“Grace” is one of the more neglected stories in Dubliners. The twelfth to be written (October-December 1905), it was intended to close the collection of fourteen stories, before the addition of “The Dead”. The story falls into three sections corresponding to the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Thus Joyce superimposes the structures of a great epic on sordid or banal scenes of Dublin life, just as he was to do on a vaster scale in Ulysses. Hell is represented by the public house, scene of Mr Kernan’s drunken collapse. Purgatory takes the form of the edifying conversation of Mr Kernan’s friends at his bedside, as they persuade him to take part in a religious retreat. Heaven is the church in which the story ends.
More important than this connection on the level of symbolic structure is the continuity between “Grace” and Ulysses within Joyce’s declared project of giving Dublin to the world in a work of realistic fiction. Realism, for Joyce, was not confined to modern naturalism, but was as old as literature itself. His admiration for Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Defoe, Flaubert, Ibsen and Hauptmann has to do largely with their intimate knowledge of the reality of human behaviour and their forthrightness in expressing this. Style and symbolism eventually became more important to Joyce than his initial realist project, but not before he had brought realism to unprecedented heights in Ulysses. Of course his admired realists were also great stylists, “models for syncretizing storyness and textness” (Sultan 1987:296); not included on the list are George Eliot, Zola, Maupassant, Balzac, whose novels Joyce described as “lumps of putty” (cited Sultan 1987:203), or Dickens, who is unflatteringly parodied, rather than admiringly pastiched, in U 14:1310-43 (Osteen 1995:235). Joyce would agree with another fine realist, Fontane: “What above all we do not understand by realism is the naked reproduction of everyday life, least of all its misery and its shadow side... To be sure, the motto of realism is the Goethean call:
Greif nur hinein ins volle Menschenleben,
Wo du es packst, da ist’s interessant,
(Just plunge into full human life,
Wherever you seize it, it’s interesting.)
but with the condition that the hand that thus ‘plunges into full human life’ must be an artistic one” (Fontane, 12). Realism is under great strain in some of the later chapters of Ulysses, but only with Finnegans Wake does Joyce allow the mimetic tension of word and world to snap. Joyce is a de-reifying realist: “Everything seemingly material and solid in Dublin itself can presumably be dissolved back into an underlying reality of human relations and human praxis” (Jameson, 183), and the stylistic experiments de-reify language itself, dissolving fixed conventions. Thus even at its most elaborate the language of Ulysses is a critique of language in its social functioning. Finnegans Wake has much looser connections with the actual functioning of language in social praxis, so that its liberative and subversive impact is more diffuse.
Each of the eighteen episodes of Ulysses improves on each re-reading, as we become more aware of its linguistic richness, symbolic overtones and beauty of structure. But the impression of reality also grows stronger, as tiny details coalesce and the portrayal of each of the individual characters (all based on real-life models) becomes more vividly three-dimensional. What most reinforces this astonishing sense of reality is the minor male characters in the novel. Bloom and Molly are atypical figures, whose foreign backgrounds makes them powerful critical observers of a city in which however they can never feel at home. Bloom’s complex Jewish and Middle European ascendancy enriches his self-consciousness, range of cultural reference, and capacities as a perceiving organism, as his role in the novel requires. Molly’s Gibraltar girlhood confers a glamour that contrasts with the drabness of Dublin as does Gretta’s Connaught background in “The Dead”. Both Bloom and Molly are made larger than life by their association with mythic archetypes, both Homeric and Celtic. But the bulk of the population of Ulysses, especially prominent in central chapters (chapters 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12) consists of Dublin males of the kind we have met in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” and “Grace”. These are the “submerged population” which provide the basic material of Joyce’s art as a realist. Joyce wrote to Alf Bergan, his father’s closest friend: “You are in the book by name with so many other of Pappie’s friends” (cited, Sultan 1964:182). Mark Osteen has charted their relationships, especially the economic network of borrowing and lending that ties them together (Osteen 1991 and 1995). The social dynamics of a colonial metropolis, fermenting with impotent aspirations to Home Rule, allow these men much room for the idle display of opinion and character: “the development of bourgeoisie and proletariat alike is stunted to the benefit of a national petty-bourgeoisie. Indeed, precisely these rigid constraints imposed by imperialism on the development of human energies account for the symbolic displacement and flowering of the latter in eloquence, rhetoric and oratorical language of all kinds; symbolic practices not particularly essential to business men or the working classes, but highly prized in precapitalist societies and preserved, as in a time capsule, in Ulysses itself” (Jameson, 182). The book is quite literally a time capsule, in that Joyce went to incredible pains to achieve absolute documentary accuracy and to stuff the book with as many as possible precisely detailed material relics of that vanished day. The artistic contemplation of the day is solidly based on its realistic reproduction.
Style and Character
The average Dubliners do not inspire Joyce to flights of stylistic virtuosity, except for the racy scurrilous eloquence of the Thersites-figure who narrates the “Cyclops” episode. But a vast collection of pieces of Dublin wit, rarely without a cynical edge, is inscribed in the mosaic of the novel. It is not correct to say that “Joyce temporarily reassumes the aesthetic of ‘scrupulous meanness’” of Dubliners in “Hades” and “Wandering Rocks” (Osteen 1995:157) – that aesthetic was abandoned already in “The Dead”, in which the prose is pervaded by musical cadences and by the poetic voice of the protagonist. A sentence like “The felly harshed against the curbstone: stopped” (U 6:490) is in the ardently mimetic and finely chiselled “initial style” of the “First Part” (chapters 1-9) completed on New Year’s Eve 1918. Its “obtrusive elegance” (James Maddox, in Newman/Thornton, 148) is already indicative of a busy authorial presence; the more one rereads “Telemachus”, for example, the more the words, in their glittering array, their matutinal radiance, seize attention for themselves. Perhaps we should rather call this initial style “hypermimetic” – a parodic mimesis of mimesis itself, already burgeoning with the subversive possibilities given their head especially in chapters 14-17, where style takes on a life of its own, almost subordinating to itself the substance of the story, the tail wagging the dog.
