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The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered$

Marc C. Conner

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813039763

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813039763.001.0001

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“That high unconsortable one”

“That high unconsortable one”

Chamber Music and “A Painful Case”

Chapter:
(p.105) 5 “That high unconsortable one”
Source:
The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered
Author(s):
Marc C. Conner
Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813039763.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

This essay discusses Chamber Music in conjunction with the composition of Joyce's elusive Dubliners story, “A Painful Case,” revealing the ways in which “A Painful Case” is a transformation of the language, ideas, images, and structure of Chamber Music, thereby showing the continuity of growth from Joyce's early efforts in lyric poetry to the Dubliners stories. The essay explores how Joyce's falling in love with Nora parallels the shift from the idealization and narcissism of the poems to the critical acuity of Dubliners, and how the terrifying despair of the final two lyrics in Chamber Music, the “tailpieces,” is expanded in the final meditations of “A Painful Case.” Ultimately, he argues, “A Painful Case” treats in more concentrated form one of the major concerns of Chamber Music: the conflicts between the self, the world, and religion. Its understated surface conceals the obsessions with love, paralysis, and betrayal that underlie both Chamber Music and the whole of Dubliners. Written within a year of the final Chamber Music poems, the story reveals a defining transition in Joyce's writing, moving from the early poems into his mature prose style, and brings into relief the very themes that will occupy Joyce throughout his career.

Keywords:   Chamber Music, “A Painful Case”, Dubliners, Nora Barnacle, Narcissism, Religion, Joyce's biography

The genesis of Dubliners is familiar to every student of Joyce, in George Russell's famous invitation (July 1904) to write a short story suitable for the Irish Homestead. AE asked Joyce if he could submit “anything simple, rural?, livemaking?, [pathetic?] which could be inserted so as not to shock the readers … playing to the common understanding and liking for once in a way” (Letters II, 43; JJII 163). This invitation must have recalled to Joyce's mind a piece of advice he had received from William Butler Yeats some eighteen months before: “I would strongly recommend you to write some little essays. Impressions of books, or better still, of artistic events about you in Paris, bringing your point of view as much as possible, but taking your text from some existing interest or current event” (Letters II, 23). In the course of following these suggestions from two eminent mentors, Joyce discovered the next stage of his development as a literary artist, the stories of Dubliners. Yet the Dubliners stories also show a continuity of growth from Joyce's early efforts in lyric poetry. While all of these stories bear witness, in one way or another, to the precise command of language, which is the province of the lyricist, one of them is of particular interest to readers of Chamber Music. A perusal of “A Painful Case” reveals the many surprising and pleasing ways by which it transforms the language, ideas, images, and structure of Chamber Music. These transformations of the poetic protocols of Chamber Music reveal something of the process by which Joyce conceived the new and precise language of Dubliners; and the comparison of the poems and this central story shows how he quietly replaced the anomalous image of an intimate instrumental collaboration with that of the lieder recital.1

(p.106) Chamber Music was Joyce's first creative work. A development of some early lyrics, gathered under the titles Shine and Dark and Moods, it originated in some of his epiphanies and his reading of William Butler Yeats, Paul Verlaine, and Ben Jonson. A careful arrangement of thirty-six lyrics written in 1901 to 1904 (but mainly 1901 to 1902), it is, in Yeats's phrase that Joyce would make famous, “the poetry of a young man” (Letters II, 23). Joyce made several unsuccessful efforts to have this sequence published before turning it over to his brother Stanislaus, whose rearrangement of the poems finally found a publisher, Elkin Mathews, in 1907. By that time, Joyce had passed on to another phase in his own career and did not interfere with his brother's arrangement.2

The Beinecke Library at Yale contains an autograph copy of Chamber Music, dated June 1905, following the last sequencing of the poems in which Joyce took a personal interest. Within the following two months, he wrote “A Painful Case.” There is good reason to infer, from a comparison of Chamber Music and “A Painful Case,” Joyce's disinterest in the order, or indeed the fate, of Chamber Music, as he told Stanislaus on October 9, 1906 (Letters II, 172), and subsequently explained, “I have certain ideas I would like to give form to: not as a doctrine but as the continuation of the expression of myself which I now see I began in Chamber Music” (Letters II, 217).

