Uncanny Returns in “The Dead”: Ibsenian Intertexts and the Estranged Infant
“The Dead” might be described as Joyce’s first sustained fictional enigma. The other fourteen Dubliners stories, all composed earlier, contain local puzzles and opacities, but these seem integrated and explicable when compared to the persistent unassimilated strangeness of the final story. This element of the “strange” (a word that echoes throughout “The Dead”) exists on all levels of the text—plot, character, language, imagery, the very act of narrating—and is particularly arresting in that it emerges within the homely context of the Misses Morkan’s annual Christmas dance. In this story the uncanny [das Unheimliche, or the “un-homely”) makes its home precisely in das Heimliche, in that which is familiar and familial, so that the ambivalent etymological journey that Sigmund Freud in his essay “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919) traces for the word heimlich—from “comfortable” and “homelike” to “hidden,” “secret,” and “dangerous”1—is played out in Gabriel Conroy’s relationships with members of his family, in particular with his wife, Gretta.
We are assured in the opening pages of “The Dead” that the party “was always a great affair. … For years and years it had gone off in splendid style as long as anyone could remember.”2 This investment in a carefully controlled repetition of success sets the stage for ironic appearances of the uncanny and the emergence of unanticipated, ghostly “wit” at the expense of hyperconscious sociality. This process is repeated at the level of individual psyches, notably in the gradual dismantling of Gabriel’s vigilant, self-absorbed aplomb. Joyce’s text generates an uncanniness in which the frightening is not always distinguishable from the comic (as it occasionally is not in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale “The Sand-Man,” which Freud analyzes in “The ‘Uncanny’”).3 This range or instability of affect, representing one of the chief obstacles to determining meaning, gives “The Dead” dim affinities, haunting in their elusive precocity, with Finnegans Wake.
Freud begins “The ‘Uncanny’” with the complaint that neither aesthetic theory nor medico-psychological literature has adequately accounted for the experience of uncanniness. He notes that in 1906 Ernst Jentsch defined the uncanny as a feeling of “intellectual uncertainty” in the face of the novel and unfamiliar—uncertainty, for example, about whether an animate being is really alive, or, conversely, whether a lifeless object such as a doll or automaton might not be animate (Freud, 226–27). While crediting Jentsch with important insights, Freud contends that uncanny feelings arise primarily from something other than intellectual uncertainty, something less uncertain and far more disturbing. Taking “The Sand-Man” as a notable instance of the uncanny in literature, Freud asserts that the source of uncanniness in this tale is not the living female doll, Olympia (as Jentsch would have it), but rather the student Nathaniel’s castration complex and his struggle with the father imago, a condition represented in the text by “the theme of the ‘Sand-Man’ who tears out children’s eyes” (Freud, 227). Freud thus posits repressed infantile complexes, the once-familiar returning in terrifying forms, as the chief source of Nathaniel’s uncanny experiences, an interpretive move that reinforces Freud’s lengthy lexicographical demonstration that the meaning of the word heimlich “develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich” (Freud, 226).
Thus, according to Freud, the uncanny is “something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (Freud, 241). He distinguishes between two classes of uncanniness: the resurfacing of primitive religious beliefs that have been “surmounted” by modern civilization (such as the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts, secret injurious powers, the return of the dead); and an analogous revival of infantile complexes that have been “repressed” in the adult (castration complex, womb fantasies, and so forth). Two forms of the uncanny hold a special fascination for Freud: the encounter with a double, which results from a “dividing and interchanging of the self,” a splitting of the ego into observer and observed (Freud, 234); and involuntary repetition, “a ‘compulsion to repeat’ proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts—a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character” (Freud, 238).4
This brief, necessarily selective summary of “The ‘Uncanny’” provides a starting point for a discussion of “The Dead” as well as a basis for rethinking aspects of Freud’s essay and extending its implicit but largely undeveloped ideas about literary representation. With minimal extrapolation the uncanny might be defined as a mode of psychic and/or textual representation that disguises repressed affects by means of what Freud calls “estrangement.” The alienated luster that estrangement lends to these affects appears at the intersection of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the homely and the hidden, giving uncanny events their special quality, at once harrowing and perversely seductive.5
“The Dead” is an uncanny narrative the strangeness of which derives in part from a number of such “estrangements”—seemingly marginal moments in the text where the once-familiar can be fleetingly glimpsed under its incognito. By adopting a flexible psychoanalytic approach and not restricting it to individual characters’ psyches or insisting that all estrangements can be traced to the conscious or unconscious mind of the author, I hope to shed light on a variety of textual “impediments,” to use Jacques Lacan’s term: discontinuities, bizarre figurations, and flashes of wit that signal the operation of the unconscious.6 By the “unconscious” I do not mean some absolute event or psyche immanent in the text but rather a dynamic, problematic convergence of uncanny experiences elicited by the act of reading: the experiences of characters in the story, for example, when they encounter such things as doubling and involuntary repetition, as well as the reader’s response to analogous phenomena on the level of textual and intertextual play. In the case of intertextual uncanniness, the once-familiar of a prior text is felt to haunt the present text in estranged yet recognizable forms.
It is important to stress that this convergence of experiences is so overdetermined in Joyce’s text that the “sources” of the uncanny cannot easily be traced at any point. Moreover, as Freud himself noted, the uncanny in literature differs from the uncanny in life inasmuch as literature “contains the whole of the latter and something more besides, something that cannot be found in real life” (Freud, 249). This “something more,” this representational excess, points to the unauthored, autogenetic quality of the uncanny as it operates within the peculiar language of literature.7 The uncanny is itself uncanny when it makes its home in aesthetic discourse.
This broadly textual adaptation of the uncanny seems warranted by Freud himself, who proposes the concept initially as a way of accounting for aesthetic phenomena not amenable to such traditional categories as the sublime and the beautiful (Freud, 219–20). Unfortunately, Freud’s scientific and clinical interests lead him to focus almost exclusively on the content (what he calls the “events” or “particulars”) of Hoffmann’s tale, reducing its complex texture to a quarry for corroborative instances. As a result, Freud’s attention to the formal, aesthetic dimension of the uncanny, and to the rich grammar of representation implied in his own theory of repression and alienated return, gives way to a bustling positivism and an efficient etiology; Wahrheit easily displaces Dichtung, authoritatively converting writing into exemplarity, the signifier into the signified.
