how Joyce plans to oppose a female-gendered freedom to the stability Stephen desires. I do not believe that Joyce's use of female characters such as Emma Clery, as well as the prostitute and others in Portrait, implies that the feminine and the sexual are interchangeable and that both of these are equally stable and debased characteristics. Rather, Joyce consistently uses female figures to support the internalization of the ambiguities of selfhood in language and sexuality. Jones suggests that this aspect of what I have called the epiphanic mode demonstrates Joyce's general “disrupti[on] through his language of the received symbolic order,” which asserts “the limitation of the specular construct of the self as one, the coherence and mastery of ‘I,’ and [forces one] to acknowledge the scene on which that self is produced: the body of the woman” (182, 190). Joyce's emphasis on the corporeality of female characters, as the scene of the self that Stephen cannot acknowledge, makes them inextricably connected to the production of the epiphanic mode in the climactic scenes discussed here.

While Portrait, like Stephen Hero, contains materials from the manuscript epiphanies, the novel's salient characteristic for my purposes is not its direct reworkings of Joyce's earlier materials but rather Joyce's extension of the representational strategies of language first seen in the Stephen Hero epiphany sequence to climactic moments that are not necessarily prefigured by the manuscripts. Regardless of how closely such climaxes are tied to earlier material, they have in common with the Stephen Hero epiphany sequence an ambiguous, sexualized language, which frustrates Stephen's attempts to maintain binaries of intellect and sensuality in himself. The materiality, both in theme and in form, of this “epiphanic mode” of representation is quite pronounced in Stephen's encounter with a prostitute at the end of section 2; and in this passage Joyce establishes several principal figurations of language and the body that continue in these climactic moments throughout the novel.

In this passage Stephen acts to gratify his sexual desire for the first time, and for the first time names this desire as sinful: as he prowls Nighttown, his desire to sin is repeated hypnotically, and with a powerfully physicalized language:

He felt some dark presence moving irresistibly upon him from the darkness, a presence subtle and murmurous as a flood filling him wholly with itself. Its murmur besieged his ears like the murmur of some multitude in sleep; its subtle streams penetrated his being.

(Portrait 100)

Within the Nighttown milieu, Stephen feels himself overpowered by a “dark presence” rendered as both language and a material invasion. The central figuration of this blurring of speech and matter is the act and effect of murmuring. Among the representational successors to the tropes of the epiphanic exchange in Stephen Hero, murmuring in Portrait connotes a crucial speech just out of hearing, and is indeed an onomatopoeic rendering of such speech. Because of its materiality—seen here in its “flooding” of Stephen—murmuring continually challenges the idea that speech agency belongs to a discrete self, as murmuring seems to claim not only agency but also issuing substance.

This free play of physicalized language becomes all the more marked in the section's final paragraphs, as Joyce repeatedly cedes the act of speech and other acts to organs acting independently: “He tried to bid his tongue speak” (100), “Her round arms held him firmly to her,” “His lips would not bend to kiss her” (101). By distributing agency from a central self, Joyce effects a kind of “organic liberation” and allows a release of sexual power through what Derek Attridge has called a “traffic between vocal and sexual organs” (62). The final paragraph of this section is a paradigm of this trafficking:

With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.


Much has been made of Stephen's surrender to phallic penetration in this sequence, but I would argue that any “surrender” in the context of the epiphanic mode is not within a binary—in which one can either be male/dominant or female/submissive, or (in this case it seems) reverse these pairs—but is a relinquishing of unifying authority in favor of multiplicity. By his deployment of “swooning” in these final pages, Joyce leads Stephen to join in a hitherto-female act of falling from a unitary conception of the body into a potentially liberating field of autonomous organs and senses.

That this valorized falling had been designated as female is made clear by the immediate precedent for the “swoon of sin,” the swoon of the “frail swooning form” (100) (nominally that of Emma) that Stephen pursues in Nighttown. This earlier swoon appears as a hyperbolic rendering of idealized female frailty and impalpability, which by its very excess makes swooning a conscious act of playful, powerful escape from being “[held] fast” by a self-aggrandizing vision. Stephen swoons into a state of total palpability that corresponds to a speech that communicates in many registers. The simultaneous rendering of speech and of the speaking body in this final sequence is language at its most incarnate: this “vague speech” (101) (or murmuring) literally presses upon the cognitive centers of hearing and upon the organs of speech, and the lips and tongue that convey this speech become speech themselves. But the most significant coherence of this sexualized, incarnate communication is as a readable text of some sort, as Stephen retains the faculty of reading even in his swooning extremis. This extension of the epiphanic mode into written expression will become central to later climactic sequences as they build toward Stephen's self-definition as an artist.

Stephen's nightmarish vision of goat-beings, the nadir of his self-hatred in section 3 following the sermon, allows us to trace precisely one instance of how Joyce's original conception of the epiphanies themselves developed into the more general epiphanic mode seen in Portrait. As the epiphany marked #6,2 Joyce's first rendering of nightmarish goat-beings is virtually identical to the sequence found in Portrait (137-38), with three significant alterations: the repeated ascription of sin to the beings in the epiphany is deleted in Portrait, and two phrases are added—the beings are for the first time given the properties of moving “hither and thither,” and of issuing “soft language” as they enclose Stephen:

They moved in slow circles, circling closer and closer to enclose, to enclose, soft language issuing from their lips, their long swishing tails besmeared with stale shite, thrusting upwards their terrible faces …



“Soft” language is like murmuring, in that softness describes both the volume of speech and the texture of its material presence. The association of language with feces makes explicit the general tendency in these climactic passages to describe language as a soft, substantial element emerging from a semiautonomous bodily orifice. Also, the aural quality of the repeated “hither and thither” suggests that the goat-beings' motion is a kind of indistinct speech in itself.

With these tactile acts of speech, along with the “thrusting upwards” of faces, it seems clear that Joyce has constructed this vision of “lecherous” debasement to parallel the prostitute sequence. While the goat-beings appear to be male, this rhetorical parallel must in some sense suggest a teleological progression from the prostitute to these demonic figures, a progression that would couple debased abjection with the practice of what I call the epiphanic mode of language. However, it is the combined effect of the climactic passages that best demonstrates the power of these shared representational strategies to undermine the thematic demonization of sexuality that these passages might seem to assert if read strictly through Stephen's understanding. Thus the bestial sensuality of the goat vision does not merely correspond to the sin and self-betrayal Stephen associates with the prostitute sequence but also carries forward from that earlier passage the valorization in language of the corporeal and of diffused identity.3

Joyce's work toward a pervasive use of such epiphanic language reveals itself at the local level in this chapter in his depiction of Stephen's soul. The removal of references to sin in the Portrait goat-vision corresponds to Joyce's general emphasis, in this novel's language, on a tactility that resonates in varied situations rather than on a specific act of “sin.” With the explicit moral value of sin thus subordinated to the range of sensations that may or may not seem sinful to Stephen at a given moment, Stephen's soul can be both victim and agent of Stephen's various sins: in short succession (immediately preceding the goat-vision), his soul “pin[es] within him” (137) as he prays not to be sent to Hell, “sighs” as Stephen ascends to his room, and yet is deemed “a living mass of corruption” (137). As Stephen progresses toward confession, the soul acquires a split agency and embodiment that terrifies Stephen:

But does that part of the body understand or what? The serpent, the most subtle beast of the field … Who made it to be like that, a bestial part of the body able to understand bestially and desire bestially? Was that then he or an inhuman thing moved by a lower soul than his soul? His soul sickened at the thought of a torpid snaky life feeding itself out of the tender marrow of his life and fattening upon the slime of lust. O why was that so? O why?


This baffling division of the soul, and its clear identification with the penis Stephen does not want to acknowledge, is presented with an ironic appreciation both for Stephen's frantic hypostatization of his own urges and organs and for the humorous futility of such an effort. The narration becomes progressively less wry as Stephen approaches his confession and communion; during this progress, Stephen's attempt at self-purgation leads him to interpret his soul, whose above-mentioned ambiguities place it within the epiphanic mode of language, as debased. His actual confession of “sins of impurity” is portrayed as an utterly foul emission of physicalized language, from an equally base soul: “His sins trickled from his lips, one by one, trickled in shameful drops from his soul festering and oozing like a sore, a squalid stream of vice” (144).

But Joyce makes it clear that such a vomiting-forth cannot rid one of sexuality, nor can the sin and redemption be reassuringly embodied outside oneself. In the final sequence between the confession and communion, Joyce portrays the withdrawal from language and sexuality as a morbidly effacing false purity, invoking the images of “pale flames of … candles” and of leached, overfragrant “masses of white flowers” (146). The most noticeable rhetorical development in this sequence is the profound infantilization of Stephen's represented speech and the repeated ascription of shyness, timidity, and silence to Stephen and his soul. With such gestures, Joyce frames this ostensible purification as a regression to Stephen's immediate preadolescence: in the sequence in section 1 in which Stephen first recognizes his soul and his desire, Stephen imagines a vaguely sexual union in which he is utterly impalpable, surrounded by darkness and silence (see 65). However, Stephen's taking of the communion wafer is not simply an imposition of a pure silence; it suggests the much more productive (and quite impure) oral exchanges rendered in similar terms in the prostitute and the final villanelle passages.

Stephen's vision of the bird-girl at the close of this section illustrates both the continuing power of the regressive force of silence and impalpability, and the power of the epiphanic mode to undermine this regression. The bird-girl's stylized “sufferance” of Stephen's adoring gaze is a hyperbolic rendering of femininity that, like the swoon of the ephemeral “E. C.” figure before the prostitute scene, exceeds Stephen's cognitive and assimilative control. Moreover, her “emerald trail of seaweed” (171) links her with the goat-beings, speckled with stale dung. Such a parallel reinvokes the demonizing portrayal of sexuality and language in the goat-being sequence, but retroactively brings the positive connotations of the present passage into that sequence. A more immediately evident reference to the goat-being sequence is in Joyce's use of “hither and thither” to indicate a murmurous, tactile speech-act:

[She gently stirred] the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither: and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

—Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.


