restricted access "The Protestant Thing to Do": Anglo-Irish Performance in James Joyce's Dubliners and Samuel Beckett's All That Fall
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"The Protestant Thing to Do":
Anglo-Irish Performance in James Joyce's Dubliners and Samuel Beckett's All That Fall

Mr. Browne took another sip of his whisky and said, with sidling mimicry:

—Well, you see, I'm like the famous Mrs. Cassidy, who is reported to have said: Now, Mary Grimes, if I don't take it, make me take it, for I feel I want it.

His hot face had leaned forward a little too confidentially and he had assumed a very low Dublin accent so that the young ladies, with one instinct, received his speech in silence.

Mr. Browne, the lone Protestant Anglo-Irishman at the Misses Morkans's party in James Joyce's "The Dead," offends the Catholic ladies by playing the part of a drunken stage Irishwoman. In order to perform the part of Mrs. Cassidy, Browne, with "sidling mimicry," "assumed a very low Dublin accent" (D 183). This scene of failed performance in Dubliners is a rare instance of an Anglo-Irish character positioning himself as actor rather than audience. Browne's stage Irish performance, with its mimicry of Catholic "low Dublin," raises the question of what defines a nonmimetic Anglo-Irish performance.

In a very different instance of Anglo-Irish performance, the aptly named Miss Fitt in Samuel Beckett's radio play All That Fall reluctantly helps Mrs. Rooney down a precarious flight of stairs, referring to her act of begrudging charity as "The Protestant thing to do" (23). Altering the phrase, "the Christian thing to do," Miss Fitt stresses the Protestantism of her actions so that her gesture of charity becomes a performance of identity directed vaguely at Mrs. Rooney and any listeners.

In these works Joyce and Beckett both ask the question: what, in dramatic terms, do Protestants do? Dubliners and All That Fall depict the performative nature of Protestant identity in Ireland, particularly its claim [End Page 1] to nonperformativity, and, in so doing, challenge the power politics of associating silence and invisibility with the Anglo-Irish. I will argue that Joyce and Beckett specifically target Irish Revival drama for perpetuating representational inequities between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. During the Irish Revival, Anglo-Irish playwrights rarely represented Anglo-Irish characters on stage.1 The theater of the Irish Revival, with its many Protestant organizers, financers, and writers, epitomizes this disjuncture between a Catholic staged identity and a powerful Protestant offstage presence. By comparing Dubliners to All That Fall, I hope to show the extent to which both works explore the politics of the Revival stage, metropolitan Anglo-Irish identity and sectarian divisions in pre– and post–Independence Ireland—explorations that will unearth Joyce's use of drama and Beckett's engagement with Irish politics and society. Through their explorations of Anglo-Irish performativity both before and after Independence, Joyce and Beckett work to undermine the myths of Protestant nonperformativity espoused by the Irish Revival and, in so doing, reinvent narrative forms through their use and abuse of dramatic staging.

"Swaddlers! Swaddlers!" The Protestant Dubliners

To begin by defining the Protestant Anglo-Irish is to struggle with terminology. 2 The English ancestors of the Anglo-Irish settled Ireland as Cromwellian planters who were awarded Irish land in order to supplant and subdue the native population.3 Like other colonial settlers they are a hyphenated people defined by dislocation—neither British nor Irish. This definition through negation illustrates the difficulty of representing a population defined by what it is not rather than by what it is. Representation and cultural performance are particularly complicated for a group as difficult to categorize as the Anglo-Irish. As Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley observe, "Anglo-Irish" is alternately a religious, class, ethnic, or racial identification covering an ambiguous "socio-politico-religious spectrum" (ii). Vivian Mercier describes Anglo-Irish identity in terms of self-protective isolation from the majority population: "our ancestors came to Ireland as colonists, so that we find it hard to shake off the wariness and mistrust of the natives proper to a foreign garrison" (27). The word "garrison" emphasizes the sense of protective separation commonly described by the Anglo-Irish as well as their connection...