We know that an enthusiasm for vocal song—for example, the love songs of the Elizabethans, John Dowland, William Byrd, and Thomas Nashe (P 233.6–7)—was among Joyce's artistic interests at the time he was writing Dubliners. He copied out some of these airs and sang them on social occasions. During the first half of 1905, shortly before he wrote “A Painful Case,” he was drawing to the close of Stephen Hero. In chapter XXII, he wrote: “One evening he sat [silent] at his piano while the dusk enfolded him. The dismal sunset lingered still upon the window-panes in a smoulder of rusty fires. Above him and about him hung the shadow of decay, the decay of leaves and flowers, the decay of hope” (SH 162). Still fumbling with the images that had carried him through Chamber Music, he was on the verge of conceiving the new language of Dubliners. This passage is a prose reformulation of the images and rhythms of Chamber Music that Joyce had written during the previous four years. From its motifs of evening, silence, piano, and decay of hope, we can also infer the gestation of “A Painful Case,” and, therefore, the close genealogical relations between Chamber Music and “A Painful Case.”

(p.107) If we observe the order governing the 1905 Yale manuscript, we can see that the “innocuous melody” of Chamber Music gives voice to a disappointed quest, as William York Tindall summarizes: “The thirty-six poems tell a story of young love and failure. At the beginning the lover is alone. He meets a girl and their love, after suitable fooling, is almost successful. Then a rival intrudes. The hero's devotion gives way to irony and, at last, despair. Alone again at the end, the lover goes off into exile” (Chamber Music, 41). Between Joyce's composition of these poems and his reading of the page proofs, he had met Nora Barnacle, really fallen in love, and matured to the point that he could write, “It is not a book of love-verses at all, I perceive” (Letters II, 219). What Joyce most likely meant by this is that the figures in Chamber Music are really not lovers, but narcissists, one of whom considers himself an artist, and each of whom experiences the “other” but fails to respond in the assimilative manner we call “love.” There is a relationship between the maturing of Joyce's artistry from the self-delusions of Chamber Music to the critical acuity of Dubliners, just as there is a personal maturing of the dreamy and self-absorbed Joyce in the loving presence of Nora Barnacle. In Stanislaus's tart summation, “As for his love poems, the fact is that when he did fall in love, he stopped writing them” (MBK 152).

Just as Chamber Music features a young man's expression—full of self-regard, insecurity, and ineptitude—so does it idealize the young woman, who embodies a range of contradictions. Following a careful analysis of the collection, Father Boyle characterizes the woman in Chamber Music as “a clear Irish figure—lovely, graceful, shy, talented, passionate, affectionate, selfish, sensitive, possessive, intuitive, guilt-ridden, resentful, cold, determined—a woman of infinite variety” (“Woman Hidden,” 28). Her figure combines the Bride of the Canticle of Canticles, the Queen of Sheba, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Beatrice, Mercedes, Zoe, and the Vampire Lady. Tantalizing and mysterious, she is full of life and energy, shimmering with mysterious radiance and power.

As Tindall has observed, “Chamber Music must be regarded as the first trial of a method that was to produce his poetic, musically organized stories and Portrait” (Chamber Music, 58). These poems reveal Joyce's debt to Verlaine and the Elizabethans, especially Jonson. The lyric discipline acquired from these antecedents, converted to the services of prose, made Joyce an unexampled master of nuanced, symbolic narrative. Of this discipline, Hugh Kenner (paraphrasing Ezra Pound) observed, “If Joyce had not learned to (p.108) write with this economy, he could not have written Dubliners” (Kenner 32). Tindall goes on to illustrate this same point by showing the relationship between Chamber Music and “Araby” (Chamber Music, 56–57), the most evocative “failed romance” of Dubliners. However, it is my contention here that of the six “failed romances” of Dubliners—“Araby,” “Eveline,” “Two Gallants,” “The Boarding House,” “A Painful Case,” and “The Dead”—the Duffy-Sinico affair is the most comprehensively indebted to Chamber Music. A close comparative examination of these two works shows how Joyce managed that transformation and was, then, free to let Stanislaus “bury the dead” and do with Chamber Music what he would. Joyce had moved on to the more serious work of Dubliners. Left to his own devices, then, Stanislaus arranged them as scattered love verses in the sequence I-XXXVI that has become the “standard” version.

