James Joyce, ‘A Painful Case’.

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#1


He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived his spiritual life without any communion with others, visiting his relatives at Christmas and escorting them to the cemetery when they died. He performed these two social duties for old dignity's sake but conceded nothing further to the conventions which regulate the civic life. He allowed himself to think that in certain circumstances he would rob his hank but, as these circumstances never arose, his life rolled out evenly -- an adventureless tale.

James Joyce, ‘A Painful Case’ from The Dubliners, 1914.

Sunday, 26 September, 2010.

Text available at:http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/964/
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#2
Dubliners by James Joyce.

Dubliners is the most accessible, easily digested, and widely read of Joyce’s works. This evocative novel – and it is a novel – was not the result of a career, but the launching of a career and it is a technical and imaginative melting pot where Joyce first learned how to craft a story, control a plot, carry a theme, and develop realistic characters. The double-edged city of Dublin was the setting for nearly all of his works and he desired to make it the literary capital of the new century. Writing to Grant Richards (15 Oct. 1905):
I do not think that any writer has yet presented Dublin to the world. It has been a capital of Europe for thousands of years, it is supposed to be the second city of the British Empire and it is nearly three times as big as Venice. Moreover . . . the expression ‘‘Dubliner’’ seems to me to have some meaning and I doubt whether the same can be said for such words as ‘‘Londoner’’ and ‘‘Parisian’’ both of which have been used by writers as titles.
[Source]​

Dubliners was composed in the years prior to 1905 and Ireland did not become an independent nation until 1922 after the Anglo-Irish War, so Joyce’s works were composed at a time when his nation remained a colony of the British Empire, and whilst the Roman Catholic Church still had a significant influence upon the religious, social, and political spheres. James Joyce held those two forces responsible for Dublin’s apparent backwardness and political inferiority. After centuries of foreign invasion, Joyce believed that the Irish people had learned to subjugate themselves. It was precisely this self-subjugation, this self-oppression, that frustrated Joyce most, and he believed that his writing could in some modest way change the way the Irish saw themselves. The author was a potential nationalist, had some sympathy for the abstentionist politics of Sinn Féin, and would’ve happily identified himself as an Irish Nationalist if it ‘did not insist on the Irish language.’ He also believed that before any positive political or religious revolution could occur, the Irish people had to indulge themselves in some sobering self-reflection. This perhaps goes some way to explaining why the novel clearly focuses on those persons of the lower-middle-class. It is replete with them and altogether ignores the more upper-class Dubliners. We find alcoholics and the social inept, perverts and tricksters and scammers, and the self-destructive. All seem to be ensnared, unable to breakout from their Dantesque underworld.


‘There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke’. So begins the opening chapter of Dubliners the allusion to Dante’s Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate (‘Abandon every hope, who enter here’) from Canto III of Inferno

But there was no accident in this. Every word, every turn of phrase, every characterization was fitting to its place; a means to an end. Joyce explained:
‘I have written it [Dubliners] for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard. I cannot do more than this. I cannot alter what I have written’.
[Source]​
And so every individual, but essentially constituent tale adds to the overarching effect. And if every phrase is correct and in its place, then so to (we might suggest) is every omission correctly placed (if you get my drift!). Every tale in Dubliners has an ambiguity that makes it complex. It’s as if Joyce is simply not telling us something important about each of our characters and so it is difficult for us to figure out exactly what is happening. But we might well ask whether or not we are supposed to understand. To what extent are we supposed to be capable of seeing the full picture? Joyce handicaps us; we are sentences to the same degree of paralysis that his characters all share. All are paralyzed; none are free. ‘Paralysis’ is not merely related physical movement, but, in this case, more so related to the spiritual, social, cultural and political spheres. The end result is a warning against Ireland’s historical lassitude.

