Nelson’s Pillar

Erected in 1809 to commemorate Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, and destroyed 157 years later, Nelson’s Pillar was located, in Joyce’s day, right in the middle of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). It stood in the center of the intersection of that main thoroughfare and Henry and Earl Streets. “The Pillar,” as it was also called, appears in Dubliners as a point of reference for the middle of Maria’s route in “Clay:”

“From Ballsbridge to the Pillar, twenty minutes; from the Pillar to Drumcondra, twenty minutes; and twenty minutes to buy the things” (100).

Sackville Street, Dublin, showing the Gresham Hotel and Nelson's Pillar, photographed by Robert French between 1903 and 1908. From the Lawrence photograph Collection at the national Library of Ireland.
Sackville Street, Dublin, showing the Gresham Hotel and Nelson’s Pillar, photographed by Robert French between 1903 and 1908. From the Lawrence photograph Collection at the national Library of Ireland.

The Pillar is a convenient midpoint to her journey, not only because it is located near the cake shop she plans to visit but also because it is a point of intersection for several tram routes, as evidenced in the high traffic depicted in the photo above and in Ulyssese’s “Aeolus” episode where a “hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawl[s]” off tramline destinations (U 7.4-5). The first tram Maria takes, from the southeastern Ballsbridge neighborhood to Dublin city center, lets her off right at the Pillar:

“She got out of her tram at the Pillar and ferreted her way quickly among the crowds” (102).

She first goes east into Earl Street, where Downes’s is located then crosses back west past the pillar (though it isn’t mentioned explicitly) into Henry Street where she buys the plumcake. She returns back to the Pillar (again, not mentioned) to board the Drumcondra tram, where she meets a “colonel-looking gentleman” who offers her his seat. And watching over all of the movement is the Vice Admiral Nelson on his pillar. Perhaps the drunk yet chivalric gentleman in the tram is meant as a kind of lower-ranking Army-branch counterpart to the problematically glorified Royal Navy officer.

Nelson's Pillar, with a tram, O'Connell Street, Dublin City, Co. Dublin, published between 1900 and 1939. From the Eason Collection at the National Library of Ireland.
Nelson’s Pillar, with a tram, O’Connell Street, Dublin City, Co. Dublin, published between 1900 and 1939. From the Eason Collection at the National Library of Ireland.

The memorial to Nelson was one of many that went up around Britain after his death during the Battle of Trafalgar, regarded as “Britain’s greatest naval victory” and the “most decisive naval victory of the [Napoleonic] war.” And while leading up to its unveiling, the Dublin populous seemed either apathetic or supportive of the gesture, once it took its place in the heart of the city, criticism ranged from snarky to impassioned. Andrew Thacker highlights some of the responses in  his book Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism in which he points to an 1809 attack in Irish Magazine that argues “our independence has been wrested from us, not by the arms of France, but by the gold of England” (qtd in Thacker 122). The controversy raged into the twentieth century, and well after the publication of Dubliners. In 1923 W.B Yeats acknowledged its historic and aesthetic value but also admitted “it is not a beautiful object” (qtd in Thacker 123). Thacker also points out that the monument, situated as it is in the center of the city, “inserts Dublin deep within the colonial space of the British capital, the heart of which is often seen as Trafalgar Square with its Nelson’s Column” (120). He furthermore observes “[t]he metropolitan centre of Ireland is thus, paradoxically, not an Irish centre; or to adopt a phrase from Derrida, the centre is not the centre: the Irish metropolis has its governmental centre in London.”

[View of Nelson's pillar following the bombing], by Independent Newspapers, 1966. From the National Library of Ireland.
[View of Nelson’s pillar following the bombing], by Independent Newspapers, 1966. From the National Library of Ireland.
Indeed, the monument does stand in “Clay” at the intersection of religion and economics, both appendages of Britain’s reach in Ireland. Maria’s route from Ballsbridge to Drumcondra, with its pause in the center “to buy the things” forms the shape of a cross. But unlike the sign of the cross whose motion from top to bottom symbolizes Christ’s descent from heaven to earth, Maria moves upward, northward toward Joe’s house, ascending to either her inevitable death as pronounced by the clay she touches or her inevitable entering of the convent as indicated by the prayer-book she chooses on the do-over. Whatever her fortune, her ascension is bisected by her economy. As a person who appreciates “how much better it was to be independent and have your own money in your pocket,” she makes wise purchases (102). Instead of wasting money on one of Downes’s scantily frosted plumcakes, she crosses past the Pillar to buy a cake with more icing on it. But her cross made over the Pillar ends badly when she leaves her prize plumcake in the tram. The whole movement, a sign of the cross over the monument, seems an ironic and ambulatory version of a people’s misplaced reverence for a British Vice Admiral whose victory partially and indirectly won Ireland at least another century of dependence on Britain.

