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Joyce's Dubliners

Claudine Raynaud

Joyce's Dubliners and Conversational Narrative

Tanja Vesala-Varttala

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1Conversations in Joyce's Dubliners seem very true to life in their keen sense of nuance, tone, and accent. Clearly, Joyce had an ear for conversations; he was acutely aware of how they work. In Dubliners, diverse everyday conversations are carefully reproduced and their functions and larger-scale effects sharply analyzed. This is to say that conversations are not only depicted in great sophistication and detail – they are also studied in and through Joyce's narrative practice. Conversation can be seen to form a significant thematic concern in Dubliners. Due to this, the notion of conversation evolves into a self-reflexive narrative device, a mise-en-abyme, which has the capacity to reflect on the activity of reading the collection.

  • 1 To give just a few examples: "He repeated his phrases over and over again, varying them and surrou (...)
  • 2 What counts as lexical repetition is, of course, a relative matter partly dependent on the interpr (...)

2Besides manifesting various conversational situations on the story level, the narrative draws special attention to the notion of conversation by means of commentary relating to the overall practice of conversational communication.1 Moreover, the very word conversation tends to recur in the text continuum of the collection. Through this simple but effective narrative device (lexical repetition) the text further directs the reader's attention towards the problematics of conversation.2 Those problematics not only include the transfer of information with all the usual complications concerning the communicative 'connection' (ellipses, ambiguities, mistakes, misunderstandings, overlapping speech, etc.) but also, and more importantly, the socio-pragmatic functions and effects of conversation. Conversations contribute to the creation and maintenance of social identities and relationships as well as to the reinforcement of particular world-views and cultural ideologies. The conversations depicted in Dubliners illustrate, over and over, how conversational discourse is thoroughly intertwined with questions of ideology and power.

3It seems reasonable to turn to the framework of conversation analysis in finding out what Joyce's Dubliners has to say about the workings of conversation. A substantial amount of research on conversation has been carried out under the broad term of discourse analysis, comprising a varied selection of linguistically and sociologically oriented branches of research (e.g. speech act theory, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, critical discourse analysis, ethnomethodology). In my own analysis, the work carried out on conversation in the field of linguistics figures in the background, but the actual terminology and research methods are not actively used. However, the following comment by R. A. Buck and Timothy R. Austin agrees with my general conception of the relationship between linguistically oriented conversation analysis and literary research.

One branch of research in the broad area of discourse analysis derives from the observation that among the "things" that participants in an everyday do is build, maintain and modify sophisticated interpersonal relatio ncsohnipvse.r sSaitniocne both dialogue and evolving relationships between individuals lie at the heart of much nineteenth- and twentieth-century prose fiction, it seems reasonable to expect that linguists theories in this area should throw light on the workings of those novels and short stories. (Buck and Austin, 1995, 64)

4Although it is true that the findings of discourse analysis can be made use of in conceptualizing the conversational activity in Joyce's stories, it is also important to point out that discourse analysis alone is not enough to capture everything that is going on when we read and interpret Joycean conversations. Furthermore, literary research can, for its part, throw significant new light on the work done by linguists and discourse analysts. Practitioners of conversation analysis themselves often use literary examples when illustrating their theoretical points, for the simple reason that valuable information on the nature and functions of conversational discourse can be obtained from literary narratives. But the medium is neither innocent nor transparent Literary narratives, such as the stories in Joyce's Dubliners,, embody conversations and use them for their own artistic and ideological purposes. The reading and interpretation of conversational discourse embedded in a literary work, therefore, tends to require special reading tactics. It is especially important to account for the ways in which the Joycean narrative anticipates the presence of a reader. The Dubliners narrative is self-reflexive through and through, drawing attention to itself as a narrative and, in particular, as a narrative to be read.

5My intention here is not to chart out everything Dubliners has to say about conversation – that would form the subject of a book. The aim is to concentrate on one particular subgenre of conversational discourse: conversational narrative. By this term I refer to the practice of telling a story in the course of a conversation. Keeping stories, monologues, and speeches separate in situations involving immediate speaker-audience relationships is difficult, which is why, in this essay, all these discourse types are regarded as examples of conversational narrative. Delivering a speech may not normally be considered an act of conversation. However, Joyce's Dubliners repeatedly makes the point that all successful acts of conversational storytelling require that the stories related are rehearsed and their turns of phrase well prepared in advance. Hence, giving a speech during a social gathering is virtually as much a conversational narrative as is a more informally related tale.

6Regarding conversational narratives, it is by no means unimportant who is telling the story, to whom, in what way, and for what purposes. The act of storytelling embedded in a conversational situation also places special emphasis on the speaking subject holding the floor, offen (but not always) granting him or her a position of power. The main bulk of this article will examine the ways in which Joyce's Dubliners probes and problematizes conversational stories and their telling. As a conclusion, I shall briefly suggest a few ways in which the conversational situations found in the stories may serve as models - or antimodels, as the case may be - for reading Dubliners.