Even so, Freud offers some promising directions for exploring the relation between the uncanny and textuality. He notes, for example, that fairy tales, while they often contain uncanny elements, produce no feeling of uncanniness because they postulate a world of unreality from the start, whereas writers who set their tales “in the world of common reality” readily achieve uncanny effects (Freud, 250). Although Freud does not develop the point, it might be argued that realism and naturalism represent a “secularization” of literature—a sacrifice, in the interests of verifiability and clear-eyed mimesis, of the poetic and the figurative—analogous to the surmounting of primitive beliefs which Freud says paves the way for the return of those beliefs in estranged forms. Thus, the realistic or naturalistic mode—Joyce’s fictional mode in Dubliners—would seem to be an especially fertile ground for uncanny visitations by virtue of the resolute rationality of its discourse, a discourse in which surmounted or repressed literariness, the excess of the signifier, returns to haunt the reader.
I largely avoid what in many ways continues to be, despite recent revisionary assaults, the standard approach to “The Dead,” which traces Gabriel’s progress toward a final epiphany of enlightenment, whether liberating or paralyzing.8 Instead I will focus on marginal elements that have resisted incorporation into this master narrative and as a result have undergone a sort of critical repression, or at least have remained, for the most part, below the threshold of critical articulation. Various uncanny elements will be considered, but the chief enigma involves the figuring of Michael Furey—the boy who died of love for Gretta Conroy when she was a girl—as Gretta’s child, a mystery the text hints at in various ways but never directly confronts. As a consequence, Gretta’s own passion play of repression and return will emerge as one of the deep, driving forces in the text; her experience will be recognized as a problematic “double” of Gabriel’s more conspicuous psychodrama. In addition, I consider a number of uncanny textual and intertextual returns, including Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken and some of the earlier Dubliners stories. The discussion of intertexts within Dubliners is preliminary to, and paradigmatic for, the discussion of Ibsen and “The Dead.”
Whether the uncanny takes the form of the once-familiar returning in masquerade, or of doubling, or of involuntary patterns and coincidences, the common factor in all cases is the element of repetition. Yet, clearly, repetition alone does not explain the feeling of uncanniness, for even after the repressed element has been extricated from its estranged husk and revealed as the common denominator of a series of psychic and/or textual enigmas (as in Freud’s oedipal decoding of “The Sand-Man”), a residue of the unexplained remains, and this residue continues to haunt. That the aura of the uncanny cannot be wholly exorcised by rational processes points to the abiding mystery surrounding the source or cause of uncanny events, and to the fact that estrangement, as a mode of representation, does not function merely as a mask that can be peeled away and discarded but actually plays a constitutive role in the psyche or text.
These two aspects—the sense of a secret or untraceable “author” of uncanniness and the realization that the transformations worked by estrangement are ineradicably part of the psyche’s development—contribute to the feeling of helplessness that Freud notes in the experience of uncanny repetition (Freud, 237). Stephen Dedalus’s definition of Aristotelian terror as “the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause” is as much about the inscrutability and durability of the uncanny as it is about the tragic emotion.9
The foregoing distinctions between kinds of repetition should help us explore the quality of strangeness in “The Dead.” Not all instances of repetition, even when they contribute to the register of the “terrifying,” qualify as uncanny. For example, certain phrases in the text seem calculated to reinforce the pervasive sense of death: “My wife here takes three mortal hours to dress herself” (D, 177); “Both of them kissed Gabriel’s wife, said she must be perished alive” (D, 177); “As the subject had grown lugubrious it was buried in a silence of the table” (D, 201). These thematic promptings are not in themselves uncanny, largely because we can see Joyce building up his effect by specific, programmatic repetitions, not unlike his unabashed deployment of rhetorical figures in the “Aeolus” episode of Ulysses to underscore that episode’s theme of rhetoric. This kind of repetition is intentionally strained and verges on the compulsive clowning of Joyce’s later writings. In “The Dead” it produces a droll effect of simulated gothic terror. An analogous case might be that of the uncanny in fairy tales, which, as we have seen, Freud regards as devoid of uncanny effect.
Other forms of repetition in “The Dead” are more haunting and haunted, however. For example, the phrase “the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” [D, 224) grows out of at least two earlier moments in the text: at dinner Mary Jane said that the monks have coffins “to remind them of their last end” (D, 201); and later, as the guests are leaving, we learn that “the sky seemed to be descending” (D, 212). The return of these phrases in Gabriel’s final meditation produces an effect of uncanniness, in this particular case because he could have heard only one of the phrases (Mary Jane’s), but more generally because the swelling rhythmic sonority and expanding perspective render all attempts to assign the final paragraphs to a single consciousness, to find a psychic home for them, as futile as Gabriel’s efforts to hold on to his old, stable ego. Here, the uncanny emerges in the space between psyches, in the breakdown of the text’s ostensible commitment to a relatively stable psychogenesis and a naturalistic basis for narrative voice, together with the corresponding ideology of the sovereign subject. The “fading out” of Gabriel’s identity both results from and is a precondition for the strange authority of the final paragraphs, an authority that is paradoxically and disconcertingly “authorless.”10
Certain intertextual returns from earlier Dubliners stories add to the uncanny quality of “The Dead” and further erase the boundaries of identity and narrative voice. In the opening story, “The Sisters,” the young boy imagines a terrifying visitation from his recently deceased friend, the old priest (of whom one of the characters remarks that “there was something uncanny about him” [D, 10]): “I drew the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas. But the grey face still followed me. … I felt my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region” (D, 11). The similarities between this passage and the final scene of “The Dead” are striking: stretching himself “cautiously along under the sheets,” Gabriel begins to be aware of ghostly “forms.” “His soul,” we are told in a distinct echo of the earlier story, “had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead” (D, 223). Authority for this resonant repetition is impossible to determine, and the problematic nature of narrative voice in “The Dead” is ironically underscored by the irruption of language from a most definitely “authored” first-person narrative into this “authorless” final section. This erasure of the boundary separating the realistic from the fantastic—the rational and narratable from the haunted and unspeakable—produces an uncanny effect of the type noted by Freud in his discussion of realistic fiction in “The ‘Uncanny.’” The intertextual “haunting” in the final paragraphs of “The Dead” hints at the presence of a dialogism—to be fully realized in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake—in which the vast hosts of discourses that make up the “realistic” mode are permitted to have their ghostly say.