Joyce didn’t live to see the eventual destruction of the monument, which happened in 1966. Just before the 50-year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a Republican group blew up the pillar, destroying the statue of Nelson at the top and leaving the doric column essentially decapitated. As a result of the attack, the remainder of the monument was removed. That year, “[t]he St Patrick’s day parade and the Easter Rising jubilee celebrations,” according to one historical account, “took place with no Horatio Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronti, viewing them with a jaundiced eye from his column aloft.” And Thacker notes the headline in the March 8, 1966 Irish Times read “NELSON DEFEATED IN THE LONG RUN. ABUSED FOR 157 YEARS” (qtd. in Thacker 122). Today, the Spire, a comparatively apolitical and abstract sculpture, stands where the Pillar once was.

“Clay” Route

The route Maria travels in “Clay,” from the laundry in Ballsbridge to her brother Joe’s house in Drumcondra, is approximately 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles). Though the distance doesn’t seem great, she estimates the trip will take about an hour:

“The women would have their tea at six o’clock and she would be able to get away before seven. From Ballsbridge to the Pillar, twenty minutes; from the Pillar to Drumcondra, twenty minutes; and twenty minutes to buy the things. She would be there before eight” (100).

It’s Hallow Eve at the end of October, and in Dublin it would already be dark when Maria embarks on her journey, and she is eager to reach her family before she misses the festivities already under way. The darkness, combined with her age and the time it would take to walk are all possible factors in her decision to take the tram rather than walk like so many other characters do in Dubliners. The young boys in the childhood story “An Encounter” walk 4.6 km, a similar distance to Maria’s 4.5 km, but they spend most of the morning and afternoon doing so. And Lenehan in the adolescence story “Two Gallants,” covers 8.4 km (5.25 mi.) on foot while waiting for Corley to coax a coin out of his girl. Maria, a middle-aged woman with a clear destination, on the other hand, plans her route with efficiency. Indeed, the maturity section brings with it characters who travel, in general, more efficiently, and only walk when they want to think or drink. Whereas Maria’s maturity-story counterpart Farrington covers the same amount of ground in his story that she does in hers, his route spans several hours, is broken up by stop-ins at pubs, and concludes with, incidentally, a ride home on the Ballsbridge tram line, though his is in the opposite direction and he disembarks before reaching Ballsbridge. Little Chandler also walks in “A Little Cloud,” but his destination is only 1.5 km from his starting point, and he indulges a contemplative revery every step of the way. James Duffy walks to think through the shock of Emily Sinico’s death, not to get from one geographical point to another.

Maria’s efficient route turns out to have its own contradictions and symbolic problems, however.

Screenshot of the Google Earth map showing Maria's route in Clay, beginning in Ballsbridge in the southeast and ending in Drumcondra in the northwest.
Screenshot of the Google Earth map showing Maria’s route in “Clay,” beginning in Ballsbridge in the southeast and ending in Drumcondra in the northwest.

The first leg, the walk to the tram along the “streets…shining with rain” (101) and the tram “[f]rom Ballsbridge to the Pillar, twenty minutes” is rather uneventful. She spends the twenty-minute ride rather awkwardly on display, though, since “[t]he tram was full and she had to sit on the little stool at the end of the car, facing all the people, with her toes barely touching the floor” (102). During the ride, she feels appreciative that she is independent and has her own money.