Storytelling in "The Sisters"

7Let us repeat the basic idea upon which my analysis of the conversations in Dubliners rests: a conversational narrative not only informs and entertains but also performs various socio-pragmatic functions and effects. Firstly, the telling of a story in the course of a conversation creates a certain identity position for the storyteller. It also defines and determines identity positions for the conversational partners and thus establishes a relation between the storyteller and the audience. Furthermore, with their conversational narratives, storytellers draw upon a given world view with its own socio-cultural structures, practices, values, norms, hierarchies, and so on.

8Joyce's "The Sisters" can be claimed to be about conversation and about conversational narrative in the sense that it foregrounds conversational situations and probes the identity-building and relations-forming power of conversational narratives. The main conversational narrative in "The Sisters" is, of course, that relating to the late priest, and the two principal narrators of the story are Old Cotter and Eliza. The elliptical and enigmatic quality of the conversational narratives delivered by the two narrators stands out clearly. "The Sisters" has often been seen as a demonstration of the impossibility of there being coherent stories with univocal meanings easily decipherable through the process of interpretation. I believe, however, that even though the informational gaps in the narratives of the priest's life present various epistemological challenges to their audience (readers included), the overall point of Joyce's story lies not in the informational content, or the lack of it, in Old Cotter's and Eliza's accounts. Rather, it is the very act of relating a conversational narrative which is of special interpretive importance here.

  • 3 Terence Brown states that "The Sisters" manifests a certain "brooding on half-comprehended, half-s (...)

9For Old Cotter, the act of telling a story in the course of the conversation is clearly an act which grants him power: the informational gaps in his story render the audience dependent on him. The boy protagonist's irritation at the situation seems to spring from some intuitive, not fully conscious, understanding of Cotter's conversational strategy and its effects ("I crammed my mouth with stirabout for fear I might give utterance to my anger. Tiresome old red-nosed imbecile!" [Joyce, 1992, 1l]).3 The boy feels intellectually superior to Old Cotter and to the other adults in the room but Cotter's conversational narrative works to reverse that sense of hierarchy. The boy probably 'knows' the story better than anybody, but he is not in a position to relate it. In fact, Old Cotter's discourse effectively silences the boy, for he is not even granted a position which would enable him to join the conversation. It is first and foremost Cotter's conversational narrative and his manner of positioning his audience which makes it possible for him to feel superior to the other people in the room and, also to a certain extent, to the priest who is now dead. Furthermore, the socio-cultural conventions and norms already in place work in Cotter's favour and to the detriment of the boy protagonist. If the boy were to resist Old Cotter's storytelling power, and thus his own subordinate position in the conversational situation, he would have to break various social norms, not the least those of good manners and linguistic politeness. It is for this reason that he simply cannot utter his irritated remarks aloud. Cotter's conversational success gains support from the well-established social formula, according to which children should be seen, not heard.

10The boy's position in relation to Eliza's conversational narrative is somewhat different. Now he willingly recedes to the background and keeps silent: "She pressed me to take some cream crackers also but I declined because I thought I would make too much noise eating them" (Joyce, 15) In many ways, Eliza is a much less oppressive storyteller than Old Cotter, even if she also holds the floor by telling a story full of elliptical and enigmatic sentences. The audience – kept in a subsidiary position - is forced to "extract meaning" from them, as best they can (cf. Joyce, 11). Eliza's storytelling power seems, in fact, to be fully "deserved." Eliza and Nanny have obviously devoted their lives to looking after their brother, which is why it seems only justified that Eliza (speaking for them both) should be elevated to the role of a storyteller and, in that way, to a position of power (at least temporarily). The boy is right in thinking that the priest's demise may have been a liberating event: "I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death" (Joyce, 1992, 12). Eliza is not a talented storyteller but she has nonetheless assumed – literally inherited – a speaking position after the passing away of her brother. The boy protagonist does not feel threatened by Eliza's narrative and newly acquired conversational power. Rather, he seems to enjoy his role as a silent observer. Presumably, his sense of intellectual superiority is not violated by the women's conversation. The conversation between the women here seems to be more concerned with mutual support than establishment of power hierarchies. While Old Cotter seeks to create divisions of power with his conversational narrative, the effect of Eliza's account have more to do with intimacy and social rapport.

Intimacy and Rapport under Scrutiny

11In her work within the field of conversation analysis, Deborah Tannen repeatedly makes the point that conversations in general and conversational narratives in particular are first and foremost attempts to establish, maintain, and enhance the feelings of intimacy and social rapport between the conversational partners. She also points out that issues of solidarity and power are inevitably intertwined: "every utterance is potentially ambiguous as to whether it is establishing power or solidarity (in reality, I believe, every utterance displays both, in varying proportions.)" (Tannen, 1989, 147). Even though not disregarding the element of power at work in conversational situations, Tannen's emphasis on intimacy and rapport somewhat dangerously bypasses the strong leaning of conversations and conversational narratives towards fixed identities, relations, and world-views. I shall now move on to examine some further examples from Joyce's Dubliners to demonstrate how Joyce's narrative comments on the interrelationship between conversational narrative and the issue of intimacy. Dubliners demonstrates that intimacy and rapport between conversing human beings are, indeed, something which the speaking subjects very much desire. On the other hand, the text makes it clear that such intimacy is not devoid of potentially oppressive and even violent ideological implications.

