Ivy Day In The Committee Room by James Joyce, 1914
The magic trick:
Having an agenda without being didactic
I have to admit, I probably don’t know enough of my British and Irish history to properly comment on this story. That alone though outs the story as perhaps a little too of its time. It is essential for contributing to Dubliners’ argument as a complete picture of turn-of-the-century Dublin, touching as it does on the era’s crucial political and religious issues. I just don’t know much about that stuff. What I can admire is the way Joyce is able to deliver his message loud and clear without ever putting the story on a soapbox. And that is such a gift because overwrought political commentary is about the worst way I can think of to ruin fiction.
I wrote yesterday of “A Painful Case,” praising Joyce’s ability to show and tell, establishing his character through exposition and then playing out the story. In “Ivy Day,” there is virtually no telling going on. It’s all showing. The story puts the reader in the room with the characters and lets us eavesdrop and observe. Many of the various political commentaries – some humorous, some angry – are made plain, but ultimately it’s up to the reader to interpret it all as we wish. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’ part.
“What other tinker?” said Mr. Hynes.
“Colgan,” said the old man scornfully.
“It is because Colgan’s a working — man you say that? What’s the difference between a good honest bricklayer and a publican — eh? Hasn’t the working-man as good a right to be in the Corporation as anyone else — ay, and a better right than those shoneens that are always hat in hand before any fellow with a handle to his name? Isn’t that so, Mat?” said Mr. Hynes, addressing Mr. O’Connor.
“I think you’re right,” said Mr. O’Connor.
“One man is a plain honest man with no hunker-sliding about him. He goes in to represent the labour classes. This fellow you’re working for only wants to get some job or other.”
“0f course, the working-classes should be represented,” said the old man.