However, within this basic style is encased the language of the Dubliners themselves, scrupulously recorded. Joyce’s protégé Italo Svevo wrote an undistinguished Italian to reflect his Triestians’ undistinguished lives. Even in Dubliners Joyce does not do this. The style of Dubliners produces an effect of quiet ironic suggestion, like the window at the beginning of the collection: “night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly” (D 1). What Joyce does do is to exploit undistinguished styles and elevate them through their very absurdity to the level of art: the incompetent journalism in “Eumaeus”, the aridity of textbooks and catechisms in “Ithaca”, the degenerate gossip of “Cyclops”; or else he rephrases low conversation in dizzyingly high diction drawn from past models of prose style (“Oxen of the Sun”). In the style of “Grace” we can see that the quiet, even style of scrupulous meanness is beginning to be inflected by a deliberate exploitation of the characters’ own style, reflecting their undistinguished lives more closely. A lumbering style, following Hugh Kenner’s “Uncle Charles principle”, describes the men in their own language, a language designed to affirm their masculine identities and protect their social dignity. Unprepossessing at first, the language of “Grace” seems to labour along clumsily, but its prosaic circumstantiality is quite deliberate, reflecting the self-consciousness of the distinct social category represented by Mr Kernan, Mr Cunningham, Mr Power, Mr M’Coy: solid, upstanding gentlemen, pillars of the community, who carry themselves with a sense of self-importance. Moreover, the Joycean demon of parody is quietly at work here as well, though this would be less apparent without the retrospective light of Ulysses.
It should be noted that the Uncle Charles principle, exemplified by the words “uncle Charles repaired to his outhouse” (P 62) is not the same thing as free indirect style, as even Maddox supposes (Newman/Thornton, 155). Free indirect style can be translated back into “bound” indirect style and into direct style. The opening sentence of Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party” reads: “And after all the weather was ideal”. In normal indirect style one would have something like: “Laura was relieved that after all the weather was ideal”, and in direct discourse, “ ‘And after all, the weather is ideal’, Laura exclaimed.” There are no such equivalents for “uncle Charles repaired to his outhouse” or “on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes” (D 178), describing Gabriel Conroy in his own language. In “Scylla and Charybdis” the Uncle Charles principle is already lurching over into the plastic domination of story by style that will characterize the second half of Ulysses (see Van Caspel, 139). Even the individual identities of the characters begin to dissolve as they succumb to the fantastical shaping perspective of Stephen, who himself is dissolving into the author Joyce, recalling the events fourteen years later. Emblematic of this is the distortion of personal names, for the first time in the novel: “MAGEEGLINJOHN” (U 9:900), “BUCKMULLIGAN” (U 9:906) “QUAKERLYSTER (a tempo) But he that filches from me my good name…..” (U 9:918-19).
The Emblems of a Gentleman
The word “gentleman” and the title “Mr” carry all the gravitas of self-respect that the men in “Grace” seek to preserve or recover. Even in the squalid setting of the pub the conventions of gentlemanliness are maintained by the style. The opening words of the story are “Two gentlemen” and the word “gentleman” occurs frequently in the first pages. In its circumstantial designation of the various men the narrative seems to fall over itself in its efforts to name them precisely. “These two gentlemen and one of the curates carried him up the stairs… one of the curates said he had served the gentleman with a small rum… — There was two gentlemen with him… One of the gentlemen who had carried him upstairs held a dinged silk hat in his hand… A young man in a cycling-suit cleared him way through the ring of bystanders. He knelt down promptly beside the injured man… The young man washed the blood from the injured man’s mouth… a tall agile gentleman of fair complexion, wearing a long yellow ulster, came from the other end of the bar… The young man in the cycling-suit took the man by the other arm… — The gentleman fell down the stairs, said the young man” (D 149-51). This embarrassed writing mixes respectability and shabbiness in a proportion that comments on the quality of the characters’ lives.
“Mr” becomes common in Dubliners only from “A Painful Case” on; the earlier, younger protagonists are denoted unceremoniously by their first names or surnames. “Mr” indicates the status of a gentleman and a citizen, a status jealously guarded by its bearers: “Mr Power did not relish the use of his Christian name” (D 159), at least on the lips of the devious Mr M’Coy; Mr Kernan, “a commercial traveller of the old school which believed in the dignity of its calling” (152), is “keenly conscious of his citizenship” (160). In Ulysses he thinks of himself as “Knight of the road. Gentleman” (U 10:748-9). But the dignity has to hold its own against adverse forces: domestic squalor and poverty, the degradation of drink, the open mockery or sly denigration of one’s peers. Underlying it all is a lack-in-being that has to be papered over by reassuring palaver (see Leonard, 273).
The assertion of threatened male identity is a central theme in Joyce’s writing. Gabriel in “The Dead” and Stephen in A Portrait are warring against the failure they see exhibited in the other males in the story (Freddie Malins and Mr Browne; Mr Dedalus and his decrepit cronies). Phallic symbols abound as props to their failing self-confidence: the Wellington monument in “The Dead”, the poker wielded by Mr Dedalus as he mutters: “There’s a crack of the whip left in me yet” (P 68), Heron’s cane (P 82), Stephen’s ashplant, Mr O’Madden Burke’s umbrella and “his magniloquent western name” which is “the moral umbrella upon which he balanced the fine problem of his finances” (D 143).