The bird-girl's breaking of silence is portrayed as a necessary reversal of tactile and sensory self-denial, and the reader must in turn reevaluate the nightmarish portrayal of such tactile speech in the goat-beings.

After this valorization of acknowledged speech and sensuality, the fact that the cry of “Heavenly God!” comes from Stephen's soul, and not himself, is somewhat surprising. A profound communication seems to have occurred across, or amidst, this cry, inscribing the bird-girl's murmurous sexuality on Stephen's body in the form of a mimetically inflamed cheek: his body glows, his limbs tremble. But the subsequent narration, at least at the level of staging, explicitly denies the exchange of tactile speech. Stephen is made to turn away from her and stride off, and the “low and faint and whispering” sound of their encounter is repeatedly denied: “Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy” (172). The dominant rhetorical practice of this sequence, however, undermines this attempt to retroactively separate sexuality and the feminine from spirituality, as Stephen is twice said to run “on and on and on and on” (172), to run recklessly, his blood in a riot.

Ultimately, Stephen appears to move even further from direct interaction with the bird-girl, while nonetheless entering a state of increased tactility and loss of discrete selfhood:

His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer, or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and enfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and paling to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other.


Stephen's swoon has often been taken up by critics within what Carol Shloss refers to as the “second stage of women's critical responsiveness to Joyce”: that is, a criticism concerned with “naming the feminine” (628) and challenging the received critical view of women (in Joyce's works and elsewhere) as the archetypal other (628).4 The limitation of this period in Joyce criticism, as Shloss points out, is a focus on traditional, empirical ideas of character. This assumption of discrete character function allows critics within this second stage, such as Suzette Henke, to regard the swooning passage as Stephen's attempt to impose his “male aesthetic signature [upon] the female body/text” (102) and to view the language of this passage as a transparent vehicle for this exertion. But the materiality that we have seen extending across the language of these climactic moments in Portrait at the least complicates their thematic content; and indeed, the representational practice of these moments imposes its own valorization of ambiguity and sexuality upon Stephen far more forcefully than he can “sign” himself as removed from these qualities of self and language. Stephen's swoon in this passage does not retroactively efface his sexual encounter with the prostitute (the other significant swoon in the novel) but rather reinforces the sexual overtones in this passage by connecting with the earlier encounter. Stephen appears to swoon into female genitalia, and perhaps participate in an infinitely self-diffusive female orgasm. Certainly, he is left scarce objective distance from which to demonize this sexual materiality, which even after Stephen awakes remains in the murmurous “low whisper of her [the tide's] waves” (173).

While there are uses of the epiphany manuscripts later in the final chapter of Portrait, the sequence early in the chapter in which Stephen composes the villanelle is the culmination of the epiphanic mode of representation that I have discussed in this essay. Joyce here puts Stephen's nascent artistic agency—and artistic practice—at the focus of the continuing tension between Stephen's rigid self-definition in terms of language and sexuality, and Joyce's more interconnected depiction of these aspects of self. From the start of this passage we see Joyce using the same imagery of sensory diffusion of the self as that of the swooning end of chapter 4. Indeed, Stephen is here more intensely immersed, and literally inspired, by the figurative breath of various surrounding and permeating elements: “A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music” (217). That Stephen is said to “inbreathe” this “tremulous morning knowledge” becomes significant after we see the first cycle of represented inspiration, creative thought, poem text, and Stephen's reflections on the process. Stephen first perceives the “form” of inspiration as resolutely indeterminate, and the locus of inspiration is represented in ambiguous and equivocal language:

The instant of inspiration seemed now to be reflected from all sides at once from a multitude of cloudy circumstance of what had happened or of what might have happened … An afterglow deepened within his spirit, whence the white flame had passed, deepening to a rose and ardent light.


However, in converting this inspiration into poetry Stephen moves immediately to establish concrete, precise associations and imagery: “That rose and ardent light was her strange wilful heart.” Over the next few paragraphs, during Stephen's first period of inspired writing (three stanzas' worth), Stephen often uses this declarative tone as if to sum up his operative poetic conceit. But even in the sentences that contain these summary statements, the “roselike glow” and the language associated with it produce a rather nonsummary effect:

The roselike glow sent forth rays of rhyme; ways, days, blaze, praise, raise. Its rays burned up the world, consumed the hearts of men and angels: the rays from the rose that was her wilful heart.


The dense pattern of interdependent imagery, sound, and attributed status in these sentences overspills the forms—of contemplative thought and of poetic verse—into which Stephen imagines he distills it. For example, the rhythmic listing, or chanting, of potential line endings infects Stephen's second repetition of his equation rose-equals-heart: “the rays from the rose that was her wilful heart.” Stephen asks “And then?” after these first stanzas are produced, as if he had processed successive units of inspiration.

This apparent disparity between the represented nature of inspiration, which falls within the epiphanic mode I've described, and the representation Stephen seeks to create from such inspiration is at the root of Stephen's conceptual process. Immediately after Stephen comes up with the first stanza, we read that the “verses passed from his mind to his lips and, murmuring them over, he felt the rhythmic movement of a villanelle pass through them” (217-18). Previous critics of the villanelle sequence have variously regarded this moment as evidence of the unconscious triumph of Stephen's personality over the artistic product or as a sign of Stephen's misogynistic dialectic.5 What is too easily assumed, in such readings that ascribe textual domination to Stephen, is that the passage through the lips is necessarily outward. In the rhetorical and imagistic context of this sequence—particularly in these nebulous, undulant first paragraphs—Stephen's sensation of something between his lips must refer both to the prostitute scene and to the literally “in-spiring” nature of his current creative moment. The teleology of creation laid out in this sequence clearly points to Stephen's murmuring as the creative inception, and certainly what Stephen formulates (and then writes down) begins here. But the rhetorical and imagistic rendering of this creative process, as seen in such incantatory passages earlier in the sequence, situates Stephen within the continuity of the epiphanic mode—which, having been “inbreathed” (217), exceeds the rigor and unity of his creative formulations. Indeed, being in the act of literary creation emphasizes the workings of language as performed by decentralized, autonomous organs of the body, as Stephen's lips are frequently said to murmur the verses, or, as his inspiration flags, to “stumble through half verses, stammering and baffled” (218).

As Stephen develops his conception of the poem, his thoughts tend toward a hyperbolic unity and creativity: “The radiant image of the eucharist united again in an instant his bitter and despairing thoughts, their cries arising unbroken in a hymn of thanksgiving” (221). Then follows the fourth stanza, and shortly after, the narration returns him to the confusion of the world: “He knew that all around him life was about to return in common noises, hoarse voices, sleepy prayers”. Stephen “shrink [s] from that life,” and from the specific implications it contains of his own sexuality in Nighttown: “He listened eagerly for any sound,” “He heard bursts of hoarse rioting” (99, 100). But his retreat from such conjunctions of sexuality, speech, and physicality is undermined by his own synesthetic, physicalized reaction to (and writing down of) the stanza itself:

He spoke the verses aloud from the first lines till the music and rhythm suffused his mind, turning it to quiet indulgence; then copied them painfully to feel them the better by seeing them; then lay back on his bolster.


As in the initial, murmuring conception of the poem structure, here Stephen feels the verses acting (tonguelike) directly on his brain and experiences their effect as an overlapping act of writing, feeling, reading, and seeing. With each of Stephen's successive attempts to impose a poetic rigor on himself and his inspiration, Joyce renders his imaginative process in a manner that suggests Stephen is approaching a conscious awareness of the epiphanic mode in his literary work.

This dynamic between Stephen's inspiration and his creative process comes to a climax in the sequence's final passage, which ends with the poem reproduced in its entirety. Stephen's probable masturbation is depicted as a simultaneous penetration and yielding that corresponds to the prostitute scene, as he makes E. C. yield to him as he himself is flooded by “the liquid letters of speech, symbols of the element of mystery” (223).6 Vicki Mahaffey argues that Stephen's solitary onanism makes his artistic production equally fruitless, in the context of his continued denial of the union of opposites (102). While Stephen's solitary, erotic imagining of E. C. is not directly communicative and unifying, in Mahaffey's sense, the language of this passage does directly identify the epiphanic dynamic of body, speech, and sexuality with the foundation of Stephen's literary process. This language, I believe, is a more subtle and powerful indication of Stephen's direction as an artist than his limited attempts to construct binary, rational forms from his inspiration.

In this final juxtaposition of creative process and artistic product, the evolution of Stephen within the epiphanic mode since Stephen Hero is clear. The full text of the poem, as it is positioned directly after Stephen's literary-sexual epiphany, is Stephen's attempt to represent the “liquid letters of speech, [the] symbols of the element of mystery” (223). However, as the “rays of rhyme” passage demonstrates, the poem itself is representative of Stephen's very failure to completely rationalize the murmurous aspects of multiplicity in his life and world. In its isolation, then, the full text of the poem demonstrates a sort of inversion that has taken place in Joyce's representation of sexuality and language since Stephen Hero. In that work's conception of the epiphany, as discussed above, the epiphanic exchange itself was isolated graphically within Stephen's evasive theorization of the epiphany in general; in Portrait, the isolated poem's text is itself the evasive attempt to summarize, and is now surround ed and outweighed by the epiphanic properties of language that pervade the novel as a whole. I believe this new predominance of nondemonized sexuality in language is a more reliable portent of Joyce's future transformations than are Stephen's final, Icarian pronouncements.


  1. Beja provides the most extensive study of Joyce's particular uses of epiphanies in the later works.

  2. Scholes and Kain give an authoritative account of the enumeration that Joyce devised for the epiphanies.

  3. For a similar reading of A Portrait as building through a series of correspondences in language and theme, see Ellmann, especially 196.

