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Joyce's Dubliners

Claudine Raynaud

From the stupidity of a woman to that of a thought, and back: On idealism and epiphanies in the early Joyce, with a postscript on John Huston's "The Dead"1

Pascal Bataillard

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  • 1 I wish to express my gratitude to those present at the conference, students and lecturers, for the (...)

1I wish to return to the question that alternately cramped and gave Joyce's writing its dynamics in the "early years". That question was in turn a stumbling-block or a spring-board; namely the dualism between spirit and mind that is particularly obvious in Stephen Hero, but that also marks a number of the characters in Dubliners. To address this question I will first offer a reading of "A Painful Case", examining how Duffy's idealism precludes both his acceptance of Mrs Sinico's love and his recognition of his desire. Then, I will turn to Stephen Hero, going back to the definition of epiphany with due consideration of its context. Last, I will just consider what sort of "epiphany" occurs for Gabriel in the famous staircase scene and how John Huston has translated it on the screen in "The Dead".

2My interest here is primarily ethical, a word that can be turned to many uses and used with many different meanings. I will use it with a meaning that owes much to Lacan – an interest for the way in which the speaking subject comes to terms with his or her desire and his or her position vis-à-vis this desire. This concern not only involves fictional characters, but also the reader and writer. I distinguish the one from the other all the better to assert the inseparable aspect of the two figures. The writer Joyce can be seen throughout his career as an exacting reader of his text, permanently reshuffling its components until new effects are produced, or exploiting (proof)-readers' mistakes. Conversely, the reader is made to assume the position of rewriting the text, performing it anew with each successive reading and interpretation (Rabaté, 1984).

1. The Ethics of reading

3I will then start from the notion of the ethics of reading. In this case, the word "ethics" is less about the decision concerning what one is allowed to do with the text, than about the notion of what is produced by such or such interpretative stance, what purpose one is serving or what desire one is trying to satisfy, or uncover by authorising oneself such move (Rabaté, 1991).

  • 2 The French translations have remained close to the Greek signifier, using the word scandale, while (...)

4In your own approach of Joyce's texts you have all experienced something that marks off his texts from most others. Almost at all times the urgent and tantalising question that faces the reader is to decide whether one is reading too much into the text or whether one is falling short of its demands. To put it in more political terms, the reader must decide whether he or she is behaving in an imperialist way toward the text, trying to overpower its meaning and identity, or if the text is colonising the reader This very dilemma about the impossibility of ever reading properly or adequately (don't despair yet!) is staged and dramatised in "The Sisters": "His questions showed me how complex and mysterious were certain institutions of the Church which I had always regarded as the simplest acts" (Joyce, 1992, 5). The text, in very much the same way as the priest, seems to make it impossible to perform even the simplest duties that one usually identifies with reading. It seems to be trying to thwart the reader, or to pervert him or her in very much the same way as the priest is throwing obstacles in the child's way. We should remember that the etymology of the word scandal is skandalon, a Greek word meaning an obstacle, a stumbling stone, something that has been associated with the perversion of children in the Gospels.2 It is exactly what Old Cotter is suggesting in his own insidious way:

– I wouldn't like children of mine, he said, to have too much to say to a man like that.
– How do you mean, Mr Cotter? Asked my aunt.
What I mean is, said old Cotter, it's bad for children My idea is: let a young lad run about and play with young lads his own age and not be… Am I right, Jack?
(Joyce, 1992, 2)

2. Joyce and philosophy

5Why Joyce felt the need in his youth to throw a philosophical cloak on his prose, be it Thomist or Neo-Platonic, is too massive a question to be addressed as such. For the time being, I will just mention a few elements characteristic of the first years. First, there is a persisting conflation, or contusion, between the good and the nice, something that can be traced from the early Pola notebook down to A Portrait of the Artist, through Stephen Hero, or maybe the less known proto-version of The Portrait that Joyce wrote in 1904 (See Beja, 1973, 41-48; Aubert, 1982, 313-20).

  • 3 Rabaté describes this diary as follows: "Passionnant témoignage, utile pour comprendre l'esprit or (...)

