Wednesday, December 7, 2011
James Joyce's DUBLINERS: The final 7 stories
Farrington works in a legal office and is constantly hectored by his boss, Mr Alleyne, for his scrappy work and poor attention to detail. Farrington is a bit unhinged and hates his job and is desperate to get out at the end of the day, and even during the day, down to the public-house to meet his fellow alcoholics. Mr Alleyne gets really angry at one point after Farrington is late back from an unscheduled break and the required work isn’t done:
‘Tell me…do you take me for a fool? Do you think me an utter fool?’
Farrington gives an amusing answer- ‘I don’t think, sir…that that’s a fair question to put to me.’ (!)
Farrington’s job in ‘Counterparts’ is very depressing, and he is living a directionless, pointless existence, like a number of other characters in Dubliners. Things get worse when Farrington is humiliated amongst friends at the pub after work, because he loses in an arm wrestle to ‘a stripling’ called Weathers. This causes ‘smouldering anger and revengefulness.’ In despair and full of loathing he returns home to his unsatisfactory marriage with his ‘little sharp-faced’ wife and five children. Except Ada isn’t home and the fire has gone out. Farrington takes revenge on his little boy by hitting him viciously with a walking-stick, his son helpless and whimpering telling his father he will say a ‘Hail Mary’ for him if he stops.
I didn’t find the violence at the end particularly interesting- just grim. The best part of the whole story for me were the pub scenes- full of life and very Irish and great fun. Farrington (sadly) has to pawn his watch for liquor money and he ends up in Davy Byrne’s (some of these pubs still exist nowadays!), and Farrington receives kudos from his earlier work related quip. Joyce offers details about the various types of drinks, and the comings and goings of the people and the atmosphere is all wonderfully described:
‘After a while O’Halloran and Paddy Leonard came in…just as they were naming their poisons who should come in but Higgins!’
The men next go to the ‘Scotch House’ and Farrington has continually told his little story as if there is nothing else in his miserable life of any substance. This is where Weathers comes into it, and we hear of various other drinks tried- something called ‘Apollinaris’ and ‘small Irish’ and ‘tailors of malt.’ Next is Mulligan’s for ‘small hot specials’, and pretty soon Farrington is staring at women, and the sad little arm wrestle takes place and Farrington gets all angry and worked up.
In some ways it’s a thoroughly depressing story, however Joyce seems to have really enjoyed writing the middle section of the drinking amongst ‘the boys’, leering at women, work jokes- it shows how little times have changed! I think it was around this time, after living in exile for a few years, that Joyce was going through a stage of being under Maupassant’s spell- which really shows in this story. One can’t help, too, wondering if this sordid kind of existence (also apparent in A Little Cloud), was possibly going to be Joyce’s fate if he became stuck in Dublin, as a failed writer. He would certainly come to know a lot about drinking. Farrington is one of a number of bitter, directionless men that inhabit Dubliners, festering in their sorrowful lives of despair.
Maria works in a laundry, run by some sort of charitable organisation for drunks or ‘fallen women.’ She works long shifts there and she is a sad sort of character, but not in a tragic sense in terms of pathos, more in the sense that Joyce ridicules her and makes her look ugly and stupid, and I didn’t enjoy this story all that much because of this. The very first page grasped my attention, though, with its reference to ‘big barmbracks’ on the table, apparently something like fruit loaves in English. The only other reference I have seen or heard of ‘barmbracks’ is in a beautiful Van Morrison song called ‘A Sense of Wonder’- and I have sometimes wondered about it.
Poor old Maria- she is a ‘very, very small person’ with a ‘very long nose and a very long chin’ (like the dwarf in ‘Don’t Look Now’?). she talks through her nose; she is very fond of a tacky little purse with ‘A Present from Belfast’ printed on it; when she laughs ‘the tip of her nose nearly met the tip of her chin’ (this happens several times); when dressing in front of the mirror she looks with ‘quaint affection at (her) diminutive body’; she blushes when the serving lady in the cake shop asks her if it is a wedding-cake she would like to buy; the young men on the Drumcondra tram don’t notice her, only an ‘elderly gentleman’ with a ‘square red face’ does; she is impressed with this old man, thanking him for the seat and even bowing to him, even though, unbeknownst to her, he probably steals the cake from her; she eventually arrives at her destination which is a home lived in by friends who have silly conversations and are just as imbecilic as she is; the tip of her nose nearly reaches ‘tip of her chin’ again; finally Maria sings verses of ‘I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls’, but she makes some of ‘mistake’ that is unclear to me, and Joe’s eyes fill up with tears, and it is difficult to know whether he is genuinely moved (unlikely), or whether or not he finds the whole thing hilarious, which he would if it were me that was singing.
