James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

In the next part most guests have left, Freddy Malins is out on the street, trying to attract the attention of cab drivers in these pre-Uber times by whistling, and the last two guests (Batell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan) are still strumming the piano upstairs. Aunt Kate says to close the door because Mrs Malins “will get her death of cold”, and Mary Jane objects, saying that Browne is out there. Aunt Kate says sotto voce that “Browne is everywhere” and that “he has been laid on here like the gas… all during the Christmas.” What she means is that he’s been visiting them too often, but here we really could do with a language footnote. But then she laughs good-naturedly, tells Mary Jane to ask Browne in and close the door. Browne comes in, muffled in his winter coat and cap, and Gabriel comes out of the pantry, also dressed to go out. Mary Jane shivers and says she wouldn’t like to have to travel home at this hour. Browne says cheerfully he really would like to go horse riding on a night like this, which reminds Julia about the horse they used to have at home. Mary Jane laughs and says “The never-to-be-forgotten Johnny” and Mr Browne asks to know the story of Johnny, which Gabriel proceeds to tell. The humour is in the telling of the story, which in Gabriel’s version is a bit mock epic, and in order to achieve this effect he has to downgrade his family a bit, while Aunt Kate protests and tries to make them more genteel. So their grandfather, who used to be according to Gabriel a glue-boiler, and according to Aunt Kate a starch-mill owner, used to own a horse named Johnny, who ran the mill, walking around in circles. One day the grandfather wanted to go out riding on Johnny to a military review in the park, so he put on his best clothes and went out on Johnny “from his ancestral mansion somewhere near Back Lane” (no, it was only his mill that was located there, he didn’t live there, protests Aunt Kate). Everything went on well until he reached the statue of “King Billy” (the statue of William III, in front of Trinity College, blown up in 1928 by the IRA – read about its history, it’s truly fascinating), which for some reason reminded Johnny of his mill and he started walking around it in circles, despite the cries of indignation from the hapless rider. Everybody laughs at this funny story, and I wonder whether poor Johnny is not also symbolic of the Irish, unable to get away from their history.

Freddy Malins comes in to say that he was able to get only one cab. Gabriel says it’s fine, he and his wife will find another along the quay. Mrs Malins is led and with much trouble seated in the cab. Freddy invites Mr Browne to share the cab with them, and the scene that follows is familiar to everybody who has ever shared a cab of whatever kind, horse- or motor-powered, with people getting off at different places – everybody tries to give directions to the driver, but everybody has a different idea about what the shortest route would be. Finally Mr Browne cuts it by telling the bewildered cabman to drive to Trinity College, and they will take it up from there.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Gabriel moves towards the end of his speech: he calls the three ladies Three Graces (a reference which Aunt Julia doesn’t get), then drawing from another myth he says he’s not going to be Paris and pick which one of them wins, because they are all the best, and then proposes the toast, after which the guests burst into singing “for they are jolly gay fellows”. I wonder if this is a regional Irish version, or whether at some point “good” replaced “gay” later in the 20th c., when it’s slang meaning entered the mainstream? The aunts are very moved and Aunt Kate wipes a tear. I am breaking off here, because here comes a break in the story. In the edition I am using these are marked with an extra space, but at this particular point comes a page break, so initially I was even a bit confused.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Mr Browne can’t wrap his head around the idea that one can go to Mount Melleray, live there as if it were a hotel, and then leave without paying anything. Mary Jane explains that most people leave a donation, and he says candidly “I wish we had an institution like that in our Church”. He is also surprised to hear about the ascetic lives of the monks who get up at 2 am to pray and sleep in their coffins. Aunt Kate says simply it’s the rule, and he keeps on asking why. Freddy tries to explain it’s to atone for the sins of other people, and Mr Browne asks whether they can’t do it on a spring mattress. Mary Jane says the coffin is there to remind them about their end, the atmosphere around the table grows lugubrious, and they drop the subject. Sweets, fruit and nuts are served, together with port or sherry. Bartell D’Arcy first declines any drink, but then lets a neighbouring guest talk him into having a glass. The conversation comes to a lull and guests start tapping the table, encouraging Gabriel to make his speech. He starts somewhat nervously, apologizing for his inadequacy as a speaker. He says there are no people as hospitable as the Irish and the three ladies are an epitome of Irish hospitality, which they enjoy every year. Even though Miss Ivors is not there to hear it, Gabriel is still irked by how abruptly she left, and so he makes his point about how the new generation, educated or even “hypereducated”, still may be lacking these virtues “of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour”. Alluding to the conversation they were just having about the singers from the past, he says he feels the past was “more spacious” and he hopes they can at least keep it in fond memory. He strikes a more sombre note, saying that they have to remember those that passed away, but that they mustn’t always dwell on the past, because it would interfere with their daily life and duties.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Gabriel carves and serves the goose, and Miss Daly at the other end of the table does the same for ham, while Lily carries around the dish of hot potatoes. Mary Jane also wanted to make apple sauce, but Aunt Kate thought roasted goose on its own is quite enough. After he’s done with the first serving, he starts serving seconds, although the guests protest he should eat now. Aunts Kate and Julia are toddling around the table, helping the guests, until Freddy Malins pulls Aunt Kate down, making her sit. When serving the goose is over, Gabriel offers “what vulgar people call stuffing” (and what would posh people call it, I wonder?), but the guests beg him to eat something finally. Gabriel sets down to his own supper, and Lily brings him the potatoes she reserved for him. As Gabriel is eating, the conversation turns to opera. Freddy Malins says the black singer performing right now at the Gaiety theatre in a pantomime has the best tenor voice he’s ever heard and gets a bit belligerent when others seem to him to be dismissive, asking “And why couldn’t he have a voice too?… Is it because he’s only a black?” Roddy Doyle’s “Home to Harlem” seems more and more interesting in this context.