6Around 1904, and after Joyce is complacently striking an immoralist posture while comparing himself to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or at least accepting this comparison and the programme drawn by his brother Stanislaus: "He has extraordinary moral courage (courage so great that I have hopes that he will one day become the Rousseau of Ireland)" (Joyce, 1971, 3).3 Those contradictions or forms of ambivalence culminated (or found particularly clear expression) when difficulties arose with the publisher Grant Richards. Richards became suddenly afraid of being sued for immorality when the printer stated that in his view some of the material was unfit for publication because of its immorality. Joyce wrote to Richards, respectively in May and June 1906, in order to vindicate his work:

The points on which I have not yielded are the points which rivet the book together. If I eliminate them what becomes of the chapter of the moral history of my country? I fight to retain them because I believe that in composing my chapter of moral history in exactly the way I have composed it I have taken the first step towards the spiritual liberation of my country. (Joyce, 1975. 88)

I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass. (Joyce, 1975, 90)

7These statements are quite reminiscent of Rousseau's heroic or super-moralistic stance, the defender of justice and equity fighting single-handedly against all pernicious forces for the sole welfare and advancement of humanity. Yet in another letter to Grant Richards, dated 15 October 1905, Joyce writes: "I think people might be willing to pay for the special odour of corruption which, I hope, floats over my stories" (Joyce, 1975, 79). Of course, it might be argued that in the latter case Joyce was just putting forward an economic argument, which he discarded when he realised it could after all be counter productive. At any rate, the 1905 letter shows that Joyce's enterprise was not altogether disinterested. It certainly suggests how crucial it was for him to gain recognition of his writing, that is, to get recognition for his inscription in writing. In this sense, Joyce's use of philosophy is not simply to be equated with some form of idealisation, but as instrumental in the formulation of "the enigma of his position in his own way" (Joyce, 1975, 186)

3. Duffy, the idealist

8Before tackling the question of epiphany and that of (Joyce's) position, I will address one of the stories in Dubliners, in light of the moral dilemma or impasse I have described. This story is "A Painful Case". I take it to be the portrait of the failed artist as philosopher, and, subliminally, of the artist failing as a philosopher – which is already a way of saying that Joyce, like Duffy but for diametrically opposed reasons, was and was not a Nietzschean.

9We might be tempted to look for evidence as to the influence Nietzsche exercised on Joyce in various testimonies or anecdotes. I cannot resist mentioning them because they tell us a lot about Joyce's relation to philosophy even though they cannot seriously inform us about Joyce's knowledge of Nietzsche, or any other philosopher First, here is this postcard, dated 13 July 1904, where Joyce is typically asking for money, "singing for a supper" and ending with a few – half-humorous, half-shameful – grace notes, "James Overman" (Joyce, 1975, 23). Or, at a time when Yeats was often speaking in a prophetic, semi-mystical way, Joyce had fun with his friends spreading the rumour of the rebirth of a Dyonisian cult, something mentioned in the Trieste notebook and alluded to in Ulysses. "Billy Pitt had them [towers] built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea. But ours is the omphalos" (Joyce, 1986, 1.543-44). Omphalos means navel in Greek so that there is also the tongue in cheek suggestion of a nombrilist at work. However, my favourite anecdote is one told by Padraic Colum:

I left some volumes on the counter. They were The World as Will and Idea. When the three of us were on the stairway, Joyce said with the raillery he often used when addressing in these days: "You see before you two frightful examples of the will to live", which meant that Jovce and his companion were out to pick up girls (Colum 1959, 46)

10Of course, this reference is to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche's first master after all, but it shows Joyce's irreverence, the potentiality in him to associate ideas with the facts of life, an intimation of what was to become the comic spirit of Ulysses, the Rabelaisian capacity to subvert "the high" with "the low".

11I have discussed at length the ideas that Nietzsche was commonly associated with in Edwardian days and I have assessed what Joyce could find in him (Bataillard et Sipière, 2000, 123-134). Let it suffice to say here that in The Gay Science, or The Joyful Wisdom, as it was first translated, Nietzsche made the daring proposition that all forms of philosophy had so far been the mere symptoms of their authors. My first hypothesis about "A Painful Case" is that we are invited to locate the symptom at work, not only in Duffy but also in our reading. Duffy is first introduced as someone wishing to maintain as great a distance as possible between himself and Dublin: "Mr James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious" (Joyce, 1992, 103), Although this comes close to Stephen's self-inflicted exile at the close of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ("using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, cunning" [Joyce, 1977, 247]), Duffy's body seems to be giving the lie to this notion: "His face, which carried the entire tale of his years, was of the brown tint of Dublin streets" (Joyce, 1992, 104). Later in the story, Duffy will prove unable to maintain the salutary distance that is supposed to keep him immune from all disturbances: "Mr Duffy abhorred anything which betokened physical or mental disorder" (Joyce, 1992, 104). What becomes very striking is that it is ultimately from his own body that Duffy is distant:

He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense (Joyce, 1992, 104).