So on this particular ‘Hallow Eve’ poor Maria has a hard time of it and I don’t really feel all that enriched by having been introduced to her.
A PAINFUL CASE-
This is a much more complex and interesting story and another that Joyce would have had a good deal of fun writing with its sad but interesting protagonists. Dublin, for Joyce, is full of these people who are unhappy and aimless, who struggle to find meaning and just try and get by, and seem to allow fate to deliver them its unkind hand.
Mr James Duffy, lives in the Dublin suburb ‘Chapelizod’, and curiously lives ‘at a little distance from his body’ (whatever that means). He seems to be a creature of habit whom lives in an ‘old sombre house’ full of furniture he has bought. He was a bank cashier and he would have the same lunch in the same pub every day, and would have tea in the same eating house at the same time every day. He is a lonely, solitary man whose life is described as ‘an adventureless tale’, until……
Mr Duffy finds himself talking to a woman of similar age with an oval, intelligent face. Duffy meets this woman, who turns out to be a Mrs Sinico many times, and eventually he gets to know her husband, Captain Sinico, as well. They have a series of regular walks together and Duffy begins lending her books and music. Later their relationship becomes more complicated and intense when the two of them start going to her little cottage and begin spending evenings alone. Mrs Sinico is fully enamoured of Duffy and deliberately refrains from ‘lighting the lamp’ so darkness falls upon them. Duffy, himself, feels the same encroaching passion, and he in turn feels exalted by her, the music and isolation and darkness taking him toward a new, pleasurable plane.
But Mrs Sinico suddenly presses Duffy’s hand to her cheek, and he doesn’t visit her for a week. The locale changes from the intimate darkness of a cottage to a cold, wintry park in which they agree (although clearly his impetus), to break off for good.
Four years pass. Duffy has written the following troubling words on pieces of paper on his desk: ‘Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse.’
Life has gone on for Duffy in the same awful, routine way as before, and then one day he sees something in the paper that tortures and astounds him, a paragraph he finds himself reading over and over again. Mrs Sinico has suddenly died, tragically, at the age of forty-three, hit (in a manner reminiscent of Anna Karenina), by the ‘ten o’clock slow train from Kingstown.’ Much of the newspaper report deals with the facts of Mrs Sinico’s death, establishing that the train’s likely soft impact alone would probably not have killed her, rather that she may have died ‘due to shock.’ More importantly, it seems, that Mrs Sinico of late had become somewhat of a drinker, ‘going out at night to buy spirits.’
Mr Duffy’s response to the news article is extraordinary. Whilst we may expect him to be horrified and shocked and saddened by the news, potentially even a bit guilty, he is in fact ‘revolted’, the death seems to him ‘commonplace vulgar’, and he feels she has ‘degraded him.’ Duffy is disgusted by the fact as he sees it that she has been ‘unfit to live’ and has sunken ‘so low’, and he feels relieved that he took the action he did take four years ago. But time passes, and Duffy begins to mull over everything. It becomes clear that Duffy cannot dismiss Mrs Sinico as easily as he might wish. He retraces their steps together and can almost feel her touch, hear her voice. He begins to think that he may have even ‘sentenced her to death.’
In a passage that is typical of ‘Dubliners’ in the sense that it is moving and epiphanous, a strange new awareness overcomes Mr Duffy that is sad and overwhelming. Young lovers are lying together in the park, and Duffy comes to the bitter realisation that he has denied Mrs Sinico ‘her love and happiness’ sentencing her (somewhat dramatically) to ‘ignominy, a death of shame.’ In a great summing up phrase, Joyce describes him as feeling as though he is an ‘outcast from life’s feast.’ The River Liffey is described as ‘grey gleaming’, the emerging goods train is ‘like a worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness’, and the ‘laborious drone of the engine (is) reiterating the syllables of her name.’ The final paragraph of ‘A Painful Case’ tells us that Duffy can no longer feel Mrs Sinico’s touch or hear her voice in his ear. He can, in fact, ‘hear nothing’- all is ‘perfectly silent’- tragically, he ‘felt that he was alone.’