Joyce's own original ordering of the songs of Chamber Music is, however, vital to understanding them as a whole and in relation to “A Painful Case.” The 1905 sequence was comprised of thirty-four lyrics, with two added when he was in Rome in October 1906 (at the same time that he revised “A Painful Case”). The sequence is made up of two movements, the first upward to the consummation that is achieved in 17/XIV and the second downward gradually through the subsidence of passion, external difficulties, ultimate disillusion, and finally, as in the two poems he calls “tailpieces” (Letters I, 67), “an Arnoldian listening to the noise of embattled waters” (Boyle, “Woman Hidden,” 4).

But Father Boyle sees them as “an attempt at a portrait of himself as artist, as a projection of the woman he desired to meet in the world outside himself … and as a large philosophy dealing with human love” (“Woman Hidden,” 28). The movement therefore is from innocence and virginity, through consummation, repentance, recrimination, and subsequent estrangement and despair. The first three lyrics introduce the lovers; their relationship begins in 4/II, gradually developing from the first hesitant approach up to the act of consummation (celebrated with religious tone in 17/XIV), declining thereafter, with a growing intellectualizing about the nature of love (34/XXXIV; see also Boyle, “Woman Hidden,” 7).

The first three songs in Chamber Music (1/XXI, 2/I, 3/III) compose a prelude to the sequence. They characterize the lonely artist hero. Lost in self-regard beside the river, he languidly plays sweet but funereal music on an unnamed instrument. This figure, “who hath glory lost” (rejected grace), (p.109) lives friendless (“His love is his companion”), and is “[T]hat high unconsortable one.” The diction indicates the distanced, detached, remote, and aloof stance of this loner, and Joyce shifts it but slightly to serve the portrait of Mr. Duffy in “A Painful Case,” where “high” becomes “lofty,” “scorn” becomes “careful scorn,” “nor hath / Found any soul to fellow his” becomes “the soul's incurable loneliness,” and “his companion” becomes “his soul's companion” (D 107.7, 111.10, 111.28, 115.26). The opening paragraphs of “A Painful Case” are elaborations of these core descriptors. The word “unconsortable,” indicating that the hero's love relationship is but a temporary interruption of his solitary life, as Tindall observes, is key in Chamber Music (Chamber Music, 94).3 Similarly, though recast into the service of Catholic realism, Duffy's dilemma is that he still remains an emotional prisoner of his former lofty clerical aspiration. “That high unconsortable one” who “scorn[s]” the vulgar masses, this proud and gloomy Lucifer, has rejected the grace of his original election and become a forty-year-old Stephen Dedalus.

The second song (2/I) presents, again, this narcissistic figure of a personified but inverted (“bent”) Love en route to Death. A bouquet of Pre-Raphaelite images (pale flowers, dark leaves, and weeping willows) adorns Love's brow: sweet, narcissistic, wan, and funereal. Transfigured in the first four paragraphs of “A Painful Case,” they are marshaled to a detached view of Duffy (dark-haired and dark-named) alone in his Liffeyside Chapelizod, playing upon his landlady's piano, or strolling Dublin's suburban environs. A particularly interesting aspect of Joyce's technical management of his materials here is his transformation of the poetic “And fingers straying / Upon an instrument” into the prosaic “His evenings were spent either before his landlady's piano or roaming about the outskirts of the city … these were the only dissipations of his life” (D 109.3–7). The expansion of the “straying”/“instrument” pairing into the multiple parallelisms of “evening”/“landlady's piano,” and “roaming”/“outskirts” implies that Duffy's feckless narcissism and futile defiance are rooted in a subliminal attachment to the maternal image. This prepares the ground for the attraction he will feel for Mrs. Sinico and complements his claims to be independent of the feelings demanded by a woman and also to be detached from the life of the city.

