Lucan Road

Section of the 1883 ‘Geological Map of the Environs of Dublin’ by Lett’s, Sons, & Co. showing Lucan in the far west, Chapelizod near the center, and Dublin city in the east. From the online David Rumsey Map Collection. The Liffey runs west to east in the center, and below it can be seen the Lucan Road, running almost parallel to the river’s course. Click image for full map.

The Lucan Road, mentioned in “A Painful Case,” connects the western Dublin suburbs of Chapelizod and Lucan, incidentally the location of the 1883 Dublin-Lucan Steam Tramway terminus. Running along the south side of the Liffey, the road spans from Lucan in the west to Chapelizod in the east. (Joyce even hybridized the towns in Finnegans Wake as “Lucalizod.”) The road actually has many names along various stretches of its length, but Joyce preferred to use its utilitarian label in Dubliners. Like the Shelbourne Road, the Lucan Road identifies a route to a town. And because that town is west of Dublin, it implies an opposite directional movement to the Liffey running nearly parallel just above it. Its westward direction also implies an exit from the city and thus connotes escape, departure, or moving beyond a boundary. All of these are appropriate in the context of “A Painful Case,” especially at the reference’s particular placement in the story.

Mr. Duffy has just re-read the newspaper story describing the death of his once close but lately estranged friend Mrs. Sinico. His first reading had been over dinner in George’s Street, a location within the city proper. But it isn’t until he arrives at home after a vaguely difficult end to his interrupted meal that the reader learns the story that so bothered him was one about the death of his friend. It is only once he is safely out of the city that the news is conveyed to the reader, word-for-word no less, and even then the story is followed directly by connotations of even further outward movement:

“Mr Duffy raised his eyes from the paper and gazed out of his window on the cheerless evening landscape. The river lay quiet beside the empty distillery and from time to time a light appeared in some house on the Lucan road. What an end!” (115)

Because the name implies a movement toward the town of Lucan, which is even further west of the city center than Chapelizod, the reference to the road imbues the news of the death with further implications of departure or escape. The embedded news story implies that the death was an accident, but the narrative suggests the possibility that Mrs. Sinico’s death is a suicide. In either case, the centrifugal movement from center to something outside is reflected between death and departure.

The movement implied by a road labeled for its westward destination also anticipates the more expansive “journey westward” in “The Dead,” and, like that journey, is initiated by the main character’s reflection on a disturbingly influential dead figure (223). But whereas Gabriel has only just learned of Micahel Furey’s existence, Mr. Duffy had been uncomfortably familiar with Mrs Sinico while she was alive. His emotions are more confused and visceral (the rest of the paragraph contains words like “revolted,” “vulgar,” “degraded,” “squalid,” “miserable,” “malodorous,” etc.), requiring perhaps a more limited geo-emotional escape so that he may instead work to anchor himself. In fact, he seems to do just this when he ventures back out for a walk, and it isn’t until he gazes back toward the city that he is able to to feel sympathy for Mrs Sinico, albeit a sympathy born out of guilt and shame for his own hand in her demise. While the lights of the Lucan Road, toponymically pointing westward, only offer Duffy a kind of malformed epiphanic journey westward, the lights of Dublin, pulling him eastward, present him with feelings of loneliness  and guilt. In the end, “[h]e turned back the way he had come,” but listens still to the train in the east, which seems to be iterating the syllables of his friend’s name as it moves away.