This is some of the best writing in ‘Dubliners’. The mean, nasty and cynical portrayal of Maria in ‘Clay’, the previous story, has given way to the moving tragedy of both Mr Duffy and Mrs Sinico- as Joyce warns us about how important it is to value the presence of those around us and to reiterate the important fact that, as Van Gogh said, we are not made of stone or wood, but rather flesh and blood. We have all had the experience of feeling alone when we witness a party belonging to someone else for which we aren’t invited- but to actually feel like an ‘outcast from life’s feast’ is unimaginable.
IVY DAY IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM-
This is by far the most political of Joyce’s stories in this collection, and demands a reasonable knowledge of early twentieth century Irish history. Joyce, and his father John Joyce, had great respect for the famous Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell, however, fell out of favour with the Irish republican cause when his relationship with Kitty O’Shea was unearthed. O’Shea’s husband took divorce action, subsequently ending Parnell’s leadership ambitions. Ivy is what the mourners at Parnell’s funeral wore in their lapels, picked from ivy plants in the graveyard. The ‘committee room’ is the room in London’s Palace of Westminster in which it was decided to no longer support Parnell as leader of the Irish Party.
There are various characters floating in and out of this story, beginning with ‘Old Jack’, who is old and gaunt, and Mr O’Connor, who is supposed to be out and about canvassing support in the Municipal Elections for a Mr Tierney, but would rather be indoors because of the inclement weather. Not a lot of political will, perhaps. Mr Hynes then enters, wearing the ivy leaf to show his support for the recently deceased Parnell. Hynes doesn’t favour Tierney because he doesn’t think he is much of a Nationalist- he claims Tierney plans to greet King Edward, the ‘German Monarch’ when he visits Dublin. They then lament the loss of Parnell.
Then a Mr Henchy enters the room, apparently not a fan of ‘Tricky Dicky Tierney’, nor Hynes for that matter- he accuses him behind his back as being ‘a man from the other camp.’ Next is Father Keon who the others think is a bit dodgy in some way, and after small talk a man called Crofton and a younger man called Lyons, both of whom don’t seem to get along with Henchy. Arguments begin about the merits or otherwise of the King and Parnell (Henchy at odds with the others in supporting the King over Parnell), and the story finishes with Hynes reciting a sad, supportive poem about the death of Parnell.
The discussions in this (for me) occasionally tedious story are occasionally tedious, and I guess this is the point. It seems to me that Joyce, in his own fun, ironic way, is suggesting that the death of Parnell has left a gaping hole in the Irish Republican cause. Here was a great, inspiring leader (who abused the Church), who is dead and defeated, and in his place are a bunch of hacks who drink a lot and can’t agree on anything. The new leadership is uninspired and uninspiring, with no real political will, worrying about keeping warm on a cold, wet day and mouthing platitudes. It was probably a story that Joyce had to write (some similar themes in ‘Portrait of the Artist’ as well), and it probably amused him and offered him great comfort whilst he missed home living in exile (in 1905).
This is a musical story. It is no surprise that music is a subject of one of these stories, given that Joyce grew up with music- his father apparently had a great tenor voice and Dublin, when Joyce’s father was young, was filled with opera. James Joyce himself sang a great deal throughout his life, with apparently a light tenor voice, and championed other singers, in particular an Irish singer whom Joyce claimed was the greatest tenor of his generation, John Sullivan. And Joyce’s own son, Giorgio, dedicated much of his life career to singing on the American circuit trying to establish a career, and eventually singing twice on the CBS.
‘A Mother’ is about an ambitious mother named Mrs Kearney who has a daughter called Kathleen, who is offered a singing job as an accompanist in ‘four grand concerts’ in the ‘Antient Concert Rooms’ (where Joyce himself sang). The offer is made by a certain Mr Holohan is secretary of some society that is financing the concerts. All seems well when a contract is drawn up for eight guineas and Mr Holohan and Mrs Kearney are establishing a good working relationship. And then on the opening night the ambitious Mrs Kearney is none too impressed by the men’s dress, nor the ‘artistes’ themselves, and especially the underwhelming crowd figures.
The next night things get worse for ambitious Mrs Kearney. The behaviour of the audience is poor, and the third concert is to be cancelled without informing her, in the expectation there will be ‘a bumper house on Saturday night.’ She demands her daughter’s pay remains at eight guineas as agreed, even though there will only be four concerts, but she is uneasy because she can’t get a straight answer.
