University of Jaén, Spain | Published: 15 March, 2016
ISSUE 11 | Pages: 132-148 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2016-5990
2016 by Julio Ángel Olivares Merino | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
This approach to Joyce’s “The Dead” casts a light on the mechanics of phantasmagoria working as a foundational deconstructive strategy at the core of this masterpiece. Marking the salience of the ineffable and the invisible, the revenant motif stands in this narrative as a disruptive agent of the repressed, rising and blending in with the immediately visible or overtly framed to assert a balanced prominence between notions of the foreground and the background. The ghost has a multiplication of forms in “The Dead”, both a denotative and a figurative rendition, either embodied in the ghastly setting, mood and atmosphere, together with the ethereal musings of the music, or in the crucial summoning of three spectral modes: the return of those already dead and gone; the evanescent living as dead and, closing the circle, both the former and the latter as a unified synonym of the suspended. Projected on this scenario, both interacting with or stemming from it, our approach will offer readings of Gabriel Conroy’s rite of passage and quest for assertiveness within the oneiric masquerade of a haunted Christmas in Dublin.
Nuestra aproximación a “The Dead” analiza la funcionalidad de los índices fantasmáticos como estrategia efectiva de deconstrucción dentrodel imaginario de esta ínclita obra. Ilustrando la tematización de lo inefable y lo invisible, lo reviniente opera en la narración como trasunto de lo ominoso, referente subversivo y emergente que se equipara al relieve textual de los índices de visibilidad inmediata y fundamentada a fin de legitimar una prominencia discursiva par entre elementales en primer plano y descriptores diferidos en escena. El fantasma multiplica en “The Dead” sus modalizaciones discursivas, tanto denotadas como figurativas, bien a través de la caracterización del marco de acción o la ambientación – incluyendo también la enunciación etérea de la música –, bien a partir de la sustanciación de tres axiomas específicos de espectralidad: la revitalización de los referentes ya finados; la consunción gradual de los vivos, como trasuntos de los propios muertos, y, como síntesis de ambos modos, la semantización categórica de lo suspendido. A partir de dicha exégesis, teorizamos también acerca del rito de iniciación y asertividad de Gabriel Conroy dentro del marco figurativo de una Navidad hechizada cuyo espacio escénico es Dublín.
Fantasmas; deconstrucción; asertividad; nieve; música; epifanía; lo reprimido; consunción
1. Summoning Deadness and its Spectrality: The Story’s Foundations
Epitomizing notions of paralysis, exile or return to the origin, James Joyce’s “The Dead” frames an unstable rendition of identities which transcends any categorization based on discriminative traits or fixed archetypes. The narrative resorts to an ambivalent and dynamic method or taxonomy both concealing the immediate and showing the invisible or delayed. In fact, this “novella”1 about death, alienation and life renewal combines realist and antirealist segments which result in a discontinuous and disruptive flow yet bearing balance, cohesion and coherence. Joyce’s text blurs reality, pressing against and beyond tangibility, displacing its livid scenes to covertness, while invoking phantasmagoria to erase the limits between the immediate signs of physicality and the supplement invisibility. The text destabilizes the normal automatized reading, involving fluctuations, “cross-overs, the blurring of boundaries, mergers and exchangers of position” (Riquelme 1994: 228). A close analysis of this narrative proves it is resourceful to view it in a poststructuralist sense, away from any reductionist reading, and, more concretely, adopting a deconstructive interpretation. The latter is specially pertinent in a story playing with contradiction and binary oppositions (différance), but ultimately illustrating the convergence of institutionalized or dominant centers of meaning and their corresponding devalued or subliminal margins.2)
We can read “The Dead” as a marked semantic free play and inversion of roles between the aforementioned legitimized center – in this case, the living, who are made deferred – and those excluded or peripheral – the concealed dead, who float to the surface – to finally settle mutuality. In other words, deconstruction in this work does not bring a new hierarchy, reversing or destroying the previous one – the average living Dubliners dominating over those already gone –, but dismantles the opposition between the living and the dead, the present and the past, creating a balance between the traditionally superior terms and the inferior ones (Murfin 1994: 208). “The Dead”, consequently, stands as a ghost story – Joyce himself referred to it that way (Wheelan 2002) – in which the others, the immaterial legions of the deceased and those remnants of the past are summoned and endowed with presence, replacing the moribund living, though, in essence, what remains is an exchange of properties between both modes through balancing phantasmagoria. In a story where referentiality seems to be “subtle” and “atmospheric” (Kelleher 1965: 433), the substance of things is understood “from its shadow” (Benstock 1969: 150). This strategy dynamizes the center of meaning by legitimizing the validity of the ostensible opposites, not mutually exclusive as a result, and having both interacting in a palimpsest of undecidability and equivocity of identity (Riquelme 1994: 219). The same principle applies to the divergent interpretations the story is prone to, a manifest validation of the “perplexingly multiple” (ibídem 221) and irreconcilable meanings which frustrates the possibility of a single definitive closure, that univocity which limits our dialogue with the text, according to deconstructivist theories (Culler 1975: 244).