12Let us begin by having a close look at the mesmerizing monologue delivered by the old man, often called the 'pervert,' in "An Encounter." The overall purpose of the old man's rambling conversation would seem to be to establish an intimate connection between himself and the two boys. R. B. Kershner has pointed out that the conversational situation here comprises a discursive battle whereby the man is trying to lure the boy protagonist into his own perverse world with its characteristically distorted identity models (Kershner, 1989, 44). Although heavily, and perhaps permanently, influenced by the man's speeches, the boy protagonist is a 'resisting hearer' and the bond fails to materialise according to the man's wishes and desires. The boy certainly records the call for intimacy in the man's monologue but finally refuses it.

… his voice, as he led me monotonously through the mystery, grew almost affectionate and seemed to plead with me that I should understand him.
I waited till his monologue paused again. Then I stood up abruptly. Lest I should betray my agitation I delayed a few moments pretending to fix my shoe properly and then, saying that I was obliged to go, I bade him good-day. (Joyce, 27-28)

13The identity-building, relations-forming, and world-view imposing potential of the man's conversational narrative is painfully brought into focus in "An Encounter." The conversational situation presented illustrates the suitability of a conversational narrative for gaining powerful holds over the audience and for advancing the selfish ends of the storyteller Conversational narrative, then, truly is a means of reaching out to the audience and seeking intimacy, but this should not be viewed as a 'harmless' matter. The deliverers of conversational narratives (e.g. Joyce's pervert) come from positions which are not neutral but variously 'interested ' What conversation analysis can gain from Joyce's extreme example of the pervert's "monologue" (Joyce, 26, 27) is the realization that sharp ideological criticism is very much needed when analyzing conversational discourse.

14Dubliners also manifests cases in which the power of conversational narratives to establish and impose identities, relations, and world views is deemed almost desirable and certainly reassuring on the part of the conversational partner not holding the floor. The exchange between Gallaher and Little Chandler in "A Little Cloud' demonstrates how the audience of a conversational narrative can actively contribute to the creation and maintenance of oppressive ideological models. During the conversation, Little Chandler solllicits "Great Gallaher" to tell stories about his adventurous life on the "immoral" continent (see Joyce, 1992, 77, 78). Gallaher seems to have no real stories to tell but he nonetheless successfully keeps up the storytelling act (' Ignatius Gallaher puffed thoughtfully and then, in a calm historian's tone, he proceeded to sketch for his friend some pictures of the corruption which was life abroad [Joyce, 1992, 78]). Through his somewhat vague and dubious stories he does manage to maintain and reinforce the roles, relationships, and views Chandler expects him to maintain:

He revealed many of the secrets of religious houses on the Continent and described some of the practices which were fashionable in high society and ended by telling, with details, a story about an English duchess – a story which he knew to be true. Little Chandler was astonished.
– Ah, well, said Ignatius Gallahcr, here we are in the old jog-along Dublin where nothing is known of such things. (Joyce, 1992, 78)

15As a result, Chandler's own position becomes fixed and fastened and stereotypical and hierarchical world-view reinforced:

The adventure of meeting Gallaher after eight years, of finding himself with Gallaher in Corless's surrounded by lights and noise, of listening to Gallaher's stories and of sharing for a brief space Gallaher's vagrant and triumphant life, upset the equipoise of his sensitive nature. He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friend's, and it seemed to him unjust. (Joyce, 1992. 80)

16Chandler's strong craving for intimacy and rapport is one possible explanation for his hopelessly assenting, albeit quietly irritated conversational position ("Gallaher was only patronising him by his friendliness just as he was patronising Ireland by his visit" [Joyce, 1992, 80]). In an attempt to re-experience something of the old friendship between himself and Gallaher, he comes to sacrifice his own storytelling power and his own stories. By insistently pushing the position of a dominant storyteller at Gallaher, Chandler gives up the power to defend and justify the choices he has made and the roles he has assumed in life.

17Not everybody wants the position of a storyteller in a conversational situation because assuming that position would mean putting oneself onto the stage, exposed and vulnerable to challenges, misunderstandings, resistance, failure, and the like. The narrator of a conversational story has to be skillful in order to succeed in capturing the attention of the audience and in using the storytelling act to his or her own advantage. Corley in "Two Gallants" is a highly professional storyteller in this respect. Even though his conversational partner, Lenehan, is familiar with conversational narration himself, Corley nonetheless manages to keep him in a position of a "disciple" throughout the story (Joyce, 1992, 60). Corley uses the general craving for intimacy, belonging, and togetherness he is able to detect in Lenehan. Corley succeeds in gaining power and respect through the act of recounting a conversational narrative because he is so talented in keeping the audience, in this case Lenehan, in control. He is able to anticipate Lenehan's views, desires, needs, values, weak points, and so on. He tells his friend stories about his relations with women and about his womanizing activities because he knows that Lenehan, being a single man, is eager to hear about such things. And when he talks to the girls he meets, he obviously adjusts his words accordingly (Lenehan mentions Corley's "deep energetic gallantries" [Joyce, 1992, 57]). Lenehan may regard himself as being intellectually superior to Corley (e.g. he makes a remark about Corley not having "a subtle mind" [Joyce, 1992, 52]), but the latter nonetheless manages to dominate his partner through his conversational skills.