On the big, final night, the ambitious Mrs Kearney brings up the payment again with Mr Holohan, and is again brushed aside. It is clear that it is not going to go well. When it is time for Kathleen to go on stage Mrs Kearney prevents her by forcing the money issue saying she won’t go on stage without it. Meanwhile the audience is ‘clapping and stamping’ and soon enough ‘whistling’ as well. Half of it is duly paid- she is told she will get ‘the other half at the interval.’ When she eventually gets on, Kathleen’s ‘selection of Iris airs’ is ‘generously applauded.’
The ambitious Mrs Kearney is still none too pleased with the whole affair, saying she has been treated ‘scandalously.’ Certain people on the board wish to pay her nothing for her treatment of them and the other ‘artistes.’ Then she is promised the other four guineas next Tuesday, but only if she appears again after the interval, or she would get paid ‘nothing.’
The ambitious Mrs Kearney refuses to abide by these new set of rules, and demands immediate payment of the second half of the money or ‘a foot she won’t put on that platform.’ For those people still interested in how this little melodrama plays itself out, Mrs Kearney and her husband and daughter leave, without payment, in a rage and in a cab, and Kathleen’s place is filled by another accompanist. All a case of ‘much ado about nothing’ it seems to me. It seems to me that Mrs Kearney may technically have been ill treated, but she is after all quite an annoying character, and she has probably scuppered her daughter’s chances for singing in Dublin again.
The second last story in ‘Dubliners’ reminds me of the previous story in that it too has a great deal of dialogue and wry humour, and is also vey localised, this time substituting politics with the Church.
It begins with the very drunk Mr Kernan who creates a public spectacle when he falls to the bottom of some stairs (apparently inspired by a real life incident that occurred with Joyce’s father). Mr Kernan (Tom) is rescued by his constabulary friend, Mr Power, who strikes a match and looks inside his mouth to see the damage done:
‘The lower teeth and gums were covered with clotted blood and a minute piece of the tongue seemed to have been bitten off.’
At home we meet Tom’s frustrated wife. Characteristically, Joyce tells us in their courtship days Tom was ‘to her a not ungallant figure’, and after only three weeks ‘she had found a wife’s life irksome and, later on, when she was beginning to find it unbearable, she had become a mother.’ ‘Dubliners’ is full of these tales of dissatisfied wives. Of course, if they lived in England, they would probably have divorced. Her ‘two eldest sons’ we are told, ‘were launched.’ Such a curious name for the idea of starting to have a career, and now quite archaic. Lawrence uses it, too, in ‘Sons and Lovers’ in the chapter ‘Paul Launches Into life.’
We soon discover that Kernan was originally a Protestant but was converted to Catholicism when he married, but that it is a token sort of Catholicism- he doesn’t really believe, as he enjoys ‘giving side-thrusts at Catholicism.’ This, then, is the germ of the idea, as several other friends- Mr Cunningham, Mr McCoy and Mr Power, all come to visit Tom to talk him into attending a retreat to see if they can make a religious man out of him.
I am lost in much of the second half of this story with its theological philosophy, but again get the sense of Joyce living in exile, remembering fondly the people and the subject matter that must have invaded his space growing up in Catholic Dublin. I think I know enough about Joyce’s life and his writing by now to very much doubt that this is simply a story about a man who has lost his way in a religious sense and his friends band together to take him to Church and suddenly he is transformed with a new found sense of piety. Joyce’s view of the Church was at the least vey ambivalent anyway. His children were scandalously illegitimate for a start. When first born Giorgio was one years old Joyce registered his son’s birth, but refused to have him baptised. One of the benefits of leaving Ireland was to escape, as he saw it, the stifling confines of Catholicism. Joyce saw the worst of it in his poor mother whom he loved dearly with her life of relentless childbearing. By his late teens, perhaps sooner, Joyce had rejected the Church and become atheist.
So ‘Grace’ therefore reads as satire. I gather from reading between the lines that the evangelical discussions of Kernan’s friends are full of inconsistencies and hypocrisy. The men are going to renew their vows which is supposed to enforce a radical change in the mindset of all those present. It is clear that Mr Kernan’s life has turned for the worst, and he is in desperate need for some kind of help, but this is not really the kind of help that Joyce is recommending. The end of the story, as it is in church with a sermon aimed at businessmen by Father Purdon, verifies Joyce’s mocking of Catholicism with its reference to Father Purdon as their ‘spiritual accountant.’
