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|Posted by Imelda on March 31, 2011 at 9:18 AM||comments (4)|
THE MONTO AND MAGDALEN LAUNDRIES
As I write this paper, a landmark building in Dublin is quietly been torn down in the “Nighttown District, known to locals as “The Monto” The Monto is the setting for the Circe chapter. “Nighttown was slang among Dublin journalist for the late shift on a newspaper. Monto, named after Montgomery Street, was considered to be one of the worse slums in Europe at the turn of the century, rife with depravation and disease. Many of the brothels were frequented by British soldiers, but those Bloom and Stephen frequented were at the upper end of the area” (1).
The building a former convent and Magdalen Laundry had served the “Monto” area of Dublin since the late 19th Century. It was built by the Sisters of Our lady of Charity of Refuge, which adjoins Railway Street , for former prostitutes to reform and do penance for their sins. The Laundry was first known as the Gloucester Street laundry, renamed Sean McDermott Street laundry. The order came to Dublin in 1853, shortly after the famine broke out. Their first laundry was on the north side of the city in Drumcondra, known as St.Mary’s Magdalen Asylum., High Park. In 1902 in Michael McCarthy’s book “Priests and People in Ireland” he wrote about High Park Laundry the following “The order of Our lady of charity of Refuge owns High Park, Drumcondra, in which there are 65 nuns. That institution is, perhaps, the largest and most lucrative public laundry in the city of Dublin. Its vans are to be seen delivering washing and collecting money in all parts of town. It is a Magdalene Asylum, in which it is stated that there are 210 penitents giving their service free until the “nameless graves in the cemetery” claim their poor bodies. This order works another Magdalene asylum in Lower Gloucester Street, within the Mecklenburg Street area, in which there are 13 nuns who keep 90 fallen women at work at the profitable laundry business”. In 1993 the convent and their laundries had been the subject of much controversy, when they exhumed and cremated 133+ Magdalen women (penitents) and buried them together in a mass grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. The order of nuns had lost a lot of money on the stock market and sold the land where the Magdalene women were buried. In order for the sale of land to go through, the bodies of the Magdalen women former prostitutes had to be exhumed. This was done almost in the dead of night very quietly and the Irish media did not cover it as it should have. “The grave diggers had found an extra 75 bodies of Magdalen women with no death certificate and the Irish Government let this pass and gave permission for reburial without death certificates”.(2) Joyce could not have fictionalized a more ghoulish course of events. The bodies were then cremated, so we will never know who were in those graves, but without a doubt they were all former prostitutes, as original burial dates go back to the 1800’s when these institutions were formed to take prostitutes in who wanted to reform. They spent their days washing the sheets from the hospitals of Dublin, the Prison and from the upper class families and the clergy, without pay, washing away their sins. These were the women who actually inhabited the brothels Joyce wrote about in Circe.
“After the scandal of the Magdalen graves, the public began to feel the immediate relevance of a world which seemed to have no real meaning in recent history, slavery. Extraordinary as it may seem, the inmates of the Magdalen Laundries were in effect, slaves, forced to work without pay for their sins. The remains of the women were interred in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, their names listed on a stark limestone monument notable for the absence of religious symbolism. The dates of their deaths are given and they point to the amazing longevity of these institutions. The earliest is April 1858 the latest December 1994”. (3)
The institutions had an even longer history in Ireland. “The first was established in Dublin in 1766”. (4) “It was only in October 1996” (5) that the last of the laundries closed, this was Sean McDermott Street in the Monto (Nighttown District). “Within these institutions in Ireland around 30,000.00 women were imprisoned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”(6) Initially most were prostitutes.
THE MONTO IN CIRCE
“It about 11.30p.m. And Stephen and Lynch have come on the train from “Westland Row to Amiens Street, which was two stops and would have come out of the station not by the main entrance, but by a side entrance, which was opposite Buckingham Street, up Amiens Street and up Talbot Street. We pick them up going into Nightown , arriving at Mabbot Street, before which stretches an uncobbled tramsiding set with skeleton tracks, red and green will -o”-the wisps and
Danger signals. Rows of flimsy houses with gaping doors. Rare lamps with faint rainbow fans. Stephen is chanting the Introit of a Mass” (7).
“Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latere dextro. Allelula”
“Shortly afterwards, Bloom comes rushing up Talbot Street. He had been delayed and has chocolate and bread, and now he buys a sheep’s trotter and a crubeen. An old hag grabs his sleeve but he shakes her off and goes in search of Stephen and lynch” (8)
Bloom running and out of breath, meets his father and gets a telling off from him, then his mother appears and lastly Molly. He is unnerved and shaken
“Mrs Breen standing in the causeway, her roguish eyes wideopen, smiling in all her herbivorous buck teeth
((Coughs gravely.) Madam, when we last had this pleasure by letter dated the sixteenth instant…
Mr.Bloom! You down here in the haunts of sin! I caught you nicely! Scamp!
(Hurriedly.) Not so loud my name. Whatever do you think me? Don’t give me away. Walls have ears. How do you do? Its ages since I. You’re looking splendid. Absolutely it.. Seasonable weather we are having this time of year. Black retracts heat. Short cut home here. Interesting quarter. Rescue of fallen women Madgalen asylum. I am the secretary…
(Holds up her finger.) Now don’t tell a big fib! I know somebody won’t like that. O just wait till I see Molly! (Slily) Account for yourself this very minute or woe betide you!
(Looks behind.) She often said she’d like to visit. Slumming. The exotic you see……”
Here we see Bloom is guilt ridden. He’s been caught in Nighttown by Mrs Breen and he’s making excuses as to why he is there, “just a short cut home” Bloom is feeling guilt, his father approached him, his mother approached him and Molly also, but it was Mrs breen who really brought out his guilt. Telling fibs.
His excuse to Mrs Breen “I am the secretary of the Magdalen asylum. His excuse could seem genuine as the asylum was only down the end of the Street. Why else would he be there in Nighttown, coming home the short way from the meeting at the asylum? Blooms being caught red handed in a lie and he’s now afraid Molly will find out, so as Mrs Breen is an illusion, he dismisses her and she disappeared after some small chat and promises of Bloom telling her some secret. Half way through she is gone and Bloom can go forward and get down to the business at hand, finding Stephen and Lynch and the Whores, when he does he suffers nightmares of guilt about his father and his dead son, Rudy, with Molly.
He’s a married man, he’s in the red light district on his way home to Molly and his conscious is bothering him. He eventually ends up at Bella Cohen’s brothel. At the brothel there is an altercation with the British Soldiers Privates Carr and Compton. The Monto red-light quarter was well serviced by members of the British army.
THE MONTO IN JOYCE’S DAY
“The Boer Was (1899-1901) and its aftermath brought increased business to Monto from soldiers returning from the war. When one regiment returned to Dublin, Irish Society magazine printed the following verse welcoming them back. It was signed by “JRS of Knocklong”
“The gallant Irish yeoman
Home from the war has come,
Each victory gained o’er foeman,
Why should our bards be dumb?
How shall we sing their praises?
Or glory in their deeds,
Renowned their worth amazes,
Empire their prowess needs.
So to old Ireland’s hearts and homes
We welcome now our own brave boys
In cot and hall; ‘neath lordly domes
Love’s heroes share once more our joys
Love in the Lord of all just now,
Be he the husband, loves, son,
Each dauntless soul recalls the vow
By which not fame, but love was won.
United now in fond embrace
Salute with joy each well-loved face
Yeoman, in women’s hearts you hold the place”.
Dubliners were quick to notice the scandalous message,
When one took the first letter from each line of the verse it reads, “The Whores Will Be Busy”.
