James Joyce: Notes - Textual History [4/4 - “The Dead”]

Files 1-4 Files 5-7 File 8 File 9
Textual History Literary Figures Joyce’s People Sundry Remarks


Notes on the Works (by Texts)

Epiphanies [1902]
“Day of the Rabblement” (1901)
“Portrait” Essay (1904)
“The Holy Office” (1905)
Stephen Hero (1907 [pub. 1944])
Chamber Music (1907)
Gas from a Burner (1912)
Dubliners (1914)
A Portrait [...] (1916)
Giacomo Joyce (1968)
Exiles (1919)
Ulysses (1922)
Finnegans Wake (1939)
Critical Writings (1959)
Joyce Papers (NLI)
Notes on various stories in Dubliners and the chapters of Ulysses are here filed under the title-headings of those works respectively - with occasionally links to particular items at other locations such as Joyce Quotations and further afield in connection with other authors treated on this website. Further notes on “The Dead” occupy two additional files (File 4 & File 5).

Some Commentaries on The Dead” [on this page]
Colm Tóibín Keith Oatley Bonnie Roos
Frank Shovlin Kevin Whelan Warren Beck
Thomas C. Hofheinz Margaret Kelleher Terry Eagleton
Bruce Stewart & Joseph O’Leary

A new Dubliners ...

A collection of new stories by leading Irish writers entitled Dubliners was published by Sarah Davis-Goff of Tramp Press in May 2014 to mark the centenary of Joyce’s book of the same title. Contributors include Patrick McCabe (“The Sisters”) and Peter Murphy (“The Dead”) as well as Donal Ryan, John Boyne, Eimear McBride, Paul Murray and others.

[ For information on The Cat and the Devil/The Cat of Beaugency, see attached. ]

Go to ..
The Works of James Joyce: A Chronology of Composition & Publication
.. in this frame or separate window.

Notes on the Works (by titles)
“The Sisters”
“After the Race”
“The Two Gallants”
“The Boarding House”
“A Painful Case”
“Ivy Day in the Committee Room”
“A Mother”
“The Dead” ...
[Notes on the Dubliners stories occupy a separate file [i.e., this file]
“Scylla & Charybdis”
“Oxen of the Sun”
Finnegans Wake
1st Draft of FW [1923]
FW - “The Hen” [first draft]
The Tunc page of FW
Latin me that! ... (FW)
Scribbledehobble (1961)
Sigla of Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake Notebooks
[ See alsoChronology of Works” - as attached ]

Joyce Papers 2000 Joyce Papers 2002 Joyce Papers 2005

James Joyce’s Notebooks 1904-07

John Kidd, ‘The Scandal of Ulysses’ - in NYRB (30 June 1988)

[ top ]

“The Dead” - Some Commentaries

The Dead” [in Dubliners, 1914] - conclusion.
15, Usher’s Island - setting of “The Dead” (comp. 1907; pub. 1914). [Images from BBC Online; 19 Nov. 2019.]

She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, [253] listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.
 Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing - Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console [254] her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
 The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.  Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
 A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, [255] upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. [End.]

"The Dead", in Dubliners (London: Jonathan Cape 1968) - see full-text copy as attached.

[ top ]

Colm Tóibín, Introd. to Dubliners (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012):
[Speaking of solitary lives in Dubliners]: ‘As he drew these men, offered them little comfort and tiny moments of possibility, Joyce was concerned not with some dark vision he had of mankind and our date in the world but rather with the individual self he named and made in all its particularity and privacy. The self’s deep preoccupations, the isolation of individual consciousnesss, which keeps so much concealed, were what he wished to dramatise. The self ready to feel fear or remorse contempt or disloyalty, bravery or timidity; the self in a cage of solitude or in the grip of grim lust; the self ready to notice everything except that there was no escape from the self, or indeed from the dilapidated city; these were his subjects.’ (Intro., p.viii.)
See further: A 2pp. extract at Canongate - online; The copy of “Araby” in Dubliners [Canon 9; 2012, pp.25-32] is also available online; both accessed 08.04.2021.

[ top ]

Kevin Whelan, ‘The Memories of “The Dead”’, in The Yale Journal of Criticism, 15:1 (Johns Hopkins UP 2002), pp.59-97:

STEPHEN: (Choking with fright, remorse and horror.) They said I killed you, mother. He offended your memory. Cancer did it, not I. Destiny.
 THE MOTHER: (A green rill of bile trickling from a side of her mouth.) You sang that song to me. Love ‘s bitter mystery.
 STEPHEN: (Eagerly.) Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.
 THE MOTHER: Who saved you the night you jumped into the train at Dalkey with Paddy Lee? Who had pity for you when you were sad among the strangers? Prayer is all powerful. Prayer for the suffering souls in the Ursuline manual, and forty days ‘ indulgence. Repent, Stephen.
 STEPHEN: The ghoul! Hyena!
 THE MOTHER: I pray for you in my other world. [...]  (With smouldering eyes.) Repent! O, the fire of hell!
 STEPHEN: (Panting.) The corpsechewer! Raw head and bloody bones!

Ulysses [1922] (Bodley Edn. 1960), p.682.

Joyce’s Maternal Lineage compared with the Morkans in “The Dead” (ills. Kevin Whelan)
[Double-click the genealogical chart to view it in a separate window.]

Source: Kevin Whelan, ‘The Memories of “The Dead”’, in The Yale Journal of Criticism[Johns Hopkins UP], 15:2 (2002), pp.59-97; p.76. Note that original plate has been re-configured to better suit the Ricorso framwork and that the order of the images has been reversed - i.e., placing the true-life maternal genealogy of Joyce‘s mother’s Flynn lineage before [above] the fictional Morkan one. Note also the error Murry for Murray in Whelan’s chart. See also Whelan's review of The Atlas of the Irish Famine (Irish Times, 1 Sept. 2012) - as attached. [BS]

See further extracts under Joyce > Commentary > Whelan - infra; particularly on Myles Joyce - infra. See also notes on May Joyce under Joyce’s People - infra. View full contents of The Yale Journal of Criticism [“The Dead” Special Issue] (2002) - in Ricorse Annual Bibliography > 2002 - infra.]

On Snow in “The Dead” - Whelan: ‘The snow here is not just an objective correlative of Gabriel’s psychic desolation. His comfortable middle-class journalistic world has disintegrated with his devastating realization that the passionate love of his wife Gretta was the young Galway man, Michael Furey, who had literally died for love of her. Gretta’s buried passion had been resurrected by the singing of “The Lass of Aughrim” - a folk song which summoned the deep, oral, Irish-language, Jacobite, Gaelic past of the west of Ireland. This song was a favourite of Nora Barnacle and her mother. On 26 August 1909 in a letter to Nora, Joyce tells her: “I was singing an hour ago your song ‘The Lass of Aughrim.’ The tears are in my eyes and my voice trembles with emotion when I sing that lovely air. It was worth coming to Ireland to have got it from your poor, kind mother.” (Letters, Vol. II, 1966, 242.) By contrast with the deep cultural history of the west, Gabriel occupies the shallow bourgeois present, typecast as a provincial journalist with the unionist Daily Express. He is a “West Briton,” a teacher of Romance languages at the Royal University. He lives life vicariously, at a distance from it: throughout “The Dead”, he observes things at second hand through his spectacles, as here where he is looking through a window, a recurrent metaphor for separation in this short story. He is routinely unnerved, ill at ease in his body, indicated by the nervous tic of constantly blushing. He occupies the shadows, as if he is not fully alive, as if his participation in life is at one remove, like “distant music.”’
 Joyce uses the falling snow to ease the scene from Dublin to the west of Ireland, ending in the desolate graveyard “where Michael Furey lay buried.” Joyce hinted to his brother Stanislaus that “The Dead” was a “ghost story”. Michael’s surname recalls the Furies, who in Greek mythology represent the spirit of the dead, notably the avenging souls of murdered men. Furey is associated with the snow, the chill, the cold which pervades everything [...]” (p.69.) (Whelan, op. cit. 2002, p.69; on ghost story, cites Stanislaus Joyce, Recollections of James Joyce, NY: James Joyce Soc. 1950, p.20.)