Similarly, a passage from “A Little Cloud” anticipates Gabriel’s vision of universal snow:
He turned often from his tiresome writing to gaze out of the office window. The glow of a late autumn sunset covered the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and decrepit old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving figures—on the children who ran screaming along the gravel paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. (D, 71)
The human panorama, the comprehensive sympathy, the sweeping cadences intimating a soul on the verge of swooning suggest that this scene is an attenuated “double” of the final passage of “The Dead,” especially if we allow for the substitution of the sunset’s “golden dust” for snow and of Little Chandler’s feeble (and pointedly ironized) meditation on life for Gabriel’s night thoughts on death. It is important, however, to avoid ascribing these instances of repetition to intentionalistic practices such as Joycean self-parody, pastiche, allusion, prolepsis, cross-reference, or other features of a text conceived of as consciously predetermined and teleological. One reason why the spontaneous, autogenetic quality of such inter-textual returns may seem disorienting, especially to readers whose response has been conditioned by the criticism, is that Joyce critics have consistently argued for a text that is infallibly self-conscious, the product of an almost superhuman authorial intention. The concept of an invisible but ubiquitous “Arranger,” which in one form or another has been invoked for most of Joyce’s fiction, is limited precisely insofar as it cannot adequately account for a text such as Finnegans Wake or for the pervasive strange or “estranged” quality of “The Dead.”11 The doctrine of the Arranger has the further drawback of eliding or masking the role of interpretation in constituting the ingenuity of Joyce’s texts, providing a blanket rationale for narcissistic projections of the reading process onto this convenient authorial demiurge. The Arranger is the “blank check” in the economy of the Joyce industry.
Another range of textual “impediments” (to recur to Lacan’s term) concerns the pervasive military imagery in “The Dead.” We encounter such phrases as “an irregular musketry of applause” (D, 192); “Freddy Malins acting as officer with his fork on high” (D, 206); “Mary Jane led her recruits” [D, 184); “Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes” (D, 196); “three squads of bottles … drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms” (D, 197). Although these metaphors can be rationalized as objective correlatives for the putative battle between Gabriel Conroy and his rival Michael Furey, or as symbolic outcroppings of Gabriel’s conflict with himself, such readings seem too monotonal and tendentiously thematic to be fully persuasive. I suggest that this imagery represents a resurfacing, with an estranged difference, of the military and quasi-military metaphors of “Two Gallants,” where the cynical insensitivity with which Corley conducts his love affair is linked to what Joyce called “the moral code of the soldier and (incidentally) of the gallant.”12 Joyce adopted this equation from his recent reading of the Italian historian and sociologist Guglielmo Ferrero, whose L’Europa giovane (1897) and Il Militarismo (1898) attacked the militaristic mentality and the related concept of ga-lanteria, with its barely submerged agenda of domination and misogyny.13
The possibility that Ferrero’s writings and “Two Gallants” are intertexts is further suggested by such phrases as “Mr Browne … gallantly escort[ed] Aunt Julia” (D, 192) and “[Gabriel] raised his glass of port gallantly” (D, 205). Gabriel’s attitude toward Gretta becomes increasingly “gallant” as the evening progresses; at the end of the party he is feeling “proud, joyful, tender, valorous” and longs to “defend her against something and then to be alone with her” (D, 213). When his aroused chivalry is later checked by her unresponsiveness, he restrains himself from “brutal language” and desires “to be master of her strange mood” (D, 217). In part, no doubt, Gabriel is reincarnating the attitudes Joyce satirized in Corley and Lenehan, but the broad, unstable deployment of military imagery in “The Dead” (most of it concentrated in the early part, long before Gabriel becomes gallant) cannot be accounted for solely in terms of Gabriel’s psyche or Joyce’s satirical intent. Military figures occur so randomly and exhibit such a wide range of tone—including the ghostly “wit” I mentioned earlier—that they overwhelm all attempts to ground them in some specific psychogenesis or intentionality. In this respect the text as a whole mirrors Gretta’s homely yet quite unheimlich and disconcerting inscrutability; “The Dead” simply refuses to allow the reader to be master of its strange mood.
The centrality that “The Dead” gives to the female as impediment to interpretive mastery is focused in a series of social and personal failures that Gabriel experiences in the course of the evening. His suavity and control are baffled in turn by Lily the caretaker’s daughter, Molly Ivors (his professional and intellectual equal), and Gretta in a pattern so marked as to raise the possibility that he is in the grip of a repetition compulsion. Gabriel’s repetition of error, yet another sign of uncanniness in the story, hints at a “death drive” on his part that may connect with his later experience of self-dissolution and communion with the dead. It might also be argued that these repetitions, along with the recurrent image of snow in the story, contribute to a structure of delay, and that, as Elizabeth Wright observes of “The Sand-Man,” “what is delayed is death.”14
Gabriel’s need for reiterated proofs of control and his aunts’ desire for the annual success of their party reflect in different ways an obsession with keeping the unfamiliar from entering the circle of the “home,” be it psychic or social. This industrious staging of homely experience prepares the way for das Unheimliche, which in turn will reintroduce das Heimliche, the once-familiar, in estranged and threatening guises. Late in the story, when Gabriel is coming to see the futility of his desire for a night of honeymoon passion with Gretta, he passes in front of the cheval glass and sees “the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror” (D, 218). The feeling of uneasiness at encountering one’s reflected image—what Freud called the uncanny effect of the “double” (Freud, 248n)—results from an unconscious defamiliarizing of the familiar, which in Gabriel’s case is related to his intense conscious willing of the familiar, his need for experience that is predictable and controllable.
The bibulous Freddy Malins, in almost every way the antithesis of the responsible Gabriel, is nevertheless Gabriel’s “bad” double, mirroring him in his intense though conflicted relationship to a dominating mother and even in certain personal habits, such as “the mechanical readjustment of his dress” (D, 185). (Gabriel fusses with his clothes and pats his tie nervously throughout the evening.) As Gabriel’s double, the docile, unmarried Freddy uncannily embodies Gabriel’s buried self (passivity, oedipal dependence, potential for infantile regression), a self that keeps him perpetually staging or “scripting” his own experience, as if, for Gabriel, Eros needed vigilant coaching lest Thanatos supervene in the form of entropic repetitions of error, as in any case it seems to do. The attempt to predetermine Gretta’s erotic response and the ironic, leading questions he puts to her about Michael Furey are crucial examples of his scripting of experience, and they open the way for the full emergence of the uncanny late in the story.
The exasperating unreadability of women in “The Dead” suggests that there may be an intertextual relationship with the plays of Henrik Ibsen, in particular with When We Dead Awaken, which Joyce read with admiration and discussed in an article in the Fortnightly Review for April 1, 1900.15 When We Dead Awaken, Ibsen’s last play, is an uncanny work in its own right, mixing symbolic and naturalistic elements with such daring that Ibsen’s great English exponent, the translator William Archer, decided that the play was “purely pathological,” a piece of “self-caricature, a series of echoes from all the earlier plays, an exaggeration of manner to the pitch of mannerism.”16 Archer’s annoyance has to do with what he deems uncharacteristic and unworthy elements of repetition (self-caricature, echoes, mannerism), and he comes close to accusing the senescent Ibsen of a repetition compulsion. Archer’s strategy is to rationalize uncanny elements in terms of Ibsen’s alleged irrationality and aesthetic irresponsibility. The unreliable Arranger that he posits in this psychogenetic move would seem to be the antithesis of the infallible Joycean Arranger, yet in principle the two figures are similar.
