Sunday, November 20, 2011


I AM really enjoying James Joyce's DUBLINERS at present. One story per bus ride, then re-reading at night at home. Various examples of living life in Dublin just after the turn of the century. Great insight into working class life. The first few stories deal with life as a young person, or adolescent, the others more about working life, and complications on love or marriage. All with something fascinating inside them, and usually daring and full of meaning, and lovely prose, and people trying to survive.



A story of how the death of a priest- Father Flynn- takes hold of the imagination of a young boy. When he looks up at the window of the house he died in, the word PARALYSIS continually comes to his mind. The rest of the story takes place in the boy’s house where a small group gather to talk about the priest and his life. The boy is young and therefore silent, unassuming. It is a cloying, claustrophobic attitude. The word PARALYSIS comes to mind, and it reminds us that 1) Joyce found Dublin suffocating and not conducive to the development of a literary career, and 2) Joyce was wildly influenced in the early stages of his development as a writer by Ibsen- paralysis, suffocation, repression all important themes in Ibsen’s writing about Norwegian society.


Another childhood story, fairly unremarkable. The narrator and his imaginative friend wag school and cross the Liffey in a ferryboat in a planned sojourn to the Pigeon House. The ‘encounter’ referred to in the title occurs between the young narrator and an old man who is unthreatening but enthusiastic on the topic of whipping boys. The most interesting bits for me were the parts that foreshadowed Joyce’s need for exile- ‘But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’ Moreover, the young boy is keen to see if the sailors aboard a Norwegian vessel at the Dublin docks have green eyes. Norway was to become the source of a developing interest (Ibsen), and again it is interesting this thing about thinking abroad.


‘Araby’ apparently was the name of a bazaar that took place in Joyce’s time in Dublin to raise money for charity. The young male narrator of the story is extremely keen to go to the bazaar, but must wait for money from his father, which takes an interminably long time to arrive. It’s a fairly charming story that captures well the awkward adolescent sexual fascination of an older woman. The streets of Dublin are alive with passion: ‘We walked through the flaring streets , jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amidst the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys…’. There is also a strange interior passion inside the boy:

‘Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom…my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.’ What a great description of something that is so alien and troubling and intoxicating for a boy! Thus ends the trio of stories written from the point of view of boyhood.


Another superior story, the first from an adult point of view (a woman) and probably more sophisticated than the preceding ones. It has one of the loveliest opening lines in Dubliners: ‘She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.’ Even though this story is told from the point of view of ‘Eveline’, I was captured in the end by the pain felt by the male character, Frank, a sailor. He seems to love her deeply. It is doubtful Eveline loves Frank. She seems to simply want to escape her suffocating environment (suffocating Dublin again), especially her dependent father who disapproves of his daughter’s union. Nineteen year old Eveline thinks she is ready for a new life, for modernity, for a new place overseas. It’s only the idea of marriage that troubles her. In her naïve and inexperienced mind she thinks she needs saving, and romantically she thinks it is Frank who should be the one to ‘save her.’ But when it comes to the crunch, in the station at the ‘North Wall’, she can’t take the leap into the darkness. And poor Frank, who is sold on his ‘Evvy’, shouts out desperately to her as she passes beyond the barrier, but she doesn’t budge: ‘Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.’ Joyce will be in this position with Nora in a time not too far in the distance- this boat sojourn together into the unknown. I wonder if he contemplated Nora doing the same thing? Every man’s nightmare.


It appears that this story may have originated as an exercise by Joyce after witnessing a real motor race through the streets of Dublin in 1903. There is probably some really interesting sub-text occurring here, nevertheless the story left me cold and I thought it was one of the weakest in the collection. There is some good, lively writing- ‘The cars came scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in the groove…’. However, I didn’t find myself becoming terribly interested in the French drivers and their celebrations. I thought the great car race that begins in Clockwork Car Town in ‘You Funny Little Noddy’ (Enid Blyton) was much more interesting.


This is a daring, absorbing story that sounds like it is straight out of Joyce’s adolescent days. Not surprisingly it ran into trouble with the censors in conservative Ireland. It is a completely charming story about two roguish youths named Lenehan and Corley, who attempt to have their way with a young housewife. There is plenty of slang, some of it risqué in nature- ‘I spotted a fine tart under Waterhouse’s clock’, and ‘she’s up to the dodge’, and ‘she’s on the turf now.’ It is the lively language and the great fun the two friends have in trying to dupe the woman that makes it a fun story to read. It also has an enigmatic ending involving the stealing of a ‘small gold coin.’ But the thing I like best about this story is the way it is so regional, so Dublin. It is something that the contemporary Dubliner, Colm Toibin, sometimes adopts, and that is the liberal use of place names and street names. In this story we have references to Rutland Square, Dorset Street, Pim’s (retail outlet), Dame Street, Waterhouse’s Clock, Baggot Street, Donnybrook, the South Circular, Earl Street, Trinity College, Nassau Street, Kildare Street, Stephen’s Green, Hume street, Merrion Street, Shelbourne Hotel, Duke’s Lawn, Grafton Street, Capel Street, City Hall, George’s street, Westmoreland Street, Egan’s (pub), Ely Street…’, the list goes on! And all in only a dozen pages! First of it all it tells us what a great walker Joyce was in his day. It tells us how well he knew his home city. How even in exile how much he thought about his home city (it never left him). And it makes you wonder if he was the first writer of Dublin to put these places on the map. He creates a great historic atmosphere, and makes you long to go there (again).