[ See remarks on snow in George Moore considered as possible source, in Adam Parks, ‘Moore, Snow and “The Dead”’, in English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 42:3  (Greensboro 1999), pp.265-82 - infra. ]

On the maternal line (i.e., Flynns) [Kevin Whelan]: ‘[..I]t is no surprise that “The Dead” is set on Usher’s Island and concerns the desolate fall of the old houses of Usher into multiple occupancy, the gregarious, poverty-stricken slums of O’Casey’s plays. We are told on the first page of the story that the aunts live in a “dark, gaunt house” and soon after that they live above a corn-factor’s offices (see Figure 5).That this is a step down in the world is hinted at in the aunts’ plaintive memory of the time when their family had their own horse and trap. That all three Morkans are unmarried fits the demographic profile of post-Famine Ireland, and the palpable sense that this is a terminal family. Usher’s Island is a setting which reinforces the social liminality of the Morkan sisters, the sense of a cultural world which is out-of-kilter with the present, and which is close to termination. Thus for the Morkans to move there from Stoneybatter was not a step up the social ladder. Writing in 1892, the Catholic historian William James Fitzpatrick describes Usher’s Island as “the fashionable R. C. district of the old city now fallen in status.” (Fitzpatrick, Secret Service Under Pitt, London: Longman, Green & Co., p.147.) By contrast with the downwardly mobile Morkans, the Conroys are on the rise. T. J. Conroy is an upwardly mobile, respectable Catholic in a “Protestant” job with the Ports and Docks board who lives in Monkstown, one of the exclusive “Protestant” suburbs to which the wealthy had fled after the Union, leaving the old city to tenementize and moulder. His domineering and socially conscious wife called her children the fashionable names Constantine and Gabriel: “It was she who had chosen the names for her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family life”. Contrast the old fashioned Morkan names of Ellen, Julia, Kate, Pat and Mary Jane. She steered her sons into the respectable middle-class occupations of priest and lecturer.85 She bitterly opposed Gabriel’s marriage to the “country-cute” Greta. Constantine is a Catholic priest stationed at Balbriggan on the railway line to the north of the city. Mary Jane’s pupils come from “the better-class families on the [78] Kingstown and Dalkey line”. She herself plays in the new church of Haddington Road, which bridges the Georgian city and the middle-class world of the coastal suburbs, while her aunt plays for Adam’s and Eve#’s, the infinitely less fashionable Franciscan chapel located in the city slums.’

Lass of Aughrim”: Whelan reprints “The Lass of Aughrim” in the version apparently known to Joyce through Nora and quotes Joyce’s letter to Nora about his tearful response to hearing it from her mother in Galway (op. cit., p.60; see supra. In a footnote he adds: ‘There are the barest of hints that the “country cute” Gretta had entrapped Gabriel via pregnancy.This would explain Gabriel’s snobbish mother ostentatious hostility to Gretta. She reprises the role of Lord Gregory’s mother in the song “The Lass of Aughrim” who callously turns away the pregnant girl. We should treat none of these effects as accidental in a writer of Joyce’s penetration. He himself believed that a genius makes no mistakes. A small example: count the number of “good nights” at the end of the party - an ominous thirteen.’ (n.98, p.97.)

mutinous Shannon waves: ‘The Shannon River geographically and symbolically separates the east from the west of Ireland. Joyce’s adjective “mutinous” recalls the last stand of the Jacobites in Limerick, the city on the Shannon. This Jacobite sub-text runs like a seam through the story.’

Bibl. Whelan, ‘The Memories of “The Dead”’, in The Yale Journal of Criticism, Johns Hopkins UP 2002, p.69; accessed 23.03.2021. See further extracts under Commentary - supra.


Joyce-Murray genealogy: Mary Jane (1859-1903) being Joyce’s mother, was a dg. of John Murray, agent for wines and spirits, orig. from Co. Longford, and his wife Margaret Theresa (née Flynn; 1832-1881). Murray lived at 7 Clanbrassil St. and was a vinter (as distinct from a publican). The phrase ‘Of Longford Wine Merchant’ given here suggest that Murray married a dg. of such a person instead of being such a person himself. Patrick Flynn [Jnr.] is in fact the father of Murray’s wife Teresa and hence the grandfather of Mary Jane on in the maternal life. [BS 27.03.2021.]