The action of When We Dead Awaken revolves around the chance meeting of the sculptor Arnold Rubek and his model Irene, who years before had sat for his most famous work, The Resurrection Day, an image of a young woman “awakening from the sleep of death” (Ibsen, 371). The theme of the living dead runs throughout When We Dead Awaken, and Rubek’s meeting with Irene, herself recently awakened from a mental collapse which she prefers to call her “death,” stirs him to realize that his marriage of several years to Maia has been a conventional death-in-life. “It is simply and solely I myself,” he tells Maia, “who have once more undergone a revolution … an awakening to my real life” (Ibsen, 399). Irene states the case more bleakly: “We see the irretrievable only when … we dead awaken” (Ibsen, 431). All these elements—a marriage dulled by routine, a peripeteia brought about by a figure returning from the past, the half-conscious sufferings of the living dead, awakenings that only confirm a sense of loss and emotional aridity—return to haunt Joyce’s story intertextually. Moreover, When We Dead Awaken resembles “The Dead” in its general movement from scenes of social interaction (at a bathing establishment on the coast) to the final act with its intense focus on Rubek and Irene as they ascend a mountainside and are engulfed by a snowstorm. Rubek likens the menacing blasts of wind to “the prelude to the Resurrection Day” and exhorts Irene to “let two of the dead—us two—for once live life to its uttermost—before we go down to our graves again!” (Ibsen, 454).
Determined on a death pact that will paradoxically restore to them “the beautiful, miraculous earth-life,” the two figures climb toward the Peak of Promise, where, Rubek tells Irene, “we will hold our marriage-feast” (Ibsen, 455). As Gabriel follows Gretta up the stairs to their room in the Gresham Hotel, he too believes that they are about to experience a renewal of passion and, like Rubek, feels a violent impulse to seize his wife even before they reach their destination. Later, joining her under sheets which are also shrouds for the newly awakened dead, Gabriel has his vision of snow “general all over Ireland” (D, 223), and the couple’s white-sheeted forms extend the quiescent snowscape into the hotel room. Similarly, at the end of When We Dead Awaken, Irene and Rubek can be dimly discerned “as they are whirled along with the masses of snow and buried in them” (Ibsen, 456); one of the characters even remarks of the approaching storm clouds that “soon they’ll be all round us like a winding-sheet” (Ibsen, 448).
In his Fortnightly Review article, “Ibsen’s New Drama,” Joyce lingers over that final image of Rubek and Irene, claiming that they “hold our gaze, as they stand up silently on the fjaell, engrossing central figures of boundless, human interest.”17 In Joyce’s reading, Rubek and Irene become mythic figures as their identities, like Gabriel’s and Gretta’s, are extinguished in the immense avalanche of newly discovered life. Joyce’s portrait of the awakening Rubek anticipates what critics have described as Gabriel’s change of mind and heart: “There may be lying dormant in him a capacity for greater life, which may be exercised when he, a dead man, shall have risen from among the dead” (CW, 66). In Rubek’s “conversion,” writes Joyce, “there is involved an all-embracing philosophy, a deep sympathy with the cross-purposes and contradictions of life, as they may be reconcilable with a hopeful awakening—when the manifold travail of our poor humanity may have a glorious issue” (CW, 66).
But it is the uncanny figure of Irene that fascinates Joyce most. Pale and slender, dressed in a white gown and a large white shawl, Irene moves about the stage with erect carriage and phantomlike demeanor. She is the picture of a beautiful, shrouded corpse, and throughout the play she tells Rubek that she has returned from the dead and that it is he who killed her. In “Ibsen’s New Drama” Joyce devotes a long passage to Irene in which he first asserts that Ibsen’s treatment of her shows how thoroughly he “knows” women. “He appears,” Joyce says, “to have sounded them to almost unfathomable depths” (CW, 64). But after naming several Ibsen heroines and assigning them to literary genres (tragic, comic), he admits that Irene “cannot be so readily classified; the very aloofness from passion … forbids classification” (CW, 64). Irene’s ghostly impassiveness eludes aesthetic categories in the same way that the uncanny, according to Freud, resists being classed under the sublime or the beautiful. Following Ibsen, who describes Irene in the stage directions as “the strange lady” (Ibsen, 359), Joyce acknowledges her uncanniness by also characterizing her as “strange.” He refers at one point to the meaning hidden beneath her “strange words” (CW, 53) and their transformative effect on Rubek, and later says that “she interests us strangely—magnetically, because of her inner power of character. … She holds our gaze for the sheer force of her intellectual capacity” (CW, 64).
“Strange” is a word consistently associated with Gretta Conroy also, especially in the latter part of the story, and with Gabriel’s reaction to her revelations about Michael Furey (“a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul” [D, 222]). Just as, according to Joyce, Irene’s strange magnetism “holds our gaze,” so Gabriel, at the conclusion of the party, is hypnotized by Gretta as she stands on the stairs in the shadow, listening to an old ballad being sung in an upstairs room. As he remains below, straining to hear the air and “gazing up at his wife,” he notices that there is “grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something,” and tries to master the strangeness of this spectacle by mentally turning it into a conventional piece of art, by assigning Gretta to the popular aesthetic category of the tableau: “Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter” (D, 210).18
This painting of the uncanny female is also a sign of repression of the maternal body. According to Freud the latter is both strange and familiar, at once a magical cave and a long-lost home: “This unheimlich place [the female genitals] … is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning” (Freud, 245). Gabriel’s own struggle with his mother and with the maternal imago—a struggle he consciously casts as resentment of her disapproval of his “country cute” wife (D, 187)—is projected upon Gretta and her body, which he characterizes here in terms of “grace and mystery.” Gabriel’s reduction of Gretta’s uncanny power proves only temporary, however; her strangeness will reassert itself, and in a new register, once they reach the hotel room.
Gabriel’s aestheticizing of Gretta has its intertextual double in Rubek’s sculpture, The Resurrection Day, for which Irene modeled. Irene informs Rubek, to his horror, that the sacrifice she made for his art brought about her death, that she remained dead for years and gradually came to hate Rubek, “who had so lightly and carelessly taken a warm-blooded body, a young human life, and worn the soul out of it—because you needed it for a work of art” (Ibsen, 410).19 Instead of giving her love, Rubek conferred on her an artistic immortality which spelled the death of her soul. The aesthetic act becomes an act of murder, inasmuch as it must raze human individuality before it can rear in its place a universalized art form. Art murders to create. Irene resists all of Rubek’s assertions about the greater glory of art and reminds him that the artist-model relationship is a strongly gendered one. When he says exultantly, “You gave me all your naked loveliness,” she bitterly adds, “To gaze upon” (Ibsen, 378). The role played by the male gaze in the aesthetic act is another important intertext here, linking with images of fascinated males and female cynosures in both “The Dead” and “Ibsen’s New Drama.”
