LIKE MANY of Joyce’s fans, you may have found “After the Race” to be a minor accomplishment, even, compared to the remaining Dubliners stories, a disappointment (as Joyce himself did). If so, Cóilín Owens is here to change your mind. To persuade you of the story’s merit, Owens reveals an astonishing number and variety of influences, precursors, progeny, allusions, symbols, puns, narrative strategies, and rhetorical devices brought to bear by Joyce on this deceptively simple tale of a naïve Irish lad betrayed by his Continental “superiors.” Yet just as “Here Comes The Sun,” a modest little tune by the Beatles, pays tribute to a dawn that breaks after a “long, cold, lonely winter,” so does Joyce’s otherwise dismal little story conclude with a hope-filled announcement of “Daybreak.”
It is Villona, the impecunious Hungarian pianist (and Joyce’s surrogate, according to Owens), who makes the proclamation that ends the nightmare of Jimmy Doyle’s betrayal and incorporates “literal, historical, allegorical, and anagogical referents.” Owens painstakingly elaborates on each of these referents in his historical/rhetorical analysis. To begin his unraveling of the story’s “deceptive simplicities,” he considers [End Page 287] the turn-of-the-century “automobilism” overtaking France, the United States, and Edwardian Britain, an obsession that led to such competitions as the Gordon Bennett Cup Race, the titular event of Joyce’s story. However, it was an obsession that Joyce did not share. Indeed, Owens points out that when Joyce wrote this story, “he had never ridden in a car.” An interview Joyce conducted with French race-car driver Henri Fournier appearing in the Irish Times in April 1903 clearly reveals Joyce’s disdain for both the Frenchman and his so-called sport. In “After the Race” Joyce’s disregard becomes a “cunning critique of the Gordon Bennett Cup Race from the perspective of ‘advanced nationalism.’” As designated sponsors of the race in 1903, the U.K. organizers arranged for the competition to be held in Ireland where the roads were more accommodating and there was less concern about public safety than in England.
Reaction to the apparent honor of hosting the race in Ireland was generally mixed. However, Joyce’s attitude, like that of radical Irish nationalists such as Arthur Griffith, was decidedly negative. For them, the race promised to be a blatant display of conspicuous consumption, an opportunity for the ruling elite to exhibit its power and wealth before subservient colonial subjects. The coincidence of the Royal assent to have the race held in Ireland with the announcement of King Edward VII’s first visit to that country only strengthened the advanced nationalist argument that the race itself constituted a form of imperial propaganda. In addition, nationalists like Griffith argued that the race was designed and timed to distract attention from the centennial celebration of Robert Emmett’s insurrection. Emmett, “the sanctified personification of romantic Irish nationalism,” according to Owens, was not only a popular favorite in 1903 Dublin, but a figure with whom Joyce identified.
In the character of Jimmy Doyle, Joyce incorporates features of a well-known Irish folk figure—“Jemmy Doyle”—a callow young fellow who becomes enthralled during a night journey through unfamiliar territory. More to Owens’s point, however, Joyce’s Jimmy also embodies the fatuity, artlessness, and fawning worship of Mammon and Empire Joyce perceived in the 1903 Irish population generally and in a number of his erstwhile friends particularly. Prominent among such friends, as Owens sees it, was Oliver St. John Gogarty, from whom Joyce had recently become estranged. By the time he began writing “After the Race,” Joyce had come to view his onetime friend as a betrayer of both his own considerable talents and his Irish Catholic heritage. Doyle’s [End Page 288] identification with Gogarty is substantiated by his relationship with Joyce’s alter ego, Villona. Like Joyce—and Stephen Dedalus—Villona is an accomplished musician and aesthete. After attempting to awaken their aesthetic sensibilities, he distances himself from the...