Of the instrument, we infer that it is stringed and represents some harmony between heaven and earth, implying that music gives voice to metaphysical or spiritual values, a major motif of “A Painful Case.” The readers of (p.110) “A Painful Case” who find in Mr. Duffy's mirror and lamp indicators of his onanism will be cheered to find their avatar in Tindall's Freudian reading of Chamber Music 2/I as masturbatory (Chamber Music, 182). The “shamebred music” (FW 164.15–16) combines the harpsichord on the frontispiece of the Elkin Mathews edition of Chamber Music with the pianos of Chapelizod and Sydney Parade. This comic outrageousness breaks down the deceptive elegance of Chamber Music and, moreover, points ahead to the synthesis of seriousness and jocularity that has become a Joycean trademark. These specific links between Chamber Music and “A Painful Case” are indications, moreover, that Joyce was a highly self-aware and, indeed, economic artist. “Like Mozart, Joyce knew what he was about from the beginning,” observes Tindall, “his works, as T. S. Eliot remarked, are the same work, written again and again with increasing complexity” (Chamber Music, 62).

Poem 3/III completes the introduction of the solitary poet who, while attuned to the heavenly harps, seeks human love. A “religious wind” (Father Boyle's term, “Woman Hidden,” 10) blows about him. Similarly, Mr. Duffy lives at an ecclesiastical address (Church House, Chapelizod), imagines himself the proprietor of superior gifts, and in his twilight walks about the suburbs is a “lonely watcher of the skies.” A similar religious or metaphysical doubling marks each work.

Poem 4/II introduces the lonely girl, playing her piano. Like the hero, she too is enthralled by narcissism, absorbed in her own music, and enfolded by the darkening twilight:

  • The twilight turns from amethyst
  •   To deep and deeper blue,
  • The lamp fills with a pale green glow
  •   The trees of the avenue.
  • The old piano plays an air,
  •   Sedate and slow and gay;
  • She bends upon the yellow keys,
  •   Her head inclines this way.
  • Shy thoughts and grave wide eyes and hands
  •   That wander as they list—
  • The twilight turns to darker blue
  •   With lights of amethyst.

(p.111) Here the lonely girl—the hero's musical counterpart—plays the piano in the evening twilight. Like him, she is introverted and lacking in animation, as the words “wander,” “sedate,” “grave,” “old,” and “yellow” imply. The girl's “grave wide eyes” and the “deep and deeper blue” of the evening become, in “A Painful Case,” Mrs. Sinico's “steady” and “very dark blue” eyes, with their defiant and deliberate gaze (D 109.30–33). Similarly, the images of the twilight and lamp expand into “Many times she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp” (D 111.18–20).

Poem 5/IV is the lover's song as, responding to her music, he makes his evening visit at her home. The keywords here, “disconsolate” and “visitant,” are transformed in “A Painful Case” into the imputations of Mrs. Sinico's marital unhappiness. Duffy's calls to the Sinico cottage, by contrast, are comically explained by the Captain's scarcely plausible inference that their visitant is interested in his teenage daughter.4 Poem 6/V features the girl's singing voice. Her “merry air” has drawn him from the gloom of his book and room. Here, again, we see how these elements inform the depiction of melancholy Duffy's excursion from his translations and austere room in pursuit of his new “dissipation,” Mrs. Sinico's singing voice. She is therefore the most reserved of Joyce's temptresses, the only one sufficiently endowed with “sensibility” (D 109.34) to entice stuffy Duffy from his study.

The subsequent set of songs (7–16: VIII, VII, IX, XVII, XVIII, VI, X, XX, XIII, and XI) raises the romance to its zenith (17/XIV). In a series of songs that reflect pseudo-Elizabethan epithalamia (after Ben Jonson and Thomas Campion), Verlaine, and the Canticle of Canticles, the lovers pace the greenwood (7/VIII), move from spring through summer, and prepare for a spiritual marriage and physical consummation. They are lightly touched with sensuality; but the lover, trammeled by his fixation on the maternal breast, and challenged by a third party, is at a loss about how to act toward his beloved. Beyond these broad anticipations of the Duffy-Sinico dating pattern (Duffy's emotional reticence, his awareness of the occasional presence of Captain Sinico, and his apparent fear of social obloquy), there are several notable transformations of elements from these portions of Chamber Music into “A Painful Case.”