12Duffy, this middle-aged bachelor, partly inspired by Stanislaus but bearing Joyce's first name, seems to open to the world the day he encounters Mrs Sinico. However their relationship is founded on a misunderstanding as regards the relation between body and language For Duffy, language is primarily a way to keep bodies apart, when it becomes gradually clear that in Mrs Sinico's eyes language is a mediation between bodies; Duffy must always talk about his ideas, while she would love to speak about life: "Sometimes in return for his theories she gave out some fact out of her own life" (Joyce, 1992, 106). The phrase "in return for" suggests that what returns is what Duffy is not expecting because he has repressed life Duffy is trying to theorise Mrs Sinico (especially if we consider that the etymology of the term is Greek for "to observe"). This is all the more relevant since it defines Duffy's attitude on the day of their first meeting: "While they talked he tried to fix her permanently in his memory" (Joyce, 1992, 105). In other words, he tried to abstract her from her own life in order to play with ideas about her.

13I shall now braid together the two threads of Joyce's story on the one hand and of Nietzsche's texts on the other. These works are ironically placed on Duffy's shelves after he has stopped seeing Mrs Sinico:

Four years passed. Mr Duffy returned to his even way of life. His room still bore witness of the orderliness of his mind. Some new pieces of music encumbered the music-stand in the lower room and on his shelves stood two volumes by Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Gay Science. (Joyce, 1992, 108)

  • 4 On Joyce's regrets and remorse concerning his harsh attitude towards Dublin. see Rabaté 1992, 41-4 (...)

14Nietzsche summed up the necessity to forget about life inherent to philosophers in The Joyful Wisdom (the title of the translation that Joyce owned) in a very dramatic way: "They [ideas] have always lived on the 'blood' of the philosopher, they always consumed his senses, and indeed, if you will believe me, his 'heart' as well. Those old philosophers were heartless: philosophy was always a species of vampirism" (Part V, ß 372, Why we are not Idealists). Many more interesting echoes or parallels are to be found in The Joyful Wisdom. I will just mention one. You may remember that Duffy met Mrs Sinico at the opera the Rotunda, a place he carefully avoids after breaking up. Note that the sole "pocket of disorder" and novelty Duffy allows are the "new pieces of music [that] encumbered the music-stand" (Joyce, 1992, 08). Now consider this remark from Nietzsche: "'Wax in the ears', was then almost a condition of philosophy; a genuine philosopher no longer listened to life, in so far as music is life, he denied the music of life – it is an old philosophical superstition that all music is Sirens' music" (Part V, ß 372, Why we are not Idealists) Duffy's idealism makes him become more and more remote from others and from Mrs Sinico especially, since he has missed the gift of her love It is quite inevitable and logical that Duffy should end up listening only to himself and delude himself into believing that he can see himself through her eyes: "Sometimes he caught himself listening to the sound of his own voice. He thought that in her eyes he would ascend to an angelical stature" (Joyce, 1992, 107). In spite of the theological conception of angels as a mediation between god and men, the angel has come to "embody" a purely ideal, sexless instance in Western culture But as Pascal pointed, it is when man is trying to ascertain himself as angelic that he is most likely to be a brute… whose blunted senses fail to understand and comprehend what is only too obvious So much so that when Mrs Sinico gets hold of Duffy's hand, he "was very much surprised. Her interpretation of his words disillusioned him" (Joyce, 1992, 107). In fact Mrs Sinico's interpretation, or diagnpsis, is right, but Duffy is not ready to give up his symptom Duffy might think he has been through it all but the same hand gets to touch him again after he has learnt of her death: "As the light failed and his memory began to wander he thought her hand touched his. The shock which had first attacked his stomach was now attacking his nerves" (Joyce, 1992, 112). It would hardly be an exaggeration to postulate that Joyce's attitude towards his story matched that of Duffy towards Mrs Sinico in many ways. As said earlier, he was conscious to have much in common with Duffy and, in particular, he could feel he was very often moved by the same sort of resentment as Duffy – the same sort of resentment which Nietzsche understood to be the very basis of the moral systems he started assaulting in The Genealogy of Morals.4

  • 5 In a previous letter, dated 18 October 1906, Joyce said "I wrote some notes for A Painful Case but (...)