Hats were a sartorial item of significance for one’s standing as a gentleman. (Remember the horror induced by Peter Quint’s hatlessness in The Turn of the Screw.) Mr Dedalus recalls the deceased Dignam in the following terms: “As decent a little man as ever wore a hat” (U 6:303). In Ulysses a considerable number of male hats circulate, all telling their tale of social status and personal fortunes. The four most prominent of these hats form two rival pairs: Bloom’s silk black hat is opposed to his sexual rival Boylan’s straw hat, and Stephen’s “Latin quarter hat” (3:174) or “Hamlet hat” (3:390) is contrasted with his intellectual rival Mulligan’s Panama hat. For different reasons both Bloom and Stephen wear the black hats of mourners, while their frivolous “usurping” counterparts wear summery gear more suited to the weather of the day. Boylan is “reduced to a series of synecdochic fetishes” (Osteen 1995:173), chief of which is his hat. Mr Kernan’s muddied hat at the start of “Grace” represents a loss of identity especially painful to one so vain of his dress (“Saw him looking at my frockcoat. Dress does it. Nothing like a dressy appearance. Bowls them over” [U 10:738-9]). His hat is the source of his grace, a grace defined as being respected as a man: “He had never been seen in the city without a silk hat of some decency and a pair of gaiters. By grace of these two articles of clothing, he said, a man could always pass muster” (D 152-3). The “dinged silk hat” (149) will reappear “rehabilitated” (172) in the final scene. The beginning of Kernan’s recovery of identity is marked by the restoration of the hat: “The battered silk hat was placed on the man’s head” (150).
The characters’ names also offer a psychological prop, and Stephen Dedalus is at his most vulnerable when his strange name is exposed to ridicule by the bullies at Clongowes (P 5) and by Mulligan: —The mockery of it! he said gaily. Your absurd name, an ancient Greek!” (U 1:34). As we began to see above, the relinquishment of identity and control in the styles of Ulysses, when the competitive perfectionism of Stephen yields to the non-assertive flexibility of Bloom as the presiding spirit of the work, is nowhere more striking than in the dismantling, transformation and amalgamation to which personal names are subjected in “Sirens”, the parodies in “Cyclops”, “Oxen of the Sun” and “Circe”.
Joyce’s anatomy of Dublin males lends itself to psychoanalytical exegesis, for Joyce was as close to Freud in mentality as his name is to Freud’s etymologically, at least in the matter of observing human behaviour. The Joycean “epiphany” that reveals the whole truth of a character is close to the little revelations Freud prized; an example would be Bloom’s Freudian slip: “the wife’s admirers ... The wife’s advisers, I mean” (U 12:767, 769). Joyce professed to snub the Freudian unconscious in favour of a phenomenology of consciousness, but his chronicling of consciousness (for instance, that of Stephen in chapter one of A Portrait) is very porous to the realm of the unconscious; and of course in “Circe” and Finnegans Wake he produces a writing as open to unconscious significance as it is possible to be. Joyce interpreted the Irish Catholic sense of guilt in light of the view of “man as the ‘guilty animal’ in the work of Freud, with which, and in despite of his own denials and deprecations, it now appears that Joyce was quite conversant” (John Henry Raleigh, in Newman/Thornton, 120).
In their talk the male characters vie to assert themselves, and their displays of eloquence are triumphs of masculine identity, Adler’s “masculine protest”. Stephen, in his virtuoso rhapsody on Shakespeare in “Scylla and Charybdis”, is like a schoolboy striving to come “first in the class” once again. It is hard to think of any other great writer who is so manifestly “showing off” as Joyce is in “Oxen of the Sun”, which is based on the very anthologies of English prose that fomented the ambitions of budding essayists in Irish secondary schools. The school essay was Joyce’s first literary arena, and “the course of his triumphs” (P 83) there foretold the later successful management of his literary career. Even when the proud Flaubertian control of the first half of Ulysses is relinquished, as the non-competitive spirit of Bloom prevails (Maddox, in Newman/Thornton 148), Joyce still attempts “to play the final card in the game of mockery, as the book achieves its superiority by mastering all the subsidiary discourses of Dublin” (ibid., 154).
Heroism is a preoccupation of Stephen and of Joyce, as it was of Ireland at that time. The rebellious Stephen is Joyce’s first redefinition of heroism, in opposition to such grandiose Celtic creations as the Cuchulain of Yeats. Joyce wrote Ulysses in the years immediately following the 1916 Insurrection, in which Patrick Pearse brought the cult of heroes to a bloody climax. Bloom and Molly are presented as heroes of a new type, stealing the thunder of their mythic Celtic prototypes (see Tymoczko) by generously living modern lives to the full; the mythic structures are demoticized in the writing, so that Joyce would not be particularly upset by Jameson’s diagnosis that “the bankruptcy of the ideology of the mythic is only one feature of the bankruptcy of the ideology of modernism in general”, “the bankruptcy of the symbolic in literature”, myth being merely “a space of the pre-individualistic, of the collective, which should scarcely be appealed to to offer the consolation that myth criticism had promised us” (Jameson, 174-6). After the war to end wars, Joyce invented the hero to end heroism, the myth to end myth. The male self-assertion that produced the Great War is countered by a non-defensive, non-judgmental, feminine opening up to all the currents of life. Women in Joyce’s fiction figure as threats to male self-confidence (“Araby”, “The Boarding House”, “A Little Cloud”, “The Dead”; Dante in A Portrait; Bertha in Exiles; Molly Bloom). But defeat at the hands of the female can be a moment of grace for the Joycean male, teaching him “what the heart is and what it feels” (P 275), as can be seen in the parallel situations of Gabriel Conroy, Richard in Exiles, and Bloom. The trajectory from Stephen to Bloom to Molly is radicalized in Finnegans Wake, in which the male voices (HCE, Shem, Shaun) are enveloped by the feminine music of Anna Livia and Izzy.
