After The Race by James Joyce, 1904
The magic trick:
Illustrating Ireland’s fairly pathetic worship of the continent
One of the great things about breaking down Dubliners on the SSMT blog over the course of three consecutive weeks is the allowance such a setup makes for context. Certainly, these stories each exist on their own as brilliant stories. But they also work well in concert.
So far, we’ve looked at the book’s opening quartet of stories, and, while each touches on large systemic issues, their portraits are mostly pretty intimate. “After The Race” broadens the palette to include larger-scale political commentary for the first time. The Irish in this story are frantically trying to keep up with the materialistic success and gaudiness of the Americans and Europeans. It is a powerful statement of political doubt and cultural insecurity from our author. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’s part.
He was about twenty-six years of age, with a soft, light brown moustache and rather innocent-looking grey eyes. His father, who had begun life as an advanced Nationalist, had modified his views early. He had made his money as a butcher in Kingstown and by opening shops in Dublin and in the suburbs he had made his money many times over. He had also been fortunate enough to secure some of the police contracts and in the end he had become rich enough to be alluded to in the Dublin newspapers as a merchant prince. He had sent his son to England to be educated in a big Catholic college and had afterwards sent him to Dublin University to study law. Jimmy did not study very earnestly and took to bad courses for a while. He had money and he was popular; and he divided his time curiously between musical and motoring circles. Then he had been sent for a term to Cambridge to see a little life. His father, remonstrative, but covertly proud of the excess, had paid his bills and brought him home. It was at Cambridge that he had met Segouin. They were not much more than acquaintances as yet but Jimmy found great pleasure in the society of one who had seen so much of the world and was reputed to own some of the biggest hotels in France. Such a person (as his father agreed) was well worth knowing, even if he had not been the charming companion he was.