18Jimmy Doyle in "After the Race" is yet another Dubliners character who desperately wants to belong to a group, to achieve social rapport and to enhance his social status. Unlike Corley, however, Jimmy is a poor teller of stories. He has two main problems. Firstly, he seems to throw himself into the act of delivering conversational narratives without advance preparation. As the general framework shifts from art to politics Jimmy joins the conversation, because he suddenly "felt the buried zeal of his father wake to life within him" (Joyce, 1992, 46). The speech he makes later on seems equally spontaneous in nature: after some heavy "Bohemian" drinking, "Jimmy made a speech, a long speech, Villona saying Hear! Hear! whenever there was a pause" (Joyce, 1992, 47) Harold F. Mosher has interpreted Villona's words as being "mockingly ironic" (Mosher, 1993, 411); this interpretation supports the view that Jimmy's conversational exchanges – and concomitantly his social relationships – tend to be less than successful. Secondly, Jimmy is totally incapable of'reading' his audience ("There was a great clapping of hands when he sat down. It must have been a good speech" [Joyce, 1992, 47-48]). Jimmy is at a loss in the world of conversation because he can only make "deft guess[es]" (Joyce, 1992, 44) and self-conscious observations concerning the meanings of words, signs, and gestures around him. So Jimmy falters in his attempts to conduct conversational exchanges because of his inability to adjust his words according to the needs and likes of the audience. The intimacy and rapport Jimmy longs for can never materialise properly because he does not care to set his words carefully enough and because he does not master the strategic nature of conversational storytelling. Intimacy between conversational partners is not a natural consequence of simply joining in the conversation – the intimacy and rapport must be achieved through skilful and carefully rehearsed manoeuvre.stories.

The Importance of rehearsal and replay

19Conversation analysis tends to view conversations primarily as spontaneous face-to-face situations, albeit governed by certain culturally determined and acquired rules and conventions. The scholars of conversational discourse talk about turn-taking mechanisms, overlapping speech, interruptions, "performance errors, false starts, hesitations, stuttering, spoonerisms, elisions" (Werth, 1981, 9) and the like, which gives the impression that conversational activities essentially take place 'here and now.' The way in which conversational narrative is thematized in the stories of Joyce's Dubliners, however, draws our attention to a different aspect of conversational discourse and conversational narration: premeditation and "postmeditation" (the latter term is my personal coinage, referring to meditation with hindsight). In other words, we tend to rehearse and replay conversations and conversational narratives in our minds and this element of rehearsal and replay is a significant contributing factor as far as conversational power is concerned.

20Much of the persuasive and seductive power of the pervert's monologue in "An Encounter" may stem from the fact that the speech has been composed in advance ("He gave me the impression that he was repeating something he had learned by heart…" [Joyce, 1992, 26]). Frank's "tales of distant countries" (Joyce, 1992, 39) related to Eveline also smack of pre-planning: the smoother the lines the easier the process of seduction. Farrington's story about the incident with Mr Alleyne is another one of the many examples illustrating the systematic planning which often accompanies the act of delivering conversational narratives: "As he walked on he preconsidered the terms in which he would narrate the incident to 'the boys': " -So, I just looked at him – coolly, you know, and looked at her. Then I looked back at him again – taking my time, you know. I don't think that that's a fair question to put to me, says I" (Joyce, 1992, 93). The motive behind Farrington's rehearsal is, again, craving for rapport. The act of delivering the conversational narrative has everything to do with his need to strengthen his position in the eyes of 'the boys.' The men in "Counterparts" begin "to exchange stories" (Joyce, 1992, 94) as soon as they gather together. The story is repeatedly told in the company of the men, and each time a version of Farrington's "smart" and "clever" (Joyce, 1992, 93) act of retort is related, both Farrington's belonging to the group and the overall group identity of the men are reinforced.

21According to Joyce's Dubliners, carefully composed conversational narratives are a common means by which the group identity of Irish men is created and maintained. Lenehan in "Two Gallants," to give one good example, is familiar with the need to keep telling stories, and to rehearse and repeat. Lenehan has to "speak a great deal, to invent and to amuse" (Joyce, 1992, 56) to gain the acceptance of a group. The conversational narratives delivered must be carefully wrought, they must succeed in persuading the audience. In order to hang on to the identity models of their desire, the narrators of conversational stories simply cannot afford too many failures. Thanks to his "adroitness and eloquence," Lenehan has managed to carry out the task so far:

His tongue was tired for he had been talking all the afternoon in a public house in Dorset street. Most people considered Lenehan a leech but, in spite of this reputation, his adroitness and eloquence had always prevented his friends from forming any general policy against him. (Joyce. 1092, 50)

  • 4 The idea that tellers of conversational narratives have to engage in work to align the recipients (...)