Mary Jane diverts the conversation “to the legitimate opera”, talking about the production of Mignon she has just seen, which was very fine, but made her think about “the poor Georgina Burns”. Georgina Burns was an English soprano who performed in Mignon in Dublin in 1885, After much searching I found this excellent blogpost, explaining that soon after her greatest triumphs Georgina Burns fell ill with ataxia (seems to this unprofessional like a symptom of one of these auto-immune diseases, with the periods of remission) and lived through most of her long life in poverty. There was a charity collection to help her in 1907, when Joyce was in the process of sending the MS of Dubliners to various publishers and being rejected by them, so maybe that’s what made him think of her. Neither the NAEL nor the annotated editions of Dubliners I’ve seen online have this information, so the hard work of Weindling and Colloms is much appreciated. Mr Browne gets nostalgic about the good old days when an Italian tenor singing “Let Me Like a Soldier Fall” sang five encores, ending with a high C every time, The Helpful Footnote says the song is from an opera Maritana by an Irish composer William V. Wallace, and that it originally ends on the middle C, so it’s only show-offs like Joyce’s father who end it with the high C. James’s brother Stanislaus is on record as calling the aria “insufferable rubbish”, so I think Joyce’s point is that Mr Browne doesn’t have the greatest taste in music. That is confirmed a bit later when he says the good old operas like Dinorah by Meyeerbeer and Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti are not performed anymore, because contemporary singers are not good enough. (I’ve heard of Lucrezia but only the professional musicologists know Dinorah today, I think.) Bartell D’Arcy protests that there are good singers nowadays as well, for instance Caruso, but Mr Browne doubts even the talent of Caruso. Aunt Kate says the greatest tenor she’s ever heard was one named Parkinson, Mr Browne has heard of him, but never heard him, and the young D’Arcy has never heard of him. The vanity of fame.

After Gabriel finishes his main dish, pudding is served by his wife, with Mary Jane adding fruit jelly or blancmange to the plates. The pudding is complimented, Aunt Julia, who made it, says she thinks it’s not brown enough, and Mr Browne makes a feeble pun. Gabriel, who doesn’t like sweets, eats the celery, and Freddy Malins eats both the pudding and the celery, because he’s been told celery is good for blood. His mother, who has been silent the whole evening, says now that Freddy is going to go to Mount Melleray (a Cistercian abbey in southern Ireland) for a week, and everybody tells her how good the air there is and how hospitable the monks are.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Freddy and Mr Browne continue complimenting Miss Julia, and Miss Kate says hotly she often told her sister her voice was thrown away in that church choir. She is very hurt by the fact that after thirty years of singing at the church at all hours of day and night, including 6 am on Christmas, Julia together with other women singers was banned by the Pope. I was very surprised to read it, because I associated the ban on women singing in churches with the 17th or 18th centuries and the heyday of castrati, but yes, in 1903 Pope Pius X passed a motu proprio regulating church music (he felt it had become too secular) and he did ban women from church choirs. Pope Pius XII backtracked it in the 1950s. But for now, Aunt Kate feels very upset on behalf of her sister: “1 suppose it is for the good of the Church if the pope does it. But it’s not just, Mary Jane, and it’s not right.” Mary Jane is like, hush, don’t say such things in front of the Protestant Mr Browne, which doesn’t really stop Aunt Kate, and finally Mary Jane manages to divert her attention to the thoughts of supper. On the landing Gabriel meets his wife and Mary Jane begging Miss Ivors to stay for supper, but she resists, saying she stayed for too long already. Gabriel offers to see her home, if she insists to go, but she refuses politely and leaves them with a farewell in Gaelic. Gabriel wonders whether he was the cause of her sudden departure, but she left laughing and didn’t seem to be in a bad mood. His reflections are interrupted by Aunt Kate, dramatically announcing that everybody is waiting for him to carve the goose. He goes to the dining room, where there is a sumptuously set (although, it seems not very sophisticated) table and he starts carving the goose, which he enjoys quite a lot.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Today is James Joyce’s birthday, which I realized when reading this Twitter post with a lede from an archival article by Louis Menand in The New Yorker: “James Joyce, who was born on this day in 1882, didn’t believe in miracles. He believed in coincidences. ‘My foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I’m in need of,’ he wrote to a friend.” How cool is that? (the whole article is at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/07/02/silence-exile-punning )

