Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
Dubliners – by James Joyce – excerpt from the fifth story in the collection: “After the Race”. With this story, Joyce moves the collection out of the realm of childhood and adolescence – and moves into young adulthood. If I’m not mistaken, there is an unbroken progression in this manner right up to the elegiac last story, with the wings of death beating over it. I would imagine that it is this type of story (“After the Race”, I mean) that would have so disturbed George Bernard Shaw when he read it. The picture of what Ireland has to offer its young men is not a pretty one. And Shaw knew, personally, the aimlessness of most young men in Dublin – nothing to do but get into trouble, pretty much. And this in a Catholic country! It would be hard to look at “After the Race” now and be truly shocked by it, so much has changed – adolescence lasts longer, we expect young people to make mistakes now – etc. etc. But back then, it was as though James Joyce was telling a family secret, with stories such as this one. How dare he?? He didn’t go along with the Irish Renaissance of the time, either – which romanticized certain aspects of Irish life, the whole Celtic twilight thing. Joyce was like fuck THAT. But then – of course – with ‘The Dead’ – the last story in the collection – he turns all of this around, a mirror image of all the rest. With its closing telescopic vision of the snow falling over the countryside … and its haunting never really explained line “The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward.” Multiple layers of meaning there. Moving towards death, sure – but there was also, at the time, a romanticization of the west of Ireland, its supposedly untouched peasantry, the Irish language, the purity of the life out there (Synge went out to live on the Aran Islands, to get closer to the “real” Irish) – and to some degree that romanticization still exists today, although I would say that most Irish folks nowadays don’t worry about it too much or think about it too much. You know, they’re a modern country, they have other issues, whatever – like all nations. But in Joyce’s time, in Irish literature – it was allll about “the west”. Look to “the west” to see who we REALLY are. If you want to write authentically about Ireland, you have to write about “the west”, etc. etc. Joyce never wrote about “the west” – and this book is obviously called “The Dubliners” for a reason. He’s a city boy. He writes about the meanderings of urban people, not peasants or country folk. In “The Dead” – something else starts to happen. Gabriel’s wife (based on Joyce’s own love – Nora Barnacle, from Galway – a Western Irish girl if ever there was one) is from the “west” – she had fled to Dublin to get away from the memories, etc. But the end of the story reverses time a bit … and it is as though we are high above the land, looking down upon it, the snow covering the fields … and we are moving west … at last. Ah, it’s glorious. Such a glorious story.
In “After the Race” – we see what sorts of entertainment are available to young men in Dublin. There’s a motor-car race – that starts in the country and comes into Dublin. One of the cars – owned by a couple of Frenchmen – is the one we are concerned with. There are 4 passengers in this motorcar – the 2 Frenchmen (and because they come from Europe – or, let’s just say – NOT Ireland) – are suffused with mystic importance, as though they know something that the ordinary Irishman can never know. There’s a serious inferiority complex at work here, that makes my heart ache. I want to tell Jimmy to not do that to himself, or his countrymen … to not feel LESS THAN just because he’s Irish … but he can’t help it. For generations, Irish people looked at their homeland as something they needed to get away from. For opportunities, etc. If you were from somewhere ELSE, you obviously had a leg-up on the regular old Irishman. Okay, and then there are 2 other people in the car – a Hungarian (great character, hysterical) – and Jimmy, the lone Irishman. These four have become connected through various channels – they’re friends, of a sort – and about to become business partners. Jimmy’s father is proud of Jimmy, and they have invested in the motor-car business of the Frenchmen … But somehow the effect of reading the story is that all of this is rather tenuous. Jimmy isn’t confident of himself – he’s all puffed up with vanity because he’s seen hanging around with the Frenchmen – he enjoys the envious (so he thinks) gazes of his fellow Dubliners … The whole point for him is to elevate himself above the masses. Since there’s a drunken conversation about politics at the end of the story – I imagine that there are nationalistic issues at play here as well. It’s not just that Jimmy is insecure and wants his new friends to like him. It’s that he’s IRISH, and he feels better about himself when he’s hanging out with “continentals” than with his own peeps. This is not a stretch, I don’t think – I think that’s part of what Joyce is writing about here, and why the story is a mini-tragedy. Not a sweeping elegiac tragedy – like “The Dead” – but a small portrait of a nation’s inferiority complex … and how Jimmy, in trying to keep up with his European friends, loses big.
Here’s an excerpt.
Excerpt from Dubliners – by James Joyce – “After the Race”.
Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money. These were three good reasons for Jimmy’s excitement. He had been seen by many of his friends that day in the company of these Continentals. At the control Segouin had presented him to one of the French competitors and, in answer to his confused murmur of compliment, the swarthy face of the driver had disclosed a line of shining white teeth. It was pleasant after that honour to return to the profane world of spectators amid nudges and significant looks. Then as to money – he really had a great sum under his control. Segouin, perhaps, would not think it a great sum but Jimmy who, in spite of temporary errors, was at heart the inheritor of solid instincts knew well with what difficulty it had been got together. This knowledge had previously kept his bills within the limits of reasonable recklessness and, if he had been so conscious of the labour latent in money when there had been question merely of some freak of the higher intelligence, how much more so now when he was about to stake the greater part of his substance! It was a serious thing for him.
Of course, the investment was a good one and Segouin had managed to give the impression that it was by a favour of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be included in the capital of the concern. Jimmy had a respect for his father’s shrewdness in business matters and in this case it had been his father who had first suggested the investment; money to be made in the motor business, pots of money. Moreover Segouin had the unmistakeable air of wealth. Jimmy set out to translate into days’ work that lordly car in which he sat. How smoothly it ran. In what style they had come careering along the country roads! The journey laid a magical finger on the genuine pulse of life and gallantly the machinery of human nerves strove to answer the bounding courses of the swift blue animal.
They drove down Dame Street. The street was busy with unusual traffic, loud with the horns of motorists and the gongs of impatient tram-drivers. Near the Bank Segouin drew up and Jimmy and his friend alighted. A little knot of people collected on the footpath to pay homage to the snorting motor. The party was to dine together that evening in Segouin’s hotel and, meanwhile, Jimmy and his friend, who was staying with him, were to go home to dress. The car steered out slowly for Grafton Street while the two young men pushed their way through the knot of gazers. They walked northward with a curious feeling of disappointment in the exercise, while the city hung its pale globes of light above them in a haze of summer evening.