  4. Shloss focuses on Henke's role in editing Women in Joyce and on her own article on that collection as representative of this “second stage.”

  5. See Day and Henke 99.

  6. Gose provides an overview of the debate between those who believe this sequence depicts masturbation and those who favor a more abstract view.

Works Cited

Attridge, Derek. “Joyce's Lipspeech: Syntax and the Subject in ‘Sirens.’” James Joyce: The Centennial Symposium. Ed. Morris Beja et al. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1986. 55-72.

Beja, Morris. Epiphany in the Modern Novel. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1971.

Day, Robert Adams. “The Villanelle Perplex: Reading Joyce.” JJQ 25 (1987): 69-85.

Ellmann, Maud. “Disremembering Dedalus: ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’” Untying the Text. Ed. Robert Young. Boston: Routledge, 1981. 192-206.

Gose, Elliot B., Jr. “Destruction and Creation in A Portrait.” JJQ 22 (1985): 259-70.

Henke, Suzette. “Stephen Dedalus and Women: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Misogynist.” Women in Joyce. Ed. Suzette Henke and Elaine Unkeless. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1982. 82-107.

Jones, Ellen Carol. “The Letter Self-penned to One's Other: Joyce's Writing, Deconstruction, Feminism.” Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium. Ed. Morris Beja and Shari Benstock. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1989. 178-95.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Ed. Chester G. Anderson. New York: Viking, 1968.

———. Stephen Hero. Ed. John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon. New York: New Directions, 1963.

———. Ulysses. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1986.

Mahaffey, Vicki. Reauthorizing Joyce. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989.

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

Shloss, Carol. “In the Palace of the Magistrates: Joyce/Women/Writing: An Essay Review.” Modern Fiction Studies 35 (1989): 617-33.

Sean Latham (essay date 2001)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10250

SOURCE: Latham, Sean. “A Portrait of the Snob: James Joyce and the Anxieties of Cultural Capital.” Modern Fiction Studies 47, no. 4 (2001): 774-99.

[In the following essay, Latham contemplates the “inveterate snobbery” of Ulysses, contending that the book “no longer holds the powerful allure it once did.”]

From the very moment of its publication, Ulysses has been a source of scandal. The novel's blunt treatment of sexuality, its formal affront to the conventions of realism, and its minute recording of bodily functions all evoked an outrage that won for Joyce the succès d'exécration (prize of revulsion) the nineteenth-century dandies so ardently desired.1 Interwoven through this now famous history of obscenity, sexuality, slander, and self-abuse, however, has been a scandal rarely—if ever—commented upon: its inveterate snobbery. As dirty a secret as anything implied by Molly Bloom's “yes,” it has long remained concealed behind a dazzling display of critical and theoretical acumen. The historical and institutional structures that have shunted this issue to the side, however, no longer command the same authority they once did. Writing in no less a forum than The New York Times, James Atlas could in 1997 freely indict Joyce and his fellow modernists as pretentious snobs whose works reach beyond the “ordinary reader” to become “the property of an elite” (41). Danis Rose's “reader's edition” of Ulysses has only further complicated the situation. Designed to introduce the novel to a non-academic audience, this text privileges content over form by adding punctuation to the stream-of-conscious narratives and generally simplifying the grammatical complexity of the work. Largely dismissed by Joyce scholars, Rose's work suffers from the very snobbery he seeks to avoid, for his thorough-going editorial intervention implies that the novel is indeed beyond the reach of all but the most educated readers and must be radically altered to render it fit for a mass readership. It seems clear that as an icon of intellectual prestige, Ulysses no longer holds the powerful allure it once did. Rose and Atlas alike have helped to expose the text's deep entanglement in the flows of social, cultural, and even economic capital, rendering its identity as an aesthetic object indistinguishable from its iconic status as a sign of professional and intellectual accomplishment. With the structures of its reception and circulation increasingly exposed, Ulysses has now begun to emerge as a site of critical meditation on the limitations and pleasures afforded by the literary marketplace.

More generally, modernism—both as an aesthetic idea and as received array of texts—has been too long circumscribed by the cartography of what Andreas Huyssen has famously called the “great divide” between highbrow and mass culture. This Manichean split has produced an image of early twentieth-century canonical literature as a necessarily (though regrettably) “adversary culture” that excludes mass culture because it is a source of potential “contamination” (Huyssen vii).2 In his analysis of the cultural field of literary production, Pierre Bourdieu constructs a similar geography wherein highbrow art emerges as the mirror image of the commodity-driven marketplace, but with the rules of “the economic world reversed” (“Field” 29). This structuralist account contends that elite culture is organized according to a hierarchy governed by cultural (and symbolic) rather than economic capital, where popular success actually becomes a mark of failure. Developing this approach in an Anglo-American vein, John Guillory suggests that the American New Critics exploited this fact to transform “literature [into] the cultural capital of the university,” for “in discovering that literature was intrinsically difficult,” students “also discovered in the same moment why it needed to be studied in the university” (172).3 Formal density, textual dissonance, and the rejection of realist codes of representation all came to stand, in other words, for far more than evidence of an author's genius. The ability to decipher such complexities signified the reader's own accomplishment, providing him or her with a small but substantial cache of cultural capital born of what Baudelaire called “a feeling of joy at [one's] own superiority” (161).

It is tempting to pursue the lines of argument laid down by Bourdieu, Guillory, and Huyssen because they create a powerful critical framework seemingly capable of mapping the entire literary field of modernism onto a rational and orderly grid. Yet to follow them too closely is to arrive at the critical impasse Thomas Strychacz reaches in Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism. In his analysis, both modernism and the practices of literary criticism that it inspired are little more than snobbish tricks designed to procure status and income in a field ordered by the logic of professionalism. According to Strychacz, “modernism organizes a special kind of relationship between the text and the reader that depends upon an ability to marshal specific competences (such as the ability to spot and decipher an allusion). Less obviously, modernism evinces a recognition that this kind of writing is demanding” (27). A work like Ulysses, in other words, carves out a place for itself in the complexly structured space of culture by being difficult, trading on a form of cultural capital that will secure Joyce's status as a professional author who differs qualitatively from the middlebrow hack. Academics and artists alike are enfolded in the same snobbish logic, for rather than making any sort of claim to aesthetic value or objective truth, both “must maintain […] the codes, perspectives, and discourse that make possible an expert's claims to truth” (31, emphasis added). This certainly puts the New Critics in their place—in fact, it puts the entire humanistic enterprise in its place. But it is a place where artists and critics alike must content themselves with the disenchanting pleasures to be derived from playing the profitable yet ultimately pointless game of professional sophistication. Originality, even genius, is shown to reside exclusively in finding new ways to exploit the “codes, perspective, and discourse” of aesthetic production, locating new positions within what Bourdieu calls the “perception of the field of possibles offered by the field” (Rules 206).

This is a rather dreary state of affairs, despite Bourdieu's claim that he is freeing us from the New Critical fetish of the ineffable text by illuminating the field of cultural production with the cold light of reason. Has our spite for the formalists led us so deeply into structuralism that we must be content with such an impasse? I have no intention of lifting the structuralists' indictment, but I would like to suggest a possible means of renegotiating the terms of the sentence it has imposed upon us. For Huyssen, Bourdieu, and Strychacz the modern literary field organizes itself according to a series of binary oppositions structured around a hierarchy running between highbrow modernist and degraded mass culture. This model provides invaluable critical and historical insight into the conditions of modernist invention and does indeed free us from the more tyrannical elements of literary formalism.4 But it also has its limitations, and to begin to understand them and thus lay the groundwork for an informed reconstruction of the idea of a modernist aesthetic, we must look to those places where this model falters and even fails. Nowhere is it more fragile than in those places where we see evidence of traffic and exchange between the two sites positioned in direct opposition to one another in the literary field. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the now well-remarked recycling of mass cultural forms in high modernist literature. Cheryl Herr, Mark Wollaeger, and R. B. Kershner have charted these exchanges in Joyce's oeuvre with particular skill, examining the traces of the music hall, the cinema, and the mass-market novel in Ulysses.5 Operating from a different theoretical perspective, Lawrence Rainey has revealed another failure of the structuralist model in his Institutions of Modernism, meticulously revealing the ways in which Joyce and other highbrow modernists often catered to a distinctly profit-driven market for book collectors.

As valuable as these critical studies have been, however, they have left the structuralist framework relatively intact. Rainey's archival work, for example, takes as its object the conditions of production external to the works themselves, attending only in passing to the texts whose commodification he examines. The theorists of mass-cultural borrowings have plunged quite deeply into the texts they consider, but they preserve essentially a one-way circuit between positions on the literary field's hierarchy: The highbrows borrow from mass culture, but the exchange does not flow the other way, or does so only in the degraded form of advertising or kitsch. This paper will interrupt this circuit altogether by focusing attention on the snob as a figure that challenges directly the structuralist organization of the literary field. Stubbornly inhabiting the site of exchange between sites within the literary field, this figure at once condenses a broad array of anxieties about the segmentation of the cultural marketplace and mediates the terms of contact between the highbrow and the middlebrow. Suspected always of being a fake, a mere poseur, the snob is, in fact, a broker of cultural and symbolic capital who struggles to preserve the hierarchy of the literary field while exploiting those sites where its hierarchical organization falters. More than just a structural position within the field, the snob is also a thematically developed character who emerges with a sometimes startling consistency in the novels of the early twentieth century. This character, I shall contend, provides the writers of the period with an imaginative mechanism through which they both map their own position within the chaos of the expanding literary marketplace and articulate their resistance to its organizational logic.