The pair find “quiet quarters” for their twilight walks (beneath the trees of the Phoenix Park, and perhaps in the Pinewood at Glendalough, by Poulaphouca's waterfall, Glenasmole, Glendhu, and in distant Donnycarney, all sufficiently remote points in Joyce's trysting map of Dublin); Mrs. Sinico is (p.112) made unhappy by her seafaring husband's absence (“love is unhappy when love is away,” 9/IX); and Mr. Duffy treats Mrs. Sinico as a mother rather than a lover, responsive to her “almost maternal solicitude” (D 110.30), the prospect of her bosom “of a certain fulness” (D 110.2–3), and her acquiescent listening to his woes (D 110.31–111.29). By denying himself her embrace, he lives out the “sad austerities” (CM 12/VI) of the Chamber Music songs and indulges in a maternal fantasy rather than a lover's embrace of the Other (CM 12/VI, 11/XVIII). Like the figures in 14/XX (“In the dark pinewood”), his relationship with Mrs. Sinico presages death rather than a renewed life (as the “enaisled” and coffin references imply). Only the jovial and mocking 9/IX (“Bright cap and streamers”) anticipates the ironic glint of “A Painful Case.”

Poem 17/XIV is the apex of the suite, a dense invocation of the Canticle of Canticles, and via epiphany #24 (Ellmann, P&SW, 184), a celebration of the consummation of sexual love. A compendium of the poet's various feminine figurations, the girl embodies the muse, the Irish nation, the soul, the Catholic Church, and the mother. She has therefore a genealogical relationship with Joyce's many versions of the universal feminine—romantic, realistic, and parodic: the girl on Dollymount Strand, Molly Bloom on Howth Head, and Gerty MacDowell on Sandymount Strand. In “A Painful Case,” however, the climactic moment rudely interrupts one of Mr. Duffy's discourses, and the hitherto maternal Mrs. Sinico spontaneously springs from her auditor's chair and “caught up his hand passionately and pressed it to her cheek” (D 111.31–32). Just as 17/XIV is the turning point in Chamber Music, this is the point of reversal in “A Painful Case.” And, as several commentators have noted, “A Painful Case” is the turning point in Dubliners.

The return sequence of Chamber Music songs (18–34: XIX, XV, XVIII, XIV, XVI, XXI, XXII, XXVI, XII, XXVII, XXIII, XXX, XXXIII, and XXXIV) traces the descent of the relationship from initial shame, through their parting, and to eventual despair. The lovers find themselves spiritually unmatched, their passions cool, and they are overcome with guilt and mutual recrimination. As the girl recoils under the pressures of social guilt and religious scruple, the poet withdraws to a detached and self-protective position. He rationalizes his fear of entanglement by imagining the female as a succubus. While he considers himself capable of living in a world that does not fulfill his heart's desires, he recognizes that she cannot manage without the succor of an imagined perfectibility. So as the “ghosting hour” of their (p.113) relationship (and of the day and year) approaches, he once more, and for the last time, mounts his agnostic pulpit, recapitulates their failed love, and prepares to accept the sleep of imminent death.5

A file of pallbearers, all but a couple drawn from the standing army of fin-de-siècle conventioneers, bears this paean of disappointed love to its final interment. A few make their way, resuited to modernist duties, into “A Painful Case.” With the lovers' pain, for example, the environs are sympathetic—“the trees are full of sighs” (19/XV)—whereas the Duffy-Sinico three-hour bond-breaking walk took place beneath the “gaunt trees” and “bleak alleys” of the Phoenix Park. Mr. Duffy's recoil at the prospect of “entanglements” and Mrs. Sinico's fright at his sententious dismissal of her affection (“she began to tremble … violently” [D 112.9]) are surely recastings of the lines “Dearest, through interwoven arms / By love made tremulous” (24/XXII). And Mr. Duffy's agonized recapitulation of the affair and its ending, which is so passionate that it summons up, for a few moments, the specter of the dead, is a reworking of the recapitulation of the tale of the “grave lovers” in 32/XXX and an expatiation of the “ghosting hour conjurable” (25/XXVI) that provides the lovers in Chamber Music with the impression that they are players in a previously heard “mad tale.”

