Note: The following text is that of the author’s presentation at the XXV James Joyce Symposium held in London in June 2016. The original, shorter London entry can be found here.
Across the Water:
Economic and Political Implications of the Dubliners London References
Dubliners, the work through which Joyce initially sought to “betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis that many consider a city” (Letters I 55), turned out to be much a more nuanced portrayal (“betrayal”) of that city by the time the last story was completed in 1907. At the time of his 1904 letter to Constantine Curran, the initial plan for Dubliners only consisted of ten stories. The following year, as Florence Walzl explains in “The Life Chronology of Dubliners,” “he had enlarged his plan for the book from ten to twelve stories” (408), and by 1906, he had completed those two additional stories and also added two more: “Two Gallants” and “A Little Cloud.” The collection now included fourteen stories, a defined “life chronology,” and a much more complicated looking glass than the one he had perhaps initially imagined. While in 1906, he still maintained Dublin was “the centre of paralysis” (Letters II 134) and that his stories about its inhabitants emitted “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal,” he also insisted that “the Irish [were] the most spiritual race on the face of the earth” and its people “witty” and “artistic” (Letters I 63-64). In fact, it seems that after he left Dublin in 1904, his ambivalence toward his former compatriots only intensified. By the Fall of 1906, a few months before he wrote the final story, “The Dead,” he lamented to his brother that he feared he had “reproduced (in Dubliners at least) none of the attraction of the city,” admitting that he had never, except in Paris, been as comfortable as he had been in Dublin. He sought to rectify his omission of the virtues of “hospitality” and “insularity” when he wrote “The Dead” (Letters II 166), and with that coda his picture of Dublin was complete.
Parallel to his critique of Dublin, though, was his critique of the capital of the British empire. If Joyce imbued Dublin with a complex ambivalence over the course of writing his stories, he also painted the city’s relationship to London as a particularly complicated montage of economic co-dependence and artistic hope and limitation. Of the six stories that reference the city of London, four do so in terms of artistic standards while the other two, both written later in Joyce’s process, emphasize and lament London’s superior and even abusive economic position in the Dubliners’ lives. It seems that even as he was attempting to redeem what was redemptive about Dublin, he was also becoming harsher in his criticism of the city across the water.
Dubliners contains nearly 200 unique geographical references. Such a focus on place, though not unsurprising in a book named for a city, demands that we consider the implications of place names. For instance, the very first reference in the very first story of the collection is to Great Britain Street. While the street is located in Dublin, its name foregrounds the presence of the British empire in every corner of the Dublin landscape and psyche. Though “The Sisters” isn’t necessarily a very political story–it doesn’t explicitly call attention to the England-Ireland binary–to imbue the geography of Dublin at the very outset with connotations of empire is to hint at the ubiquity of Britain’s grip on everything from the poor North Dublin neighborhood to the subconscious spatial awareness of the youngest Dubliners narrator. The references only become more specific and suggestive in the stories that follow “The Sisters.”
The first story to reference London directly is “The Boarding House,” one of the initial ten stories that had already been written by September 1905. In that story London is mentioned only briefly as the home city of one of the guests: “one of the music-hall artistes, a little blond Londoner, had made a rather free allusion to Polly” (68). The free allusion of the Londoner anticipates the seedier side of London that Joyce would introduce more thoroughly in “A Little Cloud.” In “The Boarding House,” though, it functions as a scene the blond artiste cannot break into, settling instead for what attentions and alms he can wring from an ostensibly less cultured and discriminating Dublin middle class.
The city is alluded to again briefly in “Counterparts,” another of the initial ten stories, as Farrington is reaching his breaking point in Mulligan’s after a night of drinking and storytelling. In the pub he keeps eyeing an attractive woman who is part of a group “out of the Tivoli” theater. The woman he is so fascinated by finally speaks to him in a London accent before leaving and never looking back:
“She glanced at him once or twice and, when the party was leaving the room, she brushed against his chair and said “O, pardon!” in a London accent. He watched her leave the room in the hope that she would look back at him, but he was disappointed. He cursed his want of money and cursed all the rounds he had stood, particularly all the whiskies and Apolinaris which he had stood to Weathers. If there was one thing that he hated it was a sponge. He was so angry that he lost count of the conversation of his friends” (95).
Part of Farrington’s frustration stems from the rejection of this exotic and esteemed Londoner, and it’s just after this exchange that he channels his rage into an arm-wrestling match, which he loses. The rejection of the London woman who is apparently out of his league sets in motion Farrington’s downward spiral of inadequacy and inferiority. Like the Londoner in “The Boarding House,” this woman is an artiste, but her association with the Tivoli sets her somewhat above the likes of the artistes who would be boarding with Mrs. Mooney. In fact, there is a suggestion in her attitude and Farrington’s bitterness at being rejected that this particular artiste is possibly even successful in the London scene, inasmuch as she is part of a touring group rather than a solitary performer like the blond Londoner or Madam Glynn in “A Mother.” Still, the Tivoli was not known for its serious dramas or operas, featuring instead burlesques, pantomimes, and farces. The artiste herself, though, and the artiste’s lifestyle in general, is one that Farrington covets, and his frustration at not being equal in economic status, sexual prowess, or physical strength (he loses at arm wrestling to the English Weathers) all contribute to his violent outburst later that night against his son, when like many bullies, he inflicts the disdain and abuse he suffers on someone who is in turn dependent on him.