Ulysses as a Book of Judgment
In Ulysses, most of the characters from Dubliners lose the title “Mr”. In the case of M’Coy this loss of title may also imply that his social status has sunk still farther since “Grace”, as a result of his ungentlemanly “crusade in search of valises and portmanteaus to enable Mrs M’Coy to fulfil imaginary engagements in the country” (D 159) and his embezzlement of the Freeman’s Journal (U 6:887). A similar fate befalls Mr Hynes of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, punishment perhaps for the sentimental quality of his Parnellism, the noisiness of his defences of “the working-man” (D 118), and his reputation as a sponger (121). In “Hades”, Hynes murmurs “peace to his ashes” at Parnell’s grave (U 6:27). His unpaid debt of three shillings preys on Bloom’s mind (U 7:119; 8:1058; 13:1046; 15:1192, 1612). In “Cyclops” he is “Joe”, familiar companion of the nameless narrator, and enjoys the title “Mr Joseph M’Carthy Hynes” only in a section of parody (U 12:908). M’Coy likewise is given a disreputable companion, the pathetic Lenehan from “Two Gallants” (U 10:491-583).
In contrast the disappearance of “Mr” in the case of Mr Cunningham signifies an elevation in status; he is always called “Martin Cunningham”, never the unadorned “Cunningham”. He is modeled on Matthew F. Kane, Chief Clerk of the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Dublin Castle, who died by drowning on July 10, 1904, an event commemorated in Ulysses (U 17:1253) and Finnegans Wake: “and then poor Merkin Cornyngwham, the official out of the castle on pension, when he was completely drowned off Erin Isles, at that time, suir knows, in the red sea and a lovely mourning paper and thank God, as Saman said, there were no more of him” (FW 387). In “Grace” we are told that “everyone had respect” for him; “His friends bowed to his opinions and considered that his face was like Shakespeare’s” (D 156). In Ulysses he is a figure of benign wisdom, still associated with Shakespeare (U 6:345; 15:3854-5) and with the Jesuits; Father Conmee sees him as a “good practical catholic: useful at mission time” (U 10:5-6). Critics have seen him as a quisling because of his job in Dublin Castle (Herr, 245; Osteen 1995:168) and his links with the Church; in doing so they tend to make Joyce’s critique of British rule and church hegemony rather predictable and monochrome. Cunningham is given to “laying down the law” (U 6:1028) and rudely commandeering the conversation: “Martin Cunningham thwarted his speech rudely” (U 6:277). But Bloom does not resent this: “Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent” (U 6:344-5). The critics have held even his drunken wife against him (Osteen 1995:168), whereas surely it raises his status in the eyes of the suffering husband Bloom: “And that awful drunkard of a wife of his… Leading him the life of the damned. Wear the heart out of a stone, that” (U 6:349-352). But his domestic misery reveals a motive for his constant assertion of authority. Male self-assertiveness in Joyce is usually shadowed by such a pathetic undertone.
Kernan has his own stream of consciousness in “Wandering Rocks” (a privilege he shares with Father Conmee, Boylan, Miss Dunne, Master Dignam, in addition to Bloom and Stephen, and elsewhere Molly and Gerty McDowell). He is very “pleased” (U 10:718) with himself as he rehearses his witty conversation with a customer in his mind. Unexpectedly, he is revealed in Ulysses as one who muses on the historical past: “When you look back on it all now in a kind of retrospective arrangement” (U 10:783). The phrase “retrospective arrangement”, introduced in this hinge-chapter echoes through the second part of the novel, and denotes the way Joyce retrospectively arranges his earlier fictions in later ones and the first half of Ulysses in the second. Rereading “Grace” we discover Mr Kernan’s historical proclivities even there: “He carried on the tradition of his Napoleon, the great Blackwhite, whose memory he evoked at times by legend and mimicry” (D 153); “He made an effort to recall the Protestant theology on some thorny points… —Tell me, Martin, he said. Weren’t some of the Popes – of course, not our present man, or his predecessor, but some of the old Popes – not exactly... you know... up to the knocker?” (168). Along with Conmee, the Citizen, and listeners to “The Croppy Boy” in “Sirens”, Kernan makes history fodder for his sentimentality (see G. J. Watson, in Newman/Thornton, 48). But even this sentimental recycling of the past anticipates Joyce’s own poetic exploitation of Dublin’s history and has to that extent a positive, creative aspect.
“Mr Kernan came of Protestant stock and, though he had been converted to the Catholic faith at the time of his marriage, he had not been in the pale of the Church for twenty years. He was fond, moreover, of giving side-thrusts at Catholicism” (D 156). His career exhibits parallels with that of Bloom, who is of Jewish stock on his father’s side, has been baptised as a Protestant, and again as a Catholic before his marriage with Molly (U 17:542-6). Bloom has no knowledge of Catholic ritual, so his perceptions of it produce a comic defamiliarization (U 5:340-52). Kernan’s empathy with British and Protestant culture makes him a critical outsider, as when he remarks to Bloom: “The service of the Irish church used in Mount Jerome is simpler, more impressive I must say” (U 6:665-6). This could make him a sympathetic figure, as creating a complicity with the outsider Bloom: “Mr Bloom nodded gravely looking in the quick bloodshot eyes. Secret eyes, secretsearching. Mason I think: not sure. Beside him again. We are the last. In the same boat” (U 6:661-3). But read more carefully, this scene shows Kernan seeking to establish a camaraderie among outsiders with Bloom, who “resents Kernan;s insinuating ways” (Van Caspel, 95). Bloom, a sceptic, does not reciprocate Kernan’s pious comments, or the implied invitation to share an enlightened “ecumenical” outlook. He is more radically an outsider than Kernan. His true fellow-outsider is Stephen, and though there may be no real meeting of minds between them in “Ithaca” their shared sense of alienation allows the achievement of a valid, tacit communion. Thus Bloom become Virgil to Stephen’s Dante leading him to a vision of the stars, echoing the last line of the Inferno: “E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle” (And thence we issued to see again the stars):
What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?