Although Irene regrets giving up her youthful soul and body for Rubek’s art, she consoles herself with the knowledge that The Resurrection Day is famous, and insists on referring to it as “our child.” She tells Rubek that, although she secretly hated him while she was exposing herself to his gaze, “that statue in the wet, living clay, that I loved—as it rose up, a vital human creature, out of those raw, shapeless masses—for that was our creation, our child. Mine and yours” (Ibsen, 411--12). Her discourse seems calculated to produce an effect of estrangement as it merges maternal and biological images with the more traditional aesthetic rhetoric of transcendence and immortality, hinting at the link between male fascination with the aestheticized female form and the fear and loathing inspired by the unheimlich maternal body. By persistently figuring the statue of herself as her own child, by conjoining the animate and the inanimate (as in the doll Olympia in “The Sand-Man”), Irene introduces into an otherwise relatively realistic plot a perverse element of the uncanny. This paradoxical offspring, a love child born of hatred, a statue that, according to Irene, is both living and dead, provides what may be the deepest, most enigmatic intertextual link with “The Dead.”20
The Uncanny Babe
Joyce devotes a paragraph of “Ibsen’s New Drama” to Irene’s bizarre motherhood and “the child of her soul,” as he calls it: “By her child Irene means the statue. To her it seems that this statue is, in a very true and very real sense, born of her. Each day as she saw it grow to its full growth under the hand of the skilful moulder, her inner sense of motherhood for it, of right over it, of love towards it, had become stronger and more confirmed” (CW, 57). Joyce emphasizes Irene’s maternal sense and, if anything, exaggerates her claims over the child. Whereas Ibsen’s Irene usually refers to the statue as “our child,” Joyce gives the impression that Irene is the sole parent, thereby reinforcing the deconstruction of male creativity that the play itself effects and underscoring the turbulent drama taking place in Irene’s mind.
Gretta Conroy undergoes a trauma very similar to Irene’s. She, too, is haunted by the past and by a sense of regret for things done and opportunities missed. At the end of the party, as Gabriel stands gazing up at her and transforming her into a tableau, she is listening to the distantly intoned words of a song, “The Lass of Aughrim,” which a boy named Michael Furey used to sing when she was living in Galway. The song’s strange, elusive lyrics tell of a love affair between Lord Gregory and a peasant girl, her abandonment by him, and her return one night in the rain with her child to seek admission at his door. Only a snatch of the song appears in the text:
O, the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew wets my skin,
My babe lies cold…
Gretta tells Gabriel that when Michael learned that she was leaving Galway, he left a sickbed and stood below her window in the rain, and a short while later died. “I think he died for me,” Gretta says (D, 220). Her descriptions of this frail boy—“a young boy … very delicate” (D, 219), “such a gentle boy” (D, 221)—are maternal in their tenderness, and the image of Michael shivering beneath her window suggests a connection with the cold babe lying in the arms of the peasant mother in the song.21
This mother-child relationship is hinted at in other ways, but so unobtrusively that the surface of the narrative is barely broken by the emergent figurations. When Gabriel wonders if she had been in love with Michael, Gretta answers, “I was great with him at that time” (D, 220). Her West Country dialect is as strange and multivalent as the language of “The Lass of Aughrim,” and the faint merging here, beneath the literal sense of her words, of the roles of lover, mother, and unborn infant generates an uncanny music of otherness that calmly subverts Gabriel’s jealous cross-examining.22 His questioning of Gretta—a reversal of the catechism he himself underwent earlier at the hands of Miss Ivors—has the unintended effect of assisting at the birth of Gretta’s long-gestating memory of Michael and her girlhood. Earlier, as they climb the stairs to their hotel room, Gretta is described as being “bowed in the ascent, her frail shoulders curved as with a burden, her skirt girt tightly about her” (D, 215). She is delivered of this burden of the past with the help of Gabriel’s unwitting midwifery. (The maieutic method of Socratic dialectic may be a remote analogue here.) After she has fallen asleep, her labor over, Gabriel muses on “how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live” (D, 223).
This image of the past locked away in the womb/heart—a metaphor that recurs throughout When We Dead Awaken—reappears in Ulysses when Stephen is helping his student Sargent, another delicate boy, with his algebra. Stephen finds him “ugly and futile,” but decides that “someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart.”23 Sensing a similarity between Sargent and himself at that age, he thinks of their pasts in terms of repression and return: “Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants, willing to be dethroned” (U, 2.170–72). Much later, at the end of “Circe,” Bloom’s long-dead infant son, Rudy, magically appears to him with “a delicate mauve face” (U, 15.4965). In this theatrically uncanny finale to an episode in which Bloom gives birth to a brood of dream children, the return of his painful past is figured as a delicate boy, dead for years but reanimated, like Michael Furey, by a series of psychological shocks administered to the parent.24
Freud suggests that the uncanny feeling produced by dolls and automata may originate in the childhood belief that dolls are alive or can be brought to life (Freud, 233). Marginal, easily ignored images of dolls, infants, and children appear in “The Dead” long before the hotel room scene. During Mary Jane’s piano piece, Gabriel’s wandering attention lights on embroidered pictures of “the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet … [and] of the two murdered princes in the Tower” (D, 186), pictures which combine themes of Liebestod and Kindermord to the point of overdetermination (suggesting also Gretta’s sense of responsibility for Michael Furey’s death). Earlier, noticing that Lily has grown into a young woman, Gabriel realizes that he “had known her when she was a child and used to sit on the lowest step nursing a rag doll” (D, 177). A few minutes later, stung by Gretta’s flippancy about his insistence that she wear “goloshes,” Gabriel retorts, “It’s nothing very wonderful but Gretta thinks it very funny because she says the word reminds her of Christy Minstrels” (D, 181). By “Christy Minstrels” Gabriel probably means blackface minstrels in a general sense (for by this period the term no longer referred exclusively to the American troupe of that name), or the phrase may even be a polite circumlocution for “negro” or “black.” (Later in the story Freddy Malins praises the singing of the “negro chieftain” in the pantomime, to the embarrassment of the other dinner guests [D, 198].) In any case, it is the word “goloshes” that reminds Gretta of black or blackface figures, and the missing verbal link is evidently “golliwog,” the popular term for a grotesque black doll inspired by a series of children’s books featuring an animated doll named Golliwogg.25
It is interesting that “golliwog,” the vaguely homophonic link with “goloshes,” does not actually emerge into the text but remains beneath the surface, hinted at but never directly indicated. This black doll or dark infant is submerged in the same way that Gretta’s relationship with Michael Furey has remained buried for so many years. (Joyce later referred in a poem to the Michael Furey figure as a “dark lover.”)26 Critics have suggested that the galoshes are a symbol of sterility and prophylaxis; it might be added that what Gabriel is preventing conception of is Gretta’s relationship to her past. Only fleetingly glimpsed at this point in terms of dolls, her girlhood will come to full term later in the evening in the form of the babe/lover Michael Furey.