The second phase of the journey introduces an interesting visual parallel to the themes and motifs of Christianity apparent throughout the rest of the text. (In the beginning we learn Maria, a Catholic, works among Protestants; and at the end, Maria chooses the prayer book in a game she plays, signifying that she will “enter a convent before the year [is] out” [105].) When Maria (a name invoking both the virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene)  exits the tram at Nelson’s Pillar in Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, she first heads east along Talbot Street to Downes’s cakeshop. As efficient with money as she is with time, she is careful not to waste a cent on cakes without enough icing, and since Downes’s doesn’t meet her icing standards, she doubles back and crosses Sackville Street heading west to a shop in Henry Street. After purchasing sufficient plumcake, she boards another tram back at the Pillar and continues northward toward Drumcondra. When viewed on the map, her movements form the shape of a cross:

The middle section of Maria's route in "Clay," which forms the shape of a cross. The visual symbol echoes the already apparent Christian themes and motifs in the story.
The middle section of Maria’s route in “Clay,” which forms the shape of a cross. The visual symbol echoes the already apparent Christian themes and motifs in the story.

“[F]rom the Pillar to Drumcondra” finalizes the trinity of phases within Maria’s route. If the first phase highlighted her pride in financial independece, and the second emphasized her efficiency with financial transactions, the third proves it all futile. Though she starts the ride thinking she will have to stand due to the crowd, she is quickly offered a seat by “a colonel-looking gentleman” who is “very nice with her” (102-103). Once she reaches the house, though, she realizes she has left the icing-slathered plumcake on the tram because of “how confused the gentleman with the greyish mustache had made her” (103). Was it her distraction with the man and lack of financial focus, the disruption of the economic trinity organized by the phases of her trip, that caused this failing? What are the connections between Christianity and economics and efficiency in “Clay?”

Maria initially chooses the clay in the game at the end of the story, but the children are scolded for even making clay an option because it means death, and Maria re-chooses the prayer book. Instead of death, the real outcome, she gets a life devoted to Christ. Which one is real? Which is better? Maria has financial independence and the freedom to buy cakes in any cakeshop she wants. But were she married to a man, like the one in the tram, who distracts her from her material possessions, her earth, her clay, she would have a life devoted to a husband. Which one is real? Which is better?

Earl Street

Earl Street. photograph by Robert French from National Library of Ireland's digitized Lawrence Collection at http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000040954
Earl Street. photograph by Robert French from National Library of Ireland’s digitized Lawrence Collection at http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000040954

Earl Street is situated on the north side of the Liffey in the heart of Dublin. It runs from O’Connell Street on the west to Marlborough Street on the east. The street is mentioned in passing by Corley in “Two Gallants:”

“She’s on the turf now. I saw her driving down Earl Street one night with two fellows with her on a car” (53).

Corley is referring to an old sweetheart who he recalls “was…a bit of all right.” She had been, apparently, the only girl Corley ever “got [anything] out of,” and he mentions her “regretfully” when he speaks of her to Lenehan.

That “[s]he’s on the turf now” essentially means she’s a prostitute, and as it happens, Earl Street is only a couple blocks away from what was, in Joyce’s day, the red light district. Called “Monto,” short for Montgomery Street which was the heart of the district, the area features famously in the Circe episode of Ulysses. If Corley’s friend was on a car with two gentlemen heading east on Earl Street, she may very well indeed have been heading for the Monto.

One other Dubliners character visits Earl Street, though the street’s name is never mentioned. Maria, in “Clay,” breaks up her trip to Joe’s by stopping at the Pillar so she can “ferret” into Downes’s cakeshop for penny cakes (102). She isn’t able to buy plumcake there, so she heads back west up Earl Street (the opposite direction of Corley’s friend) to cross O’Connell Street and see if she can find plumcake in Henry Street.

Maria’s trajectory along Earl Street is in opposition to Corley’s girlfriend-turned-prostitute, and the fact that she’s buying cakes instead of riding on a car with not just one but two men, speaks to what decisions she may have faced and made regarding relationships and vocation. Did she ever go out with a Corley? Is she a version of one of the many girls Corley went with who didn’t give him anything in return for “tak[ing] them out…on the tram somewhere and pay[ing] the tram or tak[ing] them to a band or a play at the theatre or buy[ing] them chocolate and sweets or something in that way” (52)? The visual cartographic aspects of the two women’s routes adds yet another layer to the divergence of life paths and possible timelines that so many of the characters of Dubliners are faced with.

It may also be worth noting that Earl Street is the location of the famous “Prick with the stick” statue of James Joyce.