As a problematic, the figure of the snob emerges with startling persistence in both highbrow and middlebrow texts. The terms of engagement with this problematic, however, are almost always unique, and this paper will focus on the particularity of Joyce's negotiation of snobbery. Specifically, I will attend to two key moments in Joyce's articulation of snobbery: the failure of Chandler's poetic imagination in “A Little Cloud,” and the curious irresolution of the relationship between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. In the first of these texts, one of the last two stories Joyce wrote for Dubliners, the snob emerges as a troubling threat to the act of aesthetic creation. Rather than just another in a series of portraits conceived with “malice aforethought,” this story signals Joyce's first suspicion of the limits his intellectual pretension has placed on his imagination (Stephen Hero 26). This problem, which is further refined in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, then emerges as one of the central motifs of Ulysses. In this iconographic work of modernist sophistication, Joyce struggles to escape the binary logic of the cultural field by constructing a text that insistently calls attention to both the pleasures and limitations of snobbery. The result is an artifact that actively defies the organizational logic of Huyssen's great divide by enumerating the costs entailed by the terms of its success.


Dubliners is laden with a hard-edged pretension. Joyce wrote the stories in the collection with a freely-confessed “style of scrupulous meanness” as an indictment of the city “which seemed […] the center of paralysis” (“To Grant Richards”134). Rendered in the detached voice of a Flaubertian narrator, each piece shares roughly the same structure: a carefully recorded moment of ideological subjection punctuated by an often romanticized moment of epiphany in which the reader alone gains insight into the protagonists' inability to escape or even recognize the oppressive structures enfolding them. “Character development,” as Trevor Williams argues, “has for most Dubliners ceased before the narrative begins. Without the possibility of development, without a future, such characters can only flounder in the space allowed to them, all potentially displaced into false consciousness, petty snobbery, dreams of escape, and fixation on the past” (63). This consistently repeated structure fixes characters like scientific specimens in gross poses of death and decay, producing a Dublin in which history has ground to a halt as its citizens endlessly restage the scenes of their own subjection.6 And above this horrifying scene presides the text's narrator, who joins in a conspiratorial pact with the reader to gape in petulant disgust at these epiphanic moments of subjection.

This same snobbish narrator pervades most of the pieces in Dubliners, systematically consigning the characters to a historical dustbin of unselfconscious suffering. The last two stories written for the collection, however, differ strikingly from their predecessors and mark a significant transformation of Joyce's attitude toward his own snobbery. The shift in tone and structure accompanying “The Dead” has been well noted by a wide array of critics, many of whom tend to separate it from the collection as a whole and treat it as a marker of Joyce's growing maturity. Gabriel Conroy's gradual recognition in this story of his isolation from the lives around him suggests an emerging anxiety about the arrogance of the narrative structure itself. No longer content to heap criticism upon hapless characters, Joyce instead introduces a sense of sympathy and even hope: “The crucial difference between ‘The Dead’ and the stories that precede it is that epiphany is an event that takes place within Gabriel's self-consciousness. […] Epiphany no longer points beyond the confines of a character's consciousness to the lack that defines it; the mind now takes possession of that emptiness” (Heller 40). Vivian Heller's acute reading of this shift in the structure of the narrative transforms “The Dead” from merely another diagnosis of paralysis into a far more subtle examination of the psychic effects of Gabriel's attempts to salvage some dignity from the chaotic debris of Dublin. Though this results in a sense of desolation symbolized by “the snow falling faintly through the universe,” it nevertheless grants to Gabriel the ability at least to recognize the bleakness of the situation (225).

Although “The Dead” may be the most closely studied and compelling story in the collection, it actually signals only the climactic moment of a narrative shift in tone and structure that begins in “A Little Cloud.” Written in 1906 as the penultimate addition to Dubliners, this tale is Joyce's first attempt to engage directly the snobbery implicit in his own artistic aspirations. The story itself emerged from a chaotic moment in the author's life when he began to question both the value and the motivation of his self-imposed exile. In a long and introspective letter sent to Stanislaus Joyce in the summer of 1905, Joyce indicated his willingness to return to Ireland and alter significantly the course of his aesthetic project:

I often think to myself that, in spite of the seeming acuteness of my writing, I may fail in life through being too ingenuous, and certainly I made a mistake in thinking that, with an Irish friendship aiding me, I could carry through my general indictment or survey of the island successfully. The very degrading and unsatisfactory nature of my exile angers me and I do not see why I should continue to drag it out with a view to returning ‘some day’ with money in my pocket and convincing the men of letters that, after all, I was a person of talent.

(“To Stanislaus” 96)

This is as close as Joyce ever comes to modesty: concealed within his arrogant concerns about being “too ingenuous,” lies the anxious suspicion that his own flight to Europe was motivated primarily by a desire to return eventually to Ireland as a sort of conquering hero, at last able to cast disdainful glances at a literary establishment that once rejected his work. Joyce, in other words, suddenly saw himself as a snob, sensing that his own project had been severely circumscribed by the desire to transform art into an instrument of social power.

When seeking autobiographical threads in Joyce's work, critics rarely look far beyond Stephen Dedalus, though a few may venture to include elements of Leopold Bloom and even Gabriel Conroy. Few have suggested Little Chandler as an image of fictional self-imagination.7 Yet the pretentious protagonist of “A Little Cloud” shared with his creator—among other things—an aspiration for artistic success, a menial clerkship considered beneath his station, a newly born child at home, and a seemingly endless financial crisis. These distinctly lower-middle-class concerns certainly contrast sharply with the more familiar image of Joyce as the expatriated Bohemian, but by 1906 he was working as a bank clerk in Rome, trying to complete a manuscript he would soon abandon in frustration, and attempting to provide for himself, Nora, and their infant son Giorgio. Far from a portrait of the artist, critics have long dismissed Chandler as little more than “the caricature of a compensatory day-dreamer affecting literary aspiration” (Beck 167). These are certainly not the terms fit to describe the author of Ulysses, but recall that in 1906, Joyce himself was only an aspiring writer who had published but a few stories and poems in some obscure Irish papers. Unlike Chandler, Joyce had fled his native country, but he was contemplating a return as publisher after publisher rejected his work. These close connections certainly do not match the richly imagined self-portraiture of Stephen Dedalus, but they might suggest Joyce's growing discontent with the life of a bank clerk possessed of aesthetic pretensions.

Various sorts of snobbery weave their way through the fabric of “A Little Cloud,” as each character struggles to secure some sense of individual distinction as a firewall against the dreary world of Dublin. Chandler's wife, Annie, for example, attempts to fashion for her family a lifestyle appropriate for the Victorian upper middle class, despite the fact that her husband's meager wages make such a project almost impossible. Unable to afford a domestic servant—that icon of bourgeois privilege—Chandler and his wife treat “Annie's young sister Monica [who] came for an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so in the evening to help” (77) as little more than a housemaid; and her absence on his return home at the story's close contributes to his sense of imprisonment within a degraded and tasteless domestic life. Even their “pretty furniture bought […] on the hire system” (79), reveals “something mean” to Chandler (78-79). Like the other claims to distinction in their home, these items are hollow fakes, arranged to denote class status that neither of the Chandlers can ever fully possess. Even Annie's reaction to the gift of a new blouse—delight, followed by a snobbish appraisal of its price and quality—suggests a tired and empty repetition of the codes of middle-class distinction.

This obsession with the signs of sophistication snaps into particularly sharp focus during Chandler's encounter with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher. Now a writer of questionable merit for a London newspaper, the latter returns to Dublin with the very air of the conquering hero Joyce imagined for himself in his letter to Stanislaus. He invites Chandler to Corless's, a chic brasserie where Dublin's elite went “after the theatre to eat oysters and drink liqueurs,” and where “the waiters spoke French and German” (66). Chandler recognizes “the value of the name,” and clearly feels ill at ease when he enters the pub, wondering if he will be able to perform the necessary rituals of sophistication required by such an establishment: “The light and noise of the bar held him at the doorway for a few moments […]. The bar seemed to him to be full of people and he felt that the people were observing high curiously” (69). Gallaher compounds this sense of self-consciousness through a spectacular display of snobbery in which he makes his friend acutely aware of the parochialism of Ireland. Calling the waiter garçon and François, he expresses his disdain for “jog-along Dublin” (73) by telling scandalous tales of the Continent: “I've been to the Moulin Rouge […] and I've been to all the Bohemian cafes. Hot stuff! Not for a pious chap like you Tommy” (71). As the evening wears on, Gallaher's stories become even more fanciful and laced with sexual intrigue as he “revealed many of the secrets of religious houses on the Continent and described some of the practices which were fashionable in high society and ended by telling, with details, a story about an English duchess—a story which he knew to be true” (73). These gossipy rumors, tainted with the thrill of both aristocratic scandal and sexual licentiousness, are calculated to impress upon Chandler the superiority of his friend, even as the narrator allows the reader to see through this sham sophistication.8 Like Annie, Gallaher remains attentive to the outward signs of distinction, struggling to manipulate them in an effort to construct the arrogant self-assurance of a successful journalist.

The snobbery shared by Annie and Gallaher appears as little more than poorly struck poses which mask their fatuous pursuit of social power. Annie's blouse and Gallaher's stories cannot be enjoyed as ends in themselves, but are instead a means to securing the benefits of a publicly staged superiority. Chandler's snobbery, however, escapes this logic of performativity, for it is almost never displayed to anyone else. He “felt himself superior to the people he passed” (68), and reminds himself during Gallaher's stories that his friend “was inferior in birth and education” (75). He actively accumulates the signs of social and cultural capital, but differs from those around him by refusing to exchange such signs for the public spectacle of arrogant disdain: “He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books remained on their shelves” (66). This internalization of the impulse toward snobbery provides Chandler with a rudimentary aesthetic consciousness fundamentally different from that of most of the other characters in Dubliners. Rather than submerging himself in endless performances of distinction, he translates his own sense of superiority into a silently narrated fiction of escape. Thus, after absorbing an impressionistic vision of the “the poor stunted houses” beneath Grattan Bridge, he “wondered whether he could write a poem to express his idea […]. He was not sure what idea he wished to express but the thought that a poetic moment had touched him took life within him like an infant hope. He stepped onward bravely” (68). As poetic experiences go, this one may leave something to be desired, but it does provide a rare moment of hope as Chandler struggles to imagine a life lived beyond the paralysis of Dublin.