15Joyce had mixed feelings towards "A Painful Case" and often repeated that he wished he could rewrite it. In the following extracts from a long letter, dated 6 November 1906, his incapacity to do away with the story, his inability to decide whether he should try to make it "longer",5 his political reflections on socialism and Irish nationalism are inextricably associated with his bodily symptoms: "I am still suffering from this indigestion The druggist gave me last night a box of rhubarb pills and told me I should see a doctor if it did not get better It is about four or five days since I had the pleasure of defecating" (Joyce, 1975, 124).The same letter ends in the following way:

The two worst stories are After the Race and A Painful Case. When I have done reading the authors I said do you think I ought to read the Russians seriously or the Danish? Write a long letter.


Another purgative on Friday cost me L1. -! The box of pills cost 80c-! Viva l'ltalia! Avanti Savoia! (Joyce, 1975. 127)

17It might be that Joyce could not get away from that story because it was about the loss of a woman who had elicited what Duffy had taken to be disinterested interest, what we might identify as almost motherly interest. Duffy could stick to all his beliefs and ideals (as you can see they do not even have to be formulated to be there) as long as Mrs Sinico kept at a distance. Again, I will quote from Nietzsche

All great noise causes one to place happiness in the calm and the distance. When a man is in the midst of his hubbub, in the midst of the breakers of his plots and plans, he there sees perhaps calm, enchanted beings glide past him, for whose happiness and retirement he longs – they are women. He almost thinks that there with the women dwells his better self; that in those calm places even the loudest breakers become still as death, and life itself a dream of life. But still! But still! My noble enthusiast, there is also in the most beautiful sailing ship so much noise and bustling! The enchantment and the most powerful effect of women is, to use the language of philosophers, an effect at a distance, an action in distancia; there belongs thereto, however, primarily and above all, – distance. (The Joyful Wisdom, Part II, ß 60, Women and their effect in the Distance)

18Distance is what allows the survival of any notion of Woman. However, the distance at stake is also that between Joyce and Ireland: if Joyce knew from the start he had to go away, the question of his subjective position had been left pending. For Duffy as for Stephen, the figure of an idealised woman is present, a woman that has to be left the moment she has been touched, complicated by the guilt surrounding the death of one who was more than what was suspected.

4. Epiphany and Woman

19In Stephen Hero the eponymous protagonist is drawn to one young Emma, wavering between romantic love and a purely physical relationship. When he finally braces himself up to speak to her, he has opted for the latter alternative, which is the most effective way to extract himself from the complexities of love by scaring her and thus finding further justification for his theories about women: "Just to live one night together, Emma, and then to say goodbye in the morning and never to see each other again! There is no such thing as love in the world: only people are young…" (Joyce, 1977, 177). It is to be suspected that Stephen's strategy is one that is meant to preserve yet an ideal image of Woman even after she has "stooped to folly". As Lacan puts it, "Woman [capitalised] is another name for God." Woman is a construct needed by man for his self-definition: it is like a gap-stop that helps man deny his own incompleteness and assert his plenitude and mastery.

20The theory of epiphany expounded in Stephen Hero comes in a somewhat complex context. However, its different components seem to boil down to a few essentials: an ambivalent attitude towards women, the necessity to secede from family and friends in order to come to self-understanding, and the need to articulate a theory that could account for art as well as life. A tension appears between the first and third terms; that is between isolating oneself and preparing a message for the world. The narrative occasionally accounts for this tension in terms of the necessary retreat from the world in order to better reintegrate it (for instance, in a way evocative of Christ, before he could deliver a paper, "his forty days were consumed in aimless solitary walks during which he forged out his sentences", (Joyce, 1977, 66). On another level, what is at stake here is the tension between art and life, the withdrawal or exile from life that is implied by art so as to give life a higher intensity. As regards Stephen's attitude towards women, it goes the whole spectrum from Schopenhauer-inspired downright contempt (women as "marsupials"), through an ambivalent perception of their lack of "respect" for or mere lip-service to symbolical authorities ("The general attitude of women towards religion puzzled and often maddened Stephen" [Joyce, 1977, 187]), to an envy of their position that is only apparent to the narrator ("It did not strike him that the attitude of women towards holy things really implied a more genuine emancipation than his own" [Joyce, 1977, 188]).