The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit. (U 17:1036-9; see Reynolds, 297-8).
There is a tacit “freemasonry” between Stephen and Bloom, which lies at a deeper level than the comic role played by the Freemasons in Bloom’s career. Bloom is rumoured to be a freemason (U 8:958-68; 12:300), and his association with freemasons has damaged his career: “the jesuits found out he was a freemason” (U 18:381-2; see also 1227). But the exact degree of this connection, like so much else in Bloom’s background, is not spelt out.
This penumbra of indeterminacy in the portrait of Bloom, despite the extreme detail of the foreground, lends his persona a certain plasticity, which favours the multiplication of phantasmagoric possibilities in “Circe”. There the freemason connection is magnified: he wears a “blue masonic badge” (U 15:450-1), is called “Charitable Mason” (15:1945), “makes a masonic sign” (15:4298-9) and “is robed as a grand elect perfect and sublime mason” (15:4454-5) in imitation of the Freemason Edward VII (U 5:75). Do the secondary characters such as Kernan or Conmee entirely lack this plasticity? Some critics seem to form rigid negative judgments on such characters as Mulligan and Mr Dedalus, reducing them to stereotypes. But the variety of perspectives and of lights in which the novel presents them seems to militate against this. The gusto of Joyce’s style expresses a tacit sympathy with the vitality of even the lowest characters, such as the narrator of “Cyclops”, the Citizen or Bob Doran, and indeed some of the most vivid contributions are attributed to these characters themselves. Cynical or sentimental in life, their discourse becomes a precious strand in the fabric of art.
Kernan’s doubleness of outlook, his capacity to exhibit nationalist and Catholic chauvinism even as he indulges his pro-British and pro-Protestant inclinations, goes hand in hand with the range of his historical curiosity. Osteen is anxious to judge Kernan, in line with the ethical earnestness of contemporary criticism. But there is something to be said for the older view of Joyce as an Olympian artist: “The theme of Ulysses—if we can differentiate the theme from the treatment—is in itself neither comic nor tragic; but it is presented with the supreme aloofness that makes supreme comedy, Joyce leaves Ireland in order to write about Ireland; he shuns the life which is his subject in order to be able to embody that life in his art as an artist only and not as a fellow countryman or even as a fellow mortal” (Daiches, 64; see O’Leary, 318). “To see the various Dublin characters while they went about their business on June 16, 1904, as weaving a pattern which projected everything both noble and fatuous which men are capable of, Joyce had to be absolutely uncommitted, taking no sides, free to render all points of view” (Daiches, 85). This certainly misses the effort of discrimination to which the text summons the reader. But to focus too tightly on Joyce’s personal and political investment in his portrait of Dublin, tracing the scores he settles with his characters and defining sharply his moral and political judgments, reduces the range of sympathy and the interpretative freedom which Joyce’s stylistic pluralism embodies. Moreover, Joyce’s moral victory over Dublin is at least as much a matter of lofty aesthetic play as of ethical discrimination. The humourlessness of contemporary Joyce criticism is what is most at odds with the comic economy of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Paradoxically, it is by its humorous detachment that Ulysses best serves to make us discriminating readers of literary texts and human characters. Dubliners, closer to the events described, is relatively crude in its implicit judgments. In Ulysses the characters already move in “the light of other days” and the exposure of their foibles is never tinged by direct polemic. Subversive naturalism is raised to a level of serene detachment, and then to free linguistic play, and beyond this again breathes a spirit of comic acceptance.
But beyond this again Ulysses achieves something quite rare in literature: the sublime. Like Proust’s Paris and Musil’s Vienna, Joyce’s Dublin is a temps perdu, preserved as a ship in a bottle; and this gives it an angle of vision that brings out the strangeness and mystery of human life. The constant strangeness of the novel itself stems from its desire to do justice to the enigma it contemplates. Thus the significance of Joyce’s art cannot be encapsulated in psychoanalytical, ethical, or political commentary, but calls for philosophical and theological reflection. In the conatus of the writing the book is constantly reaching out to the dimension of ultimate meaning, the dimension of spirit. Bringing the entire life of a city, frozen at a moment in its past, sub specie aeternitatis, in the style of Bloom’s favorite philosopher Spinoza, Ulysses silently poses a huge question: “What is the meaning of all this? To what does human life tend?” The only answers it offers to the question are “Love” (U 12:1485) and “Yes” (U 18:1609). Finnegans Wake is perhaps less powerful than Ulysses in this sublime effect of reaching out into the ineffable, because it does not bring with it the full weight of real life which Joyce’s Dubliners enabled him to measure.
“Two gentlemen who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up: but he was quite helpless. He lay curled up at the foot of the stairs down which he had fallen... his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards” (D 149). This description recalls the different descriptions of prostrate sinners in the Inferno, and the stairs and circles (“the ring of onlookers” [ 149]; “the ring of bystanders”, “the circle of faces” ) in this section reproduce the basic features of the geography of Dante’s Hell. (Disappointingly, Mary T. Reynold’s book has nothing to say about this.) The “fall of man” is of course the logical starting-point for any story of grace. The fetal position of the man suggests the Augustinian doctrine that children are born in a state of Original Sin; Joyce could confidently expect Irish Catholics to catch such an allusion even if only subliminally.