So, back to the story. After the dance ends, Gabriel notices Freddy Malins’s mother and goes to talk to her. She is a white-haired lady with a similar catch in her voice like her son (so it’s genetic, and not just the result of Freddy being tipsy.) He asks her how her trip was (she lives in Glasgow with her married daughter and visits Dublin once a year) and while she drones on about the pleasant journey, and how much she enjoys living in Glasgow in her daughter’s beautiful house and going on trips in the beautiful Scottish countryside, his mind drifts back to the exchange with Miss Ivor. He is upset about it – he didn’t mean to snap back at her, but she also shouldn’t have quizzed him like that, especially in public. Gretta approaches him, telling him that Aunt Kate wants him to carve the goose. She asks him about how happened between him and Molly Ivor. Gabriel tells her that Miss Ivor wanted him to go for a trip to the west of Ireland and he wouldn’t. Gretta, who is from this region, says she would love to see Galway again, and Gabriel retorts “You can go if you like”. Gretta says ironically “That’s a nice husband for you, Mrs Malins”, but Mrs Malins ignores her or can’t hear her and keeps on talking about the big fish her son-in-law caught on holidays.

When Freddy approaches his mother, Gabriel retires into a window nook, where he looks moodily out and dreams about walking alone in cold winter air rather than be in this warm room and have supper (he’s really not a people person, is he?) He runs in his head through the bullet points of his speech and comes up with a sentence which while seemingly complimenting his aunts, would be also a hidden barb addressed at Miss Ivor. His thoughts are interrupted as Mr Browne leads gallantly Aunt Julia to the piano.. She sings an English translation of Bellini’s aria from I Puritani, a very difficult aria with a lot of ornamentation and she carries it with aplomb. (In case you haven’t noticed it so far, Joyce, like most of his family, was an accomplished singer and a very musical man.) When she ends, there is a big applause. Freddy Malins keeps on clapping long after everybody ended, and then runs to Aunt Julia to shake her hand and tell her he’s never heard her sing so well.

John Huston unjustly portrays Aunt Julia in his film adaptation of “The Dead” as a croaky old lady. She may have been no Maria Callas, but Joyce describes her as a very accomplished singer with a surprisingly strong voice, so here’s Maria Callas with the original Italian version

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

After the quadrille Mary Jane is asked to play the piano. She picks a long, showy, and difficult piece, which doesn’t appeal to Gabriel and he doubts it appeals to anybody in the audience. He passes the time by gazing on the walls, where a piece of artistic embroidery made by Julia reminds him of a similarly embroidered waistcoat made for him by his mother. Her photo is also on the wall, with Gabriel’s brother Constantine as a young boy in sailor suit (called here “man o’ war suit”) at her feet. Their mother was considered to be the brainy one in the family, but she didn’t share their musical talents. She poured her intellectual energy into her sons, starting with rather unusual names she picked for them, and pushing them forward in their education. Gabriel is now a college teacher and Constantine a priest in Balbriggan. She was also somewhat possessive, didn’t like Gretta and said she was “being country cute”. Here a footnote wouldn’t be amiss, because “cute” back then used to mean “clever, smart aleck”, as in “Don’t be cute with me”, and the full expression is “country cute and city clever”. So Gabriel’s mother considered Gretta too sassy, and yet it was Gretta who was taking care of her in her last illness.