The present in “The Dead”, its parameters and actants, plagued by numbness and the mist, seem to illustrate decomposition, decrepitude and deterioration, as if they were phantasmal signifiers and motifs. To be more precise, the spatial setting is formed by four sites projecting haunted images: a house, with its partygoers, in a fading out cadence, commemorating the memory of the dead; a hotel’s room, as a non place or purgatory where the uncanny Michael Furey manifests by drawing energy from the perishing couple; Dublin, an effaced city in perpetual darkness, and Ireland, a territory under the endemic plague of snow.3 Its imagery and atmosphere emphasize a sense of vagueness and extinct life which, according to Roos (2002), might be derived from nineteenth-century author Bret Harte’s opening to his three-volume novel Gabriel Conroy (also the name of the protagonist in “The Dead”, which evinces the connection). Deadness and consumption exemplify “starvation (…) as Ireland’s national trauma” in this work (ibídem 99) while, curious to point out, Joyce’s story pivots around a feast to unearth and shape that same “buried history of the Famine embedded at its center” (Whalen 2002: 59). Parallel to Joyce’s grand finale in “The Dead” and that overladen estate of illegibility, Harte’s lines – highly visual and musical, as engraver of sensations, showing his skill as a painter – describe a frozen picture of desolation and dehumanization, a nowhere landscape:
Snow. Everywhere. As far as the eye could reach – fifty miles, looking southward from the highest white peak, – filling ravines and gulches, and dropping from the walls of cañons in white shroud-like drifts, fashioning the dividing ridge into the likeness of a monstrous grave, hiding the bases of giant pines, and completely covering young trees and larches, rimming with porcelain the bowl-like edges of still, cold lakes, and undulating in motionless white billows to the edge of the distant horizon. Snow lying everywhere over the California Sierras on the 15th day of March 1848, and still falling.
It had been snowing for ten days: snowing in finely granulated powder, in damp, spongy flakes, in thin, feathery plumes, snowing from a leaden sky steadily, snowing fiercely, shaken out of purple-black clouds in white flocculent masses, or dropping in long level lines, like white lances from the tumbled and broken heavens. But always silently! (…) The silence was vast, measureless, complete! (Quoted in Gifford 1981: 113-4).
Apart from the setting, characters are also haunted and permeated by the unexpected in Joyce’s short story since they are mediums of those already gone: Gabriel Conroy is a self-deluded actant (Riquelme 1994: 219), fissured and estranged by inadequacy and disaffection, unable to interact with his context in his determination to assert his identity away from the community of shades; Gretta is voluntarily possessed by Michael Furey and, in general, the guests at the party revitalize and resurrect their predecessors through their words and allusions. As Vicki Mahaffey and Jill Shashaty suggest (2012: 21), the revenant motif in Joyce’s story together with its title were probably inspired by a poem written by Thomas Moore and published in his Irish Melodies (1820):
Oh, ye Dead! oh, ye Dead! whom we know by
the light you give
From your cold gleaming eyes, though you move like
men who live.