While this interpretation serves to reinforce the thesis that the dead who are being remembered in Joyce’s story of that name are the Famine dead and, more generally, the long-term victims of British colonialism in Ireland, whether dead or un-dead (i.e., paralysed, in Joyce’s special sense of incapable of individual existence), it better serves a personage whose absence from the story might well we called - after Stephen in A Portrait - ‘the highest form of presence’ - perhaps the best-known sentence framed by Joyce in the world of internet quotations - though certainly a misattribution. [see note - infra] This person is Joyce’s mother whom he treated so harshly on her death-bed.
    Kevin Whelan includes a brilliant illustration in his celebrated essay on “The Dead” comparing the fiction-characters in the story with the members of the writer ‘s family - Morkans and Joyces, the former being the fictional residents of the house at 15 Usher’s Island. His chief aim here is to drive home the point that Gabriel is standing in for Joyce and Gretta for Nora and all that we know about Joyce’s sympathetic journey to her family and environment in Galway and the West of Ireland can be taken as part of the emotional burden of the story, as well as grounds for a postcolonial and anti-imperialist interpretation.
 This may be true, but it is equally apparent from the diagram that Joyce’s mother “May” or Mary Jane (née Murray [not Murry - as here] shares a given name with the Morkan sisters’ neice Mary Jane in “The Dead”. Mary Jane, in the story, is the daughter of Patrick Morkan (the Younger) is the deceased brother of Kate, Julia and Gabriel Conroy’s mother Ellen, and the successor to his namesake father’s firm and estate. That Patrick shares a given name and surname with his father, the glue-maker patriarch of the Morkan family which enjoyed better days in his lifetime. (The biographical father of Mary Jane Joyce was a vinter from Co. Longford - in other words, a publican.)
   Now, Mary Jane Morkan is of the same generation as Gabriel and so her possession of the name of Joyce’s mother can only serve to emphasis the absence of the mother from the family union unless some thoughts of metempsychosis are at issue here. She is also, most likely, the god-daughter of Gabriel’s mother Ellen in the normal scheme of family names.
   If we seek an original for Ellen in the story in the Joyce family tree, we must go back to the writer’s paternal grandmother Ellen Joyce [née O’Connell]. This long-suffering lady, who watched her son indulge successively in Fenian associations and downright wastrel living, proved unforgiving towards John Stanislaus Joyce after he married Mary Jane (“May”) Murray, holding her to be beneath the family dignity (or ‘country cute ‘, in the phrase applied to Gretta by Gabriel’s mother Ellen in the story.
 Joyce’s mother not have been the equal of a member of the tribe of Dan but she had a point of merit in being a fellow-pupil with Katharine Tynan at Misses Flynn School, 15 Usher’s Island. The Flynn sisters were teachers of dancing, politeness and piano and patently the real models of the Morkans in the story - - and this appears to be the only Joycean connection with the house where “The Dead” is set.
   Whelan suggests that we can find in the story some hints that Gretta trapped Gabriel into marriage with a pregnancy thus reprising “The Lass of Aughrim” with a different, kinder, outcome. If this is so, she is less like Nora in relation to Joyce but rather more like Nora in relation to the latter’s history as a troublesome girl who as exported from Galway by her family (and a duteous priest) to work in a Dublin convent. It might follow that Gretta’s repeated allusions to Gabriel’s “kindness” are intended to embrace his charitable attitude towards her in not following the example of the nobleman in the ballad.
 Whelan also reminds us that ‘Joyce hinted to his brother that “The Dead” was ‘a ghost story’ [citing Stanislaus Joyce, Recollections, 1950, p.20; Whelan, op. cit., p.69.]. He goes on to say that ‘Michael’s surname recalls the Furies, who in Greek mythology represented the spirit of the dead, notably of avenging souls of murdered men’, noting further that ‘[t]he shade of Furey is borne on a cold blast’, and finally arguing that ‘[t]he snow can be seen as a metaphor for the cultural change in post-Famine Ireland - that stultifying pallor which the deadly combination of British imperialism and Roman Catholicism imposed in Irish life, reaching its nadir in Dublin, “the mask of capital” [sic but cf. orig. sentence in “The Dead” - viz., ‘That night the city wore the mask of a capital’ in “After the Race” [our itals.])
   But this begs the question, ‘Who are the ghosts of the last story in the Dubliners collection?’ If not the Famine dead - which is essentially a matter of critical conjecture fuelled by an ideological desire to find in Joyce’s story a response to the sense of communal grief experienced by the critic - who is it most likely to be in Joycean terms: that is, in terms of the sensibility of the writer himself? That is to say, by pure inwardness and the sensibility of the individual as such.
 Surely the answer must be the Joyce’s mother May Joyce with whom he has so much unfinished psychological and moral business? What was the unwritten story “Catharsis” going to be about?” In the period from January 1907 to September 1907 when we know, from the Letters, that the story was a-writing, Joyce was undergoing some of the most traumatic experiences of his life including his troubled sojourn in Rome where he shed the cult of personal heroism and the birth of his daughter Lucia while he himself was in the same public hospital suffering from rheumatic fever. It is said that he completed the story while recuperating from that attack - but also logically during the earliest days of his daughter’s life at home.
   Dubliners was complete and A Portrait (1916) remained to be finished, refashioning the autobiographical materials of Stephen Hero in a radical manner which seems almost to be the Ground-Zero point of literary modernism - speeded on by the newly-won admiration of Ezra Pound. After A Portrait, he would commence on Ulysses which had begun as a story for the Dubliners collection but had never ‘got forrader than the title’ and was replaced by “The Dead”. It is very likely that his conception of the story involving Mr Hunter (the model for Bloom) also involved Stephen Dedalus in the sequel to his mother’s death. Certainly, in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is haunted by that event.

STEPHEN: (Choking with fright, remorse and horror.) They said I killed you, mother. He offended your memory. Cancer did it, not I. Destiny.
 THE MOTHER: (A green rill of bile trickling from a side of her mouth.) You sang that song to me. Love ‘s bitter mystery.
 STEPHEN: (Eagerly.) Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.
 THE MOTHER: Who saved you the night you jumped into the train at Dalkey with Paddy Lee? Who had pity for you when you were sad among the strangers? Prayer is all powerful. Prayer for the suffering souls in the Ursuline manual, and forty days ‘ indulgence. Repent, Stephen.
 STEPHEN: The ghoul! Hyena!
 THE MOTHER: I pray for you in my other world. [...]  (With smouldering eyes.) Repent! O, the fire of hell!
 STEPHEN: (Panting.) The corpsechewer! Raw head and bloody bones!

Ulysses [1922] (Bodley Edn. 1960), p.682.

Is it possible that this disturbing presence, who is employed exclusively in Ulysses to import that conscious-striken terror of the young anti-clerical rebel (‘agenbite of inwit’) may not be present in “The Dead” too? If so, they the story is less about a reconciliation with nationalist Ireland and an act of literary commisseration with the Famine dead - though it may be that too, given the breadth of Joyce’s contemporary understanding - as an act of personal contrition and part of the process of liberating the self from the antagonistic experience of home, nation, and religion. [BS]

On ghosts in Ulysses [BS]: May Joyce appears to Stephen in the form of a ghostly hallucination - as Shakespeare also appears to Leopold Bloom in a mirror, triggered by a pang of jealousy about Blazes Boylan. Ghost or hallucination? Stephen himself is duly sceptical about real ghosts, having it in mind that the ghost of Hamlet Snr. is in fact an effect on the mind of his son occasioned by his untimely death (though the evidence of the night-watch is to the contrary). Stephen doesn't want to believe in ghosts though perhaps Joyce partly did at his age. This is how Stephen puts it in the Library scene of Ulysses, adopting the cleverest available attitude to the matter:

‘What is a ghost? [...] One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners’ (Ulysses, Bodley Head Edn. 1960, pp.239).

and a little later:

‘Is it possible that that player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence, and in the vesture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking his own words to his own son’s name.’ (Ulysses, 1960, p.241.)

Other notable absences in Ulysses include Stephen Dedalus and C. P. M’Coy both of whose presence at the funeral of Paddy Dignam is reported in the evening newspaper though in reality the journalist has misconstrued the information given him at the graveside in one case and been persuaded to convey a diplomatic untruth in the other (Ulysses, 1965, pp.751-52). In his Joyce’s Book of the Dark (Wisconsin 1986), John Bishop has written of the pervasive significance of the expression ‘Real Absence’ in Finnegans Wake (FW536.5-6; Bishop, op. cit., p.43, 48. [BS]

[ For remarks of Frank Shovlin on Whelan’s essay - see infra. ]

Boonie Roos, ‘James Joyce’s “The Dead” and Bret Harte’s Gabriel Conroy’: The Nature of the Feast’, in Yale Journal of Criticism, 15: 1 (2002), pp.99-126.)


Roos tackles Joyce’s response to the Famine trauma dealt with in the opening of the novel. Harte's novel of 1875 is based on the tragedy of Donner Pass when a party of immigrants were reduce to cannibalism. The characters include Gabriel Conroy, a kindly [womanly] man who takes care of the ‘pilgrms’ after the departure of their leader to seek rescue during the deep blizzard of snow. Apparently he is the natural support for all the ailing pilgrims and it is in his arms that most of them have died. (The party leader is dead.)

Apparent help is unlikely to arrive though returning, one adventurer says to console the others with a blatant untruth, ‘Tomorrow, it will come.’ Meanwhile they are reduced to desperation and finally to cannibalism - with much destruction of gender roles and ordinary civilities and their conditions deteriorate as the death toll rises. (The rest of the novel does not appear to be about the disaster, which Gabriel escapes, only to be separated with his wife and then reunited some years after.

