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CHAPTER THREE The Living & the Dead He heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. James Joyce, "The Dead" This page intentionally left blank THE SNOW THAT falls outside Gabriel Conroy's window in Joyce's "The Dead" serves several purposes. It provides a setting for the action at the end of the story. It insolates Conroy and his wife to some extent from the world around them. And it brings to Conroy's mind the image of Michael Furey, who had, at another time and another place, died into the snow and whose renewed existence depends on the snow. When Conroy swoons, he is aware of little but the snow and the image of Michael Furey. The swoon, itself a medial state between life and death, brings Conroy paradoxically to his most intense awareness of himself and of his future course in life. Like art and experience, the snow links the living and the dead. One reading of "The Dead" suggests the equivalence of snow and what Richard Ellmann calls "mutuality.''1 Like the snow in Joyce's story, art and experience body forth the image, in this case the image of Michael Furey. And the apprehension of that image, like Gabriel Conroy's of the Irish poet with the dark, expressive eyes, effects a change in the perceiver. The "journey westward" is a journey to primitive origins and also a journey to death-a death that will bring Conroy closer to Michael Furey than he had ever thought he could be. The swoon, the "identity . . . fading out into a grey impalpable world," represents the resultant merging of the consciousness of the perceiver with the consciousness bodied forth in the artistic or snow-born image. A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He Walter Pater watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.2 The ending of "The Dead" represents one of the fullest realizations of Pater's esthetic, and the use of the esthetic by a writer of Joyce's stature testifies to the effect of Pater on the writers of his own time and the succeeding generation. The Pater delivered to us by Joyce may seem more satisfactory than the Pater of Marius the Epicurean or The Renaissance. But Pater's own writings show a conscious movement towards what proves to be the ideal realization by Joyce, and at its best Pater's own fiction repays a close reading. In "The Dead" Joyce plays down the effect of the immediate physical image, in this case of Michael Furey, while Pater delivers it to us for what it may be worth in itself, which in context is a great deal. Ideally Pater attempts to please esthetically by showing the physical, as well as to teach something about the nature of art. Practically, however, Pater serves best as a directive to our thinking about the nature of art, and about the relationship of art to life. If Pater's vivid descriptions The Living & the Dead of physical beauty sometimes border on the perverse, they nonetheless demonstrate the importance of the human image in art. For Pater, the full realization of the human image in prose is a necessary part of his humanism. In art, as in life, the human image demands a response from the apprehender. The most difficult thing to achieve in reading Pater is the appropriate degree of "impassioned contemplation ," the mode of response Pater suggests in the "Conclusion " to The Renaissance. To some extent, the problem is one of preconceptions: the idea that Pater is an "impressionist...


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