James Joyce, ‘A Painful Case’.

Jan 2010
1,316
And now I've actually read this (excellent) thread I might try and contribute albeit that I haven't read this story for a frighteningly long 28 years. Superficially, the rejected woman's descent and death is the "painful case" but its clear that Duffy's story is even more painful because he's so frightened of emotional interaction that he has retired from the world and renounced life to retain control over a hollow decorum. He's effectively committed a kind of emotional suicide while still being alive to endure it.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
Thanks for the kind words Avon, Pedro and Rosi. :)

To have such illustrious contributors showering me with praise for such a humble effort set a silly grin on my face for at least a week. :D

The Joyce industry is very much an institution over here as you might expect; Portrait of the Artist is a regular feature on the Leaving Cert curriculum but Ulysses is probably the most widely unread national epic in history which is such a shame because despite its difficulty it contains the most authentic rendering of the Dublin brogue ever put into print. Its gratifying to learn that much of the slang and street expressions in circulation today; "crawthumper" "spondoolicks" "a drop of the craythur" were doing the rounds back when my grandfather was growing up in Dublin. Really, Ulysses its just an extended homage to ordinary Dublin folks; their wit, their cruelty, their poverty, their brutality, their illusions - all shone upon by a plethora of unidentified narrative voices who are by turns malevolent, empathic, knowing (and unknowing) or cold, detached and scientific.

Whereas the tales in Dubliners and the Portrait hinge upon the epiphany - "where the whatness of a thing leaps out from the vestment of its appearance" (witness Duffy's horrible epiphany of his own isolation and Stephen's 'baptism' on Dollymount Strand) it is difficult to see the same device been deployed in Ulysses; the artist is indiscernible above and beyond his handiwork - "indifferent, like the God of the universe paring his nails". Which is one of the difficulties in ascribing to Joyce sentiments he may have towards the Irish language because the lengthiest treatment of 'nationalism' in Ulyssses comes in the Cyclopes episode where the Citizen is extensively parodied by a sneering disembodied narrative voice who simply cannot be identified with the author - the sympathetic, all-knowing and omnipresent narrator of 19th century realist fiction. The capable guide that sits at your shoulders while you are reading Dickens, Elliot or Tolstoy and affects to have access to an all encompassing internally consistent moral universe is simply absent in the "modernist" Ulysses.

In realist fiction you are obliged as an "impassified" reader to follow the channels laid down by the author; there is an "authoritative" voice which guides you through the thoughts and feelings of the characters and which may pass extensive comment on each episode. Generally it is held that realist fiction - which is the vast majority of novels - best works when this voice is omniscient, or nearly so. Which is why Mark Twain I suppose had such a difficulty with Fennimore Cooper's narrative voice - the acknowledged compact between reader and author of being in assured hands was rattled by what he saw as Coopers basic incompetence and lack of knowledge of genuine Indian hunting and tracking techniques. Thus the illusion of the omniscient narrator was shattered.

There are different genres of course; realist fiction isn't all about the singular, authoritative voice - Laclos in Les Liasons Dangerouse and Bram Stoker in Dracula used the clever device of letters exchanged by the protagonists to inform us of the action thus dispensing with the need for a judgemental overseer. I see in Dubliners though, a paucity of narrative oversight; simple threadbare introductions are made which set the scene but as the action progresses in each short story we are often left wondering how we should react. How did the author intend this story to be received? The clues are very minimal and there is no overt denunciation or moralising by Joyce outside of the plain statement of the facts and conditions of a person's millieu. We are meant to piece it together ourselves; what was the significance of the nervous altar boy and the broken chalice in the 'Two Sisters'? Why isn't there any overt moral censure of the 'Two Gallants'? Why was Chandler like a 'Little Cloud'? Should 'Eveline' have emigrated with Frank? What was it precisely about the article 'A Painful Case' that triggered such a despairing response in Duffy?

We cannot know, we can only surmise, because the author has stripped us of those reassuring certainties which are the hallmark of the conventional realist narrative. Having allowed the artifice of the third person narrative slide into the background; having invisibilised the 'voice of authority' in Dubliners, Joyce proceeds to have us marshalled in Ulysses by a panoply of 'authorial' claimants as though the unruly Greek pantheon had descended and usurped the functions of a defunct one-dimensional monotheism. The notion of 'a God' implies a singular ideal perspective from which fragments of 'the truth' may be refracted and alighted upon by discerning mortals and the singular ''good shepherd" narrator of realist fiction is the 'shadow' which traditionally performed the function of this deity.

In Dubliners, Joyce doesn't want his readers to behave as a dutiful flock obeying instructions from the omniscient eye; he teases them away from this reliance and in Ulyssses he shows why by revealing the unmerciful reality of a world without steady rapports but one nonetheless where there is an unparalleled freedom. A necessary preparation I would have thought for combating the characteristic afflictions of the age; be it imperialist nationalism or the rise of fascism. Like much of the literature and the arts of the pre-war period Joyce's stylistic experiments implied a violent shifting away from inherited assumptions, a definitive break from established world-views typically encapsulated in unquestioning loyalty to crown, church and country. The early Modernist period (1890 -1914) in fact has fascinating examples of stylistic innovations across the spectrum of arts - in poetry, music, painting and drama all challenging a conventional unipolar viewpoint and urging instead an appreciation of the 'real' multi-perspectived world.

Thank you, Gile. Another delightful post and not a jot could be found to disagree with! :)
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
And now I've actually read this (excellent) thread I might try and contribute albeit that I haven't read this story for a frighteningly long 28 years. Superficially, the rejected woman's descent and death is the "painful case" but its clear that Duffy's story is even more painful because he's so frightened of emotional interaction that he has retired from the world and renounced life to retain control over a hollow decorum. He's effectively committed a kind of emotional suicide while still being alive to endure it.
But yet, he makes a leap of faith that Mrs Sinico's death was due to her involvement with him. She suffers and dies, but he focuses what emotion he has upon his own self.
 
Jan 2010
1,316
Yes so everything is actually about him such that his non-event with Mrs Sinico and his reponse to her death are a mirror to his sterile egocentricism. He is the "painful case" and in a broader sense one can summise Joyce was using Duffy as a vehicle to comment on post-Victorian social conservatism and the extremes it drove people to out of fear of disgrace and rejection.