Why leave you thus your graves,
In far off fields and waves,
Where the worm and the sea-bird only know your bed;
To haunt this spot where all
Those eyes that wept your fall,
And the hearts that wail’d you, like your own, lie
It is true, it is true, we are shadows cold and wan;
And the fair and the brave whom we lov’d on earth are gone,
But still thus even in death
So sweet the living breath
Of the fields and the flow’rs in our youth we wander’d
That ere, condemn’d, we go
To freeze mid Hecla’s snow,
We would taste it awhile, and think we live once
more! (1834: 182)
No wonder, the whole unfolding of “The Dead” is, in its literal terms, a burial procession4 apparently celebrating an elegiac homage to the departed, who resurrect, but latently and ultimately bring death or consumption to the living – inevitable infection represented by the paralyzing snow –, those performing the ritual. It all starts with a “wheezy door bell” (Joyce 2006: 2172),5 a sign of agony, and Lily – lilies are funeral flowers (Benstock 1969: 153) – bidding welcome to the dying generation in the Misses Morkan’s annual dance and ends with the universal interment of corpses under the blanket of snow, after a systematic progression from salutation to impending departures. It is a rite of passage restoring consciousness and concern about the passing of time, with the macabre atonement or expiation of sins, inheriting the modes of the Victorian cult of death, the grave standing as a site of decomposition and resurgence (Wheeler 1990: 27). Patterns of echoes or repetitions enact tradition in this work, experiencing dying and burial as an inevitable burden, but also prone to unearththe entombed layers in a “memento mori”, when the characters come into terms with the repressedtruth lying at the core of epiphany: mortality.
Like the magic lantern – an early device which used pictures on glass sheets to project images –, the narrative method in “The Dead” handles oscillating eruptions of phantasmagoria by means of an expansive technique forming an “intrincate tapestry” or “myriad of threads” (Monterrey 2011: 63). By juxtaposing and assembling minor and independent fragments, suddenly disappearing, Joyce remarks the visibility of peripheral thoughts and revelations, “instants of great intensity in the story” (ibídem 73)6 The projection of colliding atoms and polyphonic or heteroglossic imprint in this “many-voiced text” (Kelman1999: 62) forms a gallery of suspended frames like ectoplasmatic modalizations of individuals and utterances from the past. This sequence flows in the form of interwoven dialogues and waltz scenes over that distant piano music which gradually takes form to bring to the fore the perplexing but enlightening meaning of “The Lass of Aughrim”, the foundational piece.
Music is, after all, another global descriptor and specific mark of phantasmagoria in the narrative. Ostensibly, the melody and lyrics in question represent the evanescent physicality, standing for the departing characters – as in Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in sharp minor, known as the “Farewell Symphony”7 – though, as “emotional catalyst” (Henigan 2007: 141), the composition triggers the repressed and has an overall impact which urges a quest for the lost sense and balance to fill the main gap of indeterminacy in the work. The result is a testament and ekphrasis revealed by a hoarse voice and restoring Michael Furey’s ghost of perdition through Gretta’s collapse and Gabriel’s epiphanic coda. However, though finally embodied in the abstracted wife’s resolute nostalgia and Furey’s assertive ghost, music is usually an anonymous trace in the background of the story, related to dissipation, with no identified agent8 or emanating from a primitive and indistinct mass of sounds or noises, as the protagonist perceives it:
Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece, full of runs and difficult passages (…). He liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners (Joyce 2006: 2178).
In essence, like many other dead and fluctuating indexes in the work, music changes, and evolves from ineffability into a state of spiritual distinctness, becoming an enabling tool for the creative deconstruction of opposites. The hum of undefined notes at the early stages illustrates the paralytic impossibility to communicate, also epitomized by Gabriel’s trembling fingers beating on the pane, the unstable living at the borderline. However, this mechanical sound is also a cadence of return, like the sordid noise of the gravel being thrown at the window – a trauma-ridden symptom figuring Michael Furey’s return –, together with that reconciling symphony of resignation at the end embodied by the snowfall tapping on the window, which offers the result of deconstruction itself in the story: life and death driven to the center, mutually encoded.
Thematized and pervasive all throughout “The Dead” as an enriching dimension (Hass 1992), Joyce’s music is an enigma or impossible symphony calling for active interpretation, another ghost, a signifier of decay usually in the form of a fatal melody resulting in a capital, deep and abstracted revelation at the conclusion: the active presence of absence, the music of silence. Similarly, transcending the more visual to explore “more subtle modes” (Monterrey 2011: 63), the story itself implies “an aesthetic secularization of the concept of transubstantiation – the transformation of everyday experience into the permanent essence captured by art” (Pecora 1986: 234). In fact, “The Dead” defines identity through otherness or vagueness, defamiliarization and estrangement, a process based on ambivalence and duality. Characters are “constitutive absences” or “ghostly presences” (Rice 1992: 30-1), life delegating in death and absence being the primary illustration of presence (Harding 2003: 79), as if Joyce’s discourse depended on a texture of gaps or a “rhetoric of silence” (Kenner 1977). As Riquelme underlines:
‘The Dead’ is and is not realistic. On the one hand, it creates the impression that it is a story about actual, ordinary experience rendered in a circumstantial, straightforward way by an anonymous narrator whose language presents a determinate slice of reality. On the other hand, the language is at times not determinate and not referential (…) It points to or evokes experiences or meanings that cannot be convincingly understood as actual, literal ones (1994: 221).