But the story is about the fall and restoration of man in a more specific sense – that is, it is a story about the male of the species. Kernan and his friends do not find Bloom’s “heroic” path to their true humanity. Their male self-confidence, threatened by the downfall of one of their group, is triumphantly restored in the end, but it is restored on the ordinary terms of the ineffectual Dubliners: bluster, sentimentality, docility to the arrangements of church and state. “The return of ‘grace’ (as well as identity) into the life of Mr. Kernan, which a group of men endeavour to restore to him, can be interpreted as their attempt, through fictional narrative presented as truth, to renew his faith in the myth of a coherent masculine identity. Mr. Kernan has not only fallen down the stairs, he has also fallen out of the discourse that sustains the identity of his masculine friends. Their plot to rehabilitate him is also a desire to reconfirm the existing patriarchal order that sustains them. In the most general terms the Symbolic Order surrounds the subject and imposes meaning on its entire history” (Leonard, 273). “Mr. Kernan is the patient and his friends are all the sort of self-satisfied psychoanalysts of which Lacan so disapproved... If this were not therapy in which the men are treating themselves even more than they are treating Mr. Kernan, they might actually dare to ask him what is bothering him. But it is centrally significant to their strategy that they present him with the solution to his problem without actually inquiring into the details of his anxiety” (274). In short, Joyce is showing how an existential crisis is resolved in Dublin; not by entering into it deeply, but by patching it up through homage to pre-given beliefs and conventions. But this is not just a Dublin situation; it reveals “the necessity of error and misrecognition in the formation of subjectivity” (Leonard, 275).
Mr Kernan, despite his condition, reaches for the language of drink to cement friendship with his Good Samaritan: “—’an’t we ’ave a little…? —Not now. Not now“ (D 151); “he expressed his gratitude to the young man and regretted that they could not have a little drink together. ––Another time, said the young man” (152). The young man’s disappearance is one of the many failures of communion in Dubliners. His anonymity suggests the angel of the resurrection, who sets Kernan off on his new life. It is only when Mr Kernan’s hat and name have been restored, when he has become again not merely “the man” or the anonymous “gentleman” but someone whose identity is vouched for by one of his peers, Mr Power, that Kernan utters his name: “’y na’e is Kernan” (152), and it is during the homeward trip of the two men that Joyce describes Kernan’s public role. The section closes with Mr Power’s promise to Mrs Kernan: “We’ll make a new man of him” (154), the word “man” suggesting that the newness of grace will be confined by standard masculinist assumptions about one’s identity. On the fringes of the world of these petty-bourgeois men we catch glimpse of a lower caste of men, whose struggles are harsher: while Power reassures Mrs Kernan, “the carman was stamping up and down the footpath and swinging his arms to warm himself” (154). Joyce’s catches such figures sympathetically in lateral vision, but leaves their stories untold. His art does not scrape the very bottom of the social barrel. His petty-bourgeois protagonists are keenly class-conscious, and even as penury menaces them they avoid the taint of the class beneath them. If they are not taken seriously by their own class, they risk having no social context, for there is no graduation downwards. Kernan’s experience in the bar makes Power, “a debonair young man”, uneasy because it reeks of the plebeian, and his disapproval intensifies when he meets the two daughters: “He was surprised at their manners and at their accents” (153). The planned reformation of Mr Kernan means that he is to reclaimed and rehabilitated by his class lest he bring discredit on them.
The leadership in the reclamation project passes from Power to Cunningham, who is “the very man for such a case” (D 156); “He’s the man” (154). The woman in the story is shrewdly sceptical about the men’s power to change themselves or each other: “Religion for her was a habit and she suspected that a man of her husband’s age would not change greatly before death” (156-7). But she props up the male ego without taking it too seriously; it is she who rehabilitates the hat (172). She ministers to the communion among the men by providing bottles of stout: “Help yourselves, gentlemen” (161). Mr Power invites her to join the group, no doubt expecting her to refuse, as she does. There is no place for a woman in the all-male circle. She plays about its margins, “ironing downstairs” (161).
The first drink inaugurates the discussion of the retreat. Kernan feels uneasy because of the feminine associations of religion, “the uncomfortably feminine nature of going on a retreat” (Leonard, 286). “Understanding that some spiritual agencies were about to concern themselves on his behalf, he thought he owed it to his dignity to show a stiff neck” (162), thus reasserting his threatened manhood. But as the friends proceed in their theological discussion they reveal that religion enhances and exalts their male dignity; Kernan listens “with an air of calm enmity” but is eventually won over. He hears that “the Jesuits are a fine body of men”; the secular clergy, he objects with Protestant fastidiousness, are “ignorant, bumptious”, but Mr Cunningham corrects him: “They’re all good men” (163). Mr Cunningham’s authority grows as he proceeds: “Of course I’m right... I haven’t been in the world all this time and seen most sides of it without being a judge of character” (163-4). After this impressive remark, “the gentlemen drank again, one following another’s example” (164), the ritual that confirms their identity as members of the group.
Mr Kernan relents before Mr Cunningham’s authority: “He had a high opinion of Mr Cunningham as a judge of character and as a reader of faces” (164). Judgment of character was an important quality in this society in which one’s standing with one’s fellows could rise or fall through association with the right or the wrong people, and in which daily gossip consisted largely in an assessing or assassination of the character of others. “And what a city Dublin is!” Joyce exclaimed to Frank Budgen. “I wonder if there is another like it. Everybody has time to hail a friend and start a conversation about a third party” (cited, Newman/Thornton, 79).
