A figure of the tension between English and Irish, the Wellington monument stands, for Gabriel in “The Dead,” as a longed-for alternative to the cramped and perceptibly judgmental space of the Morkans’ party just after Molly Ivors declares him a West Briton. As he shifts his attention to the impending speech, Gabriel longs to be outside in the cold open air:
“How cool it must be outside! How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!” (192)
Geographically, the monument resides in Phoenix Park, a locale often referenced in “A Painful Case.” It’s about 1.5 kilometers walking distance from Usher’s Island, where the party is. To Gabriel at this moment, the site represents an escape from his own responsibility to his hosts and fellow guests, a retreat to solitude and exteriority. Politically, though, the place marker signifies a part of Gabriel that perhaps longs to be free of Irish responsibility.
The Wellingotn Monument is an obelisk commemorating the military accomplishments of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. He was an Irish born British statesman and highly esteemed and decorated military leader who eventually served as Prime Minister. Thus, in many ways, the Duke of Wellington embodies Gabriel’s position as Irish and British, and his desire to retreat to the monument expresses his desire to overpower the polemics of the recent argument with Molly Ivors, though in perhaps a militaristic and even phallic way.
The monument is mentioned again, but before it is, we get a detailed and rather militaristic description of the food and wine arranged in the dining room. Bottles of stout are “squads” in uniform, and “[i]n the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry.” The pyramid might be compared to the obelisk as the interior monument to public life.
Gabriel envisions the monument again just before he begins his speech:
“In the distance lay the park where the trees were weighted with snow. The Wellington Monument wore a gleaming cap of snow that flashed westward over the white field of Fifteen Acres.
–Ladies and Gentlemen,” (202)
The reference here recalls the image that he initially uses to consciously shift his thoughts away from the argument with Miss Ivors and on to his approaching speech. Its placement here is partially a reminder of that shift and perhaps also a kind of invoking of the muse of the duke who, as Commander in Chief of the British Army, would certainly possess skill in public speaking. Some of these speeches, in fact, were collected by George Henry Francis in Maxims and Opinions of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington, Selected From His Writings and Speeches During a Public Life of More Than Half a Century. The public life, the life of speech-making and strategizing, towers like an obelisk for Gabriel. It looms as much in the crowded warmth of Usher’s Island as it does in the cold snowy night.