21I shall now consider how theory is used to contain all the tensions I have just pointed out. Commenting on the preliminary sentence, "He toyed also with a theory of dualism which would symbolise the twin eternities of spirit and nature in the twin eternities of male and female" (Joyce, 1977, 188), Jacques Aubert thus analyses this "dualism":

un symbolisme dualiste, mécanique sinon dualiste, grâce auquel rien n'échappe dans le réel: “esprit”, “nature”, “masculin”, “féminin”, “éternité”. Stephen va pouvoir tout dire sur l'univers, l'amour, la mort; il va même pouvoir commenter sa propre poésie tant sa maîtrise est parfaite. Autant dire que cet ordre symbolique est purement imaginaire; Stephen prend à la lettre la définition de Shelley: Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world (Joyce, 1982,. lviii).

22In other words, the unavowed purpose of theory is partly to smooth out the enigma of the sexual difference by neatly partitioning the two genders and functions That is to say that for Stephen, just as for Duffy, theory is the by-product of frustration – not of sexual frustration in the common sense, but of a frustration arising from the fact that language is always in the flesh for the speaking subject, so that it is neither possible to envisage an a-sexual relation nor a sexual relation as such. The body is always already mediated by language. Hence what Duffy took for Mrs Sinico's stupidity or animality was the reflection of his own thought. To put it differently, it was Duffy's own folly that made him stop Mrs Sinico from "stooping to folly". His jouissance, what betrays his idiocy, resided in parsimony as being against life and giving Parsimony is the equivalent of meanness, as in Joyce's declared "scrupulous meanness" and in very apt paronomastic relation with simony (Rabaté, 1992, 45).

  • 6 The oxymoron is quite logically one of the "favourite" figures of Saint John of the Cross or Teres (...)

23From a slightly different perspective, epiphany is said to subsume and condense all the otherwise conflicting elements. Catherine Millot has argued that epiphany was the attempt to find expression for an experience that borders on the mystical But while mystics have elaborated a poetic language likely to convey something of an experience that defies language,6 "les épiphanies de Joyce représentent à cet égard un échec […]: si elles valent comme traces d'un événement spirituel, elles en représentent plutôt le résidu, le déchet, que l'expression" (Millot, 1987, 88). This experience of jouissance implies an excess of meaning that a theory, in the traditional sense, can only fail to contain. This alone should be enough to grasp the meaning of Joyce finally discarding it. I concur with Jean-Michel Rabaté who argues that:

La théorie esthétique devient theoria, procession des instants privilégiés qui s'orientent dans un ordre narratif […]. C'est grâce aux épiphanies que la narrativité s'empare de la discursivité théorique, se glisse dans le discours pour le détourner de son ambition universaliste. Dans la fiction autobiographique, l'ordre des raisons est remplacé par le défilé des instants épiphanisés (Rabaté, 1992, 16).

24In Stephen's account, it is a "trivial incident" (Joyce, 1975, 188) that both brought about the composing of The Vilanelle of the Temptress and made the stuff of the prototypical epiphany. The word "trivial" emphasises the banality of the event, words and gestures as such. It is really the perception of their uniqueness, the sense that they mean something unique to the subject, that allows Stephen to reclaim them from "the hell of hells – the region, otherwise expressed, wherein everything is found to be obvious" (Joyce, 1975, 33). An encounter has occurred, as is underlined by the etymology of the word "trivial", deriving from Latin "trivium", the crossroads of three ways, but also the grouping of three areas of knowledge – ideally three ways towards enlightenment. This reinforces the sense that some form of knowledge has become available for transmission granted that things are properly arranged, which is one of the two axes of writing (selection and arrangement). The signifier "trivial" succeeds in condensing the otherwise incompatible notions of banality and unexpected, of insignificance and knowledge, of something contingent that can be serialised Ultimately, Joyce came to generalise the excision of meaning with the paradoxical, even though logical, consequence that every line seems to be obscured with meanings in excess. As Garry Leonard puts it "In his fiction the letter so revealingly collapses into litter and leaves the subject (the reader) with the uncertain sense that to be conscious is to be a signifier in relation to other signifiers, ad infinitum, with no genuine signifieds that are not self-generated myths" (Leonard, 1993, 2). We can get to a better understanding of epiphany as both impasse (as theory and as an aesthetic for prose poems) and narrative force: the necessity to collect "moments of being", to gather snippets from high and low culture, significant details.