22Lenehan is, presumably, successful in 'aligning' his audience, i.e in making the audience feel that the stories told are aimed specifically at them and that they are the most suitable and, indeed, necessary recipients of those stories.4 Power and intimacy gained solely through conversational means are, however, transient in nature. Since Lenehan does not possess a well-established position among his friends, the conversational narratives have to be related again and again. The instances of successful audience alignment must be continuously renewed.

23Gabriel Conroy in "The Dead" is another example of a character actively and carefully twisting and turning both past and future conversations in his mind for strategic purposes. Having encountered a conversational failure (i.e. the feeling of intimacy and rapport has not been successfully attained), as happens with Lily and Miss Ivors for example, Gabriel needs to revise and adjust his conversational performances mentally, in retrospect. He uses his past failures in devising and revising the strategies which help him produce successful acts of conversation in the future. The changes he makes to his after-dinner speech spring from the conversational difficulties he experienced with Lily and Miss Ivors. By means of postmeditation and advance preparation he is able not only to take Miss Ivors' position into account but also to counter it and to present a challenge of his own.

He would say, alluding to Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia: Ladies and Gentlemen, the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality , of humour, of humanity , which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to lack. Very good: that was one for Miss Ivors. What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women? (Joy ce, 1992, 192)

24Besides failing to establish intimacy and rapport between himself and the two women, Lily and Miss Ivors, Gabriel has also, and perhaps more importantly, failed to maintain a superior position in the hierarchy which he expects to be governing the relationships between the conversational partners. When Gabriel sets out to review and modify the contents and rhetorical strategies of the speech, he is first and foremost concerned with re-establishing the old, more reassuring, power relations.

25Due to such emphasis on premeditation and postmeditation, the difference between written (carefully designed) and spoken (more spontaneous) language in connection with conversational discourse begins to seem somewhat unclear. It is true, of course, that conversational discourse is spoken, not written (except in the sense of being 'represented' in a written work). But the point here is that conversational discourse in fact shares many of the qualities traditionally ascribed to written communication: the elements of rehearsal, replay, and revision, careful anticipation of the audience's position and views, structurally and stylistically polished expression, and so on. With conversational narratives, rhetorical sophistication and careful advance planning are of utmost importance.

Power and cunning

26That conversational narratives can be used as tools in the protection and maintenance of group identity can most clearly be seen is stories such as "The Ivy Day in the Committee Room" and "Grace " Conversational stories are told with the purpose of establishing a clear identity for the members of the group as 'us,' in opposition to some other groups of outsiders called 'them.' And if the group's reputation is in danger, as it is in "Grace" as a result of Tom Kernan's fall, energetic conversational contributions of a sufficiently pious nature will be offered to make "all well" (Joyce, 1992, 174). "Grace" suggestively makes the point that the issues of intimacy and rapport achieved through conversational exchanges are thoroughly intertwined with power and cunning: the two leading conversationalists in Tom Kernan's bedroom are named Mr Power and Mr Cunningham. It is up to their persuasive powers to bring about the 'conversion' of Mr Kernan, and thus salvage the group's endangered reputation ("The idea had been Mr Power's but its development had been entrusted to Mr Cunningham. […] Mr Cunningham was the very man for such a case. He was an elder colleague of Mr Power" [Joyce, 1992, 157]).

27A character named Mr M'Coy is also present in the scene. In keeping with the semantic content of his name, M'Coy's conversational contributions for the most part can be characterized as insipid. He is not a powerful or a cunning storyteller; he does not even relate a conversational narrative of his own. Like Little Chandler, he is more comfortable with listening to the conversational narratives of others. But he, too, desperately wants to belong to the group. The 'catch the cabbage' story ends up being told because M'Coy pretends he has never heard it before ("Mr M'Coy, who wanted to enter the conversation by any door, pretended that he had never heard the story" (Joyce, 1992, 161). M'Coy resembles Little Chandler in "A Little Cloud" in his habit of actively asking others to tell stories in the course of a conversation. He does this in order to strengthen the feeling that he, too, has a position as a member of the group, albeit a coy and subordinate one. The price of this is to forever occupy the role of a passive listener. The gain is not to be discharged from the group: M'Coy manages to remain one of the good fellows, sharply distinguished from the common and vulgar "yahoos" (Joyce, 1992, 161).