Grabriel and his sister Grace Conroy are also separated when she leaves the camp with Phillip in the belief that there is no other chance of survival; but she then sprains her ankle and wants to return although he (Philip Ashley) knows that by the time she gets there they will all be dead. He is a name given to thinking of other's point of view in a conflict and in this case he tries to see himself in hers but her heart grows cold to him when she realises that he is thinking contrarywise to her.

Gabriel flees with Olley, a young girl (the sister of Grace who would have been an impediment if she had travelled with her) after he witnesses a scene of cannibalism in the camp -the unspoken horror of the whole story. Following Mary T. Reynolds (Joyce and Dante), Roos also links the story to the tale of Ugolini in Canto 33 of the Inferno who is guilt of eating his children [cannibalism] and embodies the idea of lack of care for them; he is eventually found in Hell with his death in the neck of he bishop who has been his chief enemy; Dante's scenario involves the Tower of Hunger, where debtors are left to die when the doors are locked; Bret Harte’s story has an illustration called ‘The Dead” -as below.

Roos relates all of these motifs to the condition of the gratefully oppressed (as in “After the Race”) who, in the person of Gabriel, show themselves unwilling to defend their fellow victims of imperialism in Ireland; the feast is of course a parody of the Famine but the precarious economic situation of the sisters and the apparent abuse of Lily on account of the dearth of men in economically-strapped post-Famine Ireland all represent crisis which he attempts to fob off with a gift of moment. Gretta, like Grace, is similarly treated as suffering from romantic illusions and Michael Furey is briefly compared - grace a Pecosi - with Parnell, who also died through exposure to cold.

The text of the novel is available at Gutenberg Project - online; accessed 23.04.201; Plate shown in Bonnie Roos, op. cit., 2002, p.123.

  [... T]he Ireland defended by people like Michael Furey, and Charles Stuart [sic] Parnell, is no longer a case of “goodies” and “baddies” for Gabriel. He tries to see the world as having potential for purity and goodness, simple black and white: ‘He watched sleepily the lakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight’ (236). And certainly, this last moment of nostalgia determines Gabriel to embrace an artificial search for roots, as he decides to undertake a journey to the mythic West of Ireland. But Gabriel’s disillusionment will eventually continue.This last paragraph, as has been noted, bears evidence of par- allels to the opening passages of Harte’s Gabriel Conroy. Like the once idealistic Philip Ashley chasing idealized dreams in America’s West, Gabriel will soon be trudging forward in the“Infernal” snow, destined to have his romantic ideals crushed. As he discovers that the West is not what he imagines, a more realistic understanding of the world around him will inform his future. He may even choose to abandon family, friends and country, and emigrate - to Europe, like Joyce, or America, like Philip Ashley - even if he will eventually return home. But until this burgeoning realism is unavoidable, Gabriel will remain with his ragged party, like the wearied Philip Ashley, long enough to tell the other emigrants that there is no sign of help, but that, if they wait and pray, it will arrive tomorrow, surely. Meanwhile, if they cannot express the truth by avoiding the Famine and its after-effects, the only option remaining for the undernourished Irish writers is the dearth of cultural artifacts left them is the cannibalism of other litera- tures; and especially in his use of Bret Harte’s opening paragraphs, Joyce makes himself complicit, alongside Gabriel, in this project.
 Joyce uses Bret Harte’s Gabriel Conroy, as well as Dante’s Inferno 33 to a lesser degree, as an allusive framework for “The Dead” to make visible the subtle indoctrination of the Irish by the effects of colonization and the Famine. He works to do so with a realist story that [122] critiques religious traditions and Irish Revival writing - exemplified by W. B. Yeats’s “Cathleen ni Houlihan,” an exploitation of Christian mythologies of self-sacrifice. Joyce tries to speak more openly, more honestly about this defining national tragedy; he sees this realism as es- sential to uniting the Irish and provoking action. In that Joyce creates direct, realist discourse of the Famine and its aftermath through allusions to Harte and Dante, Joyce does what other Irish writers fail to do. But neither is Joyce exempt from the trauma that silences his compatriots. He veils his discussion of the Famine and Ireland’s colonial history in these very same allusions. Particularly, he obscures his history in the allusion to Harte’s Gabriel Conroy that, as a less-canonical American text, was not the same literature likely to be read by Joyce ‘s ideal readers. After all, “Gabriel Conroy” is a perfectly unassuming Irish name. It is for this reason that it takes nearly 50 years after the writing of “The Dead” for the allusion to be published, and nearly another 50 for it to begin to be investigated. Moreover, there is little in the way one reads “The Dead” to suggest the severity of Joyce’s critique of Ireland and its part in colonialism. There is nothing overtly sinister in the dinner the party sits down to eat; and though he is pompous, Gabriel is compelling because his insecurities are worn on his sleeve and because he is a terribly unromanticized and fragile figure. Though Joyce believes himself to be touching more directly on these issues than other Irish writers, he also, probably unconsciously, masks the claims he makes. In this sense, he is as much a part of his historical context - deferring and evading the effects of the Famine in his writing - as any other Irish writer of his moment. Indeed, “The Dead” serves as testimony to how pervasive the traumatic effects of the Famine were, when even a writer of Joyce’s caliber, with conscious determination to articulate the unspeakable, remains unsuccessful in expressing the truth. [124; End.]
Bibl. incls.
  • Mary T. Reynolds, ‘Toward an Allegory of Art’, [chap.], in Joyce and Dante:The Shaping Imagination (Princeton: Princeton UP 1981) cp.181.
  • Gerhard Friedrich, ‘Bret Harte as a Source for James Joyce’s “The Dead,”’, in Philological Quarterly, 33.4 (1954), pp.447-48.
Bonnie Roos, The Joyce of Eating: Feast, Famine and the Humble Potato in Ulysses; or, Holy Moly!: Is that a potato in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?' [paper in Academia.org - available online. [Published as ‘The Joyce of eating: Feast, famine and the humble potato in Ulysses’, in George Cusack & S. Goss, eds., Hungry words: Images of Famine in the Irish Canon (Dublin: IAP 2006), pp.159-96.
  Reading notes [BS]:

Quotes: “[W]e really are all hungry and when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome” James Joyce, “The Dead,” 1909

As Christine Kinealy points out, one of the impediments of representing the Famine with historical accuracy was that
the more unpleasant truths about the Famine [had] to be confronted and not avoided. For example, the ships that left Ireland laden with food during the Fam-ine were doing so largely for the financial benefit of Irish merchants and traders. The large farmers who benefited from the availability and sale of cheap land to-ward the latter end of the Famine were also Irish and, sometimes, Catholic. ... Corruption, stealing, hoarding, and even cannibalism are part of the darker reality of the Famine years, and should not be forgotten in an attempt to make the Fam-ine a simplistic morality tale about the “goodies” (the Irish people en masse) and the “baddies” (the whole of the British people). (248, her italics; Roos, p.4)

Given such horror, as Terry Eagleton characterizes it, Irish writing “is marked by a hiatus between the experience it has to record, and the conventions available for articulating it. How are those conventions to take the measure of a dislocated, fantasy-ridden society in which truth is elusive and history itself reads like some penny dreadful?” (Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, Verso 1995, 224; Roos 4.

