Notes on Counterparts
Farrington the Scrivener
No less than Bartleby, Farrington would prefer not to.
One of the overarching themes of Dubliners, paralysis, applies as much to Melville’s Wall Street office as it does to the offices of Crosbie & Alleyne; it seems to be the very nature of the occupation, whereby the civilizing skills of reading and writing are reduced to a mechanical operation: the production of counterparts without the illuminating freedom enjoyed by the monks who inked the Book of Kells. Office work is fundamentally routine repetition, but Farrington’s occupation demands exact repetition: one error and the scrivener must start a new page.
Side by side in Dubliners (the eighth and ninth stories respectively), A Little Cloud and Counterparts display Joyce’s sense of design. The duplication of plot elements establishes as a general condition the paralytic misery of Dublin: both stories open in an office, feature a night out, and conclude with father and child. True, it is only by a technicality that we can say Farrington is a writer, but in combination with Chandler’s vision of poetic fame and Gallaher’s place at a London newspaper, we meet three members of the tribe of scribes. For Gallaher, writing has given him his ticket out of Dublin; Chandler’s books of poetry are a form of escapism; Farrington’s job is a dead end.
It is possible that a reader may pity Little Chandler, the chief character of A Little Cloud; this is not so likely with Farrington. The third person narrator (as much of a character as any we meet in Dubliners) presents his almost monstrous figure:
When he stood up he was tall and of great bulk. He had a hanging face, dark wine-coloured, with fair eyebrows and moustache: his eyes bulged forward slightly and the whites of them were dirty. He lifted up the counter and . . . went out of the office with a heavy step.
To those unfamiliar with office architecture of the period, the phrase “he lifted up the counter” might suggest a feat of strength. The face is a negative image, photographically speaking, and the emphasis upon his heavy step (repeated subsequently in the story) suggests something out of a Bram Stoker tale, or perhaps Frankenstein’s creature. Certainly, the Narrator takes pains to present the unappealing efforts of his movement, the increasing reluctance of a mechanical toy that is winding down. I recognize that “walking dead” is an anachronism, but it seems to suit Farrington.
The opening sentence plays with the repetition of “furious”: the bell rang furiously and a furious voice called out. The bell sounds another repetitive motif: the doubled letters in Alleyne, Farrington, Shelley, O’Neill’s, Flynn, O’Halloran, Higgins, Miss Parker and Miss Delacourt. (There are many more. That spelling might be significant is something we are more likely to associate with Finnegans Wake.) If it could be demonstrated that doubled letters were the bane of scriveners, as more likely to create a blot or an error, and so force another act of repetition, it would be quite satisfying. As it is, the error Farrington commits occurs when three words in a row begin with “B”: “He was so enraged he wrote Bernard Bernard instead of Bernard Bodley.” Mr Alleyne’s rage is expressed by repetition: sarcastic or spluttering, as the occasion warrants.
Counterparts is Joyce’s harshest depiction of Dublin drinking. Alcoholism is dependent on repetition, and Farrington’s night on the town is a sequence of repeated rounds.
The conditions of Farrington’s occupation inform the prose, revealing the limits of his options (though, to be sure, they are in good part self-imposed). His pub crawl closes with an arm-wrestling match (“the two best out of three”). Before the bout begins, “the two arms were examined and compared” – exactly the process to which a scrivener’s final product was subjected. The story closes with the promise of a “Hail Mary” – a Catholic magic charm, rendered more efficacious by repetition.
Rumours and Realities
Rumour, gossip and innuendo is a motif which runs throughout Joyce’s work. Perhaps it is the least present in A Portrait — although the sermons could be seen as a kind of rumour. In the Wake, gossip-fueled allegations swirl around Shem and Anna and Earwicker: the language forces the reader to double-back, the language creates the mis-hearing of eavesdropping. Astonishingly accurate in every detail, the unnameable narrator of Cyclops embodies a primary motive of gossip: the display of inside information.
A good deal may be conveyed casually: let inference do the work. As: “Miss Delacour was a middle-aged woman of Jewish appearance.” The information is not necessary, as it barely states a fact. (Joyce could have written: “Mr Alleyne was said to be sweet on Miss Delacour or her money.”) “Jewish appearance” was a more highly charged phrase, 100 years ago, when Dubliners was published. Yet the sentence does not call her a Jew. It is a sentence without resolution; it is a sentence that leads to nothing more than suspicions. It’s gossip.