So now we get to Joyce’s most famous short story of all. It could have been titled ‘The Sisters’, the title of the first story, which could have been titled in turn ‘The Dead.’ The Miss Morkan’s, Kate and Julia, are having their annual holiday dance, and many guests will arrive. In the fashion of people arriving in the most recent stories in the collection, they dwindle in here as well, starting with Gabriel Conroy and his wife. Gabriel, who is the Morkan’s favourite nephew, flirts lightly with Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, who is burdened with any number of tasks, including answering the door bell. Gabriel notices Lily is a ‘slim, growing girl’, and is keen to give her a coin because it is Christmas-time. We find out more about Gabriel and his wife Gretta who seem a happy pair, Gabriel somewhat cultured in his tastes as he contemplates quoting Browning in his speech and shows an interest in what is going on, on the continent. His Aunt Kate tells him that Lily is ‘not the girl she was at all.’
Next Freddy Malins arrives. Earlier the aunts were worried he might turn up drunk. Gabriel is asked to check on his condition. Then more people suddenly sweep into the story- a Miss Furlong, Miss Daly, Miss Power and the colourful, elderly Mr Browne who drinks copious amount s of whisky for medicinal purposes of course! Joyce continues with the ever present theme of drinking as we see Freddy Malins, true to his word, looking the worst for wear: ‘His face was fleshy and pallid, touched with colour only at the thick hanging lobes of his ears…(he had) coarse features, a blunt nose, a convex and receding brow, tumid and protruded lips.’ Joyce doesn’t spare much expense here. His ability to capture personality is extraordinary: ‘He was laughing heartily in a high key at a story which he had been telling Gabriel on the stairs and at the same time rubbing the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye.’
Mary Jane plays her ‘Academy piece’ and shortly after Gabriel falls in conversation with Miss Ivors and it’s one of the highlights of the story. She accuses Gabriel of being a ‘West Briton’ for writing for ‘The Daily Express’- West Briton it seems is a derogatory term for an Irish person who is a Unionist or perhaps a British person living in Ireland. She says it to him twice- and I guess ‘The Daily Star’ is a problem for Miss Ivors because it is a newspaper with Unionist sympathies. Gabriel wants to say that he thinks ‘literature was above politics.’ Then the conversation becomes tense because Miss Ivors wants Gabriel to go with a group to the Aran Islands in the summer, but Gabriel is already organising a cycling trip to France or Belgium. Her retort is to say that ‘why do you go to France or Belgium…instead of visiting your own land.’ Gabriel can’t win. It’s not good enough that he wants to go to the Continent to practise other languages. He is reminded by Miss Ivors that he has ‘your own language’ to explore (meaning Irish), and ‘your own people, and your own country’ to explore. Gabriel, who very clearly is Joyce’s mouthpiece, then tells her in no uncertain terms ‘..I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!’ Of course this startles Miss Ivor, and we come to see her parochialism as foolish. Gabriel is being attacked for daring to imagine, and Joyce is satirising nationalistic types like Miss Ivors for being stuck in a groove and being left behind. It’s a suffocating attitude that puzzles and dismays Gabriel.
Aunt Kate, Mary Jane and Mr Browne have an interesting conversation in another part of the house in which religion creeps in- two of Joyce’s biggest interests one after the other - politics and religion- Miss Ivors suddenly leaves, a fascinating long paragraph about the food about to be eaten takes place- it’s not just the food that is interesting : ‘a fat brown goose’, blancmange, purple raisins, grated nutmeg, peeled almonds, Smyrna figs, American apples…- but the way the food is presented as well: a shallow dish, a bed of creased paper, ‘a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle’, a companion dish, a small bowl, glass vase, fruit-stand, old-fashioned decanters, huge yellow dish, etc, etc- so Joyce can be sumptuous as well as squalid in ‘Dubliners.’
Next, Gabriel begins his annual speech. One of the first things he talks about is the famous Irish hospitality- he refers to it as a tradition that does Ireland ‘so much honour and which it should guard so jealously’, and ‘a tradition that is unique as far as my experience goes..’ it may sound cliché’, and I don’t know if it is unique, but I can vouch that it certainly exists, even in the 21st Century. I have been to Ireland a few times, and have experienced this great tradition of hospitality every time. The one that stands out the most was in a place called ‘An Ring’, near Co. Waterford. A little enclave of Republicanism as I found out. Hospitality, yes. But only because my partner and I weren’t British. This was immediately established. “Australian? Then welcome. Ken, they are Australian’s.’ we sang into the early hours and almost every person in ‘Mooney’s Bar’ wanted to meet us.