A story that has some basis in truth (as many of the stories do), loosely based on a Joyce family scandal. Mrs Mooney runs the boarding house, and as with many institutions like this, interesting things go on within its walls. See Roald Dahhl’s ‘The Landlady’, or M J Hyland’s chilling ‘This Is Now’ as good examples.

We aren’t talking murder here though, just good old fashioned pre-marital sex- in Ireland of all places, near the turn of the century.

Polly, we are told, is a ‘slim girl of nineteen.’ And she attracts lots of male attention. Her first job was as an office typist, but a ‘disreputable sheriff’s man’ notices her, and that puts paid to that. So Polly finds herself working in the boarding house with mum, doing housework. But that becomes problematic- you see, Polly is a ‘lively’ girl- she flirts with the young male boarders, and is probably lucky she doesn’t end up in one of the Magdalene Laundries.

Mrs Mooney knows the truth, but when she decides to intervene it comforts her to hold the line that (Mr Doran) has ‘taken advantage of Polly’s youth and inexperience.’ But there is a dead giveaway as Joyce tells us in lovely prose:

‘He remembered well, with the curious patient memory of the celibate, the first casual caresses her dress, her breath, her fingers, had given him. Then late one night as he was undressing for bed she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers had been blown out by a gust. It was her bath night. She wore a loose open combing-jacket of printed flannel. Her white instep shone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behind her perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied her candle a faint perfume arose.’

So she is a temptress! What would our feminists say of all this? Polly has seduced Mr Doran, now she is without honour, and teary, and Mrs Mooney has secured Mr Doran’s unhappy promise. Joyce ends his story in typical enigmatic style: ‘Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.’


Quite interesting and quite charming, this story seems to take its life from Joyce’s friendship with a character (in every sense of the word) that he grew up with in Dublin called Gogarty, a man who it is said modelled his life on Oscar Wilde (in this story he is ‘Ignatius Gallaher’). Ignatius tells his unworldly friend, Little Chandler, about all the exotic delights of life abroad, in particular Paris. Under Gallaher’s influence, Little Chandler starts to see the restrictions of living in Dublin. Capel Street he describes as having ‘dull inelegance.’ According to Little Chandler, as the young Joyce always felt, ‘if you wanted to succeed you had to go away’ (which is the story of the literary life of Dublin, as Wilde, Beckett, et al would testify).

Gallaher is full of himself and is an awful snob. Dublin has become ‘dear dirty Dublin’ to him. Joyce has great fun at his expense- ‘I’ve been to the Moulin Rouge…I’ve been to all the bohemian cafes. Hot stuff!’ Even though Gallaher is back slumming it in Dublin, he calls out to the bar waiter ‘Here garcon, bring us to halves of malt whiskey, like a good fellow.’ (What French!). Of course it is inevitable that Gallaher knows about the ‘cocottes’, and that there’s ‘no woman like the Parisienne.’ Little Chandler, by contrast, on the topic of places visited, can only confess ‘I’ve been to the Isle of Man’(!). What’s more, Gallaher professes to be an expert on vices- Berlin wins the prize for being the most immoral city in Europe. At this stage he is starting to sound a bit like old Carl Luce from ‘Catcher in the Rye’, who impresses Holden with his knowledge of ‘flits.’

After his heightened experience with Gallaher, Little Chandler goes home to his depressing domesticity. His wife Annie is cross, and he is having doubts about his feelings for her, and there is a certain squalor that envelops him as he sits unhappily in the house. Even worse, the child starts crying then screaming when Little Chandler screams at him, and his wife becomes accusatory and snatches the child from him, leaving Little Chandler feeling helpless and morose, and useless all at the same time- ‘tears of remorse started to his eyes.’

It’s a depressing ending, but an excellent snapshot of a tawdry domestic existence, contrasted really well with Gallaher’s seemingly free and glamorous lifestyle. It irks Little Chandler, because he feels that Gallaher is his ‘inferior in birth and education’, yet he is the one who is ‘trapped for life.’

I have consulted D H Lawrence’s published CUP letters- all 8 volumes of them- and I can’t find any reference to Lawrence having read ‘Dubliners’, although he probably did. There is a passage that strikes me as very Lawrentian in its passion and grimness. It could easily fit into ‘Sons and Lovers’- you can just hear Mr and Mrs Morel:

‘The door was burst open and a young woman ran in, panting.

“What is it? What is it?” she cried.

The child, hearing its mother’s voice, broke out into a paroxysm of sobbing.

“It’s nothing, Annie…it’s nothing…” He began to cry…

She flung her parcels on the floor and snatched the child from him.

“What have you done to him?” she cried, glaring into his face.’



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