Mary Jane finishes playing and the guests clap, the loudest being the young men who sneaked out into the dining room during the concert and have just come back. Another dance starts and Gabriel is paired with an old friend Miss Ivor, also a teacher. She is dressed rather severely, in a dress buttoned up to her neck and a brooch with an Irish device on her collar. As they are dancing, she starts ribbing Gabriel about the book reviews he publishes as “G. C.” in The Daily Express – not the modern-day British tabloid, but a Dublin newspaper in which Joyce also published some book reviews. The newspaper was unionist and Miss Ivor calls Gabriel “West Briton”, which for her means “bad Irishman”. Gabriel doesn’t quite know what to say to that, since he’s indifferent to the newspaper’s politics and he does it rather for the review copies he gets (he’s a book-worm) than the paltry money he is paid. Miss Ivor is like “c’mon, I was only joking” and she praises his review of a collection of Browning’s poems. Then she starts pressuring him to go in summer with her and some friends to the Aran Isles. Gabriel says he’s already made plans to go with some friends on a cycling tour in the Continent, as they do every year. Miss Ivor asks why, and Gabriel says it’s partly for a change and partly to keep in touch with language. Haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with? asks Miss Ivor. Irish is not my language, says Gabriel awkwardly, aware that their neighbours are listening. Isn’t it your duty to visit your own country and know your own people, asks Miss Ivor. “I’m sick of my own country”, snaps Gabriel. Miss Ivor asks “Why?”, and as Gabriel would rather stay silent than explain, she says triumphantly “Of course, you have no answer”. As the dance ends, she stands on her tiptoes and whispers into his ear “West Briton” again.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

At the moment when Freddy enters downstairs, the waltz ends upstairs. Kate sends Gabriel downstairs to see in what state Freddy is and pacify him if he’s unfit to be among other guests. Three young ladies and an older man, Mr Browne, leave the dancing room and go to the other room which serves as the place for refreshments. Mr Browne offers punch to the ladies, but they decline, so he opens three bottles of lemonade for them. Then he pours a glass of whisky for himself and makes a joke about “the famous Mrs Cassidy” who said “Now, Mary Grimes, if I don’t take it, make me take it, for I feel I want it.” The ladies don’t laugh, possibly because, as Emily C. Bloom suggests, Mr Browne is the only Protestant at the party, impersonating a stereotypical drunk Irishwoman from some music-hall act, to a group of young Catholic ladies. (On a side note, even though Bloom is a fairly popular surname, it tickles me that a person thus named is a Joyce scholar.) So to return to the theme of minstrelsy, he’s like a white man performing in blackface to black audience. One lady changes the subject and Mr Browne turns to the other two young men at the sideboard. Mary Jane, a red-faced young woman, bursts into the dining room, announcing quadrilles. They quickly engage the two young men and three young ladies to make up the required number of dancers, promising Miss Daly a nice partner, Mr Bartell D’Arcy, a lovely tenor. When they leave, Gabriel appears, piloting Freddy, a coarse-featured “young man of about forty”, in the course of telling a funny story and laughing heartily about it. He greets Misses Morkan and proceeds to tell the story again to Mr Browne. Aunt Kate consults Gabriel in an undertone about how drunk Freddy is, but Gabriel thinks he’s only a bit drunk, “hardly noticeable”. Kate sighs about Freddy’s poor mother, who made him take the pledge to abstain on New Year’s Eve and takes Gabriel to the drawing-room, signalling to Mr Browne not to let Freddy drink. Mr Browne understands the assignment and pours Freddy a glass of lemonade, dexterously distracting him by drawing his attention to some disarray in his dress. Freddy, fixing it with his right hand, mechanically accepts the glass with his left hand, but then puts it away as he starts laughing over his own joke, although he hasn’t reached the punchline yet.

James Joyce – “The Dead” (ctd.)

Gabriel presses a tip into Lily’s hand as a Christmas gift and after some protestations she accepts. He goes upstairs and waits at the door of the room where the guests are dancing until the music stops, still somewhat discomfited by Lily’s unexpected bitterness about men. He takes this opportunity to review his notes for the speech he’s about to give. His thoughts are a mixture of inferiority/superiority complex: he starts by deciding to ditch the quotations from Robert Browning, because they are sure to go over his audience’s heads; something more popular, like Shakespeare or Moore’s Irish Melodies would be better. (As the Helpful Footnote says, one of Moore’s songs from this collection is titled “Oh! Ye Dead“) He can somehow tell even by the sound of the heels of the men dancing inside that they are culturally below him – they are going to think that he’s showing off, and jumping to the conclusion he decides his whole speech is going to be a failure.