The “impossible” imaging of Michael as Gretta’s infant never reaches full articulation in the text, but remains below the threshold of textual consciousness and acquires a good deal of its uncanny power from precisely this occultation. Like other enigmas in “The Dead,” the uncanny babe might be said to be an “encysted” element, a pocket of repressed material (in this case, Gretta’s) resisting assimilation into the text and receiving its particular form through the work of estrangement.
Joyce’s notes for Exiles shed some light on this repressed material. Written in 1913, seven years after he completed “The Dead,” these notes allowed Joyce to set down memories (chiefly those of his companion, Nora) that might help him with the writing of his semi-autobiographical play. In order to give depth to the character Bertha (the figure based on Nora), Joyce recorded snippets of Nora’s early life in Galway, including images of her young admirer, Sonny Bodkin, the original of Michael Furey: “Graveyard at Rahoon by moonlight where Bodkin’s grave is. He lies in the grave. She sees his tomb (family vault) and weeps. The name is homely. … He is dark, unrisen, killed by love and life, young. The earth holds him” (E, 152). By “the earth” Joyce partly means Bertha/Nora herself (associated, like Molly Bloom, with that element) or, more specifically, her womb. A few lines later, relating Bodkin’s grave to the poet Shelley’s in Rome, Joyce writes, “Shelley whom she has held in her womb or grave rises” (emphasis added). When Ibsen’s Irene learns from Rubek that the statue has been placed in a museum, she feels that their child has been locked away in a “grave-vault” (Ibsen, 412–13).
As intertexts and interconnections multiply, the submerged figure of the uncanny babe in “The Dead” begins to take on a more definite form. The womb/tomb of Bertha/Nora is a later secondary revision of what Joyce had first figured as Gretta’s “heart,” in which she had “locked … for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes” (D, 223). In the notes for Exiles Joyce writes further of Sonny Bodkin that he is “her buried life, her past,” and adds: “His attendant images are the trinkets and toys of girlhood (bracelet, cream sweets, palegreen lily of the valley, the convent garden)” (E, 152). Just as Bodkin represents Bertha/Nora’s past, so Michael Furey is an estranged figure for Gretta’s girlhood, her “buried life.” Burial was one of Freud’s favorite metaphors for repression, the process “by which something in the mind is at once made inaccessible and preserved, [a] burial of the sort to which Pompeii fell a victim.” 27 Gretta has had to bury her past in order to become the wife of Gabriel Conroy, a man who feels ashamed of his wife’s simple, rural origins and unconsciously agrees with his mother’s class-based assessment of her as “country cute” (D, 187). Gretta has had to put away her childhood, to repress it for the sake of her marriage, but it returns on the evening of the Misses Morkan’s party in the form of the babe/lover Michael Furey. The alienated, intensely charged form in which this past returns is some measure of how violently Gretta has had to deny it.
Here, too, When We Dead Awaken proves a resonant intertext. Reminding Irene of her sacrifice for his art, Rubek says, “You renounced home and kindred—and went with me” (Ibsen, 372). Rbuek’s wife, Maia, has experienced a similar uprooting, which she recounts in the form of a parable to her new companion, Ulfheim: “There once was a stupid girl, who had both a father and a mother—but a rather poverty-stricken home. Then there came a high and mighty seigneur into the midst of all this poverty. And he took the girl in his arms—as you did—and travelled far, far away with her” (Ibsen, 440–41). Like Gretta Conroy, these women have been taken away from home and family at a young age, and, although the elopement may have brought them advantages, it also meant renunciation and irreparable loss. It is worth noting that Maia’s bitter parable about a poor girl rescued by a “high and mighty seigneur” bears a distinct resemblance to the dramatic situation of “The Lass of Aughrim,” in which Lord Gregory seduces and impregnates a peasant girl. In a poignant moment in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus thinks of his deceased mother’s girlhood in terms of random souvenirs she kept: “Her secrets: old featherfans, tasselled dancecards, powdered with musk, a gaud of amber beads in her locked drawer” (U, 1.255–56). This inventory is not unlike the list of items Joyce assigned to Bertha/Nora’s girlhood in the notes for Exiles. Mrs. Dedalus’s past, like Gretta’s and Bertha’s, was scrupulously “locked” away, buried by her in an effort to accommodate a socially superior husband.28
Discussing Freud’s analysis of “The Sand-Man” and his emphasis on oedipal themes, Hélène Cixous notes that his “minimizing of [the female doll] Olympia leads to the focus on Nathaniel.”29 Similarly, critics have made much of Gabriel Conroy’s “journey westward” (D, 223), but less attention has been paid to the fact that it is Gretta who travels back to her origins in the West, that “The Dead” is as much about her journey of reunion as about her husband’s discovery of new psychic terrain. Whatever Gabriel’s final swoon into self-dissolution may mean, whether it is spiritual death that beckons to him or some other undiscovered country, his wife has already reached the bourne of the once-familiar, a very specific locale long known to her but in recent years under ban. Gretta’s deracination has so thoroughly alienated her from her life in Galway, from family and friends, that it has taken years for this “buried life” to resurface, and when it does, it returns in the weird, estranged form of a boy lover who doubles as her own infant. She was “great with him at that time,” even before she met Gabriel, and the slow, dark birth has taken half a lifetime to reach full term.
It is interesting to compare this uncanny babe/lover with a similar fantasia in H. D.’s Helen in Egypt. H. D.’s revisionary epic begins with the countermyth that Helen spent the Trojan War safely hidden away in Egypt while a phantom Helen paced the ramparts of Troy. In this new telling, Helen and Achilles become lovers after the war, and, at one point in her life, Helen concludes that Paris is the child of this union:
he of the House of the Enemy,
Troy’s last king (this is no easy thing
to explain, this subtle genealogy)
is Achilles’ son, he is incarnate
Helen-Achilles; he, my first lover,
was created by my last.30
Paris, Helen’s “first lover,” becomes her child, and her last lover, Achilles, the child’s father. Helen’s relationship to her past, like Gretta Conroy’s, is troubled and censored, and this blockage gives rise, in the course of Helen’s intense broodings, to uncanny figurations, as in Joyce’s text. Just as Achilles has sired his enemy and eventual slayer, so Gabriel is the “father” of Michael Furey, the “impalpable and vindictive being” he senses “coming against him” as Gretta unfolds her past in the hotel room (D, 220). Gabriel has created Michael in the sense that he is largely responsible for Gretta’s renunciation of her origins. But the “subtle genealogy” that makes Gretta the mother of her own first lover also strangely empowers her in relation to her last one, and by the end of the story it is Gabriel who considers his past futile and negated. The uncanny proliferation of female roles is a sign of Gretta’s new-found power and self-knowledge.