Eagleton suggests more precisely that “[t]here is indeed a literature of the Famine. [. . .] But it is in neither sense of the word a major literature. There is a handful of novels and a body of poems, but few truly distinguished works. Where is the Famine in the literature of the Revival?” he asks, “Where is it in Joyce?” (Eagleton, Heathcliff [...&c.], 13; Roos 5).

the students ask for a ‘ghoststory’. (Nestor) - viz.,

1] - Tell us a story, sir.
- Oh, do, sir, a ghoststory. [30]

2] He will have it that Hamlet is a ghoststory, John Eglinton said for Mr Best’s behoof. Like the fat boy in Pickwick he wants to make our flesh creep. [240]

3] BELLO: (Peremptorily.) Answer. Repugnant wretch! I insist on knowing. Tell me something to amuse me, smut or a bloody good-ghoststory or a line of poetry, quick, quick, quick! Where? How? What time? With how many? I give you just three seconds. One! Two! Thr ... ! (Circe)

Deasy: “I remember the famine. Do you know that the orange lodges agitated for repeal of the union twenty years before O’Connell did or before the prelates of your communion denounced him as a demagogue? You fenians forget some things” (31). Roos, p.15.

Woodham-Smith: “This theory, usually termed laissez faire, let people do as they think best, insisted that in the economic sphere individuals should be allowed to pursue their own in-terests and asserted that the Government should interfere as little as possible. [...] The influence of laissez faire on the treatment of Ireland during the famine is impossible to exaggerate. Almost without exception the high officials and politicians responsible for Ireland were fervent believers in non-interference by Government, and the behaviour of the British authorities only becomes explicable when their fanatical belief in private enterprise and their suspicions of any actions which might be considered Government intervention are borne in mind” (54). Roos 18.

Roos reads Deasy’s foot and mouth letter as a reprise of Dr David Moore’s in the lead up to the Famine. “I remember the famine. Do you know that the orange lodges agitated for repeal of the union twenty years before O’Connell did or before the prelates of your communion denounced him as a demagogue? You fenians forget some things” (31). Roos, p.15.

Quotes Andrew Gibson: “the phantasmagoric imagery in ‘Circe’ is not primarily an example of modern irrationalism (expressionist, surrealist). It is a literalization of the outlandish incongruities produced by and within a colonial culture” (Gibson, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics, and Aesthetics in Ulysses, OUP 2005, p.193; Roos, 22.)

Roos: Like Homer’s Odysseus, Joyce’s Bloom also possesses his moly and his masculinity, in the form of a potato he carries around in his pocket. Indeed, the very Irish Famine that Stephen seeks, in the form of this black, shriveled potato, Bloom’s key, and our key to the text, is right where a key should be. Perhaps needless to say, Bloom’s manhood is also well-placed. But Bloom does not recognize or admit his moly for what it is. (p.23.)

In tracing the role of the potato in this chapter, “Circe” thereby becomes an examination of the causes of the Famine, which - oddly enough - Joyce attributes not only to the English, but in part, to patriarchy. It is also an examination of the absence of Irish writing about the Famine, which Joyce also attributes to the rhetoric of patriarchy. (Roos, 23.)

If he were honest with himself, Bloom would recognize that his mother’s reason for carrying the potato has to do with her experience of the Famine. But, as we have seen in “Nestor,” though Bloom possesses the answer, he does not understand the problem. Instead, Bloom’s pocket, with its competing clean, idealizing “Godly” soap and dirty, rotten potato is nearly iden¬tical to his mother’s pockets with potato and Agnus Dei - another repetition of history - but with one important difference: Bloom associates the potato with a sentimental, idealized memory of his mother, rather than the Famine. Even when he carries a conspicuous, palpable sign of the Famine in his pocket on a daily basis, Bloom sanitizes this distasteful memory. So Bloom sees the potato as a good-luck charm from his mother, a moly in every sense of Homer’s use of the term, but fails to recognize how it actually opposes the Circean loss of memory. To (heroically) admit the true reason his mother kept the potato, he would hold the key to Ireland’s future, Ire¬land’s “panecea” in the very thing it wants to “Throwaway,” (or, as Molly advocates, “Nevertell” (U448; Roos. 27.)

Zoe: How’s the nuts?
Bloom: Off side. Curiously they are on the right. Heavier I suppose. One in a million my tailor, Mesias, says.
Zoe: (In sudden alarm.) You’ve a hard chancre.
Bloom: Not likely.
Zoe: I feel it. (Her hand slides into his left trouser pocket and brings out a hard black shrivelled potato. She regards it and Bloom with dumb moist lips.)
Bloom: A talisman. Heirloom.
Zoe: For Zoe? For keeps? For being so nice, eh? (She puts the potato greedily into a pocket, then links his arm, cuddling him with supple warmth. He smiles uneas¬ily. Slowly, note by note, oriental music is played. He gazes in the tawny crystal of her eyes, ringed with kohol. His smile softens.)
Zoe: You’ll know me the next time. (“Circe”, U476.)

Bloom: Sir Walter Raleigh brought from the new world that potato and that weed [tobacco], the one a killer of pestilence by absorption, the other a poisoner of the ear, eye, heart, memory, will, understanding. That is to say, he brought the poison a hundred years before another person whose name I forget brought the food. Suicide. Lies. All our habits. Why look at our public life! (U478.)

Daniel O’Connell, Woodham-Smith writes, despite his “lawyer’s respect for the law” and “horror of armed rebellion,” “gave up a brilliant career at the bar to devote his life to Ireland. Adopted by a Catholic uncle [....] a fluent speaker of the Irish language, with a magnificent voice and presence, a quick wit, a superb gift of invective, and a flamboyance his enemies called vulgarity, he was nicknamed ‘Swaggering Dan’. Self-government, not separation from England, was O’Connell’s aim; and he cherished a romantic admiration for Queen Victoria, ‘the darling little queen’” (Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. London: Penguin Books, 1991, p.16. Roos, 31.)

Stephen is wracked with guilt about women, especially his mother, who like him remained loyal to a Christian system that oppressed her. So internalized was her religion that when she might have told him of her love for him, Mary Dedalus could speak only of prayer in her final words with her son. Instead, she dies starving and voiceless:

“Circe”: (Stephen’s mother, emaciated, rises stark through the floor in leper grey with a wreath of faded orange blossoms and a torn bridal veil, her face worn and nose-less, green with grave mould. Her hair is scant and lank. She fixes her bluecircled hollow eyesockets on Stephen and opens her toothless mouth uttering a silent word. A choir of virgins and confessors sing voicelessly.) (U579)

Her “bluecircled hollow eyesockets” and “emaciated” appearance is not merely of one who is ill, but one who is hungry. (Roos, 44.)

Hsing-Chun Chou, ‘“Poor Mamma’s Panacea”: The Potato in Ulysses’ [Dept. of Foreign Languages& Literatures, National / Chung Hsing University, Taiwan. [q.d.]