“A Mother” persists in the use of London as a measure of artistic success. The Londoner Madame Glynn, one of the singers in the program, is described as “[a]n unknown solitary woman with a pale face” (143) and later as a weak spot in the show:
“The first part of the concert was very successful except for Madam Glynn’s item. The poor lady sang Killarney in a bodiless gasping voice, with all the old-fashioned mannerisms of intonation and pronunciation which she believed lent elegance to her singing. She looked as if she had been resurrected from an old stage-wardrobe and the cheaper parts of the hall made fun of her high wailing notes” (147).
Although she is from London, where, along with Paris and Milan, Bartell D’Arcy insists all the good singers can be found, Madam Glynn is an unknown among the rather inexperienced performers, understudies, and bronze-medalists of Mr. Holohan’s rather patched-together show. Kathleen Kearney has no knowledge of her whatsoever:
“–I wonder where did they dig her up, said Kathleen to Miss Healy. I’m sure I never heard of her.
Miss Healy had to smile. Mr. Holohan limped into the dressing-room at that moment and the two young ladies asked him who was the unknown woman. Mr. Holohan said that she was Madam Glynn from London” (143).
Essentially, Madam Glynn must perform in a sloppily organized Dublin show because, like the blond Londoner in “The Boarding House,” she cannot perform in London because she lacks the talent or economic means to break onto the London scene. Caruso, on the other hand, whose talent D’Arcy extols in the only reference to London in “The Dead,” has toured in London:
“–Oh, well, said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, I presume there are as good singers today as there were then.
–Where are they? asked Mr. Browne defiantly.
–In London, Paris, Milan, said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy warmly. I suppose Caruso, for example, is quite as good, if not better than any of the men you have mentioned” (199).
“Grace,” which Joyce completed in late 1905, was at that time intended to be the closing piece in the now 12-story collection. The story’s main character, Tom Kernan, makes his living by selling tea for the London-based Pulbrook, Robertson, and Company. Although we don’t learn these specifics until Ulysses, enough of the address on his office is given to reveal that whatever company it is, it’s based in London:
“Modern business methods had spared him only so far as to allow him a little office in Crowe Street, on the window blind of which was written the name of his firm with the address—London, E. C. On the mantelpiece of this little office a little leaden battalion of canisters was drawn up and on the table before the window stood four or five china bowls which were usually half full of a black liquid. From these bowls Mr. Kernan tasted tea. He took a mouthful, drew it up, saturated his palate with it and then spat it forth into the grate. Then he paused to judge” (154).
Again, the livelihood of this Dubliner is tied to industry based in England. That Joyce reintroduces Tom Kernan in Ulysses, along with more details about his employment, suggests that his working for an English firm is a critical part of his identity. Kernan is perhaps an older, now gentler, version of Farrington, still subdued by the British economic yoke and still drinking away the insult of this. Furthermore, his two sons have left Dublin, like they must, in order to achieve a measure of success. Even still, that they venture only as far as Glasgow and Belfast, suggests that the yoke is as wide as it is inescapable.
The two stories written next, after the initial 12 were complete, go further than any of the previous pieces to emphasize Dublin’s economic stagnation at the hands of British rule. “Two Gallants,” completed in February 1906, presents a detailed geography of Dublin as Corley and Lenehan, and then Lenehan alone, wander the city’s streets. With twenty-four geographical references, all of which are in Dublin, it is second only to “The Dead” in its use of place names. And although “Two Gallants” does much to articulate nationalistic themes and Ireland’s relationship with Britain, it never directly mentions London, England, or Great Britain at all. Instead, through the many references to landmarks, streets, and even the characters’ movement patterns, Joyce infuses the story with the history of Irish-English politics, one that, as Torchiana describes it “reflects the historic pomp and grandeur of Ascendancy treacheries that cast long shadows behind the otherwise stunted posturings of Corley and Lenehan near the end of Irish enslavement” (115).
But what is left out in English geographical references in “Two Gallants” is made up exponentially in “A Little Cloud.” Completed in 1906 after “Two Gallants,” it is perhaps the most direct illustration of the economic dichotomy of opportunity and paralysis that both drives and stagnates Joyce’s Dubliners.
In fact, much of the paralysis we see in the collection stems from its characters’ vocational or financial challenges. As Joseph Kelly succinctly puts it, “First and foremost, paralysis was economic” (17). In his examination of Joyce’s political realism, Kelly points to his essay “Fenianism” in which Joyce claims Ireland consists of
“a population which diminishes year by year with mathematical regularity, [through] the uninterrupted emigration to the United States or Europe of Irishmen for whom the economic and intellectual conditions of their native land are unbearable” (CW 190).