Even as Joyce fashions this potentially liberating portrait of an aspiring poet, he meticulously reinscribes it within the more general sense of meanness and subjection characteristic of the collection as a whole. Chandler's poetic reverie is immediately undermined by the young man's severely limited dreams of gaining fame as nothing more than a minor voice of the Celtic Twilight:

He would never be popular: he saw that. He could not sway the crowd but he might appeal to a little circle of kindred minds. The English critics, perhaps, would recognise him as one of the Celtic school by reason of the melancholy tone of his poems; besides that, he would put in allusions […]. It was a pity his name was not more Irish-looking.


Chandler's dreams here not only replay the familiar scene of Ireland's subjection to the expectations of England but also fix him as nothing more than a poet of local color.9 Furthermore, these thoughts about the reception of his work and the potential need to change his name interrupt the moment of aesthetic creation itself. Rather than writing poetry, or even giving himself over to the experience of the moment, Chandler focuses almost exclusively upon his self-dramatization as an artist. The most attention he can direct to questions of form and composition is to decide to include “allusions” in his imagined works. Despite his apparent ignorance of structure and meter, however, his belief in his own superiority continues to provide for him a bulwark against the snobbish condescension of Gallaher: “He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friend's, and it seemed to him unjust. […] He was sure he could do something better than his friend had even done, or could ever do, something higher than mere tawdry journalism if he only got the chance” (75-76). This opportunity never comes, of course, but Chandler's egoism keeps alive a consciousness of both the degradation of his own life and the very real possibility of escape.

The foreclosure of such opportunities for flight punctuate many of the stories in Dubliners, from the immovable protagonist of “Eveline” to the lonely Mr. Duffy in “A Painful Case.” “A Little Cloud” stays true to this form, and Chandler's pitifully limited dreams are smashed against the rocks of his sobering reality. In dismissing Chandler as just another in a long line of paralyzed Dubliners, critics typically point to the lack of sophistication shown by his admiration of “the wrong poem” by Byron (Torchiana 131). Having returned from his trip to Corliss's, the young clerk reads aloud a piece of juvenilia, “On the Death of a Young lad, Cousin of the Author, and Very dear to Him,” while he cradles his sleeping son. Slipping once more into reverie, he “felt the rhythm of the verse about him in the room. How melancholy it was!” (79). For experiencing these emotions, Donald Torchiana—and indeed most critics—condemn Chandler as an inartistic fool, unable to discern authentic art from the mere scribblings of a young poet.10 In the text itself, however, no such sense of disdain arises. Instead, the stanza leads Chandler to the brink of the same feeling of liberation experienced earlier in the day: “Could he, too, write like that, express the melancholy of his soul in verse? There were so many things he wanted to describe: his sensation of a few hours before on Grattan Bridge, for example. If he could get back again into that mood …” (79). Significantly, he is on the brink here of Wordsworth's mystical moment of aesthetic creation, in which poetry emerges from “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions […] recollected in tranquillity” (Wordsworth 25). The selection of Byron also suggests that this moment, though severely circumscribed, should be treated as authentic experience of artistic consciousness. Indeed, Joyce would later refashion this very scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when Stephen recalls with some chagrin the beating he received for defending the same poet. Byron, a secular saint of flight and liberation, evokes for both Stephen and Chandler the promise of a larger world, regardless of the tastelessness of his poetry. Although this particular piece of verse may reek of a distinctively anti-modernist sentimentality, it nevertheless evokes in this story the promise of liberation through the act of aesthetic creation.

Chandler's moment of poetic inspiration, however, is shattered by the cry of his child, and this is the moment that Joyce's narrator snaps shut the door of the prison house. Fearful of fleeing the life he has built for himself and unable to read or write poetry, Chandler recognizes the futility not only of his artistic aspirations, but of his own pretensions to superiority. Shouting in the face of his child, and thus accused of cruelty by his wife, he can see no opportunity for escape. Yet again an epiphanic moment of paralysis concludes this story, captured in the tableau of the angry wife, the crying child, and the powerless clerk. Unlike Eveline or Mr. Duffy, however, Chandler is admitted into the charmed circle of critical consciousness shared by the reader and the narrator, as he recognizes the exact nature of his own social and ideological confinement: “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 tears of remorse started to his eyes” (81). Throughout this text Chandler's own snobbery has sustained him, allowing him to venture so far as to imagine the possibility of flight from the paralyzed city of Dublin. As his wife calms the child and berates her husband, however, this self-assurance collapses in the face of the material constraints placed upon him. This scene reveals the powerful disjunction between the poetic life and the life of a clerk with a family, as even the most degraded and circumscribed aspirations collapse into impossibility. Chandler's silent snobbery provides the necessary defense against the vapid pretensions of Gallaher and his own wife, but at the crucial moment of inspiration it fails him, leaving him to confront a life unredeemed by even the dream of escape.

As a snob, Chandler remains pathologically isolated from the world around him, echoing in his own disdain for “all that minute vermin-like life […] of Dublin,” the imperious voice of the narrative itself (66). The possibility for any authentic moment of human connection is foreclosed by the various sorts of snobbery in the story, from the class-consciousness of Annie to the worldly smugness of Gallaher. Even the aspiring poet can do little more than savor fleeting moments of melancholia while thumbing through a page of Byron's verse. Thus, the climactic tears shed by Chandler at the moment of epiphanic recognition cannot be construed solely as the self-pity of a pretentious clerk who glimpses the squalor of his own life. They also signify the “remorse” of the failed artist, whose precocious efforts at cultivation have resulted not in a work of literature, but in an angry shout in the face of his own crying child. It may be unwise fully to collapse Chandler into Stephen Hero or into Joyce as a fictional image of the aspiring aesthete, but this clerk's recognition of the limitations of the arrogant egoism so forcefully commanded by Stephen and Joyce reveals a growing sense of ambivalence about the power and pleasure of snobbery.


“A Little Cloud” sets forth the problem of snobbery, and it does so in the semi-autobiographical vein that Joyce deployed so successfully throughout his work. The story concludes, however, with the same sense of diagnostic paralysis that pervades Dubliners, illuminating for a moment the conudrum of snobbery but providing little sense of how the problems it poses might be solved. Like Bourdieu's analysis of the field of cultural production, Joyce's narrative remains locked in a structuralist fantasy of synchronic temporality that forecloses the possibility of conceptual or historical change. In Ulysses, however, this rigidity gives way to a more subtle attempt to exploit the gap between the actual practice of aesthetic consumption and the structures governing the organization of the literary field. By juxtaposing Stephen Dedalus's alienating arrogance with Leopold Bloom's expansive generosity, Joyce exploits the snob as a figure of mediation and exchange capable of troubling the binary logic of Huyssen's “great divide.” Stripped of even Chandler's modest claim to epiphany, the intellectual aesthete now emerges as a severely circumscribed snob who cannot match the imaginative freedom and empathy of a modest canvasser. In Bloom, Joyce forges a new sort of hero, whose pursuit of originality leads him not to pose brashly as the creator of his race's consciousness, but to interrogate endlessly the world around him. Apparently no more than a mild-mannered advertising agent, he in fact possesses the most vital aesthetic consciousness in the novel, creatively integrating art, culture, science, economics, politics, and history. More than simply contemplating the world around him, Bloom actively engages it and risks himself in the apparently trivial exchanges that the structure of the novel itself assigns epic proportions. From challenging the racism of the Citizen in Barney Kiernan's pub to offering Stephen a roof and a bed, Bloom generates and sustains a complicated and even utopian subjectivity that is not premised on the public performance of snobbish pretension.

And yet to produce such a utopian figure, Joyce ultimately relies upon a novelistic structure of such dazzling complexity that Bloom seems to disappear beneath the sheer spectacle of it. In reading Ulysses, one cannot help but notice the paradoxical snobbery of a novel that would be almost unreadable by its own protagonist. Bloom seems at times to be nothing more than the unconscious and unwilling subject of narrative vivisection, in which characters are merely empty markers to be moved about by a clever author for the enjoyment of his audience. This ambivalent use of snobbery to critique the pretensions of the artist, however, constitutes not a fatal flaw within the work, but the essential wager of the novel itself. In fashioning a heroic Bloom and ridiculing the arrogance of the artist, yet all the while defying the conventions of realist narrative, Joyce seeks to create a text that disrupts the boundaries between high and mass culture.11 Refusing simply to appropriate the forms of the latter, he instead struggles to imagine a space of mediation and exchange which challenges all readers to extend the horizons of their world beyond the invidious divides of social, cultural, and economic capital.