Bloom’s connection with the potato, on the other hand, is not only intimate but inseparable: it is the potato which keeps him company in his wanderings on 16 June 1904. Ever since its introduction into Ireland and its adoption by the peasantry, in fact, the potato has been a companion in the peasant folks’ everyday life, synonymous with Ireland. As mentioned previously, the tuber has long played a vital part in nourishing the needy, who seized on the potato as a safeguard. Zuckerman has it that the potato saved the West, as the subtitle of his book How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World indicates. Zuckerman may have somewhat overstated the case, but the potato did rescue the Irish peasantry from food scarcity and starvation, as it helps Bloom - psychologically at least - overcome challenges and difficulties permeating the outer world: he touches the talisman, consciously or not, on the doorstep of his house for good luck (Joyce, 1986: 46). Undeniably, however, this savior and mascot also forsook and disappointed the Irish at a critical moment when their reliance on it reached the zenith, leaving them in hunger and death, as Bloom is exposed to humiliating hallucinations when his talisman is taken away by Zoe. Significantly, this talisman - a reminder of the Great Famine as well - was left to Bloom by his Irish mother [1]. Inheriting the potato/heirloom, Bloom is bequeathed with not only Famine memories, but, more importantly, Irishness, or Irish culture and tradition, as the potato has long been embedded in every aspect of Irish life. Despite Bloom’s position as an outsider in the Dublin community, the fact that he possesses an object representative of Ireland associates him with Irishness. Ulin rightly notes that the potato, like Bloom, is an outsider: “the potato came to Ireland from elsewhere; ... it [35] originated in another land but holds the power to nourish Ireland” (2011: 57). It may remain uncertain whether Bloom also holds the power to nourish Ireland, but his indivisible connection with the potato, which is identified with Ireland, is unquestionable.
 Bloom’s position as an outsider, admittedly, results from his Jewish lineage. Joyce did collect and consult Jewish-related materials when writing Ulysses. [2]. In spite of his frequent violation of Jewish rituals and teachings, Bloom has a smattering of knowledge of Jewish tradition - and he performs a Jewish ritual, though probably unconsciously and using an Irish symbol, before leaving home in the morning. The potato, as we have learned from its history, was essential to the survival of both the Irish and European Jews, although the latter’s dependence on it did not begin until the midnineteenth century. As mentioned earlier, the potato is a hardy and tenacious plant, growing rapidly and abundantly in poor soils and in every conceivable habitat; difficult circumstances and hostile environments do not frustrate its flourishing. This quality is similar to the character of Leopold Bloom, who, a wandering Jew, or an outsider like the potato, subsists in hostile Dublin community, where anti-Semitism, prejudice, and hatred abound. It is within such an unfavorable milieu that Bloom overcomes adversity, establishes roots, has his family, and participates in communal life. Joyce’s presentation of Bloom’s wanderings, as is generally recognized, echoes the motif of the wandering Jew. Alix Wall reports that during their diaspora, the Jews “ate what was available, as long as it was kosher”: they “have always incorporated native foods into their diets” and “followed local food trends wherever they lived” in order to survive (2015).
 Wandering Jews were, in a word, adaptable in terms of food choice. It is important to note that Joyce’s modern Odysseus is not the only wanderer in the novel: the shriveled potato keeps him company throughout most of his adventures that day, and acts as [36] another wanderer. In a subtle sense, the wanderings of the potato may suggest the spread of this all-important esculent: the spud traveled from its home in the high Andes to the rest of the world, as the Jews spread out from their homeland to the adopted homes. The potato, in this light, connects Bloom with his Jewish origin; the three are similar in their adaptability: the potato acclimates to adverse environments, the Jews incorporate local foods, and Bloom adapts to the hostile Dublin community. It is noteworthy that although Gifford and Seidman state that the potato symbolizes the continuity of life and serves as a central dish in the ritual meal after a funeral in Jewish tradition (1988: 71), there is no document to verify their statement: The potato is after all a relatively recent addition to the Jewish pantry; its absence from historical documents thus seems inevitable and predictable. Despite the potato’s absence from records of Jewish tradition, Gil Marks’s account of Jewish dietary behavior during the mourning may give some clues. According to the instructions in the Talmud, the first meal after the burial of a close relative should be provided by people other than the mourners. Therefore, it is customary for friends and neighbors of the bereaved to prepare a meal of consolation upon returning from the cemetery. A grieving person usually has no appetite, but she/he needs nourishment, which is supplied at the meal of consolation, a simple meal consisting of foods circular in shape, such as bagels or rolls, hard-boiled eggs, and lentils. The circular shape symbolizes the cycle of life and death, and the act of eating acknowledges that the person is alive (2010: 544-545). These dietary guidelines may support Gifford and Seidman’s statement: the potato is consumed in the ritual meal after a funeral because it is circular and easy to prepare, hence suitable for nourishing the bereaved who lose appetite but need nutrition to stay alive. In this respect, the potato indeed symbolizes the continuity of life since it sustains human lives. [...] (pp.35-57.)

  1. It is worthy of note that Ellen might have been a Famine survivor as Leopold was born in 1866.
  2. For Joyce’s construction of his Jewish protagonist and his association with the Jews, see Davison (1996); Nadel (1989).
  Note: A para break has been introduced before ‘Wandering Jews were .. adaptable’.
  —Available online; accessed 28.04.2021.

[ top ]

Frank Shovlin, Journey Westward: Joyce, Dubliners and the Literary Revival (Liverpool UP 2012)
See further under Commentary - as supra.

Note further: Shovlin discusses Kevin Whelan’s treatment of allusions to works of Moore (“Memory of the Dead”), Mangan (“Siberia”), J. S. Le Fanu (“All in the Dark”), Bret Harte (“Gabriel Conroy”), and George Moore (“Vain Fortune”) in “The Dead” - and writes: ‘Whelan sees the Joycean methodology in the “The Dead” as deliberate and effective, Ellmann as opportunistic and unsatisfactory. Whatever the effect, the allusiveness is there. What, then, was Joyce up to?’ (Ibid., p.152.)

[ top ]

Thomas C. Hofheinz, Joyce and the Inventions of Irish History: Finnegans Wake in Context (Cambridge UP 1995) - quotes from Joyce’s “Home Rule Comet”: ‘If [Ireland] is truly capable of reviving, let her awake, or let her cover up her head and lie down decently in her grave forever.’ (CW174) - and matches it with sentences from the final paragraph of “The Dead”: ‘His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.’ (D223.) He then remarks: ‘Gabriel’s vulnerablity to the Irish dead on his journey west is precisely what Stephen Dedalus attempts to avoid on his abortive journey East to the European continent. [...] Joyce’s insistence that Ireland either wake up or lie down in the grave forever is not so much a scornful dismissal of his country as it is a concise utterance of the question raised throughout his work with irony and compassion: the difference between a wake and an awakening, between locating oneself in the past and finding oneself in the present, depends upon an existential assessment of names and claims wound into oned6;s identity.’ (p.73; for longer extracts, see RICORSO Library, “Major Authors”, James Joyce, infra.)

Warren Beck [“The Dead” - without the Irish nationalism: ‘“The Dead” is not primarily about death but about a living person’s enlarging identification with the whole mortal life of man, a life which has some endurance as works and records, and may engender more of life through transitory remembrance of those who follow after, [t]hereby reminding them of mortality.’ ( Joyce’s Dubliners: Substance, Vision and Art, Duke UP 1969, p.354; quoted in Magda Tolentino, p.112.

[ top ]

Keith Oatley, Maja Djikic, Raymond Mar, ‘The Inwardness of James Joyce’s “The Dead”, in Readings: A Journal for Scholars and Readers, 2, 2 (Toronto Univ. 2016): ‘In 1846 Søren Kierkegaard wrote that inwardness is a special kind of truth, a truth of subjectivity that is not based on information, not based on explanation or persuasion, not based on being told what to do or think. It can only be communicated indirectly. One of the reasons “The Dead” is a great work of literature is because Joyce’s story was among the first to be based fully on inwardness, to communicate it indirectly, and to invite us to change how we feel and think about ourselves and others.’ (Here p.1.) The authors relate this to the ostranenie or ‘defamiliarisation” concept devised by Viktor Shlovksy who explored the ways in which artists make the ordinary strange, thus ‘freeing experience from the the deadening effects of habit to make it conscious.’ (here p.2; citing Shklovsky, ‘Art as Technique’ [1917], trans. L. T. Lemon & M. J. Reis, in Modern Criticism and Theory, ed., David Lodge, London: Longman 1988), pp.16-30. [Available online; accessed 28.03.2021.]

