Sunday, 8 April 2012

Araby - James Joyce

The blog is often accused, by the odd nutter, of being a bit philistine and terribly unappreciative of things cultural.

Not the case, of course.  The blog has a great appreciation of Irish culture - but not the contrived version spun by the Irish Folklore Commission, which gave us the gibberish of  Peig, Tomás Ó Criomhthain and a few more besides. 

In its efforts to facilitate nation-building, it ignored the urban Irish - especially those of Dublin - who it felt were too Anglicised; therefore unsuitable for playing sturdy games and dancing at the capital's many crossroads whilst simultaneously spouting gibberish as Gaeilge for stenographic immortalisation. 

No, Dublin had to settle for producing literary figures such as Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Sheridan le Fanu, JM Synge, Brendan Behan, WB Yeats, Sean O'Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Christy Brown and, erm, Roddy Doyle.

Oh then there was James Joyce.  The word "gibberish" was invoked earlier, and many might apply that term to his more "difficult" work, Finnegan's Wake.  Even parts of Ulysses. 

Not "Dubliners" however, first published in 1914.  It's open season on Joyce now that the copyright to his works has expired.  Even the Metro was giving out free copies of his celebrated selection of short stories the other week.   I'll point out that I got my copy in WH Smith in 1991, and have returned to it many, many times since. 

The story below is one of my favourites.  It deals with a young lad trying to escape the stifling constraints of his life and his surroundings, and failing miserably. 

A few of you might be familiar with that feeling.

Joyce was - he had to get out of the place.


North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq. I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes, under one of which I found the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.

When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street, light from the kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner, we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. Or if Mangan's sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea, we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan's steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed, and I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs' cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O'Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'O love! O love!' many times.

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar; she said she would love to go.

'And why can't you?' I asked.

While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps, and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

'It's well for you,' she said.

'If I go,' I said, 'I will bring you something.'

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised, and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play.

On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush, and answered me curtly:

'Yes, boy, I know.'

As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the window. I felt the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.

When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high, cold, empty, gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old, garrulous woman, a pawnbroker's widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn't wait any longer, but it was after eight o'clock and she did not like to be out late, as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:

'I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.'

At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.

'The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,' he said.

I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:

'Can't you give him the money and let him go? You've kept him late enough as it is.'

My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying: 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' He asked me where I was going and, when I told him a second time, he asked me did I know The Arab's Farewell to his Steed. When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my aunt.

I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.

I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall girded at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.

Remembering with difficulty why I had come, I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.

'O, I never said such a thing!'

'O, but you did!'

'O, but I didn't!'

'Didn't she say that?'

'Yes. I heard her.'

'O, there's a... fib!'

Observing me, the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured:

'No, thank you.'

The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Back to Gombeen Nation main page


Anonymous said...

Why are Goldsmith, Wilde or Shaw Irish writers.?

They didn't live in Ireland, they didn't write in Ireland, they didn't write about Ireland, they didn't write for an Irish public.

You left out Elizabeth Bowen, who in fact did live in Ireland and did write about Ireland, although not all the time.

While Goldsmith was writing the majority of Irish people would not have been able to read or understand him. Instead they would have known the works of aristocrat poets like Ó Rathaille and Ó Bruadair. While the Dublin lower classes would have had no access to the works of Swift, Sheridan or Goldsmith their 'peasant' counterparts would in many cases have known their own literature off by heart and in others would have been able to read and have access the written word.

The Gombeen Man said...

So? How many Irish people do not live in Ireland? Does it mean they are not Irish? And does every Irish writer have to write about Ireland? No, of course not.

As far as literacy goes, most Gaelic speakers of the time were also illiterate. I'll cite Thady Roddy, author of Ogygia, seu Rerum Hibernicarum Chronogia who complained in 1700 that collection of books in Gaelic were "redundant" due to the lack of people literate in Gaelic. This remained so even up to, and after, the famine. So they wouldn't have been able to read or understand anything.

Most Irish people would recognise Swift, Goldsmith and Shaw as Irish writers - though they might not meet your definition as such.

They are widely read - some of their works are even on the school curriculum.

And if you do a search on "literary Dublin" you will find the authorities here are only too ready to claim them as Irish. Again, not your Gaelic definition of Irishness, but there you go. TCD even has an "Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing".

Most Irish people, I will speculate, won't even have heard of your "aristocrat poets".

Anonymous said...

Well said. These so called Irish writers have nothing to do with the real Ireland. Never had, never will.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how tenuous or substantial must the connection to Ireland be to be an 'Irish' writer. Or is it the case how lucrative the connection is, for universities and the tourist industry, no matter how tenuous the connection? A bit like finding a connection with every US president.

I doubt if many more Irish speakers were illiterate than were English speakers, but illiteracy was not a handicap to Irish literature, since people were prepared to memorise what they had heard, and the line between literature and folklore was not so definite as with English.

In any event, the author of Ogygia is Ruairí Ó Flaithbheartaigh and you might please cite where Ó Rodaighe says such. But I would be doubtful about this, since there was clearly a demand for written works in Irish throughout the 18th c., many such works having several surviving manuscripts, one example being Pairlement Chloinne Tomáis, having over 40 copies.