Returning, if I may, to that all important opening statement: ‘There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke’. One can but wonder at Joyce’s use of ‘the third stroke’. Are we talking time (as in clocks chiming)? Is the ‘passage of time’ an issue that we need to refer to? After all, ‘time’ and ‘paralyses’ are related. To some extent, paralysis might be where one is defeated by ‘time’; where ‘time’ lives in the ascendant. But then, ‘the third stroke’ might equally refer to illness – a cerebrovascular event – often leading to the onset of paralysis. A ‘third stroke’ might be a killer. Either interpretation is left hanging in the air for Joyce continues:
‘Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being’.​
These three words are clearly outwith the parameters of a single, 10-page, chapter. ‘Paralysis’ is something that we’ve already touched upon whilst a gnomon might refer to mathematics, geometry – and the inclusion of Euclid would certainly help travel that particular road – but it might equally refer to the stylus on a sundial that measures time by means of shadow. Technically, ‘simony’ is the selling of material goods for spiritual benefit. But the term carries clear connotations that imply the debasement of both spirituality and organised religion. It might also refer to the degradation of one’s intellect. In Dubliners, simony is a pervasive motif. For example, in ‘Araby’, the boy confuses romance with business (and the girl is expensive: ‘I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity’), other victims of simony would be Mr. Doran (‘The Boarding-House’), Corley (‘Two Gallants’) and Mrs. Kearney (‘A Mother’) who ruins her daughter’s prodigious career by trying to sell her talent. But ‘paralysis’ is an even more prominent motif. We open with the paralysis of the priest, we see Eveline Hill (‘Eveline’) so terribly fearful of leaving home, Little Chandler (‘A Little Cloud’) by his perceived responsibilities, Farrington (‘Counterparts’) is a ‘victim’ of alcoholism and trapped by his illness, and Mr. Tierney’s crew ( ‘Ivy Day’) by a ‘blind’ nostalgia for by-gone days. And then we have Mr. James Duffy.

HOWEVER . . . before turning our attention to Mr. Duffy: we need to be aware of one other theme: epiclesis. Joyce wrote Constantine Curran, in July 1904:
‘I am writing a series of epicleti – ten – for a paper. . . . I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city.’[Source]​
The term epicleti is derived from the Greek Orthodox liturgy referring to the moment in the sacrifice of the Mass when the bread and the wine are transformed by the Holy Ghost into the body and blood of Christ. The mundane realities (bread, wine) are thus altered and legitimated as spiritually significant. If at all, how does this apply to Mr. Duffy?

If I may confess: reading this particular extract from Dubliners was my choice. I have, since first reading this novel some years ago, been strangely intrigued by the situation of Duffy and his ‘shock’ upon reading the ‘painful case’. What can we make of this man?
 

galteeman

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
2,198
Sodom and Begorrah
#3
From the little we have to go on its hard to imagine someone like Duffy actually existing in the real world. A good looking woman is offering herself to him and he turns his back on her. Is he crazy? He could at least have her for the night and dump her the following morning! :)
But seriously
“every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow”
“We cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own.”
I wonder what age Joyce was when he wrote this, do you know avon? I'd guess he was young enough to write stuff like that.

“Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse. “
What’ that all about? Its hard to get your head around that sentence.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#4
From the little we have to go on its hard to imagine someone like Duffy actually existing in the real world. A good looking woman is offering herself to him and he turns his back on her. Is he crazy? He could at least have her for the night and dump her the following morning! :)
Paralysed by his own worldview? his own inhibitions? his own social perceptions?

But seriously
“every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow”
“We cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own.”
I wonder what age Joyce was when he wrote this, do you know avon? I'd guess he was young enough to write stuff like that.
Well, Joyce was born in 1882 and 'A Painful Case' written sometime in late 1905 (he wrote his brother in September asking for specific details that were related to the story) . . . so, Joyce was 23 years old. That's young enough, eh?

“Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse. “
What’ that all about? Its hard to get your head around that sentence.
I would read that as the unbreakable boundaries, those cultural and (possibly) religious boundaries that prevent Duffy ever being close to another human being. Life is black and white, clean and tidy, ruled by order and habitual routine. My thoughts are that Duffy is paralysed by his inability to navigate those delightfully colourful 'grey areas' that fill the lives of most people.