Father Purdon, Mr Cunningham “stoutly” declares is a “Fine jolly fellow! He’s a man of the world like ourselves” (D 164). The Church, we are assured, will not undermine the pretentions of male self-assertion but serve rather to shore them up. As the gentlemen assert themselves in argument, their sententiousness give rise to rich comedy. The conversation parodies a biblical scene (Job’s dialogue with his three comforters) and a conference of theologians (reenacting the discussions of the Vatican Council). An ecumenically generous judgment of Protestants is followed by a satisfactory affirmation of Catholic superiority: “But, of course, said Mr Cunningham quietly and effectively, our religion is the religion, the old, original faith”. This breaks down Kernan’s coldness: “Not a doubt of it, said Mr Kernan warmly” (165).
At that point the shopkeeper Mr Fogarty enters, a fourth comforter, corresponding to Elihu in Job 32-37. As Elihu brings a new note to the dialogue in Job, so Fogarty brings “a half-pint of special whisky” and “this new influence enlivened the conversation” (166). Power officiates with the whisky as he has with the beer, assuming his leadership role confidently. The potent topic of papal authority is now discussed, punctuated by references to M’Coy, Fogarty and Cunningham tasting their glasses or drinking gravely. Papal authority is magnified since it can be appropriated vicariously by the Catholic faithful, thus shoring up their own authority: “Pope Leo XIII, said Mr Cunningham, was one of the lights of the age” (166). “The office of the pope is the ultimate veiled phallus that assures the authenticity of all suffering masculine subjects who experience themselves as signifiers without any outside referent beyond the imagined gaze of the Other” (Leonard, 283).
When the conversation touches on the magical topic of infallibility, Fogarty interrupts it to pour a second round: “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude” (168). The men’s fascination with infallibility is one with their quest to be saved from the insignificance of dusty middle age. “Papal infallibility, said Mr Cunningham, that was the greatest scene in the whole history of the Church” (168). Mr Cunningham imposes his account with a magnificent authority of manner: “Allow me, said Mr Cunningham positively, it was Lux upon Lux. And Pius IX, his predecessor’s motto was Crux upon Crux that is, Cross upon Cross - to show the difference between their two pontificates” (167); “John of Tuam, repeated Mr Cunningham, was the man” (169). The words “the man” are underlined by the gesture of drinking: “He drank and the other gentlemen followed his lead” (169). “At last the Pope himself stood up and declared infallibility a dogma of the Church ex cathedra. On the very moment John MacHale, who had been arguing and arguing against it, stood up and shouted out with the voice of a lion: Credo!” (169). This narration is a moment of grace for the hearers: “Mr Cunningham’s words had built up the vast image of the Church in the minds of his hearers. His deep raucous voice had thrilled them as it uttered the word of belief and submission” (169-70). Mr Kernan continues to demur: “I’m not such a bad fellow –” (170). Mr Cunningham asserts the authority of the Symbolic Order: “Mr Cunningham intervened promptly. —We’ll all renounce the devil, he said, together, not forgetting his works and pomps” (171). The Symbolic Order is warmly affirmed by the men, who enact already the ceremony of renewal of baptismal vows: “Get behind me, Satan! said Mr Fogarty, laughing and looking at the others” (171). Mr Power is not able to keep up with his companions’ declarations of faith and resolve: “He felt completely outgeneralled” (171) by Cunningham and Fogarty. Mr Kernan finds an occasion for masculine self-assertion in his refusal of candles: “I bar the candles, said Mr Kernan, conscious of having created an effect on his audience and continuing to shake his head to and fro. I bar the magic-lantern business” (171).
Like the other communion-scenes in Dubliners (the sherry and cream crackers in “The Sisters”, the card-playing in “After the Race”, the drinking in “A Little Cloud”, “Counterparts” and “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, Maria’s lost cake in “Clay”, the drinking and dining in “The Dead”) this scene too is marked by a note of failure, parody, or inauthenticity. The good-natured circulation of drink creates a sense of comfort, warmth and mutual agreement among the men, but it also confirms them in their illusory authority and complacency. The central place of communion among males in Ireland is of course the public house, and Joyce, himself a heavy drinker, is the most devastating critic of Ireland’s pub culture, though his portrait can be sighted everywhere in the present international empire of Irish pubs. The men’s theology is begotten of drink, and so is blustering and assertive, bereft of the questioning spirit that Joyce’s own theology, if he had one, would exhibit.
In the church scene the men are all at the height of their restoration to grace, or to manhood: grouped together in their best clothes they recall the Men’s Confraternities which were until recently one of the bulwarks of religious and social identity alike for lower middle class Irish men. They sit “in the form of a quincunx” (D 172), recalling the geometrical arrangements of souls in Dante’s Paradiso X and XII (two concentric circles of twelve). The “distant speck of red light” (the sanctuary lamp) corresponds to the appearance of God as a tiny point in Paradiso XXVIII, 16-21: “I saw a star which radiates a light so keen that the eye on which it blazes needs must close because of its great keenness; and whatever star seems smallest from here would seem a moon if placed beside it like a star with neighboring star” (Singleton, 313).