Eloquent enough, Joyce builds up his protagonist’s textual prominence from an onset in which he is almost invisible, not seen yet but expected, out of the scene, and gradually empowers his point of view as the unique filter or lens in the story, to eventually recover the authoritative voice and let him disappear into the dark through the indirect speech in the coda’s outline. In between, Gabriel’s rite of passage represents the decay and collapse of his present world and its citizens, a dying generation portrayed in the simulacrum of society interacting with echoes of the already gone and performing their final hours on the allegorical stage of the Misses Morkan’s annual dance. While the living are lost in nonsensensical and innuendo waltz tunes, while they are reduced to caricatures in their small talks, the “othered” past and its unexpected ghosts emerge, empowered. Beyond their time, beyond domestic windows, the excluded are embedded in the narrative frame as a deconstructive strategy. Like intruding effects which distort the immediate setting, the ghosts invade Gabriel’s mind and finally introduce him to the illuminating course of the epiphany, after Michael Furey’s assertive visitation and “possession” through his wife’s remembrances.
As we will point out, and in contrast with the retrieval of isolated entities or pictures from the past suddenly erupting into the party, Furey’s textual prominence is more elaborate, projected by Gretta’s declarative and episodic memory. His ghost will stand out as the ultimate, most distinctive and assertive specter in the gallery of revenants. Remembered, he gradually emerges from those vignettes of the past, acting before the protagonists and having an echo – both literal and metaphorical – which assembles Gabriel, Gretta and the contextual deadness, embodying the final configuration of blended opposites.
Let us, for now, explain the three renditions of phantasmagoria in the narrative leading to that conclusion, the systematic deconstruction of life and death binary opposition which finally grants a conciliation between the conflicting notions at the center of meaning in the discourse.
2. Ghosts of Contagion: a Mutable Projection
Phantasmagoria articulates three main kinds of ghost renditions in “The Dead”: retrospection, introspection and prospection, the three being bound by causality. This premise basically alters the chronological order of events to substantiate the past, the ongoing stage and the future. Both analepsis and prolepsis work to dissipate the present and dissolve it into several hypodiegetic parentheses, all of them being modes of bodily metamorphosis. Firstly, the story envisions a retrospection of the already dead, the ones referred and commemorated in the party conversations, usually related to that distant, almost subliminal music in the story. Memory plays a paramount role in “The Dead”: these ghosts are like a work in progress, a flow of invisibility and covertness, names mentioned and invoked by the guests – with no physical materialization – or imagined beyond the windows, lying far close, but “very much in evidence” (Benstock 1969: 153):
-For me, said Aunt Kate, who had been picking a bone, there was only one tenor. To please me, I mean. But I suppose none of you ever heard of him.
-Who was he, Miss Morkan? Asked Mr. Bartell D’Arcy politely.
-His name, said Aunt Kate, was Parkinson. I heard him when he was in his prime and I think he had then the purest tenor voice that was ever put into man’s throat.
-Strange, said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy. I never heard of him (Joyce 2006: 2186).
These “specters” are haunting notions of the periphery which raise questions from within and disorient the legitimized living – suddenly uncertain, inactive, dead –, conquering space and also empowering their transgressive identities. Their resilience is not, however, a materialization of the absolute other intruding the comfort zone but the representation of the repressed familiarity and return of the “unheimlich”, conflicts not yet overcome as exposed by a retrieval of either Dublin’s or Ireland’s collective memory – post-famine identity crisis- as well as the individual’s inner self. As Whalen theorizes, in this work “the Irish language, love, a national community have all been consigned to the spectral” (2002: 66). Seamus Deane adds the somber or chiaroscuro scenarios, “the twilit, half-lit, street lit, candle-lit, gas-lit, fire-lit settings inhabited by shadows and silhouettes remind us both of the insubstantial nature of these lives and also of their latent and repressed possibilities” (2000: 21). In fact, domesticity in “The Dead” is not as harmonious or prosperous as it may seem since the assumed joy of the festivity is undermined by continuous back answers and other disrupting repressed forces echoing in our ears (Norris 2003: 216). In this way, referring to the carnivalesque elements in the “novella”, Peter Fjagesund considers it “contains a substructure which inverts or travesties the apparent pleasure and comfort of the bourgeois Dublin life” (1997: 139). Possessed and dominated by the dead, the party pays a homage to the past and welcomes it (them). It is a peculiar hospitality, ironically latent in Gabriel’s speech, an attempt to avoid the transfer of power, a colonization on the part of the deceased, but reassuring the need to face and exorcise the predecessors:
–But yet, continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.
