Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 4, 2018

“The Boarding House”. - A Short Story by James Joyce, from Dubliners, 1914

Irish Short Story Month, VIII

Born 1882 Rathgar, Ireland

Died 1941 Zurich, Switzerland 

Dubliners 1914

A Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man 1916

Ulysses 1922

Finnegen’s Wake 1939

March has been Irish Short Story Month on The Reading Life since 2010.  Of the    3200 posts on my blog, 628 are about Irish Literature, mostly short stories.  Dubliners by James Joyce, first published in 1914,is the most influential short story collection of all time.  The stories focus on the realities of middle class life in Dublin in the early years of the 20th Century.  There are fifteen stories in the collection, over the eight past years of Irish Short Story Month I have 

posted on nine of them.  This month I am hoping to read and post on the remaining six. (Dubliners can be downloaded for free on Amazon and on YouTube there are readings of a number of the stories.)

“The Boarding House” opens perfectly, the very model of how a short story in the hands of a master, can express so much in just a few sentences.

“MRS. MOONEY was a butcher’s daughter. She was a woman who was quite able to keep things to herself: a determined woman. She had married her father’s foreman and opened a butcher’s shop near Spring Gardens. But as soon as his father-in-law was dead Mr. Mooney began to go to the devil. He drank, plundered the till, ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge: he was sure to break out again a few days after. By fighting his wife in 

the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his business. One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she had to sleep in a neighbour’s house. After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a separation from him with care of the children. She would give him neither money nor food nor house-room; and so he was obliged to enlist himself as a sheriff’s man. He was a shabby stooped little drunkard with a white face and a white moustache and white eyebrows, pencilled above his little eyes, which were pink-veined and raw; and all day long he sat in the bailiff’s room, waiting to be put on a job. Mrs. Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money out of the butcher business and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, was a big imposing woman. Her house had a floating population made up of tourists from Liverpool and the Isle of Man and, occasionally, artistes from the music halls. Its resident population was made up of clerks from the city. She governed her house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things pass. All the resident young men spoke of her as The Madam.”

Joyce lets us see the strength of Mrs Mooney.  One of the major themes of Irish Literature is that of the weak or missing father.  I have illustrated this theme as it appears in numerous works.  This can be seen as a legacy of colonialism.  For sure it is exemplified in “The Boarding House” with the ruined by drink figure of Mr. Mooney.  

Mrs Mooney’s lively pretty 19 year old daughter Polly lives with her in the boarding house.  Mrs Mooney has a keen eye and is not above some scheming.  Of course she wants her daughter married well.  She notices
one of the boarders, Mr. Doran, seems to be having a romance with Polly.  He is thirty five and has a decent long term job with a major wine merchant.  Mrs Mooney figures he must have some money put away. The age difference was not the scandal it would be now and it appears they have not been fully intimate.  Mrs Mooney wants them to marry.  She knows Mr Doran’s employer may actually fire him if he learns he has been trifling with the affections of a young girl.  She also knows Mr. Doran will know and fear this.  She lets Mr. Doran trap himself.

It was interesting and fun to see Polly had learned her mother’s methods of emotional manipulation.   

I will leave the close untold.  

The remaining five stories I hope to post upon are, A Little Cloud, Clay, Mother, Grace and Ivy Day in the Committee Room.  

I also hope to post upon a few Irish Short Stories by writers new to me as well as some from the past.

Mel u

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