The word “gentlemen” again makes its fussy appearance: “The gentlemen were all well dressed and orderly. The light of the lamps of the church fell upon an assembly of black clothes and white collars, relieved here and there by tweeds… The gentlemen sat in the benches…” (D 171-2). The assertion of religious identity goes hand in hand with assertion of solvency and going up in the world: “Mr Cunningham drew Mr Kernan’s attention to Mr Harford, the moneylender, who sat some distance off…. To the right sat old Michael Grimes, the owner of three pawnbroker’s shops” (172). One recognizes the familiar odour of “simony” (D 1) which subtly pervades these stories. When the boy in “Araby” finally enters his paradiso, the bazaar, he finds the temple has become a house of thieves: “two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins” (D 27). “Salver” suggests the tray on which Salome views the head of John the Baptist; perhaps the suggestion is that the boy’s infatuation with Mangan’s sister has led to his spiritual decapitation. The “fall” echoes the imagery of the Fall of Man occurring earlier: “The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump” (D 21) The “late tenant” is a dead priest, like the Father James Flynn of “The Sisters”. Father Purdon in “Grace” represents a similar deflation of the “pneumatic” dimensions of Christianity (which have now become “rheumatic” [D 9]). His name links “pardon” and “Purdon St.” – a red-light area. The pardon he offers is subtly disreputable.
Like the newspaper report in “A Painful Case” (D 109-11) and Hynes’s poem in “Ivy Day” (131-2), the sermon is presented as an objet trouvé, illustrating the state of Dublin’s soul. Neither the poem nor the sermon are immediately and conspicuously bad. The hollowness in each case becomes apparent only on reflection. The reader is called on, as the story promptly ends, to practise the arts of discernment and discrimination. The interplay of the metaphors of business with the language of grace, despite its biblical warrant in the parable of the unjust steward, exudes the simoniacal atmosphere already built up throughout the story. “If he might use the metaphor, he said, he was their spiritual accountant, and he wished each and every one of his hearers to open his books, the books of his spiritual life, and see if they tallied accurately with conscience” (D 174). The sermon emphasizes that its hearers are men: “It was a text for business men and professional men” (173); “as a man of the world speaking to his fellow-men. He came to speak to business men”; “be straight and manly with God”; “be frank and say like a man…” (174).
It is significant that the sermon is given by a Jesuit. Joyce may have been aware that in the famous debates on grace held in Rome from 1597 to 1607, the Jesuits represented the rather rationalistic system of Molinism over against the more radically Augustinian viewpoint represented by the Dominicans. Later the version of congruism presented by St. Robert Bellarmine became the theology of the order. The adjustment of the preacher’s message to the circumstances of the hearers suggests the congruist theory that “the efficacy of efficacious grace is due, at least in part, to the fact that grace is given in circumstances favorable to its operation” (Walter McDonald, “Congruism,” Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913). There is a faint hint of Pelagianism in the last sentences: “But, with God’s grace, I will rectify this and this. I will set right my accounts” (D 174). The impression is conveyed that human beings can set themselves right in God’s eyes by their own efforts and judgments. Joyce’s model here, the English Jesuit Bernard Vaughan, speaks in quite different tones in Fr Conmee’s recollection in Ulysses: “Pilate! Wy don’t you old back that owlin mob?” (U 10:35). Vaughan notoriously approached preaching as a form of loud advertisement. But here Joyce presents him in suave and subtle mode, more in keeping with the standard image of Jesuits.
The conclusion of the story, the penultimate one in Dubliners, is not a conclusion at all, but leaves things suspended, just as “Ithaca,” the penultimate chapter of Ulysses, does. The poetic conclusion of “The Dead”, in contrast provides a magnificent final cadence, just as Molly Bloom’s monologue finishes Ulysses with a dazzling clou. Another parallel between the two books is that both Gabriel and Molly are falling asleep, in the early hours of the morning.
The impact of the last scene is enhanced by its position in Dubliners. “Grace” is the last of three stories dealing with public life. “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” ends on the same deadpan note as “Grace”: “Mr Crofton said that it was a very fine piece of writing” (133). The significance is that Irish political life has been reduced to empty rhetoric. “A Mother” deals with Irish cultural life, and ends with a similar “poised” remark: “—You did the proper thing, Holohan, said Mr O’Madden Burke, poised upon his umbrella in approval” (148). Mean-spiritedness masquerading as “the proper thing” is the prevailing condition of cultural life. Religious life is equally reduced to petty proportions.
Does Joyce regard Catholicism only as an enslaving system? Stephen’s experience of “grace” in chapter three of A Portrait is something more than a parody; Joyce seems to leave open the possibility that the church can be a vehicle of spiritual transformation. But in chapter four a calculating and quantifying approach to grace has prevailed in Stephen’s self-conscious piety. He measures the rise and fall of grace in his soul as if keeping an account book: “He seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven” (P 160). In “Grace”, too, the reality of spiritual transformation is not denied, or even the possibility that the Church could be its vehicle; but grace is missed in the concrete circumstances of these complacent Dubliners.
Yet there is a grace in their very gracelessness, the grace of comedy. The men in the story are modelled on Joyce’s own father’s boozing companions, and the ultimate viewpoint on them is one of sympathy. Their failed lives are celebrated in something like the spirit in which Shakespeare celebrates Falstaff’s. Simon Dedalus does not appear in Dubliners, but when he does appear he will take on all the appalling charm and roguishness of Falstaff. Even in the painful scene between Dilly and her father, we find her remarking: “You’re very funny” (U 10:725), not sarcastically, for she grins as she does so. If Stephen plays Hal to Simon’s Falstaff, rejecting him for the mythical Daedalus or for the more sober and prudent Bloom, Joyce himself does not reject any of his characters (and HCE in Finnegans Wake could be seen as a “second voyage” for his own father, now freed, by the magic of myth and dream, from confinement to his dismal social position and personal nastiness). “Ulysses itself constitutes a kind of symbolic absolution of this universal human condition” (Raleigh, in Newman/Thornton, 120). Critics today see Joyce as a grimly critical author, intent on political correctness. But there is another dimension, a dimension of comic grace, which lends to the title of this story an affirmative meaning alongside its several ironic ones.
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(English Literature and Language 35, 1998, pp. 23-45)
Joseph S. O'Leary