A similar gossipy moment occurs when Farrington decides against asking Higgins for money: “A man with two establishments to keep up, of course he couldn’t. . . .” The implication is that Higgins keeps a mistress, but it is not firmly stated. The reader is free to think so, but what if Higgins had a widowed sister whom he supported? That would account for two establishments and also improve Higgins’s moral stature. Here the Narrator and Farrington are closely aligned: neither elaborates, because it is not necessary (one or another or both of them know the truth); the reader should recognize gossip.
Joyce first became aware of the troubles that would so long postpone the publication of Dubliners in the spring of 1906, when he received a letter from his publisher, Grant Richards, informing him that the printers had raised objections to two stories: Two Gallants and Counterparts. In subsequent correspondence, the objections from the printers steadily increased, sometimes with the unwitting assistance of Joyce himself: when Joyce inquired why there had been no objection to An Encounter, the return mail entered it on the list. Joyce, anxious to get the stories published, agreed to many changes, including the withdrawal of An Encounter from the collection. In the end, Dubliners was printed in its entirety, but one revision demanded by the printers was retained in Counterparts. The offensive sentence at first read:
She continued to cast bold glances at him and changed the position of her legs often; and when she was going out she brushed against his chair and said ‘Pardon!’ in a Cockney accent.
The published version reads:
She glanced at him once or twice and, when the party was leaving the room, she brushed against his chair and said ‘O, pardon!’ in a London accent.
We may thank the printers for this: less is more! “London” lightly links us to the liberties of the city embodied by Gallaher in A Little Cloud. No longer overtly flirting, the woman is now the subject of Farrington’s intoxicated inference.
Another objection raised by the printers strikes at the heart of Joyce’s claim that Dublin could be rebuilt by studying Ulysses. Joyce’s realism is based upon actualities: the bars Farrington visits are named; Davy Byrne’s and Mulligan’s (the alpha and omega of the evening) are still in business. As with Bloom, we can follow exactly Farrington’s lumbering step. Concerned that the publicans might sue, Joyce was requested to change the names. Joyce refused: he thought the bars might be “glad for the advertisement.”
We grow accustomed, while reading Joyce, to encountering literary references, which momentarily shift our attention from the story at hand to a broader consideration of literary art and purposes (sometimes it is more than momentary). If there is a story in Dubliners that could do without a literary reference, it might very well be Counterparts, as Farrington shows no spark of imagination. And yet there is the somewhat puzzling Virgilian reference, “the liberal shepherds of the eclogues.” The reference itself is not difficult to follow, but from whence does it come? It can hardly represent a thought crossing Farrington’s mind; nor is it likely to be used by O’Halloran. To come across a reference to pastoral poetry in this gritty and dismal urban tale is a surprise; harking back to the idea of the Narrator as a Character, it is a moment when the Narrator slips free from a seemingly objective role, and drops this literary allusion to show up the brutal and incomplete lives of the men seen at the tavern.
From Virgil to Ovid. Marshall McLuhan suggested, by analogy to ULYSSES, that the inherent form of Dubliners might be based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. McLuhan was more insistent on this than I, but I believe, with Joyce, such theories should be handled lightly. But, there are fifteen books to Metamorphoses, fifteen stories to Dubliners, and if the characters of Dubliners are not literally transformed, by and large, they wind up disappointed and worse off than they began (“fifteen stories and not a happy ending in the lot!”). Counterparts is the ninth story of Dubliners; the ninth book of Metamorphoses focuses on Hercules. Feats of strength? In a fit of rage, Hercules killed his family; his preferred weapon, a club.
Like "An Encounter" (and for that matter, Ulysses) the title "Two Gallants" suggests romantic adventure but instead, against the deepening dusk of Dublin, presents a world where chivalry is dead. Joyce, writing to Grant Richards from Trieste (May 1906), described the story as "one of the most important stories in the book" and added that, after "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" it "pleases me most." Joyce had signed a contract with Richards in February, but "Two Gallants" (added to the collection in March, and which Richards had sent to the printer without reading it himself) was what first alarmed the printer, and so began the troubles of Dubliners.
Lenehan is featured prominently in Ulysses as a "major minor" character, where he proves to be, if not especially endearing, entertaining. Some of the techniques of his leeching are revealed: his backstock of riddles and quips, his readiness to proffer a match, so to receive, in return, a cigarette (an honoured ritual of smokers' etiquette). His relation to Blazes Boylan, though without the prospect of material reward, is similar to the role he plays to Corley. Lenehan's time-killing wandering while Corley conducts his business foreshadows Bloom's while Blazes does his. Corley also appears in Ulysses, where a rambling and inconclusive account of his nickname "Lord John" is presented. Because of the time specific nature of Bloomsday, there is a tradition of dating Joyce's stories; according to this endeavour, the action of Two Gallants is commonly set in August 1903: if you accept this date, then Corley has rapidly gone downhill. By Bloomsday, (allowing for self-pitying exaggeration) those friends who had always ready a word of recommendation "when any job was vacant" have all deserted him — including Lenehan. Justice postponed. . .