To stake this incredible wager, Joyce antes up no less a figure than Stephen Dedalus, whose arrogance at the conclusion of A Portrait implied that snobbery alone could free one from the constrictive nets of Ireland. In the opening episodes of Ulysses, however, Stephen no longer appears as a heroic artist, but as an exhausted and even pitiful stereotype of the aesthete. Shrouding himself in the snob's air of disdain, he endlessly stages his own intellectual distinction, struggling desperately to impress his importance on those around him. His familiar arrogance takes on a darker and more depressing tone as the novel unfolds, for Stephen seems to have realized that such performances of distinction have become empty displays leading nowhere. Now, rather than embracing the opportunity to display his wit at a party by proving “by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father,” the frustrated aesthete instead worries that he is nothing more than a clown permitted to dance before the imperial gaze: “Tonight deftly amid wild drink and talk, to pierce the polished mail of his mind. What then? A jester at the court of his master, indulged and disesteemed winning a clement master's praise” (Ulysses 2.42-5). Snobbery still pervades Stephen's self-consciousness as he imagines his mind to be a heroic knight dressed for battle, but he senses that even his wittiest conversation will amount only to an empty and ultimately pointless display of erudition. Even his epiphanies, the core elements of his youthful aesthetic, are revealed in this self-examination to be the insubstantial signs of a derivative aestheticism: “Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?” (3.141-3). No longer emblems of timeless genius, he sees these artifacts of his youth as nothing more than props for the performance of a snobbery that he continues to stage: “My Latin quarter hat. God, we simply must dress the character. I want puce gloves (3.174-75). […] Just say in the most natural tone: when I was in Paris, boul'Mich', I used to” (178-79). He recognizes that the outward signs of the expatriated artist he so carefully manages are but empty signifiers of a genius he can only simulate.

Joyce sustains his attack on Stephen's arrogance throughout the novel, consistently exposing the young aesthete's imprisonment within the performance of his own pretension. Confined to the isolation of his own sense of self-importance, he is unable to forge any meaningful connection with the surrounding world that is not itself an already exhausted pose. At times, Joyce's critique is quite stinging, as in the “Oxen of the Sun” episode where he casts Stephen in the roles of “Boasthard” (14.429), “morbid-minded esthete and embryo philosopher” (14.1295). Ridiculing the young poet's meager verse, the novel revels in its own ability to appropriate the entire history of narrative. Thus, in the language of deQuincy, Stephen's snobbish authority becomes indistinguishable from a drug-induced hallucination, unsubstantiated by any legitimate production: “I, Bous Stephanoumenos, bullockbefriending bard, am lord and giver of [the imaginative] life. He encircles his gadding hair with a coronal of vineleaves, smiling at Vincent. That answer and those leaves, Vincent said to him, will adorn you more fitly when something more, and greatly more, than a capful of light odes can call your genius father” (14.1115-19). He remains a poet who has produced almost nothing, and the incredible pretension of his claims to greatness collapse even as he attempts to seize the laurels of the true artist. Measured against the complexity and formal brilliance of this chapter, Stephen appears less as a portrait of the artist than as a comic pantaloon, the very “jester at the court of his master” he earlier feared he would become. Exhausted, drunk, and caught in a lie that what little money he has is payment for a poem, this snob proves to be an enemy of the true artist. As Joyce experiments with language of writers from the pre-Socratics, to Defoe, Carlyle, and Dickens, Stephen appears as little more than a pale imitation of Whistler or Wilde, playing his severely circumscribed role amidst the background of a much larger literary achievement.

Despite this powerful attack on the pretensions of the aesthete, Joyce's own conception of the chapter's symbolism suggests that we must not lose sight of the potential artist still submerged within Stephen's consciousness. Calling the technic for this episode “embryonic development” and setting the evolution of narrative prose against the prolonged but ultimately rewarding birth of a child in the National Maternity Hospital links the creative acts of the artist and the heterosexual couple. As Marilyn French argues, “coition between people leading to conception parallels coition between mind and reality leading to expression, otherwise called literature” (17). Readers and critics have long noted this symbolic connection, and despite his humiliation Stephen does appear to emerge here, at times, as an earlier image of the novelist himself—albeit an artist who has yet to escape the bondage of his own pretension by fertilizing his own imagination with the larger world.12 In The Making of Ulysses, Frank Budgen recalls Joyce's insistence upon the importance of this symbolic network in Oxen of the Sun. Budgen writes that “Bloom is the spermatozoon, the hospital the womb, the nurse the ovum, Stephen the embryo, […] the idea being the crime committed against fecundity by sterilizing the act of coition” (215-16). Throughout the novel, Stephen refuses to see the world as anything other than a series of objects to be manipulated by his own god-like powers and consistently sterilizes his imagination by isolating himself behind the protective shield of an involuted snobbery. Even at his most engaging, as in the National Library or atop the Martello Tower, he maintains a vast chasm between himself and his listeners, commenting on both their limitations and his own brilliance. In this passage, however, Joyce suggests not only that Bloom offers the possibility of fertilizing the aesthetic consciousness, but also that a fully mature artist already exists in embryonic form. Stephen's snobbery, in effect, inhibits his proper imaginative development, for it exiles him to a dreary world of empty performance. His sneering, if silent, antipathy for those around him, as well his extreme self-consciousness, prevents him from forming any sort of productive relationship with the larger and more complex world of Dublin through which he moves.

In suggesting that Bloom is the spermatozoon that could potentially contribute some element vital to the creation of Stephen's embryonic aesthetic consciousness, Joyce reveals the precise limitations of the aesthete's snobbery. Far from arrogant, “of prudent soul” (Ulysses 12.216), and possessed of a capacity for “sufferance which base minds jeer at” (14.865), Bloom differs fundamentally from the imperious and contemptuous Stephen. Rather than one of the paralyzed rubes of Dubliners, he is “a cultured allaround man” (10.581) with a complex emotional and mental life who contains within himself the multiform traces of the world of human relationships from which Stephen sought exile. As we initially enter Bloom's mind in “Calypso” and “Lotus-Eaters,” we find Stephen's sense of desolate isolation replaced by a wide and complex array of thoughts and experiences that do not spiral inward into an endless meditation on the self. Bloom's richly textured stream of consciousness takes in a wealth of naturalistic details and arranges them in a shifting mosaic of complex and creative relationships. In advertisements, the sound of a hungry cat, snippets of song, the taste of burned kidneys, the experience of defecation, and in all the other objects he encounters and events he experiences on that famous June day, Bloom maps out a world that extends far beyond the limits of his own ego. In pursuit of his breakfast, for instance,

He approached Larry O'Rourke's. From the cellar grating floated up the flabby gush of porter. Through the open doorway the bar squirted out whiffs of ginger, teadust, biscuitmush. Good house, however: just the end of the city traffic. For instance M'Auley's down there: n.g. [no good] as position. Of course if they ran a tramline along the North Circular from the cattlemarket to the quays value would go up like a shot.


This is Bloom at his best, absorbing the commonplace detail of a public house into his thoughts and enjoying the process of uncovering its intricate relationship to a larger world of tramlines, marketing, and city planning.

This contrasts sharply with Stephen's parallel wanderings on the beach, where his voracious egotis organizes each detail he notices into an image of alienation and suffering:

His gaze brooded on his broadtoed boots, a buck's castoffs, nebeneinander. He counted the creases of rucked leather wherein another foot had nested warm. The foot that beat the ground in tripundium, foot I dislove. But you were delighted when Esther Osvalt's shoe went on you: girl I knew in Paris. Tiens, quel petite pied! Staunch friend, a brother soul: Wilde's love that dare not speak its name. His arm: Cranly's arm. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all.


The creases of the borrowed boots plunge Stephen only deeper into his own thoughts, leading through a string of associations that leads to his absolutist assertion of the primacy of his own ego.13 For this snobbish artist the self must be protected against all relationships, so that he may remain secure in his own pretensions to god-like omnipotence, “as I am.”14 From paragraph to paragraph in both “Calypso” and “Proteus,” this same contrast between Bloom and Stephen returns. Both focus on some otherwise obscure detail, the former placing it in relation to the larger world, while the latter uses it as a weight to drag him ever deeper into his own imperious self-consciousness. In showing us first the sad spectacle of Stephen, then moving to Bloom's “good genius” (16.811), the novel starkly illuminates the cramped restraints of the artist's snobbery. The heroic advertising agent who allows himself to be drawn into the disorienting and decentered world of experience opens vast new panoramas unglimpsed by the bowed, navel-pondering aesthete.

To argue simply that Ulysses unproblematically carries through a definitive attack upon snobbery's blind and futile pursuit of sophistication smacks of the same sort of interpretive haziness that ignores Stephen's departure in order to suture together a satisfying union of artist and everyman at the conclusion of “Ithaca.” After all the complexity of this novel—its demand for a reader with immense patience, a broad education, and a willingness to savor the circumvention of a realist structure—inescapably invokes the very hierarchy of distinction it carefully critiques. Episodes such as “Oxen of the Sun,” which requires an expansive knowledge of the history of English prose, or “Aeolus,” which derives its richness, in part, from its masterful control of the elements of classical rhetoric, nearly obscure the quotidian Bloom beneath their virtuosity. Like Stephen's treatment of Shakespeare in the National Library, Ulysses seems, at times, to use Bloom merely as a means to display its impressive intellectual achievement, maintaining the nominal protagonist as little more than an empty signifier of its egalitarianism. For Stonehill, who points to this “paradoxical status of Ulysses as an ethically democratic but esthetically élitist work,” the novel simply fails in its desire to close the gap between high culture and the middle class:

By simultaneously creating and disrupting the narrative illusion, Joyce is […] able to give with one hand and take with the other. He can celebrate the virtues of a seemingly ordinary Dubliner of unassuming generosity while simultaneously elaborating one of the most complex, arcane, and sophisticated works of art in the century. This does not permit him, alas, to be all things to all readers. Ulysses renders the mundane accessible to the mandarins, but not vice versa.


Sharing this same sense of the novel's structural snobbery, a number of cultural critics have highlighted the importance of Joyce's inclusion of forms that would be unrecognizable to the mandarin reader. Cheryl Herr's landmark study of Joyce's use of the conventions of the pantomime in “Circe” leads an array of works that argue that “by refusing the cultural hierarchy that most readers take for granted, Joyce builds a principle of accessibility into his work” (Attridge 24).15 Faced with the apparent snobbery of the novel, we find ourselves, in effect, trapped on either side of an imposing divide: either to regret the inevitable arrogance of the work or to protest that it can indeed be all things to all readers.