Before he starts to wallow in his misery, his wife and his aunts leave the other room. His aunts kiss him – he is their favourite nephew, the son of their deceased sister. Aunt Julia is grey and stout, and it seems to me that Joyce is hinting she may have some beginnings of dementia. Aunt Kate is a bit shorter, with her hair still naturally chestnut. They talk a bit about how the Conroys are not going to take a cab to go home tonight, but they are going to spend the night at the Gresham Hotel in the city centre. Monkstown, the suburbs where they live, is about 13 km from Dublin’s centre and the ride in a drafty cab last year gave Gretta, Gabriel’s wife, a terrible cold. (The Helpful Footnote says reverently that the Gresham is “still one of the best hotels in Dublin”. I’ve checked it, it’s now owned by the Riu hotel chain and at this time of year a double will set you back about 115€, which seems rather affordable for Dublin, certainly not as expensive as these swanky Autograph hotels. If you’ve stayed there, let me know. On a side note, The Gresham is about 2 km from Usher’s Island, where Gabriel’s aunts live, so not super close.) The aunts and Gretta rib Gabriel a bit about what a health nut he is: he makes his son lift dumbbells, his daughter eat porridge, and his wife wear goloshes. What are goloshes, Aunt Julia asks, and Gretta and Kate explain to her that they are “guttapercha things” you wear over your boots, and that everybody wears them on the continent now. (Taking into account how wet Ireland is, I’m surprised they were not more popular there.) Anyway, Gretta refused to wear goloshes tonight, and she thinks even the name is funny, and inexplicably it reminds her of a minstrel troupe. (Blackface troupes were apparently very popular in Victorian Dublin, which I think Declan from Roddy Doyle’s “Home to Harlem” would appreciate.) Kate asks Gretta whether she’s not worried about leaving the children, but Gretta says it’s just for one night, and they are being looked after by the servant. Kate says it’s great to have a good servant like that, because she thinks Lily has changed for the worse. Together with Lily’s earlier outburst, it seems that she’s had some bad experience. But before Kate can say something more about Lily, Julia wanders down the stairs, leaning over the banister, and announces Freddy’s arrival.

James Joyce – “The Dead”

I am a bit ashamed that I’ve lived decades without reading “The Dead”, which seems to be the most famous story from The Dubliners. But better late than never, today I am making up for this blind spot. The story starts in the way which belies its title, with Lily, the caretaker’s daughter and a maid in a middle-class home, busy with answering the bell, leading the gentlemen to the pantry converted into men’s cloak-room and helping them to take their overcoats off. The ladies are led upstairs where the hostesses Miss Kate and Miss Julia help them undress in the bathroom. (On a side note, in all the ball descriptions of the 19th/early 20th c I’ve read, including significantly fancier party in Mrs Dalloway, nobody bothers with the men and I always assumed they could take off their overcoats and hats on their own.) Again undercutting our (well, at least my) assumptions, Misses Morkans are not young belles but two elderly ladies who had been living in this rented upper floor of a house for three decades with their niece Mary Jane, whom they adopted after the death of their brother. They depend on music both for their income and society: Miss Julia is still the leading soprano at Adam and Eve’s (I was surprised to learn that there’s a church in Dublin named so, but apparently it’s an informal name dating back to the times when secret masses were celebrated in the tavern of this name; the church’s official name is Immaculate Conception). Miss Kate gives piano lessons, and Miss Mary Jane is an Academy-trained organist who plays in another church and also gives lessons. They live modestly, but like a good meal and Lily gets on with them quite well. Their annual party is always very successful and is attended by their family members, Julia’s friends from the choir, and some of the older pupils of Kate and Mary Jane.

The elderly ladies are worried about Gabriel, who is late, and about somebody named Freddy, who is likely to come tipsy and they don’t want Mary Jane’s pupils to see him. Gabriel Conroy finally arrives with his wife, giving the usual excuse “my wife takes three hours to get dressed”. He calls Kate “aunt”, so they must be related. Lily leads him to the pantry, they talk a bit about snow tonight and Gabriel, who remembers her when she was still a child, asks her whether she is still at school. When Lily answers that she’s done with school, Gabriel asks her teasingly whether they are likely to see her getting married soon, but Lily gives him an answer indicating she may have had some recent disappointment. Gabriel reddens and turns his attention to his shoes. He is a stout young man, wearing glasses, with his hair carefully parted in the middle.