English newspapers published in Dublin were even translated into Irish.

Certainly, there was no finer poet in Ireland, in any language, until Yeats, than Ó Rathaille, and that this is not recognised is a sad indictment of the Irish education system.


Ella said...

jesus GM, I'm outta my depth here, Goldsmith, Shaw and Wilde were all born in Ireland weren't they? Doesn't that make them paddies regardless of where they choose to do their writing and also the subject matter. I was born here too and lived abroad for many years, but even whilst abroad I think I was considered a paddy by myself and my colleagues and neighbours. Am I missing something here?

The Gombeen Man said...

@ Anon. Define "real Ireland" for us please.

@ Ella. Well said, indeed. It's funny a mentality that would want to disown some of the greatest writers in literature. Dev isn't in it.

@ EL. Tenuous? Is being born in Ireland not enough for you? Or does the "Anglo" Irish tradition not count in this new order? As far as citing goes, here you go: Breathnach "The end of a Tradition. A Survey of Eighteenth Century Gaelic Literature". 1961.

And these writers - Wilde and Shaw at any rate, are world renowned. They don't need an education/indoctrination system to make them significant.

Anonymous said...

Goldsmith, Sterne, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett, and Joyce would sooner have hanged themselves than live on this toxic, cursed rock. Swift, too, tried to escape, but never managed to break free.

A person of wit, talent, ambition, and sense growing up here and getting away as soon as possible is a true Irish tradition stretching back to Eriugena, who, remember, spent his productive years in the fructifying academies of Carolingian France.

Yeats and Synge were born into privilege and found it agreeable being fawned over by the common bumpkins that a lack of ambition and sense left behind. But even Yeats, in his later writing and in his senate speeches, exhibited regret that he had taken "Ireland" so seriously while young and foolish, and shock at how he and his tribe were used by the theocrats, gombeen rats, and cute hoors he had once marketed as heroic. Too soon old and too late wise was he.

And as for so-called "real" Irish writers, there are good ones (O'Casey, O'Connor, O'Nolan, Behan, etc), but none who consistently rose to the level of those who were smart enough to abandon this God-forsaken dump.

There is not, and never has been, any place for genius here. Genius *must* go. Away with wit; away with individual brilliance; away with taste and decency. We will have no such boldness here.


John said...

Joyce may have left Ireland but Ireland never left Joyce.All his work was about or set in Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Well it seems that only some writers born in Ireland are acceptable, the discrimminating factor being the language they write in, and no much else, But then living in 'post-nationalist' Ireland why distinguish between Irish and non-Irish writers at all? After all if you changed the names of the characters and the names of places they would be indistinguishable. The truth is Irish writing (in English) is but a provincial version of British writing and a mediocre one at that.

By the way you might please the work of Ó Rodaighe you referred to.


Dakota said...

Yes Thomas, it destroys. It's as if the moisture in the air adds a corrosive nature to ratioanal thought and actions. There is nothing worse than a set of systems based on conceit and cowardice. The Celtic Blob is a case in point. The nation is a living joke. A constitution based on perceptions of equality. Dipped in blood, which has produced nothing but materialistic, egotistical gurriers. It's as if the individual has been programmed to not only undermine themselves but the self in the stranger as well. Nothing but a grand scam which sacrifices the innocent on the alter of greed, deception and delusion.

Just look at what was voted in with the last election. Just look, at the standard of political comment which allows such a political landscape. Just look in awe, at the complete lack of any credible alternative to the mainstream political Zombies. A mainstream which sees nothing wrong with financially mugging the Irish population and rewarding corruption with fat pensions and perks. And JUST THINK of a nation which has produced such, and continuously allows such devouring of the self, and the process will start all over again. No wonder such tomes as Ulysses need to be tuned into, at alternative frequencies.

The Irish are now like an entity - a collective consciousness - which does not understand the the concept of awareness, at the most crucial junture in its history. That is if, Ireland ever really existed at all. It could be argued it never really was soverign in the first place - nothing but a projection from DeValera's subconcious and now, a promulgation of political correctness and economic imperative.

The Gombeen Man said...

@ EL. It's not a case of writers being "acceptable". It's a case of writers being known and appreciated. Outside the dusty halls of academia and Gaelic studies that is.

You brought up the topic of what writers are "acceptable", and what you consider to be truly Irish. Let me say, I have had a bellyful of such nonsense.

And many would argue that the literary giants I mentioned are not renowned - by most reasonable and sane people anyway - for producing "mediocre versions" of "British" writing.

@ Thomas. Sentiments that need no endorsement from me. Getting out of the place was the only way they could develop.

@ Dakota. The sad thing is, so many are still happy to follow Dev's cultural nationalist line - lemming like. Still smitten with nonsense insults like West Brit and all the rest.

As I say: banging on about the 800 years and disregarding the 90 where we have been up a gombeen dead-end, shafted raw by the cute hoor political class who took the reins (reigns?) from the "de Brits!!".

You'd think after all that has happened they would cop on.