28The situation of old Jack in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" is similar to M'Coy's. At the beginning of the story, old Jack tells Mr O'Connor a story about his relationship to his teenage son. O'Connor listens "in sympathy" (Joyce, 1992, 120) but as soon as more men start pouring into the room, Jack is no longer in a position to be delivering such conversational stories. He utters only a few remarks in the course of the conversation and his role is clearly that of a servant and a subordinate listener. His presence is accepted but his position within the group is not a prominent or powerful one. Jack may be 'old,' but in terms of power he occupies an infantilized role among the group of men. In fact, the role is comparable to that which he inhabits in relation to his son ("He takes th'upper hand of me whenever he sees I've a sup taken" [Joyce, 1992, 120]). The conversational and social position of old Jack is just as weak as those of the young boy in "The Sisters," for example. There is one significant difference between the two cases, however. Even though the boy protagonist in "The Sisters" suffers from his being 'just a child,' he is not really as powerless a storyteller as old Cotter's storytelling act makes it seem. Being a man of intelligence and "a great Rosicrucian" (Joyce, 1992, 11), the boy is likely to possess significant storytelling power later on in life. The narration of the story, which combines the language and focalization of the young protagonist and those of the retrospective adult narrator (telling of himself as a young boy), gives us to understand that the boy is rhetorically talented and a keen observer of his environment. The 'right' to tell conversational narratives will come to him, or he will actively acquire it, eventually.

29The question of who has a right to tell stories in conversational situations, which has emerged from the above examples, is probed throughout the Dubliners stories. Characters in an "infantilized" or "feminized" position often lack the power to deliver conversational narratives of their own. Maria in "Clay" and Mrs Sinico in "A Painful Case", for example, are expected to be passive listeners of conversational narratives recounted by others. Maria is supposed to endure the story about the remark Joe has made to his manager at work (Joyce, 1992,104) and Mrs Sinico is likewise positioned as a patiently listening "confessor" (Joyce, 1992, 110) on the part of the storytelling agent, Mr Duffy. When Maria and Mrs Sinico attempt to achieve a more active conversational role for themselves, the conversations immediately fall apart. Joe becomes very angry at Maria's attempted act of peace-making (Joyce, 1992,104) and James Duffy breaks up his entire "intercourse" with Emily Sinico (Joyce, 1992, 112). Maria and Mrs Sinico do not possess storytelling rights in the conversational situations depicted.

30Freddy Malins is yet another character in Dubliners shown to be telling a conversational story. The description of the storytelling act is worth quoting at some length:

-Now, then, Teddy, I'm going to fill you out a good glass oflemonade just to buck you up.
Freddy Malins, who was nearing the climax of his story, waved the offer aside impatiently but Mr Browne, having first called Freddy Malins' attention to a disarray in his dress, filled out and handed him a full glass of lemonade. Freddy Malins' left hand accepted the glass mechanically, his right hand being engaged in the mechanical readjustment of his dress. Mr Browne, whose face was once more wrinkling with mirth, poured out for himself a glass of whisky while Freddy Malins exploded, before he had well reached the climax of his story, in a kink of high-pitched bronchitic laughter and, setting down his untasted and overflowing glass, began to rub the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye. repeating words of his last phrase as well as his fit of laughter would allow him. (Joyce. 185)

31Interestingly, only Freddy's outward performance as a storyteller is reported in the text – the reader is given no indication whatsoever as to the content of Freddy's narrative. It is obvious that Freddy's audience is not really interested in what he has to say; it is his drunken behavior and gestures which steal all the attention. Freddy clearly occupies the position of a storyteller, holds the floor, but since he does it in his characteristically bibulous manner, his conversational contribution does not grant him power. Freddy's problem is essentially similar to that of Maria's or Eliza's: his social standing is too weak to begin with. Sometimes conversation may offer some compensation, as finally happens with Eliza in "The Sisters," but usually it is difficult for someone in a feminized or otherwise subordinate position to gain power solely by delivering conversational narratives.

  • 5 Mr Crofton in "Ivy Day" resembles Gabriel in this respect. He occupies such a powerful and wellres (...)

32A well-respected character like Gabriel Conroy, in contrast, has significant social power without even taking part in the actual exchange of stories ("He set to his supper and took no part in the conversation…" [Joyce, 1992, 198]).5. Freddy Malins does not enjoy such a privilege. In order to counter the patronizing attempts of silencing and control imposed on his character from without (e.g. Mr Browne repeatedly calls him "Teddy" [Joyce, 1992, 185, 198, 206] and Gabriel is assigned the role of a supervisor whose job it is to keep the 'terrible' Freddy in control), Freddy would have to be considerably more persuasive and cunning in his rhetorical performance. As it is, his powers as a conversationalist and a teller of conversational narratives are not strong enough in order for him to be able to actively influence the creation and maintenance of identities, relations, and world views ("-And why couldn't he have a voice too? asked Freddy Malins sharply. Is it because he's only a black9 Nobody answered this question and Mary Jane led the table back to the legitimate opera" [Joyce, 1992, 199]). Freddy has to remain tightly in the infantilized and ridiculed role of a drunken nuisance, already carved out for his character.