–Therefore, I will not linger on the past. I will not let any gloomy moralising intrude upon us here to-night. Here we are gathered together for a brief moment from the bustle and rush of our everyday routine (Joyce 2006: 2188).
As we will see, more than rivals or antagonists, these presences from the past will prove to be facilitators of being in the story. Once again, the dismantling of the binary opposition through phantasmagoria works. Boysen states:
The living are haunted by history, tradition, all the dead generations and the predecessors, who constitute this nightmare from which the living in vain, by means of a certain conjuration of the dead (…) are trying to awake. Every present action is partly a reaction to a past unceasingly haunting the presence of the living. In order to attain one’s life, in order to add to life more life, it is necessary to answer for the dead, to live among spectres (2005: 162).
Consequently, by remembering and revisiting the past – “encroachment of the dead upon the living city” (Ellmann 1969: 375) –, the living fall victims to a physical and mental collapse and alienation. This is expressed by the aesthetics of loss and wandering, delusive and deceptive imagery, so predominant in the story, an inertia which, once again in deconstructivist terms, is to grant a reshaping of the categories of life and death, balancing their prominence in ambiguity. The living recognize themselves in the portraits of the dead and, therefore, retrospection becomes introspection, another mode of phantasmagoria in the story. In this sense, Gabriel’s piercing analysis – that of an alienist – of tradition and fossilization visualizes the liminal automata affected by a “death-like state of cultural paralysis” (Harding 2003: 80), a group defined by Benstock as “those who remain alive, but fail to live; the disillusioned, the self-destructive, the blighted and wasted lives” (1969: 153). Gretta is also deconstructed on this cosmology, both exhausted and abstracted by her inner conflicts and regret, as well as immortalized by his husband’s acuteness of the senses. Driven by an insightful need to master what is his own, Gabriel turns her into a ghost at the staircase, “a symbol of something” (Joyce 2006: 2192), a thing, an object to grasp the elusive identity and meaning of her spectralization, minimized and immobilized as a picture he blatantly paints and entitles to interpret and monopolize at will. Gabriel even changes the colours –“her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones” (Joyce 2006: 2192).9 As Monterrey puts it:
He tries to come to terms with the awesome sight by rendering the scene into a painting in order to read it symbolically. This is one of several instances in “The Dead” where an image is shown to the reader as if it were within a frame (2011: 62).
Gabriel disaffectionately and automatically witnesses and leads the stages of the ritual –being an anchorite, probably a ghost as well for the others – but, essentially, participates in it following his “continuous strivings for self-affirmation” (Boysen 2007: 401). He unveils all these materializations of phantasmagoria which emulate Ibsen’s visualization of the unseen reality through symbols and verbal images (Álvarez Pérez 2011: 31) to be finally “brought into the narration, out of the cold where these statues of the famous dead remain, only to be reburied together with them at its close” (Kelman 1999: 66). Supporting this view, the protagonist adopts the “cliché-ridden, dead” (ibídem 70) language in his speech, conforming to formulaic assertions, expressing feelings by quoting the dead, Robert Browning’s lines, for instance. More an anecdote than a materialization of identity, moving in circles or in a loop as if in a “mesmerized paralysis” (Benstock 1969: 154), like Johnny, the horse, spiralling eternally around the statue of William III, all the decaying actants of the present – Gabriel included – dig into the whirlpool of introspection and resort to the feasting carnival at Miss Morkan’s as a last attempt to survive and transcend mortality (Peake 1977: 47). It is by exploring the ruins of the present, “symbolic of a vibrant, passionate life which has vanished” (Whalen 2002: 70) that Gabriel strengthens the “inextricable connection” (Boysen 2007: 409) between retrospection and introspection, dismantling the bifurcation of the living dead and the dead living. This balanced state of contraries is also illustrated in the curious mixture of deadness and colourful sensations represented by the dead goose and beef to be carved and served at the feast. In this descriptive pause, the vivid tangibility and synaesthetic architecture of prompts for the senses exists side by side with the signs of predation and consumption:
A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes (Joyce 2006: 2184).