Poem 26/XII (Joyce's own favorite from among this group) indicts the girl's fear of passion—a true expression of her animal nature—as an expression of the sweet sentimentality of her religious view of nature. This belief in everlasting love hoodwinks her natural view of the changing moon; only a “hooded” Capuchin could consider nature perfectible. In “A Painful Case,” it is Mr. Duffy who retains a view of the moon as “hooded,” and who, even after attempting a personal deliverance from a celibate view of nature, is still a “comedian Capuchin.” The hero of Chamber Music, with the wren (20/ XXIII), accepts that although life is brief and discordant, it is only dissatisfying to those who deny its terminus. In the final lyrics (33/XXXIII and 34/ XXXIV), as the seasons gather in the year, the lover hero accepts the loneliness that precedes death.

The two additional lyrics (XXV and XXXVI, the “tailpieces”) more directly and emphatically declare the anguish upon which the original Chamber Music ended. In these poems, the hero is the abject and passive victim of nightmares in which he is abandoned and alone. The operative words in each lyric are “I hear”: the musical harmonies of his previous life have conceded to the monotony of the elements and the metallic clangor of violent (p.114) armies. The hearer is adrift in an indifferent and implacable universe. He now knows true despair. These terrifying images of metallic impersonality recur with abject emphasis in the final scene of “A Painful Case.” Here too, the operative verbs are “hear” and “listen,” and “the laborious drone of the engine reiterating the syllables of [Mrs. Sinico's] name” (D 117.25–26) makes plangent fun of his frayed emotional condition. Thus the displacement of the music that Mr. Duffy made with Mrs. Sinico by the steam pistons of the ten o'clock goods train from Kingsbridge hammering their way into the dark outskirts of Dublin City gives us another take—and this time a tragic one—on the title Chamber Music. “A Painful Case” is the Klagend Lied of Dubliners.

“A Painful Case” is a selective redaction of one of the major themes of Chamber Music: the conflicts between the self, the world, and religion. Its understated surface conceals the obsessions with love, paralysis, and betrayal that underlie both Chamber Music and Dubliners. While technically inadequate to unleash its burden, Chamber Music transmits to Dubliners its author's command of symbolic forms in a manner that readers are more prepared to appreciate. This outline of the points of contact between Chamber Music and “A Painful Case,” therefore, is a step toward identifying the genealogy of the Dubliners stories and showing why Joyce abandoned lyric poetry. As Tindall puts it, “If Joyce was dissatisfied with his poems shortly before their publication, it was because he had discovered in the poetic novel and story a more congenial and spacious form for embodying what obsessed him” (Chamber Music, 92).

Even though he had moved on artistically, Joyce retained an interest in the lyrics of Chamber Music as contributions to the tradition of the lied (Letters II, 219). He evidently tried his own hand at this composite art, since he seems to have attempted, in vain, to have some of them prescribed for the 1909 Feis Ceoil (Tindall, Chamber Music, 36 n. 41). He subsequently came to acknowledge his own limitations in this regard, however, describing them to Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer in 1909 as “a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them to music myself” (Letters I, 67). He warmly encouraged Palmer's efforts, only some of which, unfortunately, he ever heard; but thanks to Myra Russel, they are now available. Joyce would have been very pleased to find the excellent settings of some of these lyrics by distinguished composers such as E. J. Moeran and Samuel Barber (Russel, James Joyce's Chamber Music, 20–21).