5. From epi-fanny to epi-funny

25The disjunction between body and mind in Duffy (either… or) recurs in Little Chandler, now operating between married life and art, between poetry and caring for a baby, between "life" and a picture of his wife eliciting the question, "Why had he married the eyes in the photograph?" (Joyce, 1992, 78). Little Chandler has fallen prey to an idealisation of poetry and of his friend's life that leads to sentimentality, self-pity, and an idle sense of guilt. More apparent than in "A Painful Case" is the rapacity of the gaze that seems to belie all pretences of gentility and refinement. Besides the already mentioned crude dismissal of his wife (echoing Mr Sinico's attitude, "he had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect anyone else would take an interest in her" (Joyce, 2000, 106), we find the naive craving after "those dark oriental eyes" (Joyce, 1992, 78). In the male's eyes, woman is alternately what could supplement him or the obstacle in the way to (his) self-fulfilment.

26The scopophilic drive is also present in "The Dead", disguised under the garments of a purely aesthetic meditation – I am alluding to the so-called "staircase scene". Like Mr Sinico or Little Chandler, Gabriel first fails to identify his wife as the object of his own capturing and lustful gaze: "A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmonpink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white It was his wife" ( Joyce, 1992, 210-11) All the processes of idealisation of this Woman, up there in the staircase, like a statue on a pedestal, are just the preliminary and the justification of his erotic scenario on the way to the hotel This Woman is really what Gabriel needs to regain his poise and stature, a phallic stance that has been threatened first by Lily and then by Miss Ivors (Rabaté, 2000, Riquelme, 1998). Things will not proceed as expected and a third, more decisive blow is dealt to Gabriel that compels him to face his own finitude and mortality.

27Let us now turn to John Huston's treatment of this scene. Some critics have objected to Huston's presenting Gabriel with Gretta and revealing her identity In particular, Jolanta W. Wawrzycka writes:

In Huston, instead of seeing first “a woman” and only later recognising her as “his wife,” Gabriel can never possibly doubt who the "woman" at the top of the stairs is: Huston has Gretta almost face Gabriel (and the audience): she is fully lit and magnificently double-framed, first, by the bluish-greenish hues of stained-glass window and second, by the white shawl draped around her face and shoulders, the colours and their halo-like effect partaking in the symbology of the Virgin Mary and of Ireland. Every time I watch this scene, my sensibilities bifurcate, aesthetically, I admire this cinematic gem of a scene (as I appreciate Huston's apotheosis of his daughter), but at the same time, I realise that this is not Joyce. Huston's representation of Gretta participates in well established (and, by now, well recognised and criticised) economies of scopophilic objectification of women on screen (Wawrzycka, 1998)

  • 7 I cannot fully develop this problematic of Huston's play with gazes and reflections but I recommen (...)

28These critics have overlooked one major fact in the very understanding of what a shot can stand for, namely the notion of "enunciation" when applied to film. What the spectator is made to do is to identify for the duration of the shot with Gabriel and view things with his eyes. The shot is not Huston's "scopophilic objectification" but his presenting of Gabriel's "epiphany", his turning his wife into Woman, of which the Virgin Mary is one popular representation.7

29What happens with the picture can be expressed also on the level of the soundtrack. At the Tours conference Margot Norris expressed her dissatisfaction with the way in which Huston had altered things as regards vocal performances. She felt Huston had made a fool of Aunt Kate by making her sound like an old woman while, she argued, the description of her singing in Joyce's story is quite appreciative, even as described from Gabriel's perspective:

Her voice, strong and clear in tone, attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and though she sang very rapidly she did not miss even the smallest of the grace notes. To follow the voice, without looking at the singer's face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. (Joyce, 1992, 193)

30To believe one's ears, one has to close one's eyes, which means very simply that you can delude yourself into believing someone at least has defeated mortality only by denying the physical presence of the singer. Huston's gesture forces us to look at her face and the emotion we feel is certainly of a very mixed nature – admiration, unease, wonder at human resilience… But he manages to take us away from any fetishism of the voice.