One of those emigrants is Little Chandler’s friend Gallaher, whom we learn left Dublin eight years before the story’s opening to make a living on the London Press. From the very beginning of “A Little Cloud,” Chandler appears to be obsessed with his old friend and his old friend’s new home:
Little Chandler’s thoughts ever since lunch-time had been of his meeting with Gallaher, of Gallaher’s invitation and of the great city London where Gallaher lived. (70)
But what really makes London a great city to Chandler? There is nothing in the description to indicate Chandler has any great desire to see the city’s streets or pubs, theaters or waterways. It is simply the great city because it is where Gallaher lives. Gallaher represents the possibilities that Chandler opted out of in favor of a quiet family life.
As we learn in Ulysses, Gallaher works for a “Chapelizod boss” (7.732), another Irish emigrant, likely the real-life Chapelizod-born Alfred Harmsworth who started London’s Daily Mail in 1894 and Daily Mirror in 1903. As “a brilliant figure on the London Press” (71), Gallaher is the epitome of success, even “greatness” (72) in Little Chandler’s eyes (“Ignatius Gallaher on the London Press!” .) And if only Little Chandler could write some verse about the Dublin tramps at nightfall, “[p]erhaps Gallaher might be able to get it into some London paper for him” (73); if only he could accentuate the more “Irish-looking” (74) parts of his name, perhaps he too could be considered among the London literary circles. In other words, Little Chandler considers his Irishness artistic capital in an English economy.
Once Little Chandler finishes his trek from office to pub, in which “[e]very step brought him nearer to London” (73), the two men discuss “the old gang” (75). One of their old friends, O’Hara, who still lives in Dublin has apparently “gone to the dogs” while another friend, Hogan, recently visited “London and he seemed to be very flush” (76). Hogan’s success is further depicted by his position on the Land Commission, an agency that Don Gifford notes was a “notorious porkbarrel” (70). Gifford explains that “[t]he Land Purchase Bills of 1891, 1896, and 1903 provided for the tenants’ purchase of their farms from the landlords through the backing of British credit.” So even though the Irish farmers were getting to buy the land they worked and maintained, they were only enabled to do so by borrowing from Britain. Even in their supposed property-ownership, the Irish are indebted to the British bank. Thus, the Irish Hogan, though still living in Ireland, is “very flush” because his vocation involves securing Ireland’s continued indebtedness to the British financial system.
As their conversation goes on, Gallaher encourages Little Chandler to travel outside of Ireland, and suggests he “[g]o to London or Paris” (76), and as they talk, Little Chandler becomes “disillusioned” by Gallaher’s new manner, but imagines it’s only because of “living in London amid the bustle and competition of the Press (77).” In other words, living in London makes up for the “something vulgar in his friend which he had not observed before.” Little Chandler is even envious of the worldliness that has created the new vulgarity in Gallaher. He begins appropriating London as another “moral” city on a level with Dublin, considering himself and his city, wishfully, in league with Gallaher and London against places like Paris, which he sees as immoral. Gallaher must correct him, though, insisting,
“–London! said Ignatius Gallaher. It’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. You ask Hogan, my boy. I showed him a bit about London when he was over there. He’d open your eye…. ” (77)
As uncomfortable as London’ potential immorality makes him, though, Little Chandler still dreams of following Gallaher. All his frustration pours out as at the end of the story as, holding his baby and questioning his marriage, he broods:
“A dull resentment against his life awoke within him. Could he not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? Could he go to London? There was the furniture still to be paid for” (83).
Ultimately, it’s his debt that holds him back from leaving his despised home even at the same time that the London literary industry represents a chance to escape. But like Eveline clinging to the rails of the Dublin dock while romance emigrates, Chandler is bound to familial and financial obligations. It is too late for him to seek economic prosperity because he is already under the yoke of Dublin’s dependent economy.
Walzl maintains that “a young man in economically-deprived Ireland was not likely to have reached a degree of prosperity before his mid thirties” (412). Indeed, those characters under 35 who appear or hope to be financially successful, like Frank, Jimmy Doyle, and Ignatius Gallaher are seeking or have sought their fortunes, educations, or vocations elsewhere. Even Gabriel Conroy, a comfortable suburban Dublin resident with coin to spare for a caretaker’s daughter and a night at a hotel, is accused of being a West Briton because he writes for a unionist paper and takes his holidays on the the continent.
The initial twelve stories of the collection seem to primarily utilize London as a gauge by which to apprehend the artistic success or failure of performers. “The Dead” reprises this utilization and cements the notion that good artists are in London, not necessarily or just from London. In its final version, with the addition of “A Little Cloud,” the role London plays as a reference in Dubliners tends to be one of economic privilege in opposition to a struggling Irish middle class. Some of the Dubliners capitalize on British economic opportunities while others find the London market hopelessly impenetrable. In either case, they can only really overcome their economic paralysis by selling themselves to the empire and/or, like Joyce himself before he even wrote most of Dubliners, getting the hell out of Ireland.