The Interior Monologue relieved the Narrator of many traditional duties, such as physical description; we're informed of what a character notices — Bloom does not give us the height and weight of Nosey Flynn, yet we certainly learn the origin of his nickname. Overwhelmingly, Joyce's world is shaped by voices; even in Dubliners, narrative description is lightly applied. Joyce's Narrators typically offer more on clothing than physical detail: that we learn as much as we do of Buck Mulligan's appearance (both physically and sartorially) is because Stephen Dedalus is watching him closely. We learn about Haines's cigarette case, but little else, because Stephen Dedalus pays him no mind.
There are three physical descriptions in Two Gallants, presented by a Narrator who embodies the "scrupulous meanness " of Dubliners. Besides a yachting cap and white rubber-soled shoes, Lenehan ("squat and ruddy") "wore an amused listening face." Joyce customarily leaves it to the reader to judge, but the description of Corley does not disguise distaste (other than Shem, few characters are as harshly treated by an "objective" third person Narrator as Corley). His head was large, globular and oily; it sweated in all weathers; and his large round hat, set upon it sideways, looked like a bulb which had grown out of another. What I find most striking about the paragraph that describes Corley is the final sentence: When he reported these dialogues he aspirated the first letter of his name after the manner of Florentines. It is a detail that would be unknown to the characters of the story, a tit-bit of knowledge dropped by a superior Narrator. I will not harp on the ungallant description of Corley's girl.
The incident of the harpist on Kildare Street is worth dwelling upon. Before the tricolor was adopted as the Irish flag in 1916, it had been a golden harp emblazoned on a field of green. The tune, "O Silent Moyle," has lyrics by Thomas Moore, first published in his collection Irish Melodies. (There are dozens and dozens of references throughout Joyce's works to Thomas Moore, who has the dubious distinction of having burned Byron's memoirs.) These two points suggest a Nationalist significance informs the harpist's presence. Moore's poem is one of several Irish legends where a charmed (or cursed) woman awaits transformation; it's a symbol of Ireland but here the lyrics are not sung, and the harpist is a street musician, dependant upon the kindness of strangers to make a living. The harpist provides a moment of sentimentality in this grim tale, but though Joyce uses the occasion ironically, he greatly admired the song. Lester Young said once that you can't really handle a ballad right unless you know - really know - the words. The harpist is surely technically proficient, but I doubt he is thinking much about the lyrics.
The important action of the story, that which unveils its meaning, occurs "off stage" — Corley's request, and the rhetorical skill with which he puts it over. The reader remains with Lenehan and his walkabout through fashionable central Dublin, the ritzy part of town. It is clear enough, I think, that Lenehan's fundamental solitude is juxtaposed to the crowded streets he moves along; but there is also the underlying class difference that keeps him apart. He is virtually invisible in this wealthy neighbourhood. To grab a bite to eat, Lenehan walks north, crossing the Liffey, to a less affluent part of the city. Note that he is viewed with suspicion by the working class patrons at the eatery where he takes dinner. Since independence, there have been some changes in place-names in Dublin. What is now Parnell Square was once Rutland Square: Lenehan can't afford to buy a snack in central Dublin, so returns to where we first meet him. But Joyce doesn't weary us with narrative explication. Joyce does not elaborate the class distinctions found in Two Gallants because Lenehan himself doesn't think of them.
A Homeric parody, Ulysses in Dublin, was originally conceived for Dubliners. Joyce mentions it in a letter (November 1906) to his brother Stanislaus, after he had written Two Gallants, and after he and Grant Richards had parted. In the same letter, Joyce declares that he wished he had a map of Dublin. It seems to me that the walkabout of Two Gallants may have set Joyce to thinking about pedestrian possibilities; that the specifics of place might significantly inform realism. Ulysses famously incorporates characters from his earlier works (only those of his one play are exiled): an instance of such cross-referencing can be found in Two Gallants, when Lenehan reports that Holohan had stood for drinks. I see no reason why this would not be Hoppy Holohan, a character in A Mother. This is unique, so far as I have discovered, to Two Gallants. The Dubliners of Ulysses create the familiarity of a small city — it is still possible and common to cross paths with a friend or nodding acquaintance twice or thrice in one day. I suspect that Joyce postponed Ulysses because he recognized to do the job right would require greater length than a short story; furthermore, he wanted to settle down and complete the autobiographical novel that would become A Portrait. And there were family responsibilities. Still, in his spare moments, he may have begun some Homeric research.