33Rhetorical talent and social position are interrelated, but if the teller of a conversational story is not well-respected in the first place the requirements put on his conversational performance are all the more substantial and difficult to meet. Moreover, it is, naturally, easier to maintain the existing status quo than to try and change it by conversational means. Joyce's Dubliners suggests that the creation of new identities, relations, and world-views almost invariably require both a well-respected position and a sufficient amount of rhetorical cunning. If only one of these talents or qualities is fully operational, it needs to be taken to its extreme. Only if the conversational move taken is surprising and drastic enough is a person not in possession of social and rhetorical power sometimes capable of upsetting existing hierarchies and identity positions, at least temporarily. The reason why Gretta Conroy's story about Michael Furey in "The Dead" has such a powerful impact on Gabriel rests mainly on the strong surprise value concerning both the story's content and the act of its telling. Gretta's narrative is not a rhetorical masterpiece, neither is her position as a teller a powerful one. However, the established hierarchy between the husband and the wife is temporarily thrown out of balance as Gretta suddenly assumes the role of a storyteller and, furthermore, delivers a conversational narrative whose content is totally unexpected and even frightening from Gabriel's point of view ("some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world." [Joyce, 1992, 220]).

34Gabriel Conroy stands out from most other Dubliners characters because he possesses both social power and rhetorical cunning. Gabriel is, however, shown to be extremely self-conscious and worried about both. Being a literary critic and hence an expert in rhetoric, he knows all too well how easy it is to harm one's social standing by a single unsuccessful turn of phrase. While the creation of radically new identities and social positions by conversational means is hard work, losing the positions already established is easy. As Garry Leonard has pointed out in his reading of the scene involving Gabriel and Miss Ivors, "conversation is dangerous" because "one's sense of self may be subverted as easily as it may be confirmed." (Leonard, 1991, 453) Since Miss Ivors is his intellectual and social equal, Gabriel cannot "risk a grandiose phrase with her" (Joyce, 1992, 188). If someone at the party were to threaten Gabriel's power as a speaker and a well-respected guest, Miss Ivors is the most likely candidate for the simple reason that she alone can seriously challenge Gabriel, she is a colleague in every sense of the word. Therefore it is especially important for Gabriel to choose his words carefully with her. This phenomenon in fact deliciously reflects the overall 'conversational' nature of the exchanges between critical readers and interpretive communities. Here we have two teachers and literary critics conducting a conversation, polite and friendly on the surface with tensions and political disagreements bubbling underneath. The situation is familiar to all literary critics. The contributions to a critical 'conversation,' centering upon a piece of writing such as Joyce's Dubliners, must be carefully composed. The position of the critic in the eyes of colleagues and other readers largely rests on the quality of these contributions.

Literary criticism as conversational narrative

35In reading the Joycean narrative and in writing about the experience, the critical readers of Joyce in a way participate in a conversation. Their critical contributions are like conversational narratives (stories of reading and of the reader) related in an ongoing conversation between readers and critics. Critical narratives are also inextricably intertwined with the afore-discussed processes having to do with the creation and maintenance of identities, relations, and world views (e.g. theoretical frameworks). One of the purposes of scholarly writing is certainly to define the writer's status and identity in relation to other scholars (partners in the critical conversation). When offering a critical reading, the reader is actively modifying his or her position in the eyes of the Joyce community in general. Again, it matters very much who is telling the story (of reading), to whom, in what context, in what manner, and for what purpose. Such critical stories are inevitably concerned with questions of power. Critics usually want their critical views and theoretical positions to be respected and influential. They vigorously use their rhetorical talent and cunning to achieve such a desired state of affairs.

36The narrative of Dubliners self-reflexively anticipates the presence of the critical conversation, several alternative identity models and positions are made available for readers by Joyce's textual practice. As a conclusion to this essay, let us have a brief look at how Joyce's characters and their conversational activities may mirror different types of critical readers and their attempts to establish positions for themselves.

37A M'Coy-like reader would enter the critical conversation as a timid participant, faithful and respectful towards the established views repeated and echoed in the Joyce community. A M'Coy-like reader just wants to be part of the group, to fit in. A Power-like reader or a Cunningham-like reader, by contrast, would devote all his or her creative energy to attempts at excelling in persuasive rhetorical performances. Readers like this would use the Joycean narrative to further their personal critical ends and to establish the reputation of the group of Joyce readers as the most innovative and talented in the business. The overall function of such critical narratives would be to boost the identity of the critic and to help the critic gain a powerful and well-respected position in the eyes of other readers, both within and without the Joycean community. A Maria-like reader, in turn, would enter the critical conversation very self-consciously, afraid that his or her insignificant views would only irritate the mighty establishment, sometimes called the Joyce industry. Or one might take Mrs Kearney in "A Mother" as a model for the kind of feminist reader whose strategy would be to launch an aggressive attack on the patriarchal tenets of existing critical readings. The story itself seems to be issuing a warning to the critics: the consequences of using such an aggressive 'conversational' strategy may prove disastrous, not only because of certain obvious shortcomings in the strategy itself but also because the rest of the community will, in an act of self-defense, do their best to silence the attack and to retain the hierarchies of power and influence already in place. And then there may be readers resembling the young boy of the childhood stories: theirs would be a position of a keen observer waiting to evolve into something more prominent. The boy-like readers are, sometimes impatiently, just waiting for the right moment to utter their views, which they believe to be most intelligent and superior to those of others. These are young, ambitious, and aspiring scholars seeking to gain recognition and respect in the eyes of their elder colleagues.