------------------

How you doing, buddy? You've been missed around here. :)
 

galteeman

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
2,198
Sodom and Begorrah
#5
I don't think he seems paralysed like Prufrock the patient etherized on the table. He seems to be in control and making the choice not to proceed based on his own analysis rather than out of fear. Incidentally didn't Elliot express great admiration for Joyce?
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#6
I don't think he seems paralysed like Prufrock the patient etherized on the table. He seems to be in control and making the choice not to proceed based on his own analysis rather than out of fear. Incidentally didn't Elliot express great admiration for Joyce?

This is where we get to differ in our interpretations. ;)

The moment where Mrs. Sinico takes Duffy’s hand and presses it to her cheek: the way I’m reading Duffy's words and gestures and Mrs. Sinico’s interpretation of them suggests that Mrs. S had read him correctly. ‘Her companionship was like a warm soil about an exotic. . . . The union exalted him.’ But then his cold, instantaneous withdrawal is therefore as shocking to us as to her. We, as well as her, are led on. His adultery should have been a done deal – instead we get frigidity that catapults both us, the reader, and Mrs. S into feeling frustrated. Duffy’s actions thereafter also suggest – to me – that he was unable to go forward with the adultery. His reaction displays a frustration of its own by his blaming punishing her and castigating her as guilty of vulgar behaviour. He justifies himself by returning to his typical straight-laced, self-righteousness that we expect of him. To me, he was unable to act any differently.
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#7
I don't think he seems paralysed like Prufrock the patient etherized on the table. He seems to be in control and making the choice not to proceed based on his own analysis rather than out of fear.
It most definitely is fear, typically masquerading as cold rationality, the alleged voice of reason. Duffy seems to me a creature of habit who is afraid of letting his life run into unknown patterns. This is a typical case of someone's comfort zone becoming their coffin. I do not find much trouble in accepting that he did not take advantage of the woman who apparently enjoyed his company, though it might sound unusual to some. He was also unwilling to take the bond to the next level, fearful that it might become yet another "bond of sorrow". To me it looks as if his view of human relationships and life in general was created and zealously guarded with a view to avoid disappointments that inevitably follow whenever you allow yourself to become vulnerable and which he is clearly not very well equipped to handle. So he lives in a self-created prison because he is fearful of the free and the unknown and finds immense comfort in his routine and set ideas, never venturing too far from the known. The apparent balance in his life seems to me an indication of a deeply imbalanced mind, a philosophy based on denial and perverse logic that believes stifling inner voices is the way to maintain calm and the mirage of order, sweeping all objections under the carpet of "rationality". He probably died that way.

"Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse."
What’ that all about? Its hard to get your head around that sentence.
I don't, of course, buy the bit about love between man and man being impossible, but I definitely believe that a man and a woman cannot remain just friends, very good ones that is, especially if there isn't much of an age gap. There could be exceptions but those would only be exceptions. I speak from personal experience here :). Each time I have foolishly believed a guy to be just a good friend of mine, I've been invariably proven wrong. :rolleyes:
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#8
Excellent introduction, Avon. :)

If I may confess: reading this particular extract from Dubliners was my choice. I have, since first reading this novel some years ago, been strangely intrigued by the situation of Duffy and his ‘shock’ upon reading the ‘painful case’.
If I may ask: what do you think makes this story a "painful case" and what exactly intrigued you about Duffy?
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#9
Excellent introduction, Avon. :)
Thank you. :)


If I may ask: what do you think makes this story a "painful case" and what exactly intrigued you about Duffy?
One of the most attractive aspects of this story is the fact that it is about an incident of refusal of intimacy but begins by supplying the reader with a whole array of intimate details about Duffy. In fact, I would be tempted to offer that such intimacy – delivered in the detached manner such that it is – leads us to believe that we are to be witness to further intimacy. The reader is lead to expect that the climax of this tale will be a sexual act. (Within the context of the rest of the book, we might see this suggested act as something of a sexual epithany – one of the epicleti that Joyce reported himself to have written.) The sequence of events that leads us to the point where Mrs. Sinico touches Duffy’s hand to her face beckons the reader into Duffy’s room, his bookshelf, his desk, his journal, his temperament, his mental habits, his daily routine, and his tastes. We inspect his face with care in much the same manner as a character might be allowed to. We are told that his
‘cheekbones also gave his face a harsh character; but there was no harshness in the eyes which, looking at the world from under their tawny eyebrows, gave the impression of a man ever alert to greet a redeeming instinct in others but often disappointed.’​
The reader is forced to become a voyeur within an intensely private world.