Gretta’s psychodrama is the dark “double” of Gabriel’s more conspicuous sufferings, partly because hers is the narrative that is most frequently and conveniently ignored by critics, and because the true source of Gabriel’s sufferings—his wife’s occluded past—lies hidden from him even as it functions deep within his psyche, playing a large part in his self-definition as an Irishman and in his relationship with her. Gretta has already set out for Galway by the time Gabriel reaches his decision to journey westward. Her return to the womb/ tomb of her past is like Irene’s determination to seek out the museum that contains The Resurrection Day, that image of and monument to her youthful passion. “I will make a pilgrimage,” Irene declares, “to the place where my soul and my child’s soul lie buried” (Ibsen, 413). Gretta’s journey is already fully under way in the strange replies Gabriel elicits from her in the hotel room; his pilgrimage, by comparison, is imitative and of a lesser intensity. Where Gretta already is, Gabriel can only hope to be.
But speculation about the characters’ afterlife (in both senses of the word)—and such speculation is common in criticism of “The Dead”—is always a covert attempt to contain the problematic nature of the text. The “textual energetics” of the story (to use Peter Brooks’s phrase),31 which I have argued arise from the pervasive, multivalent operation of the uncanny, refuse containment and closure, just as they cannot be traced to a single source or set of sources, however construed. I have largely resisted, for example, the text’s invitation to an oedipal reading, though Gabriel’s mother conflict and the virtual absence of his father in his conscious thoughts might be read as a “source” of the uncanny babe figuration, making the latter a sort of magic-lantern projection of Gabriel’s unmastered infantile scenario. The oedipal clue might equally be traced to Joyce himself, whose relationship to Nora quickly became infantile and filial in times of stress, as when he wrote her from Dublin in 1909 just after being informed (falsely) of her infidelity: “O that I could nestle in your womb like a child born of your flesh and blood, be fed by your blood, sleep in the warm secret gloom of your body!” (Letters, 2:248). (Curiously, Joyce mentions in the same letter that he has just been to the Gresham Hotel, the setting for Gretta’s revelations about Michael Furey.) But the oedipal scenario as such, with its male agenda and its limited exegetical power outside Gabriel’s (or Joyce’s) personal narrative, is unlikely to elicit and at the same time respect the multiform strangeness of this text, which seems in any case to be generated by female scenarios and occlusions of female experience. 32
Although I have linked the uncanny power of Michael Furey to Gretta’s repression of her past, I have not intended this as an exhaustive psychogenetic explanation of the uncanny in the story. The babe/lover figure—only one “symptom” of the uncanny among many here—is overdetermined, just as the multiple intertexts I have discussed (and there are numerous others) represent a surplus of “backgrounds” for “The Dead.” That the uncanny cannot be “cured” by critical exegesis points also to what I have called the constitutive role of estrangement. As a mode of representation, estrangement is not merely a mask covering the pain of the once-familiar but is actually fused to the textual-psychic face beneath. In this respect, as in others, “The Dead” may have more in common with Finnegans Wake than with any other work by Joyce.33 As critics have noted, the bizarre verbal density of Finnegans Wake is generated by a kind of dream-work, a process that renders manifest and latent contents inseparable from each other in the same way that estrangement constitutes signification in “The Dead.” Moreover, both texts are autogenetic and authorless, and refuse, or perpetually absorb, efforts to account for them in terms of sources, authors, Arrangers, or other finite causes of textual effects. Like Finnegans Wake, “The Dead” is incurable and incorrigible.
1. Sigmund Freud, “The ‘Uncanny,’” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, ed. and trans. James Strachey et al. (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 17:222–26; hereafter cited in the text as Freud.
2. James Joyce, Dubliners, ed. Robert Scholes, in consultation with Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1967), 175–76; hereafter cited in the text as D.
3. For a discussion of the relationship between the uncanny and the joke, see Elizabeth Wright, Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice (London: Methuen, 1984), 137–50.
4. Freud alludes here to his theory of the repetition compulsion in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), a work he drafted in the same year that he completed “The ‘Uncanny.’”
5. I have intentionally blurred the distinction between the uncanny in life and the uncanny in fiction on the grounds that much of psychic life is inaccessible to us except in represented forms (such as accounts of dreams). Wright, in Psychoanalytic Criticism, 143–50, argues that Freud makes a positivistic effort to keep this distinction intact in “The ‘Uncanny’” but that the effort fails in a number of “uncanny” ways.
6. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981), 25.
7. For a parallel use of the term “autogenesis” to point to the ambiguity of a text’s representation of individual minds, see Elizabeth Brunazzi, “La Narration de l’autogenèse dans La Tentation de saint Antoine et dans Ulysses,” in “Scribble” 2: Joyce et Flaubert, ed. Claude Jacquet and Andre Topia (Paris: Minard, 1990), 123–24.
8. Interpretations that resist the standard reading of “The Dead” in one way or another include Ruth Bauerle, “Date Rape, Mate Rape: A Liturgical Interpretation of ‘The Dead,’” in New Alliances in Joyce Studies, ed. Bonnie Kime Scott (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988), 113–25; Ross Chambers, “Gabriel Conroy Sings for His Supper, or Love Refused,” in Modern Critical Interpretations: James Joyce’s “Dubliners,” ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 97–119; Tilly Eggers, “What Is a Woman … a Symbol Of?” James Joyce Quarterly 18 (1981): 379–95; R. B. Kershner, “The Dead’: Women’s Speech and Tableau,” in Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989], 138–50; Garry Leonard, “Joyce and Lacan: The Woman’ as a Symptom of ‘Masculinity’ in The Dead,”’ James Joyce Quarterly 28 (1991): 451—72; Margot Norris, “Stifled Back Answers: The Gender Politics of Art in Joyce’s The Dead,”’ Modern Fiction Studies 35 (1989): 479–503; and Vincent P. Pecora, “Social Paralysis and the Generosity of the Word: Joyce’s The Dead,”’ chap. 6 of Self and Form in Modern Narrative (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 214–59. None of these critics ignores, or fully succeeds in escaping, the traditional focus on Gabriel, and my reading is no exception in this respect. Chambers and Kershner in particular note “uncanny” elements in “The Dead.”
9. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Chester G. Anderson and Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking, 1964), 204.
10. The last scene of John Huston’s generally successful film adaptation of “The Dead” (Vestron Pictures, 1987) fails in attempting to convert what I call this strange authority into Gabriel’s own first-person voice. The naturalistic premise is simply no longer viable at this point. For different approaches to the question of voice and narrative authority in “The Dead,” see Hugh Kenner, “The Uncle Charles Principle,” chap. 2 of Joyce’s Voices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); and Janet Egleson Dunleavy, “The Ectoplasmic Truthtellers of ‘The Dead,’” James Joyce Quarterly 21 (1984): 307–19.