Keith Oatley, et al. (‘The Inwardness of James Joyce’s “The Dead”’, in Readings [... &c.], 2016) - cont.: The authors also quote Virginia Woolf’s remark: ‘In or about December, 1910, human character changed.’ (here p.4; from “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” [1924], in Woolf, Collected Essays, Vol. 1, London: Chatto & Windus 1966), pp.319-37; p.320.) Marcel Proust: ‘A real human being, however profoundly we sympathize with him, is perceived largely by our senses. This means that he remains opaque to us, and offers a dead weight that our perceptions cannot lift. If a misfortune should strike him, it is only in a small part of the total understanding we have of him that we can be moved by this.’ Further [Proust]: ‘And lest we think that looking into one’s own soul is substantially easier, Proust says this: Even more, it is only in a part of the total understanding he has of himself that he can be moved by himself.’ And further [Proust]: ‘In reality, when he reads, each reader is actually the reader of his own self. The work of the writer is nothing more than a kind of optical instrument that the writer offers. It allows the reader to discern that which, without the book, he might not have been able to see in himself.’

Keith Oatley, et. al. (‘The Inwardness of James Joyce’s “The Dead”’, in Readings [... &c.], 2016) - Conclusion: ‘As one of that company of modernist writers who would come to include Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust, James Joyce was able, in “The Dead”, not only to frame the problem of how we come to understand human minds, but to suggest some of the solution. In the experience of reading this story, we develop an understanding. As we travel down through its layers, we come to know something of another person, Gabriel. That this other person happens to be fictional is an advantage, because we can come to know him from the inside. The experience is, at the same time, of coming to know something of ourselves, because metaphorically we have become that character, and the final sections of the story imply that we all of us may have something of the Gabriel in us. We are members of a very curious species. We spend much of our time with other people and - even when we’re not actually with them - we plan and think and feel in relation to these others, and to ourselves.’ (p.11.)

Margaret Kelleher, ‘“Tá mé ag imeacht”: The Execution of Myles Joyce and Its Afterlives’, in The Body in Pain in Irish Literature and Culture, ed. Fionnuala Dillane, et. al. [New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature] (London: Palgrave 2016), pp.99-115.

—Available at Palgrave - online; accessed 04.05.2021.

Terry Eagleton, The English Novel: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell 2005) - James Joyce [Chap. 13). On ‘The Dead’ in Dubliners: ‘The book’s ambiguous interweaving of life and death - a familiar enough motif in popular Irish culture - is nowhere more evident than in’The Dead’. One can read the story, as almost all critics do, as a satire on the stiflingly conventional middle-class Dublin which Gabriel Conroy represents, in contrast to the world of living passion symbolized by his wife Gretta and her dead lover Michael Furey. Yet if the tale invites this Romantic reading, it also rebuffs it. Gabriel, who is full of guilt and self-disgust, is not necessarily to be taken at his own cripplingly low self-estimation. His speech at dinner may be florid and rather smug; he is a bookish man out of touch with the people, who needs no doubt to find his Bloom. He has an unpleasant sense of cultural superiority, but this is more a burden to him than a source of satisfaction. For all its mildly priggish, father-of-the bride tone, his speech is gracious and kindly intended, delighting the hearts of the elderly women at whom it is directed.
 Gabriel may betray a lack of conviction in his encounter with the earnestly nationalistic Miss Ivors; he is certainly both wrong and self-righteous to impute humourlessness to nationalists in general. Miss Ivors is certainly not incapable of a laugh, as the story goes out of its way to show us. All the same, it is pretty pushy of her to instruct Gabriel where to go on holiday. He himself has a cosmopolitan outlook which is closer to his author’s view of the world than to hers. His marriage may be fairly moribund, but this is scarcely a sociologically unique phenomenon, and there is no particular suggestion that it is his fault. When he recalls his life with Gretta it is with joy and tenderness, and she can still move him to intense desire. An epiphany can transfigure everyday life, as Gabriel, seeing his wife on the staircase, sees the possibility of their marriage being recreated. But it can also empty the common world of meaning and value in contrast with its own sudden splendour. Perhaps this is the effect which the memory of Michael Furey has on Gretta. / Even when Gretta has dropped the bombshell of her past love for Furey, Gabriel’s response to her is generous, pitying and affectionate. He is far from the fatuous clown he imagines himself to be. Furey may be full of Romantic allure, but the bald fact is that he recklessly threw away his life in a semi-suicidal gesture, which is scarcely the basis for a sustained relationship. Gretta’s rekindled love for him could just as well be seen as a morbid fixation on the past, as she overlooks a living passion in the name of a dead one. Both she and her West-of-Ireland lover may exemplify the cult of nostalgia and futile self-sacrifice which Joyce detested so deeply in Irish nationalism. Perhaps Gabriel is finally duped by this false but forceful image into despairing of his own life, in which case he may be doing himself a serious injustice. The self-loathing intellectual comes to feel for himself the kind of contempt that he imagines the passionate peasant does. But Joyce was not generally given to respecting the views of peasants, passionate or otherwise.’ (Q.p.; copied from Kindle edition.) [See further remarks on Joyce under Commentary > Terry Eagleton - supra. ]

Bruce Stewart, ‘Amor matris, or the Missing Mother in “The Dead”’
Joyce’s mother Mary (bapt. Mary Jane) Joyce appears in “The Dead” with the brief allusion to Gabriel’s mother Ellen who has died some time before (date ungiven) and who is said to have ‘married T. J. Conroy of the Port and Docks’. The remark is only supplied in addition to the statement that Gabriel was the Morkan sisters’ “favourite nephew”. If the Morkan sisters are counterparts of the Murray family in Joyce’s family tree, then their sister is surely May Joyce - whose given name was Mary Jane, a name used in several generations of the Murray family but also in the Morkan family as Kevin Whelan’s illustration shows. The most significant correlation in the two family trees is the fact that the Morkan sisters’ neice and daughter of their brother Patrick - himself the son of the namesake founder of the Morkan starch-milling dynast - is called Mary Jane while a Mary Ellen features in the Joyce lineage one generation higher than Mary Jane (Ellen in “the Dead”), thus showing that both names, Mary Jane and Ellen, circulated in the family. Joyce has disguised his mother as an Ellen and bestowed her real name on the Morkan neice so that she both appears and does not appear in the tale. Yet May (Mary Jane) Joyce had died on 13 August 1903 but four years before the completion of the story in Sept. 1907 and it is hard to imagine that Joyce was not thinking of her among the dead in his family circle and his emotional ambience - rather more prominently, one might think, that Michael Bodkin who died in 1900 and was connected by a tragic tale to Nora Barnacle, moving as that might be. [BS]

Marvin Maglaner’s remarks on Joyce’s mother: ‘As a child Joyce had the standard, normal Catholic upbringing of an Irish youngster of the 1880’s. His good-tempered, pious mother personifies the strengths and weaknesses of Irish Catholicism during that period: her skill in music brought remarkable beauty to the middle-class suburban hearth; her deep religious sense, not so much a conviction as an intuition, gave her the emotional strength to compensate for physical weakness; her routine adherence to the demanding ritual calendar supplied a center of meaningful activity about which family life and religious hope might revolve. If she worried out loud, it was not about creditors or bedbugs-matters of immediate concern to Stephen Dedalus - but about the irreverence or profanity of her brood, the external signs of troubled spirits. From such maternal singleness of mind, one might have expected priests and nuns to come. One of Joyce’s sisters did enter a religious [38] order. And the stress on respectability through religious conformity brought Joyce very close to a Jesuit novitiate.’ (Magalaner, ‘The Problem of Biography’, in Magalaner & Richard M. Kain, James Joyce: The Man, The Works, The Reputation [1956] London: John Calder 1957, pp.15-43; see full-text version as attached.) [Note: The chapter was written prior to the publication of Ellmann’s life of Joyce (James Joyce, 1959) and makes mention of it in the last sentence as addressing the chief problem of Joyce studies given the inadequacy of Gorman’s 1944 life - especially in respect of the mature Joyce.