Rather than glide down either one of these slippery slopes, I want to argue that the text's closing sense of ambivalence, its frustration of our expectations in the departure of Stephen, poses an open-ended and skillfully wrought question about the problem of snobbery itself. Beginning in “Calypso,” Joyce makes clear Bloom's desire to become a writer, tracking his various plans to write a prize-winning story for Titbits, a pornographic novel such as The Sweets of Sin, or even a naturalistic novel of his own life: “Might manage a sketch. By Mr and Mrs L. M. Bloom. Invent a story from some proverb. Which? Time I used to try jotting down on my cuff what she said dressing” (Ulysses 4.518-20). When locked in conversation with Stephen in the cabman's shelter he goes so far as to offer a glimpse of the very conception of Ulysses itself:

Still to cultivate the acquaintance of someone of no uncommon calibre who could provide food for reflection would amply repay any small. Intellectual stimulation, as such, was, he felt, from time to time a firstrate tonic for the mind. Added to which was the coincidence of meeting, discussion, dance, row, old salt of the here today and gone tomorrow type, night loafers, the whole galaxy of events, all went to make up a miniature cameo of the world we live in. […] To improve the shining hour he wondered where he might meet with anything approaching the same luck as Mr Philip Beaufoy if taken down in writing suppose he were to pen something out of the common groove (as he fully intended doing) at the rate of one guinea per column. My Experience, let us say, in a Cabman's Shelter.


Like Stephen's aesthetic productions, Bloom's too are only hallucinatory, emerging most clearly in the nightmare world of “Circe” where he claims, “I follow a literary occupation, author-journalist. In fact we are just bringing out a collection of prize stories of which I am the inventor, something that is an entirely new departure. I am connected with the British and Irish press” (15.801-4). This unexpectedly snobbish appeal to the authority of cultural capital leads almost immediately to his trial in “The King versus Bloom,” where he is called to account for every errant thought, devious desire, and misdeed. Philip Beaufoy himself, the author of one of the stories in Titbits, arises to condemn Bloom for daring to pose as an author despite his limited capabilities: “No born gentleman, no-one with the most rudimentary promptings of a gentleman would stoop to such particularly loathsome conduct. One of those, my lord. A plagiarist. A soapy sneak masquerading as a littérature” (15.819-23). Though but a figment of this episode's narrative imagination, Beaufoy is nevertheless quite right. Despite his generosity of spirit, his resistance to snobbery, and his utopian humanity, Bloom simply cannot be the author of Ulysses.

In neither the humble Bloom nor the arrogant Stephen do we glimpse the mind capable of producing this unique novel, a mind which blends the quotidian events of a Dublin Jew with some of the most complex and challenging narrative structures ever deployed. The one lacks the learning and the rebelliousness needed to manipulate the structure of language, while the other is limited by an involuted snobbery that cannot reach beyond itself to a larger world. It should therefore come as little surprise that the “Ithaca” section of the novel, which marks the final homecoming of the hero, unfolds as a protracted series of questions. In the Linati schema, Joyce calls this technic “catechism (impersonal),” and as Kenner notes this style borrows not only from the Catholic tool for the instruction of dogma, but from nineteenth-century textbooks as well (134-35). The narrative self-consciously assumes the form of scholastic and theological authority, instructing us in the proper interpretation of the events that mark the close of Bloom's day. We are interpellated here as students rather than readers, required to study attentively the novel's careful handling of the complex relationship between Stephen and Bloom. As Kenner notes, this structure leads us precisely to the sort of symbolic or archetypal readings that allow Schwarz and others to see a satisfying climax even in Stephen's departure:16 “the liturgical cadences prevail, and can be insidious. In repeatedly exalting arrays of particulate information, subsuming whole orders of experience into the domain of the archetype, they work […] on our sense of the two men present […] who become both more and less than the characters we know so well” (137). Yet in a novel that dedicates itself to an assault on the dogma of form and language, we must see this catechism of the novel itself as—at best—a provisional attempt to forge some means of closure. The mystical union of the artist and Everyman in “Stoom” and “Blephen” remains an open question precisely because the novel uncloaks its inner workings and offers us this meager conclusion as a rote answer to its own dogma. In consistently contrasting Stephen and Bloom, Joyce interrogates the snobbery not only of the artist but of Ulysses itself and wagers that the still immature Stephen will eventually overcome the imperious arrogance so integral to the personality of the artist. The outcome of this gamble, however, depends not on the mystical union ironically passed on to us through a catechism, but on the reception and acceptance of the novel itself by the very people it claims to represent.

The initial reviews of the novel, the circumstances of its publication, and even the decision to lift the blight of American censorship suggest that this great wager ultimately met with failure. The text passed from a small circle of collectors, through the artistic coteries of Paris and New York, and wound up in the classrooms and monographs of academics across the world. Joyce unquestionably enjoyed this affirmation of his genius, and he accrued enough cultural capital from this novel to “live off its interest” for the rest of his life (Wexler 67). As Ellmann asserts, “the ironic quality of Joyce's fame was that it remained a glorie de cénacle, even when the cénacle had swelled to vast numbers of people. To have read Ulysses, or parts of it, became the mark of the knowledgeable expatriate” (527). Today, this cénacle now encompasses the still relatively circumscribed “Joyce industry,” and the ironies of such success have only become more pronounced. The novel that struggled to find a way out of the limitations of snobbery has itself become an icon of literary and cultural sophistication, largely restricted to a Stephen-like audience that applauds the heroization of Bloom. Throughout his life, Joyce feebly protested that Ulysses could be read by anyone, and he only reluctantly released the schemas and outlines that for Judge John M. Woolsey provided the novel with the necessary apparatus of critical sincerity.17 Yet, he also sensed that the great gamble taken with Bloom had met with little success. Despite the great virtuosity of the novel, despite its telling protest against the limitations of intellectual, it still failed to exploit the critical potential of its own ambivalent snobbery, withdrawing into the very cultural hierarchies of value it sought to contest.


  1. In his 1890 The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, James McNeill Whistler helped define the essence of modern snobbery by publicly staging his own cultural superiority: “There are those, they tell me, who have the approval of the people—and live! From them the succès d'estime; for me […] succè d'exécration—the only tribute possible from the Mob to the Master” (107).

  2. Huyssen's argument is more complex than I give him credit for here. He does begin his study, After the Great Divide, with the assertion that modernism was an essentially “adversary culture” which constituted itself through a conscious strategy of “excluding mass culture as a site of potential “contamination” (vii). This stark divide, however, is not as absolute as it initially appears, precisely because modernism forms itself around this idea of opposition to mass culture. Thus, even at the heart of the highbrow modernist text, elements of mass culture can be located in what Huyssen later describes as a “hidden subtext” (47).

  3. In his own work on modernism and mass culture, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern, Michael North notes a similar trajectory in the construction of a postmodernism that produces cultural capital through its engagement with the popular forms modernism supposedly rejected. “Since postmodernism defined itself in large part by its greater eclecticism and stylistic openness, it required as foil a modernism as exclusive as possible. Thus, the rivalry between postmodernism and modernism was read back into history, quite openly, as an antipathy between modernism and mass culture, one whose existence has always seemed more a matter of theoretical necessity than of empirical fact” (10).

  4. Think, for example, of works like Harold Bloom's How to Read and The Western Canon. In these works he attempts to create and maintain a hierarchy of highbrow texts that can be judged solely in terms of their “quality.” This project falters not because of any failure in Bloom's considerable critical acumen, but because it refuses to engage the readers and texts which lie beyond the boundary of what he considers aesthetic excellence. The result is at least the appearance of an anti-populist tyranny, one profoundly jealous of its own intellectual privileges.

  5. See Herr's The Anatomy of Culture, Wollaeger's “Stephen/Joyce, Joyce/Haacke: Modernism and the Social Function of Art,” and Kershner's Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder.

  6. The brutality of these pieces and their adamant refusal of redemption make clear Joyce's defiant rejection of the Celtic Twilight. Rather than a native Irish mysticism, Joyce puts on display what he perceives to be ideological deadlock and social decay. As can well be imagined, such sentiments made it quite difficult for Joyce to find a readership for these stories in Ireland.

  7. The singular exception is John McCourt, who argues in The Years of Bloom, that “‘A Little Cloud’ can indeed be read as a reflection of the crisis in which Joyce and Nora found themselves around the time of Giorgio's birth and in the latter half of 1905” (40-41).

  8. In this brief encounter, Joyce restages his own earlier meeting with Yeats, as the snobbish Gallaher proudly displays his metropolitan sophistication to the aspiring young poet. Trapped within a colonial discourse that privileges London over Ireland, both Gallaher and Chandler find themselves enacting a ritualized performance of distinction. In this case, Joyce's ironies hollow out the encounter, exposing both its inexorable logic and its brutal vulgarity.

  9. Joyce would later restage this same dilemma in Ulysses, where Stephen too fears becoming “a jester at the court of his master” (2.244), staging his Irish wit for the romanticizing gaze of Haines, the “ponderous Saxon” comes to indulge his romanticized fantasy of Dublin's intellectual life (1.51).

  10. In Terence Brown's notes for the 1992 Penguin edition, the snobbery of the editor rises to a near fever pitch in the annotation for these lines of verse: “The poem is Byron at his most affectingly sentimental and scarcely represents him as the romantic he was. Rather it is a piece of emotional trifling, in a wearisomely conventional mode” (Dubliners n 45, 273-4).

  11. Cheryl Herr's Anatomy of Culture has become the locus classicus for this sort of reading of Ulysses that highlights the often obscured elements of lowbrow and popular culture so integral to the text.

  12. For discussions of this episode and Steven's role as an unfertilized ovum see Bazargan, Kenner, and Schwartz.

  13. One could easily imagine that were Bloom to ponder the creases in his boots, he would be led not into the psychic depths of his consciousness, but into an extended meditation on the shoemaking trade and the importance of proper footwear for the maintenance of good health.