11. The “Arranger,” a sort of emanation of Joyce himself deduced from the elaborate interconnections in Ulysses, was first proposed by David Hayman in “Ulysses”: The Mechanics of Meaning (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), and developed ingeniously thereafter by Hugh Kenner in his writings on Joyce.
12. Joyce’s letter of May 5, 1906, to Grant Richards, in Letters of James Joyce, vol. 2, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1966), 133; hereafter cited in the text as Letters.
13. For analyses of Ferrero’s influence on Joyce, see Edward Brandabur, A Scrupulous Meanness: A Study of Joyce’s Early Work (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 95–98; Dominic Manganiello, Joyce’s Politics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), 46–57; Susan L. Humphreys, “Ferrero Etc: James Joyce’s Debt to Guglielmo Ferrero,” James Joyce Quarterly 16 (1979): 239–51; and Robert Spoo, “‘Una Piccola Nuvoletta’: Ferrero’s Young Europe and Joyce’s Mature Dubliners Stories,” James Joyce Quarterly 24 (1987): 401–10.
14. Wright, Psychoanalytic Criticism, 147.
15. Although critics have noticed connections between When We Dead Awaken and Joyce’s Exiles, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the relevance of the play to “The Dead.” Richard Ellmann does not include it among the sources he adduces in “The Backgrounds of ‘The Dead,’” chap. 15 of James Joyce, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). For general treatments of Joyce and Ibsen, see also James R. Baker, “Ibsen, Joyce, and the Living-Dead: A Study of Dubliners,” in A James Joyce Miscellany, 3d ser., ed. Marvin Magalaner (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962); and B. J. Tysdahl, Joyce and Ibsen: A Study in Literary Influence (New York: Humanities Press, 1968).
16. Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen, ed. and trans. William Archer, vol. 11 (Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman, When We Dead Awaken) (London: William Heinemann, 1910), xxvii; hereafter cited in the text as Ibsen.
17. James Joyce, The Critical Writings of James Joyce, ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1959), 61; hereafter cited in the text as CW.
18. On the tableau and its centrality to Gabriel’s erotic imagination, see Kershner, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature, 144–45.
19. Margot Norris notes the theme of symbolic murder through aestheticization in When We Dead Awaken and “The Dead” in “Stifled Back Answers,” 483–84.
20. Margot Norris reminded me that in Hedda Gabler, Thea Elvsted refers to Lovborg’s manuscript as her child and feels that in destroying it, as he claims he has done, he has killed the child. It is interesting to compare a letter Joyce wrote Nora in 1912 during his abortive effort to get Dubliners published in Dublin. He referred to the book as “the child which I have carried for years and years in the womb of the imagination as you carried in your womb the children you love” (Letters, 308).
21. Richard Ellmann observes that Gretta is “a woman with genuine maternal sympathy, which she extends both to the dead boy who loved her and to her inadequate husband,” in James Joyce, 295.
22. Kershner, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature, 150, notes in passing that the “ambiguities surrounding fathers, mothers, and lovers are echoed faintly in Joyce’s story by the suggestions that Michael is a sort of son to Gretta, just as Gabriel is a sort of father.”
23. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler et al. (New York: Random House, 1986), 2.140; hereafter cited in the text as U, with episode and line numbers.
24. Images of pregnancy and babies in “The Dead” may have been influenced by the circumstances of the story’s composition. Joyce conceived the idea for the story, or at least its title, in Rome in 1906, but was too overworked and unhappy to begin it. When he did come to write it almost a year later, he was recovering from rheumatic fever and had to dictate the ending to his brother Stanislaus. The story was finished in September 1907 (see Ellmann, James Joyce, 263–64). This long gestation combined with Joyce’s illness may have rendered the process of composition itself somewhat uncanny, as it was for T. S. Eliot when he drafted parts of The Waste Land almost without conscious thought (or, as he put it, “in a trance”) while recovering from a nervous breakdown. It may also be relevant that Joyce’s companion, Nora, was pregnant during this period; their daughter Lucia was born on July 26, 1907.
25. The American-born British illustrator Florence Upton (d. 1922) was the originator of the Golliwogg series, picture books with simple rhymes written by her mother, Bertha; the first Golliwogg story was published in London in 1895, and a dozen more titles appeared between that time and 1908. The term “golliwog” was in general use at the turn of the century, most often in reference to the golliwog doll. Debussy composed a piece for piano titled “Golliwogg’s Cake Walk” (probably based on a doll his daughter owned), which he included in his suite Children’s Corner (1908). In the “Nausicaa” episode of Ulysses, Cissy Caffrey is described as having “golliwog curls” (U, 13.270). Golliwog dolls, still given to children in Britain and Ireland, are topped with fuzzy shocks of hair.
26. In “She Weeps over Rahoon,” a poem revisiting the Michael Furey theme which Joyce composed in 1912, a female figure mourns her dead “dark lover”; Collected Poems (New York: Viking Press, 1957), 50. The phrase also appears in Joyce’s notes for Exiles (New York: Viking Press, 1951), 152; hereafter cited in the text as E.
27. Sigmund Freud, Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s “Gradiva,” in The Standard Edition, 9:40.
28. Discussing Torvald in A Doll’s House and Gabriel Conroy, Norris (“Stifled Back Answers,” 487) points out that these husbands, “ashamed for different reasons of their provincial wives, go to enormous lengths to alienate them from their origins, isolate them from families and friends, and silence their memories and feelings. Through this suppression, they make their wives strangers to their husbands and estrange the women from themselves.”
29. Hélène Cixous, “Fiction and Its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud’s Das Unheimliche (The ‘Uncanny’),” New Literary History 7 (1976): 535.
30. H. D. [Hilda Doolittle], Helen in Egypt (New York: New Directions, 1961), 184–85.
31. Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York: Vintage, 1985), 123.
32. Though beyond the scope of this essay, Freud’s reading of the female Oedipus complex and its “resolution” in the birth of a child which symbolically compensates for the absent penis could be related to Gretta and the uncanny babe figuration. See especially Lacan’s analysis of this female oedipal scenario, in Feminine Sexuality, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose; trans. Jacqueline Rose (New York: Norton, 1985), 101ff. I am grateful to Joseph A. Kestner for reminding me of this possibility.
33. In Wandering and Return in “Finnegans Wake”: An Integrative Approach to Joyce’s Fictions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), Kimberly J. Devlin uses Freud’s conception of the uncanny to characterize the experience of reading the Wake, arguing that Joyce’s previous writings return in distorted yet ultimately recognizable forms in his final work.