Nothing in this voyeuristic opening section prepares us for the anti-climax of Duffy’s rejection of Mrs. Sinico Duffy is presented to us as a man who ‘had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived his spiritual life without any communion with others ...’ until he meets this woman who almost assaults him by beginning a conversation with him. This is where the tale changes direction. Where Duffy had been self-possessed, we now find the narrator ignoring the conversation that takes place between them at their first meeting and revealing Duffy’s examination of her face and body. This self-styled, post-Nietzschean-cum-Romantic man goes from her faintly defiant eye to ‘her astrakhan jacket, moulding a bosom of a certain fulness, struck the note of defiance more definitely’. When they two meet again, some weeks later, Duffy seizes his moment ‘to become intimate’.

What does ‘to become intimate’ mean? On the one hand, Duffy doesn’t think in terms of sex, IMO; on the other, Mrs S sees a potentially adulterous relationship. Why else does she arrange to meet him privately; why else does she paint her husband as unsympathetic (having ‘dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures’). Joyce, too, may be alluding to an unconventional tryst by setting the tale in Chapelizod, the putative chapel of Tristan und Isolde. Chapelizod is the anglicized version of the Irish name of Séipéal Iosóid, which translates as ‘Iseult's Chapel’ (Iseult being Isolde of the medieval romance). The tale of Tristan und Isolde is set within a love triangle between Tristan and his aunt and uncle. We can draw at least some parallel here with Duffy and Captain and Mrs Sinico given that the former was considered by the Capt. as a suitor for his daughter. Given this to be the case, we might see the pseudo-incestuous parallel with the Tristan legend.

This is clearly a romantic journey. ‘Neither he nor she had had any such adventure before’ more than hints at adultery. As the relationship grows and develops greater intimacy, we are treated to all forms of sexual language. ‘[T]heir thoughts entangled, they spoke of subjects less remote’ is the obvious imagery of embracing limbs.

So this, for me, is what makes Duffy a most intriguing character: why does he go to the edge but not take the plunge? How can he so vehemently refuse what would not ordinarily need be offered twice?

Additionally, Duffy is a pretentious man. His guilt is pretentious and self-focussed. For example, he reads of Mrs Sinico’s death in the paper after ‘four years passed’. Yet the printed account, which was the source of ‘shock’, quotes Capt. Sinico as saying that his wife’s intemperance dated from ‘about two years’ previously. Duffy ignores this passage of time and assumes that Mrs. Sinico’s life had not moved on since they had last met. He fails to acknowledge the possibility that she had met someone else, or had been afflicted or affected by something else. His self-incrimination and ‘guilt’ is absurd enough to easily recognisable as pretentious.
 