  14. This of course echoes the famous passage from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where Stephen compares the artist to an “indifferent” God, “paring his fingernails” (215). By this point, the ambivalence of this earlier passage has essentially evaporated, leaving in Ulysses only the crusted sediment of Stephen's pointless snobbery.

  15. The importance of popular culture in Ulysses has only recently been addressed. For a representative look at the field see Kershner, Wicke and Leonard.

  16. Daniel Schwarz rhetorically asks, “is it too much to say that while the discourse or metaphorical level affirms Stephen's acceptance of Bloom as the necessary father figure and implies his future maturation, the story does not substantiate this?” (231) In a word, yes, it is too much to ask, for Stephen remains exiled, isolated, and still ensnared in snobbery's endless performance.

  17. As Kelly notes, Joyce refused to grant Bennett Cerf permission to publish the schema for the novel he gave to Herbert Gorman. Fearful that such critical aids would set the novel apart as a curiosity intended for serious scholars alone, Joyce insisted that the novel “must stand on its own feet without any explanation” (Kelly 135-36).

Works Cited

Alter, Robert. “Joyce's Ulysses and the Common Reader.” Modernism/Modernity 5.3 (1998): 19-31.

Atlas, James. “‘Literature’ Bores Me.” New York Times Magazine 16 Mar. 1997: 40-41.

Attridge, Derek. “Theoretical Approaches to Popular Culture.” Joyce and Popular Culture. Ed. R. B. Kershner. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1996. 23-26.

Baudelaire, Charles. Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Artists. Trans. P. E. Charvet. London: Penguin, 1972.

Bazargan, Susan. “The Oxen of the Sun: Maternity, Language, and History.” James Joyce Quarterly 22.3 (1985): 271-80.

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

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed.” The Field of Cultural Production. Ed. Randal Johnson. Trans. Richard Nice. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. 29-73.

———. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Trans. Susan Emanuel. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1960.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford U P, 1982.

French, Marilyn. The Book as World: James Joyce's Ulysses. Cambridge: Harvard P, 1976.

Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.

Heller, Vivian. Joyce, Decadence, and Emancipation. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1995.

Herr, Cheryl. The Anatomy of Culture. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1986.

Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. 1914. New York: Penguin, 1992.

———. Letters of James Joyce. Vol. 2. Ed. Richard Ellmann. New York: Viking, 1966. 3 vols.

———. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. New York: Penguin, 1977.

———. Stephen Hero. New York: New Directions, 1963.

———. “To Grant Richards.” Joyce, Letters II. 132-35.

———. “To Stanislaus.” Joyce, Letters II. 92-98.

———. Ulysses. 1922. New York: Vintage, 1986.

———. Ulysses: A Reader's Edition. Ed. Danis Rose. London: Picador, 1998.

Kelly, Joseph. Our Joyce: From Outcast to Icon. Austin: U of Texas P, 1998.

Kenner, Hugh. Ulysses. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987.

Kershner, R. B. Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Leonard, Garry. “Joyce and Advertising: Advertising and Commodity Culture in Joyce's Fiction.” James Joyce Quarterly 30-1.4-1 (1993): 573-92.

McCourt, John. The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2000.

North, Michael. Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.

Schwarz, Daniel R. Reading Joyce's Ulysses. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.

Stonehill, Brian. The Self-Conscious Novel: Artifice in Fiction from Joyce to Pynchon. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1988.

Strychacz, Thomas. Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.

Torchiana, Donald. Backgrounds for Joyce's Dubliners. Boston: Allen, 1986.

Wexler, Joyce. Who Paid for Modernism? Art Money and the Fiction of Conrad, Joyce, and Lawrence. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1997.

Whistler, James McNeill. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, as Pleasingly Exemplified in Many Instances, Wherein the Serious Ones of This Earth, Carefully Exasperated, Have Been Prettily Spurred on to Unseemliness and Indiscretion, While Overcome by an Undue Sense of Right. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1890.

Wicke, Jennifer. Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement and Social Reading. New York: Columbia UP, 1988.

Williams, Trevor. Reading Joyce Politically. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1997.

Wollaeger, Mark. “Stephen/Joyce, Joyce/Haacke: Modernism and the Social Function of Art.” ELH 62.3 (1995): 691-707.

Wordsworth, William. “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.” William Wordsworth's The Prelude: Selected Poems and Sonnets. Ed. Carlos Baker. Fort Worth: Holt, 1954.

Further Reading

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Attridge, Derek. Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 226 p.

Offers in-depth analysis of Joyce's fiction.

Beckman, Richard. “Jove's Word: Finnegans Wake, 80.20-81.13.” Journal of Modern Literature XXII, no. 2 (winter 1998-99): 373-84.

Provides an interpretation of two paragraphs from Finnegans Wake.

Brunsdale, Mitzi M. James Joyce: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993, 264 p.

Explores the main thematic concerns of Joyce's short fiction.

Burns, Christy L. Gestural Politics: Stereotype and Parody in Joyce. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2000, 256 p.

Examines the role of politics and stereotypes in Joyce's work.

Cheng, Vincent J., Kimberly J. Devlin, and Margot Norris, eds. Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1998, 296 p.

Collection of critical essays.

Eide, Marian. “The Woman of the Ballyhoura Hills: James Joyce and the Politics of Creativity.” Twentieth Century Literature 44, no. 4 (winter 1998): 377-94.

Delineates Joyce's attitude toward and portrayal of Irish nationalism in his work.

Finney, Michael. “Why Gretta Falls Asleep: A Postmodern Sugarplum.” Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 3 (summer 1995): 475-81.

Considers two readings of “The Dead”—one motivated by male desire and the other by female desire.

Froula, Christine. Modernism's Body: Sex, Culture, and Joyce. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 316 p.

Maintains that Joyce's depictions of the artist are also cultural portraits.

Gordon, John. “Tracking the Oxen.” Journal of Modern Literature XXII, no. 2 (winter 1998-99): 349-57.

Offers an interpretation of the “Oxen of the Sun” chapter of Ulysses.

Haslett, Moyra. “‘The Girl, or Woman, or Whatever She Is …’: Femininity and Nationalism in Joyce.” In Re: Joyce: Text, Culture, Politics, edited by John Brannigan, Geoff Ward, and Julian Wolfreys, pp. 45-59. Houndmills, England: Macmillan Press, 1998.

Asserts that the figure of the nationalist woman is marginalized in Joyce's texts.

Ingersoll, Earl G. “The Stigma of Femininity in James Joyce's ‘Eveline’ and ‘The Boarding House’.” Studies in Short Fiction 30, no. 4 (fall 1993): 501-11.

Compares the portrayal of women in “Eveline” and “The Boarding House.”

King, John. “Trapping the Fox You Are(n't) with a Riddle: The Autobiographical Crisis of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses.Twentieth Century Literature 45, no. 3 (fall 1999): 299-316.

Explores autobiographical elements of Ulysses.

Mulrooney, Jonathan. “Stephen Dedalus and the Politics of Confession.” Studies in the Short Novel 33, no. 2 (summer 2001): 160-80.

Considers Joyce's attitude toward Irish nationalism.

Murphy, Michael. “‘The Dead’: Gabebashing in Joyce Country.” English Studies 81, no. 1 (February 2000): 41-56.

Views most of the feminist critiques of “The Dead” as “stunningly wrongheaded.”

Nunes, Mark. “Beyond the ‘Holy See’: Parody and Narrative Assemblage in ‘Cyclops’.” Twentieth Century Literature 45, no. 2 (January 1999): 174-85.

Analyzes Joyce's narrative technique in the “Cyclops” chapter of Ulysses.

Paige, Linda Rohrer. “James Joyce's Darkly-Colored Portraits of ‘Mother’ in Dubliners.Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 3 (summer 1995): 329-41.

Investigates Joyce's depiction of mother figures in Dubliners.

Powers, Michael J. “Issy's Mimetic Night Lessons: Interpellation and Resistance in Finnegans Wake.Joyce Studies Annual 11 (summer 2000): 102-23.

Utilizes Louis Althusser's theory of interpellation to provide a reading of Finnegans Wake.

Restuccia, Frances L. Joyce and the Law of the Father. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989, 196 p.

Explores aspects of Joyce's work, focusing on his Catholicism, his masochism, and his attitude toward women.

Robbins, Dorothy Dodge. “‘Coming Down along the Road’: The Journey Motif in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.Midwest Quarterly 35, no. 3 (spring 1994): 261-77.

Asserts that Joyce utilizes the journey motif in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to illuminate Stephen Dedalus's maturation.

Sultan, Stanley. Joyce's Metamorphosis. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2001, 224 p.

Traces Joyce's literary development.

Wawrzycka, Jolanta W., and Marlena G. Corcoran, eds. Gender in Joyce. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997, 248 p.

Compilation of critical essays that focus on Joyce's treatment of gender in his fiction.

Williams, Trevor L. Reading Joyce Politically. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 1997, 272 p.

Examines Joyce's fiction from a political perspective.

Wright, David G. “Interactive Stories in Dubliners.Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 3 (summer 1995): 285-94.

Explains the function of the interconnecting themes of the stories in Dubliners.

Yee, Cordell D. K. The World According to James Joyce: Reconstructing Representation. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1997, 176 p.

Critical study of Joyce's work.

Additional coverage of Joyce's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 42; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 11, 13; British Writers, Vol. 7; British Writers: The Classics, Vol. 1; British Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 126; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 10, 19, 36, 162, 247; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists, and Poets; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Drama Criticism, Vol. 16; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Novels; Exploring Short Stories; Literary Movements for Students, Vols. 1, 2; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 7; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 22; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 1, 19; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 3, 26, 44, 64; Twayne's English Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 3, 8, 16, 35, 52; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; and World Literature Criticism.

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Joyce, James (Short Story Criticism)

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