It was no mistake, Sir, that I sang the second verse to I Dreamt that I Dwelt as I did. Despite what you’d have your readers believe. Despite what your string of critics has to say in their long-winded columns. Did even one of them ever bother to seek me out, to ask what I thought of it—the story of my own life laid bare on the page for all to see?
Did you know that I was loved? That I had a family dear to me? Did you know that my mother sang those lyrics to me as a babe? That my father loved her? Truly loved her, Mr Joyce. Not the way your characters do, all in a tangle of arms and legs, but a love of the heart.
Did it ever occur to you that I didn’t want a suitor? That I knew there were no knights left on this earth after my father’s passing? That I meant it when I told the other women I didn’t want any ring or man either? That despite the colonel-looking gentleman, or perhaps because of him, Mr Joyce, I chose the clay?
Did you think a grown woman like myself couldn’t see beneath a child’s blindfold? That I didn’t know what those next-door girls were up to, were always up to? Did you think I wanted to hear again about a convent, in spite of the best intentions of Mrs Donnelly?
No, Mr Joyce. What would you know of it? Poking your ruddy face in and out of my life at your leisure—whenever you had a moment to make your quick assumptions, scarcely able to keep up with your own pen, the ink roving over the page in a stream of consciousness.
Consciousness! As if you were aware. As if it might occur to you that I had any clout at all. That I deliberately looked away from the mirror. That a glimpse of my tidy little body is all I resolved to give.
It should be enough, more than enough, even for the likes of the young men on the Drumcondra tram, that you got that far. Oh, I’ve read what they’ve had to say, those learned men, always examining your hallowed prose, leering at me in that passage on the bottom of the page.
How they would have loved it if you had been able to persuade me to dwell on the flesh. That is what they want, isn’t it? For you to have me examine every blessed inch of my body, divulge my sacred treasure to you, so you could expose to them their own longings, and they could tear another book of yours from its brown paper wrapper and devour it whole. [End Page 165]
They’d love nothing more than for me to remain in my little bedroom, bemoaning the fact that I’ve lived unnoticed, untouched, most notably undesired. For me to pull out a handkerchief from the sleeve of my best blouse, have a long cry, and wring it dry of spinster tears.
Very, very small, am I? Minute? Diminutive? Yes, I know what that word means, but I’m sure you took the worst of it, the part implying pity. I’ll have no pity from the likes of you. “Modest” is a word you might have used if you had a lick of sense or dignity.
I’ll have no pity and I’ll give you no tears, Mr Joyce. Quite simply because I have no misgivings about the past. There were men before you who tried to own me. You didn’t know that either, did you?
That before your story, there were several suitors I rejected due to their possessive nature. It is for that reason I refer to a drop so often. I knew first-hand the wrath of drink, and I had been left to rely on no one but myself to escape it. Better to be independent, as you say, Sir; that much is true.
Oh, of course I loved Joe and Alphy too. Why shouldn’t...