Two Gallants by James Joyce, 1914
The magic trick:
Use of local color
Dubliners does so much to capture the feel of turn-of-the-century Dublin – the rich stories and characters. How about that for analysis? That is a very obvious point to make. Anyway, “Two Gallants” stands out for me as the collection’s best use of local color. The way the characters talk in the story really takes the biscuit. We’ve got slang, we’ve got slurs. It’s really pretty great. And beyond placing the story in its proper place and time, the language also paints our characters in important ways, as sad, superficial, wannabe lotharios. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’s part.
“One night, man,” he said, “I was going along Dame Street and I spotted a fine tart under Waterhouse’s clock and said good-night, you know. So we went for a walk round by the canal and she told me she was a slavey in a house in Baggot Street. I put my arm round her and squeezed her a bit that night. Then next Sunday, man, I met her by appointment. We went out to Donnybrook and I brought her into a field there. She told me she used to go with a dairyman…. It was fine, man. Cigarettes every night she’d bring me and paying the tram out and back. And one night she brought me two bloody fine cigars—O, the real cheese, you know, that the old fellow used to smoke…. I was afraid, man, she’d get in the family way. But she’s up to the dodge.”
“Maybe she thinks you’ll marry her,” said Lenehan.
“I told her I was out of a job,” said Corley. “I told her I was in Pim’s. She doesn’t know my name. I was too hairy to tell her that. But she thinks I’m a bit of class, you know.”
Lenehan laughed again, noiselessly.
“Of all the good ones ever I heard,” he said, “that emphatically takes the biscuit.”