Statue of James Joyce in Earl Street. Nicknamed by locals "Prick with a Stick," the statue was erected in 1990.
Statue of James Joyce in Earl Street. Nicknamed by locals “Prick with a Stick,” the statue was erected in 1990.

Belfast

Royal Avenue, Balfast, Antrim. Photograph from the National Library of Ireland's Eason Photographic Collection. Dated 1900-1940.
Royal Avenue, Balfast, Antrim. Photograph from the National Library of Ireland’s Eason Photographic Collection. Dated 1900-1940.

Belfast, now the capital of Northern Ireland, was in Joyce’s day an industrial center that generally, partly because its population depended on its industry, opposed Home Rule. In Dubliners, the city appears in three stories: “Eveline,”  “Clay,” and “Grace.” That the adolescence, maturity, and public life sections all reference Belfast, while the childhood section omits it, may be of some interest in terms of the political implications of the place as they would manifest in the psychology of the stories’ inhabitants. In other words, a young child would be most likely uninterested in, if not unaware of, the simmering anxieties associated with Belfast. But perhaps more importantly, with the exception of “The Sisters,” none of the childhood stories reference places outside of Dublin at all, and in “The Sisters,” the outside references pertain to the priest. The first-person child-as-narrator in the other two stories has very little concern for anyone or anywhere outside his own orbit.

In “Eveline,” Belfast is the home of the man who had built the new houses on Eveline’s street: “One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children. Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it — not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs” (36). The slick new houses built by the man from Belfast serve as a source of disrupted memory for Eveline, whose adolescence and approaching adulthood are already being colored by materialism fast overtaking the simple pleasures of playing in a field.

In “Clay,” Belfast is where Maria’s purse was purchased: “She took out her purse with the silver clasps and read again the words A Present from Belfast. She was very fond of that purse because Joe had brought it to her five years before when he and Alphy had gone to Belfast on a Whit-Monday trip” (100). Moving beyond Eveline’s vague association, Maria’s awareness of Belfast is as a commercial center and a place where one would go on Whit-Monday (the day after Pentecost, usually in May or June, observed as a public holiday in Ireland until 1973). For her, Balfast is thus a sentimental association with Joe, albeit one that sustains the materialism of Eveline’s association since it is both a money holder and a purchased gift.

“Grace” employs Belfast in connection to the Kernans’ success as parents: “Her two eldest sons were launched. One was in a draper’s shop in Glasgow and the other was clerk to a tea-merchant in Belfast” (156). Glasgow, known in the Victorian period as the “Second City of the British Empire,” not only rivaled Belfast in terms of industry and commerce but also carries political implications. If in the previous two stories Belfast only conveyed commercial connotations, here, set alongside Glasgow, the “Second City of the British Empire,” Belfast becomes a politically charged reference, controversial, perhaps, in Joyce’s use of it as a destination for successfully raised children.

Even though none of the stories attach Belfast explicitly to the political tensions of Ireland and the British Empire, the implications resonate–first at the level of rumor, then sentimental materialism, and finally commercial, vocational, and parental accomplishment.

Downes’s Cake Shop

The first featured place of the week is Downes’s cake-shop, where Maria buys penny cakes in “Clay:”

Earl Street. photograph by Robert French from National Library of Ireland's digitized Lawrence Collection at http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000040954
Earl Street. photograph by Robert French from National Library of Ireland’s digitized Lawrence Collection at http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000040954

“She went into Downes’s cake-shop but the shop was so full of people that it was a long time before she could get herself attended to…She decided to buy some plumcake but Downes’s plumcake had not enough almond icing on top of it so she went over to a shop in Henry Street” (102).

Don Gifford places Downes’s at 6 Earl Street in Joyce Annotated, 1982. “Earl Street” by Robert French, pictured right, is part of the digitized Lawrence Photograph Collection at the National Library of Ireland.

Maria’s route takes her, via tram, from where she lives and works in Ballsbridge to the pillar, which she approaches from the south. There she disembarks and walks east along Earl Street to Downes’s and then west, past the pillar, into Henry Street. Then she returns to the pillar and heads north via another tram to Drumcondra. The cake-buying interlude effectively creates a cross out of her route, making this service a kind of religious pause before meeting with her brother and his family.