May 2008
4,466
Fireland
#10
It was precisely this self-subjugation, this self-oppression, that frustrated Joyce most, and he believed that his writing could in some modest way change the way the Irish saw themselves. The author was a potential nationalist, had some sympathy for the abstentionist politics of Sinn Féin, and would’ve happily identified himself as an Irish Nationalist if it ‘did not insist on the Irish language.’
It's an interesting question here about Joyce's relationship to the Gaelic Revival; it may be supposed as a linguist and evident reveller in and appreciator of the varied powers of language that Joyce would be naturally sympathetic to the calls for a revitalisation of the Gaelic language, understanding perhaps more than most how crucial language is in helping to form identities and mould a people's peculiar outlook through its idioms and so on. In fact, you'd have to wonder whether there's ever been a writer more self-conscious, in his art, of the effects on his readers of each particular nuance that a chosen word may convey. It was one of the preoccupations of Daedalus in the 'Portrait' where at one point he found himself walking 'among heaps of dead language'. So many words and phrases had become stale and meaningless, grown rotten through age and usage; the image of the effaced tessara is deployed where commerce has worn down the bust of Caesar. There's even a lengthy segment in Stephen Hero where Daedalus ponders, whilst reading Skeat's 'Etymology', how many today are aware of the original meanings of the words they habitually use. This etymological ignorance represented yet another aspect of the generalised decay which he saw all around him and I suppose it's among the first things to note about the Wake where there is an attempt to highlight the provenance of language; by taking it asunder, reconnecting it and forcing readers to reflect on its fragmented origins. The question then is that given his awareness of the importance of the semiotic roots of language why does the notion abound that Joyce was hostile to organisations such as the Gaelic League who were attempting to promote it? First of all, we have the surviving sections of Stephen Hero were Daedelus argues with McCann, his nationalist university 'friend', (insofar as the irritatingly super aloof Stephen can be said to have any friends) against the notion that the revitalisation of Gaelic should be an imperative of the nationalist cause. He goes to the Gaelic League Irish classes but this is only a pretence to get into the knickers of Emma Cleary, refuses to pay their sub and manages to get in a few jabs at its founder, Michael Cusack, who returns in Ulysses as 'the Citizen' - depicted as an almost troglodytic hard-core nationalist who attempts to bounce a cash register off Bloom's head for his impudence in declaring himself (a Jew) a member of the Irish nation.

Of course there were so many changes in the later revised version of Stephen Hero (which became 'A Portrait') - and one of them was the curious omission of the earlier scathing remarks on the folly of the nationalists in pressing for Irish language reform. Instead, we are given Stephen's famous reflection on the curious state of linguistic dispossession that marks the Irish experience;

"The little word seemed to have turned a rapier point of his sensitiveness against this courteous and vigilant foe. He felt with a smart of dejection that the man to whom he was speaking was a countryman of Ben Jonson. He thought: The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language."

This is a really shocking about turn, clearly at odds with the negative sentiments Joyce allowed the earlier (younger) Stephen to express. What was the reason for this? I think it's simply to do with maturity on Joyce's part and the realisation that the direction of his art, which is increasingly becoming concerned with narrative and the conventions of language - (the outline of Ulysses is already being formed in his mind by 1907) - cannot allow any longer this discrepancy between his hero, Stephen, blithely castigating the Gaelic Leaguers for their 'weakness' in feting the importance of the retention of a native language whilst he himself is about to deploy in Ulysses a complex narrative strategy which requires a readership sophisticated enough to recognise these multiple shifts in language registers. If language and narrative are themselves going to become the focus of his art then he can't very well be seen quashing a movement which is attempting to increase the range and depth of available linguistic/conceptual territory. It's the fusion of tongues, of 'language games' and 'speech registers', the collapse, mergence and ultimately the destruction of formerly dominant metanarratives (religion, family, colonialism, narrowly conceived nationalism) which characterises the exuberance of the Wake and amount to Joyce's own brand of 'nationalist' reclamation - it's no accident that 'After the Race' is the only upbeat tale in Dubliners where French, American, English, Italian and Irishman all merge to drink and carouse without inhibition.

This is Joyce's conception of freedom and the perennial death's claw that hangs over the 'Dubliners' is the ubiquitous stultifying morality of the Church. It touches every character in one way or another, even Duffy, who only attends its rituals out of a sense of duty but his 'intimacy difficulties' ultimately spring from the dogmas stitched into him as a child. 'Narrative' also implies worldview and 'structures of feeling' which Joyce readily deconstructs if only to offer a disjointed assemblage from which a new world can be glimpsed. His difficulty (as a mature thinker) with nationalism and the revival movement is that neither displays any conception of the depths of change required; in that sense, considering the lengths he went to excavate the subterranean bowels of the Irish psyche he may rightly claim to be more nationalist than the nationalists themselves; if only they knew it.

Only in literature, he said, can the consciousness of a people be glimpsed.
 

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