Bruce Stewart, ‘Interloper at Eccles Street’, Studies of James Joyce, ed. Jacqueline Genet (Université de Caen 1991), pp.73-100: ‘Perhaps the greatest mark of difference between Bloom and Stephen is in their respective relation to woman. “She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels” [PA288]: this is the hope expressed by Stephen’s mother - and, for all we know, by Joyce’s - on the last page of A Portrait of the Artist; but there is little indication in Ulysses that Stephen has adopted the humaner attitudes which voluntary exile with Nora Barnacle taught the author [n4]. Bloom, on the other hand, is living in the condition of life that Joyce considered the necessary fulfilment of manhood. One of the reasons he gave for preferring Odysseus (or Ulysses) to Jesus as a hero was that Jesus “never lived with a woman ... surely one of the most difficult things a man has to do.” [n5] Bloom has the easy sensuality of a husband, touching affectionately on Molly’s “large soft bubs” [77] and the “plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump” [867] as points of reference in his day (notwithstanding their discontinued sexual relations). Even the emotion caused by the knowledge of her infidelity - an emotion compounded on “envy, jealousy, abnegation, [and] equanimity” [864] - is tempered by the recognition that the adultery has been natural, non-felonious, inevitable and irreparable [865]. / In fact, Stephen stands poised unhappily at the threshold of the transforming experience of freely given love which Nora Barnacle bestowed on James Joyce on precisely the date of Bloomsday [...]’ (Available at online.]


Richard Ellmann on Joyce & motherhood (7): ‘Joyce seems to have thought with equal affection of the roles of mother and child. He said once to Stanislaus about the bond between the two, “There are only two forms of love in the world, the love of a mother for a child and the love of a man for lies.” In later life, as Maria Jolas remarked, “Joyce talked about fatherhood as if it were motherhood.” he seemed to have longed to establish in himself all aspects of the bond of mother and child. He was attracted, particularly, by the image of himself as a weak child cherished by a strong woman, which seems closely connected wit the images of himself as victim, whether as a deer pursued by hunters, as a passive man surrounded by burly extroverts, as a Parnell or a Jesus among traitors. His favourite characters are those who in one way or another retreat before masculinity, yet are loved regardless by motherly women. (James Joyce, 1965 Edn. p.303; see longer quotations from the biography - in RICORSO > Criticism > Major Writers - infra.)


Note: David Norris states that ‘Joyce as an undergraduate argued that absence was the highest form of presence’) - see Norris, ‘A clash of Titans Joyce, Homer and the Idea of Epic’, in Studies on Joyce’s Ulysses, ed. Jacqueline Genet & Wynne Hellogouarc’h, Etudes Irlandaises [Open Edition], 1991) - available online.

[ top ]

Bruce Stewart and Joseph O’Leary - email exchange on Joyce and the Irish Famine: an internet post to my Ricorso Notice (7 June 2021)

BS:  Joyce and the Irish Famine. A certain critic has it that “The Dead” is ‘about’ the Famine Dead. Everything has to be about the Famine Dead or the United Irishmen for him. A Concordance check on the word ‘famine’ in Joyce’s works briskly reveals that he knew more about the medieval famines and the ‘turlyhides’ in 13th century Dublin than the 19th affair simply called the Irish Famine. It just wasn’t the clarion call to political separatism for him that it was for many of his nationalist contemporaries - and others in that tradition afterwards.

JO’L: The part of Joyce that alludes most intensively to the Famine is Lestrygonians. Bloom’s peckishness becomes emblematic of the deprivation and starvation of the Irish people in history, under the cold gaze of the well-fed ruling class immortalized in their monuments (architecture is the art of the episode). The clergy also dine well: ‘No families themselves to feed. Living on the fat of the land. Their butteries and larders. I’d like to see them do the black fast Yom Kippur. Crossbuns. One meal and a collation for fear he’d collapse on the altar’ (8: 33-7). “Lestrygonians” is in continuity with “Hades” - whose ‘organ’ is the heart. Amid the oppressive processes of eating that pervade the episode, a eucharistic moment surfaces: ‘Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed’ (8.907). ‘This Eucharist is warm, tasted, an already chewed body that offers an exchange of sexual eros. But it is not the gross, material body eaten in the Burton, the profaned body of matter without spirit. It is, instead, a counterpart to the Eucharist, a symbolic satiation that makes of Molly a nourishing, yet not devouring, mother’ (Karen Lawrence). This is countersigned at the very end of the novel and becomes an emblem of the marriage between Bloom and Molly: ‘the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth’ (18.1573-4).
 If Joyce touches on the Famine only obliquely, that mirrors the silence surrounding the topic for decades, a silence resulting not only from trauma, but from shame, for the Famine was used a pretext for many landowners to rid the land of the penurious, and mortality was increased not only by British mismanagement under Prime Minster John Russell but by local bloody-mindedness. The Citizen’s diatribe in “Cyclops” perhaps reflects a new outspokenness about this in resurgent Irish nationalism:

We have our greater Ireland beyond the sea. They were driven out of house and home in the black 47. Their mudcabins and their shielings by the roadside were laid low by the batteringram and the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America. Even the Grand Turk sent us his piastres. But the Sassenach tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro. Ay, they drove out the peasants in hordes. Twenty thousand of them died in the coffin ships. (12.1364-72).

‘Perfectly true’ is Bloom’s comment on this (12.1376). That the mud cabins were destroyed by greedy local farmers, who flourished as a result of the Famine, goes unmentioned. ‘Besides the clearance of paupers which the Gregory clause [forcing small tenants to forfeit their holdings to obtain relief] facilitated, the great famine presented landowners with other opportunities, principally those of ousting bankrupt middlemen, weeding out struggling or broken tenants, and enlarging the farms of those who remained.’ ‘The lands taken up,’ observed Captain Eustace’s agent John Smith in May 1849, ‘were held by tenants who had neither skill nor energy to work them; and when it pleased Providence to afflict our country with the potato blight, it became evident that a new course of tillage was the only remedy.’ (James S. Donnelly).
Bloom has a Christ-like response of compassion to hunger as he had to death in ‘Hades’ - he feels pangs of compassion for Dilly Dedalus and harried mothers, feeds the gulls, helps a blind boy across the street. Bloom walks amid history, bringing his compassion to bear on it. This does not match Hugh Kenner’s claim that Joyce writes of ‘a world that makes a cult of nostalgia but is wholly devoid of any historical sense.’ Rather than ignoring history, Joyce and his protagonists are heavily burdened with it and represent what Peter Sloterdijk calls the depressive phase of historicism. [End]

[ back ] [ top ] [ next ]