Gabriel then talks of a growing movement in Ireland of ‘new ideas’, and we he refers to ominously as ‘a thought-tormented age.’ I think what Gabriel is referring to is the fact that the new generation may lack the warmth and humour and hospitality of days gone by. Surely this is what everyone dreads as they watch on as a new generation begins to form. Gabriel is determined, however, to not ‘linger on the past’, ironic in a way because that is exactly what he is forced to do as the epiphany at the end of the story begins to take shape.
This is the serious part of the story, and Joyce creates the atmosphere for it beautifully, and mysteriously: ‘Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmonpink panels of her skirt which the shadow made black and white. It was his wife.’
Gretta is transfixed. She can hear the notes of Bartell D’Arcy singing ‘The Lass of Aughrim’, and it has a profound effect on her, and as a consequence him- ‘..Gabriel saw that there was colour on her cheeks and that her eyes were shining. A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.’
They walk part of the journey home, Gretta slightly ahead with D’Arcy, Gabriel just a little behind. He suddenly has the most wondrous, unexpected feelings for his wife- he wants to ‘run after her noiselessly’ and ‘say something foolish and affectionate into her ear.’ Beautiful thoughts of the past flood his consciousness- ‘Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory.’ Then, from Gabriel’s point of view, ‘more tender joy’, he longs to be alone with her in the hotel room, his thoughts take on an erotic feel, and he ‘longs to forget the years of their dull existence.’
Entering their hotel now, ‘a keen pang of lust’ enters Gabriel’s body. Going up the stairs, ‘he could have flung his arms about her hips and held her still for his arms were trembling with desire to seize her and only the stress of his nails against the palms of his hands held the wild impulse of his body in check.’ Yet Gretta seems preoccupied, a little distant. She still seems to be transfixed. She amost absent-mindedly kisses Gabriel, and this causes him to tremble, smoothing her hair with his hands, but she suddenly breaks from him, bursting into tears, thinking of ‘The Lass of Aughrim.’
Gretta tells Gabriel the whole sorrowful story of Michael Furey, a former lover of long ago, a delicate boy who used to sing this song. Michael Furey died when he was seventeen, when they were both in Galway. He came to see Gretta after she left him a note to say she was leaving and would see him next summer. Although he was already ill, he came to Gretta’s house against all advice in the harsh winter. Gretta has a bitterly sad memory of him standing in the rain in her garden. Then he died a week later.
It is a story that reminds me very much of the Allan boy who shoots himself, Blanche DuBois’ former lover in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ And it’s a story that also seems to have come straight out of Joyce’s wife history, when she was living in Galway herself. Joyce wrote ‘The Dead’ a few years after the other stories in ‘Dubliners’ (in 1907), and some three years after he first met Nora in Nassau Street (June 1904). No doubt he was moved by her story of the two Michaels, Michael Bodkin and Michael Feeney (it is Michael Furey in ‘The Dead.’ Nora told Joyce that when she was 13 she was re-housed at Presentation Convent in Dublin apparently to escape her drunken father, and that the night before she left Michael Feeney waited all night, (as Furey does) , by her garden gate in the pouring rain. A few months later (a week in the story), Nora heard he had contracted pneumonia and was dead. She always felt, like Gretta, that he died because of his love for her. This is all according to Gordon Bowker in his Joyce biography, but interestingly, Terence Brown, in his notes for ‘Dubliners’ in the 1992 Penguin edition, says that the inspiration for Furey is the other Michael, Michael Bodkin, whose gravestone Joyce visited near Galway in 1912.
Gretta’s telling of the story causes her to be overcome with sobbing. Gabriel’s thirst for lust must for the moment be left unquenched. Gabriel says of Gretta, lying there on the bed, ‘he did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.’ One wonders if Joyce himself felt that way about Nora, and what Nora must have felt about that little bit of interesting detail.
And now Gabriel’s thoughts wander on to death, haunted as he is by his wife’s story. He imagines seeing Michael Furey standing in the garden wet with rain and he begins to cry. The solid world is crumbling. He is questioning his own worth, his own existence and his own mortality. He looks out the window and watches the snowflakes. And the story ends, enigmatically, with ‘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.’
So this is where we come to in ‘Dubliners’, as Gabriel has his epiphany where he questions his existence, his worth to his wife and his worth to the world. Some critics find Gabriel irritating, but I find him endearing in his self-deprecation and uncertainty. And what a great read ‘Dubliners’ was, and how amazing for its time. And to think about how troubled its publishing history was. I have read, and loved, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, and perhaps now will be brave enough to confront ‘Ulysees.’