Colours of degradation and erosion reinforce the dynamics of transubstantiation in the story, yellowish and pale renditions leading to that final and ghastly darkness at the hotel room where Gretta’s and Gabriel’s deranged souls welcome both death and the glimmering white snow of release after confession and acknowledgement. Similarly, Kate and Julia Morkan, retired piano teacher and leading soprano respectively, fuse with the ineffable and distant music illustrating the gradual dismemberment and diffusion of the present, as symbols of the eloquent and glorious past persisting into the future, that other projection of ghosts in the narration, as we will point out.
Apart from these instances of retrospective and introspective spectrality, some other crucial ghost sightings impelled to overtness through nostalgia, regret, pain or tradition, abide in the story. Here we enumerate some of the most salient referents of those flickering ghosts exemplifying the merging of the present and the past, the living and the dead, as resumed in the discourse:
-Gabriel’s mother, a sign of fracture, a perpetuated conflict from the past, framed as deadness and command suddenly revitalized through envisioning and remembrance. She also projects a shadow on the present, which passes “over his
- Y. Tindall (1995: 42) concludes this narrative is “of intermediate length, neither story nor novel”. [↩]
- As Derrida himself acknowledged, Joyce’s literary modes epitomize deconstructivist principles: “Everytime I write and even in the most academic pieces of work, Joyce’s ghost is always coming on board” (1993: 210 [↩]
- Joyce himself confessed having been “unnecessarily harsh” (quoted in Potts 2000: 84) when depicting Ireland in this story. [↩]
- According to Richard Lehan (1998: 272), the funeral moment is a recurrent motif in modernist literature: “one’s fate in the city often starts or ends with the grave”. [↩]
- The tolling and sinister bell having an echo throughout “The Dead” may connect this narrative with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), one of the English writer’s ghost stories. The spectral staves in this work include bells ringing before each ghost appears and, like Gabriel’s therapeutic discernment, Scrooge faces the foreshadowing of his own death as a cautionary sign provoking his change. [↩]
- Annie Dillard claims:
The perfection of “The Dead” resides in the total disappearance of ideas into their materials. (…) They exhibit, by their perfect concealment of it, an absolutely controlled tension (1982: 161). [↩]
- The simile is not a risky or far-fetched one considering how much Joyce’s narrative depends on the constant flux, intermittent or assaulting, of the musical traces. Haydn’s masterpiece’s peculiarity stems from the gradual departure of the instruments (oboes, cellos, horns, orchestral violins, viola…), which leaves the stage to the first chair violinists and, finally, to a very soft “pianissimo”, before vacuum and silence take form. [↩]
- Notice the acousmatic stimulus suggesting a ghost player in:
—Who’s playing up there? asked Gabriel.
—Nobody. They’re all gone.
—O no, Aunt Kate, said Mary Jane. Bartell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan aren’t gone yet.
—Someone is strumming at the piano, anyhow, said Gabriel (Joyce 2006: 2190). [↩]
- Another similarity with some other illustrious nineteenth-century writers, such as Wilde or Poe, can be stated here. The act of painting as a rapture of aesthetic domination – not merely reproduction of that which is palpable and material but an ideation of insidious possession – is thematized as a murdering act of libation in “The Oval Portrait” (1842) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). [↩]
- In fact, Margot Norris asserts the Morkan Sisters are seen as “ignorant, so marginalized moribund old maids” (2003: 226-7). [↩]
- Joyce’s stylistic choice on portraying this moment, a scene instead of a summary, clearly denotes his intention to lay emphasis on the representation of demise:
—Good-night, Gabriel. Good-night, Gretta!
—Good-night, Aunt Kate, and thanks ever so much. Good-night, Aunt Julia.
—O, good-night, Gretta, I didn’t see you.
—Good-night, Mr D’Arcy. Good-night, Miss O’Callaghan.
—Good-night, Miss Morkan.
—Good-night, all. Safe home.
—Good-night. Good-night (Joyce 2006: 2193). [↩]
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