(p.115) For all the mileage that critics have traveled over the naughty double entendre of the title, nobody has observed that it is anomalous. In no sense does it refer to an intimate instrumental ensemble. Indeed, there is no evidence that Joyce had any interest in genuine chamber music; his Dublin was not Antonin Dvorak's Prague. As the harpsichord on the frontispiece of the original 1907 Elkin Mathews edition indicates (see Slocum and Cahoon, A3), Chamber Music was conceived as a suite of Elizabethan airs, or of songs for voice and “pianner” (Letters II, 219) in the tradition of the German lied perfected by Schubert and Schumann. This convention made its way into the drawing rooms of Victorian Dublin in the song settings of Thomas Moore and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. It is therefore entirely consistent with the portrait of his would-be self in “A Painful Case” that Mr. Duffy would have a similar taste for the art song.

In turning from lyric to seemingly realistic prose, Joyce abandoned the poetic diction of the 1890s; “sweet” and “soft,” the most frequently used words in Chamber Music—representing subjective love—do not appear at all in “A Painful Case.” In describing Mr. Duffy's postprandial taste, the narrator chooses the word “dessert” over the colloquial “sweet” (D 112.27). The economy and precision Joyce learned from Verlaine, and the ironic elegance he saw in Jonson, he committed to the technical challenge of Dubliners. Added to the masters of short fiction whom he was reading thoroughly as he wrote these stories (Ivan Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, George Moore), he was disciplining himself against automatic writing. The subtleties of Dubliners did not arise spontaneously. Readers who respond too eagerly to his relative dissatisfaction with “A Painful Case” need to be very careful about underestimating the standards he was already setting himself. He measured his literary ambitions against the achievements of his most distinguished predecessors, was intensely self-critical, and, in consequence, invented increasingly sophisticated ways to reprocess similar materials.

“A Painful Case,” then, draws heavily on the concerns that occupied Joyce right during the period when his mature writing style was developing. Several passages in “A Painful Case” blend images from the love lyrics of Chamber Music and the despairing mood of Stephen Hero. For example, we can detect how the images of the twilight, the lamp, and the “darker blue” of 4/ II resurface in the sentence “Many times she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp” (D 111.18–20), and in the consignment of “dark blue” to the color of Mrs. Sinico's eyes (D 109.31). Similarly, (p.116) there are many reverberations throughout “A Painful Case” of the whole suite of songs comprising Chamber Music. In designing “A Painful Case,” Joyce returns to the autumnal setting (“The year, the year is gathering,” 33/ XXXIII), the narrative reserve, the blend of love and despair, and the dramatic rhythm of Chamber Music. Consequently, Chamber Music stands as both a defining transition in Joyce's writing as he moves from the early poems into his mature prose style and as an illuminating place of origin for the very themes that will continue to occupy Joyce all the way to the end of his career. The final paragraph of “A Painful Case” is an appropriately muffled redrafting of the cri de coeur upon which Chamber Music expires: “My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?” It takes its place, therefore, among the many expressions, from Eveline's anguished “No!” to Anna Livia's “Loonely in my loneness” (FW 627.34), of a characteristic (though not final) Joycean mood.

This essay is a slightly revised excerpt from James Joyce's Painful Case (Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2008), 61–71. Reprinted with permission of the University Press of Florida.

Notes:

(1.) The implications of this insight with respect to three of Mozart's lieder are developed in James Joyce's Painful Case, 47–55.

(2.) For further discussion of the issue of Joyce's arrangement of the poems, see Conner, “The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered,” pages 11–13, and Conner, “Joyce's Poetics of Knowledge,” pages 148–149, in this volume.

(3.) The concept of the “unconsortable” in Chamber Music forms the central concern of Campbell's essay in this volume, “The Unconsortable Joyce.” See especially pages 51–58.

(4.) If the Sinicos are married eighteen years when Duffy meets Mrs. Sinico, their daughter is unlikely to be more than that age.

(5.) The four seasons of Chamber Music shrink to the winter setting of “A Painful Case.” The number four otherwise organizes the temporal order of the story. The time-span of the action—between their meeting and Mrs. Sinico's death—is four years. Four p.m. divides Mr. Duffy's workday from his “dissipations.” Their first “appointment” was their fourth meeting (D 110.12.13). During the period, both pass the age of forty, entering full adulthood.