31Conversely, Margot Norris complained that Bartell d'Arcy, whose voice is said to be "hoarse" (Joyce, 1992, 212), was now giving as brilliant a performance as could be, with an orchestra even coming in for the last bars to give more glory and magnificence to his singing On the face of it, the remark certainly has weight and recalls the suspicion under which Huston has generally been held in feminist quarters. However I think that this scene is constructed so as to stage phallic assumption and make a masquerade of it. Moreover, Joyce's readers will remember the "Sirens" episode and Bloom's reflections and fantasies about the power of a tenor's organ. In the same time as Gabriel encounters the painful, so far differed, but necessary sense of finitude and principle of uncertainty, Huston, it could be glossed, shows that all the while life, music, the show, are going on. The nascent love affair between Bartell d'Arcy and Miss O'Callaghan does not solely consist in the very gentle breaking together of a bone and wishful thinking, it is not just a private affair but something caught up in social norms as well as in desire, and, as such, gross with the possibility of betrayal – a theme elaborated upon by the recitation of the poem "Broken Vows" (see Sipière, 2000, 138-57).

  • 8 'Fanny' is slang for female pudenda, "perhaps ex Fanny, the heroine of John Cleland's The Memoirs (...)

32To conclude I will say that Joyce had to sail clear of the Scylla of idealisation and avoid the dangers of the Charybdis of woman-hating (more precisely, of the denial of a woman's existence), to get to the open waters of his generalised comedy He had to go beyond a mere resentment against woman for standing in the way of his theory, what I call epi-fanny,8 to get to the punning narrative of his later years, the epi-funny, that achieved the bringing together of the dualities of "the high" and "the low", of life and death. Assessing Huston's merits as a reader of Joyce is certainly a biased and limiting perspective. These reserves notwithstanding, I am simply tempted to say Huston's film steers a clear course between the demands of his own oeuvre and those of Joyce's.


Works cited

Aubert, Jacques, ed. 1987. Joyce avec Lacan. Navarin.

Bataillard, Pascal and Dominique Sipière, ed. 2000. Dubliners, James Joyce. The Dead, John Huston Ellipses.

Beja, Morris, ed. 1973. Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A Casebook. MacMillan.

Bosinelli Rosa, Maria Bollettieri and Harold F. Mosher Jr. 1998. ReJoycing. New Readings of Dubliners Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Brill, Lesley. 1977. John Huston's Filmmaking. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Joyce, James. 1992. Dubliners. Ed. Terence Brown. London: Penguin

———, 1960, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [1916] London: Penguin.

———, 1986. Ulysses [1922], Ed. H.W. Gabler, Penguin.

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1 I wish to express my gratitude to those present at the conference, students and lecturers, for their encouragement, stimulating remarks and questions, and particularly to Claudine Raynaud for her genuine sense of hospitality.

2 The French translations have remained close to the Greek signifier, using the word scandale, while English translations such as The Authorized King James Version have chosen the words offend or offence. Let us compare the two renderings of famous passage in Luke 17.1. In French, it reads: "Il est impossible qu'il n'arrive pas des scandales; mais malheur à celui par qui ils arrivent", while the English rendering takes away the notion of a perverted transmission: "It is impossible but that offences come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!"

3 Rabaté describes this diary as follows: "Passionnant témoignage, utile pour comprendre l'esprit original d'un jeune Joyce presque nietzschéen, pour saisir l'interaction profonde entre James et Stanislaus, qui parle surtout de son frère en n'ignorant jamais que celui-ci le lira pour lui voler les meilleures idées" (Rabaté, 1993, 328).

4 On Joyce's regrets and remorse concerning his harsh attitude towards Dublin. see Rabaté 1992, 41-49 and Rabaté, 2000, 123-34.

5 In a previous letter, dated 18 October 1906, Joyce said "I wrote some notes for A Painful Case but I hardly think the subject is worth treating at much length" (Joyce, 1975, 121).

6 The oxymoron is quite logically one of the "favourite" figures of Saint John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila, who speak of "a chilling heat" or of "a dazzling night".

7 I cannot fully develop this problematic of Huston's play with gazes and reflections but I recommend Lesley Brill' s sensitive analyses of many of its features, concerning the last scenes in particular, and the play with shadows and mirrors (Brill, 1997, 221). As regards accusations made to Huston of complacency with traditional male postures, see Gaylyn Studlar 1993, 177-98.

8 'Fanny' is slang for female pudenda, "perhaps ex Fanny, the heroine of John Cleland's The Memoirs of Fanny Hill, 1749, the English classic of the brothel" (Partridge, 1972, 306).


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