38A whole gamut of corresponding models reflecting different reader positions can undoubtedly be suggested. Examining the conversational behavior of the characters in Joyce's Dubliners engenders a self-reflexive turn in the reader's interpretive activity. The role reserved for the critical reader of Joyce's collection begins to look significantly over-determined. Joyce's narrative calls attention to the conversational' nature of critical practice and urges readers to actively assess and reassess not only the socio-pragmatic functions and effects of conversational narratives as they are pictured in the stories, but also their own critical positions and the ideological implications involved in the attempts at creating and maintaining those positions.


Works cited

Brown, Terence, 1992. "Introduction", James Joyce, Dubliners. London: Penguin.

Buck, R.A. and Timothy R. Austin, 1995. "Dialogue and Power in Ε. M. Forster's Howards End" in Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context. Ed. Peter Verdonk and Jean-Jacques Weber, London: Routledge.

Geary, Edward A. 1989. "Undecidability in Joyce's 'The Sisters'", Studies in Short Fiction 26.3.

Hutchby, Ian and Robin Wooffitt, 1998. Conversation Analysis: Principles, Practices and Applications. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Johnsen, William Α., 1982. "Joyce's Dubliners and the Futility of Modernism," in James Joyce and Modern Literature. Ed. W. J. McGormack and Alistair Stead, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Joyce, James, 1992. Dubliners. Text, Criticism, and Notes. Ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz, New York: Penguin, 1996).

Kershner, R Brandon, 1989. Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Leonard, Garry, 1991. "Joyce and Lacan: 'The Woman' as a Symptom of 'Masculinity' in 'The Dead'", James Joyce Quarterly 28. 2.

Mosher, Harold F., 1993. "The Narrated and its Negatives: The Non-narrated and the Disnarrated in Joyce's Dubliners," Style 27.3.

Sacks, Harvey. 1992. Lectures on Conversation, vol. 2, ed. Gail Jeffersson, Oxford: Βlackwell.

Tannen, Deborah, 1989. Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vesala-Varttala, Tanja, 1999. Sympathy and Joyce's Dubliners: Ethical Probing of Reading, Narrative, and Textuality, Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Werth, Paul, 1981. "Introduction" in Conversation and Discourse: Structure and Interpretation.. Ed. Paul Werth, London: Croom Helm.


1 To give just a few examples: "He repeated his phrases over and over again, varying them and surrounding them with his monotonous voice" (Joyce, 1992, 26); "The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty" (Joyce, 1992, 35); "I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation" (Joyce, 1992, 35); "He admired the dexterity with which their host directed the conversation" (Joyce, 1992, 46); "He spoke without listening to the speech of his companions. His conversation was mainly about himself: what he had said to such a person and what such a person had said to him and what he had said to settle the matter" (Joyce, 1992, 51-52): "At he corner of George's Street he met two friends of his and stopped to converse with them. [...] His friends asked him had he seen Corley and what was the latest. He replied that he had spent the day with Corley. His friends talked very little" (Joyce, 1992, 58); "He was so angry that he lost count of the conversation of his friends" (Joyce, 1992, 95). A considerable number of similar comments on various aspects of conversational discourse can be found throughout the text of Dubliners.

2 What counts as lexical repetition is, of course, a relative matter partly dependent on the interpreter. Although the repetition of the w ord conversation in Dubliners is not quantitatively speaking a particularly outstanding phenomenon, the fact that the word recurs in a Joycean text makes the matter qualitatively significant. The word sympaphy is also significant in Dubliners. For an extended discussion of the thematic and ideological significance of the notion see Vesala-Varttala, 1999.

3 Terence Brown states that "The Sisters" manifests a certain "brooding on half-comprehended, half-stated conversations" (Brown, 1992, xliv) and Edward A. Geary believes that the story demonstrates "the undecidability that lies behind every attempt at interpretation (Geary, 1989, 310).

4 The idea that tellers of conversational narratives have to engage in work to align the recipients of their stories comes from a series of lectures on storytelling m conversational situations bv Harvey Sacks (Sacks, 1992, 222-268); see also Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998, 134-136

5 Mr Crofton in "Ivy Day" resembles Gabriel in this respect. He occupies such a powerful and wellrespected initial position among the group of men m question that the only rhetorical strategy he needs in order to maintain his power and influence is to keep silent or to put on a sufficiently reserved and dignified facade ("Eh? Isn't that right Crofton? Mr Crofton nodded his head" [Joyce, 1992, 132]; "-What do you think of that, Crofton? cried Mr Henchy. Isn't that fine? What? Mr Crofton said that it was a veryf ine piece of writing" [Joyce, 1992, 135]).


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