As gossip spread, the Journal was sold out in a few hours. The author was believed to be Oliver St.John Gogarty, Joyce’s friend and also a regular visitor to Monto. Buck Mulligan was modeled after Oliver St.John Gogarty”. (9)
“Over that period of time, the madams made the bulk of their money from the British Army.”It was said that the girls in Monto done more damage to the British Army than the Republican Movement," "Had there been an uprising in Dublin in the latter part of the 1800s, well, half the Dublin garrison were out sick with venereal diseases."(10)
“Some of the clients were the cream of English and Irish society. King Edward VII accessed the place through secret tunnels dotted all over Monto, and was a frequent visitor there over a period of time. . The aforementioned Joyce was also a regular”. (11)
“Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a tribute to Joyce and his visits to Monto
“There is a young fellow named Joyce
Who possesses a sweet tenor voice
He goes down to the Kips,
With a psalm on his lips,
And biddeth the harlots rejoice.”(12)
“In 19th Century Dublin, right through to the 1930’s, discretion was not the appropriate word to describe Dublin’s booming sex trade. Barely a few blocks in extent, and situated in the heart of the north inner city, Monto was so well known as a centre for late-night drinking and prostitution that it even rated a mention in the 1903 (tenth) edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Visitors who availed of its illicit if hardly concealed pleasures included famous literary figures such as James Joyce and Oliver Saint John Gogarty, not to mention a Prince of Wales, who later returned as King Edward V11.(13)
“Monto derived its name from Montgomery Street, later renamed Foley Street, which runs parallel to the lower end of Talbot Street on the way to what was Amiens Street Rail Station (now Connelly Station). The heart of the Monto was Mecklenburgh Street Lower (renamed Tyrone Street) in 1887, changing again to today’s Railway Street in 1911) and the surrounding lanes and alleys, many of which are now gone forever”.(14)
THE MONTO REFORMED
“December 20th 1920 was the day Joyce finally finished Circe.(16a) Little did he know, but in the shadow was Frank Duff, civil servant , who less than a year later formed the Legion of Mary at Myra House in Francis Street, in Dublin’s Liberties. Duff was born in 1889 in Dublin and attended both Belvedere College, run by the Jesuits, and Blackrock College. Duff finished the reform of The Monto that had begun by the Magdalen Laundries.
The initial objective of the legion of Mary was to visit impoverished women who were patients in the South Dublin Union Hospital in James Street. One evening in 1922 duff was visiting in Chancery Lane, off Bride Street, not far from Myra House, when by chance he entered number 25. He found himself in a lodging house occupied by a considerable amount of prostitutes. Among the girls in that house was Honor Bright. On a June night 3 years later Honor Bright, the single mother of a baby child, was shot dead and dumped under a bush in Ticknock up the Dublin Mountains, promoting a murder trial that became the talk of the country for months. A Garda Supertendent and a dispensary doctor were tried for but acquitted of her slaying. Oral history tells us Honor was going to name the father of her child, “A Monto Baby”
Frank Duff set about the Monto District in 1922 to clean out the prostitutes and make it safe for the local families who also lived in the surrounding streets. One of the main things he did was to have the streets renamed, there by confusing the clients who frequented this district. Following that first visit, Duff returned to Myra House to reflect what he had witnessed and he found out that 25 Chancery lane was not the only such lodging in the Liberties at the time, The Magdalene Asylum helped prostitutes who had resolved to change their lives, Duff decided that their was a greater need to seek out such women in their lodgings and try to persuade them to abandon prostitution”. (15)
THE BACON FACTORY
“Ironically, Myra House in Francis Street was an old almost derelict building which at one time had been a “Bacon” factory owned by the famous Donnelly meat industry and given to the society as a gift”.(16)
Bella Cohen figures prominently in Circe. The house she rented, 82, Lower Mecklenburgh Street, (Tyrone Street) is the setting for the Circe chapter, featuring a witch who lured men to her lair and then turned them into swine. In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is a fair headed witch who turned men into swine. Was Joyce aware of the Bacon Factory when he set the Circe chapter in the Monto?
“Joyce was familiar with his subject matter as he was a regular visitor to Monto. He maintained his interest in the area after the publication of his book. In the late 1930’s when living in Paris, he asked one of his Dublin friends to send him a complete list of the names and address of the former madams of Monto. At the time he was writing Finnigans Wake, in which May Oblong one of the last madams is mentioned”.(17)
Bloom lied about why he was caught in Nightown. He was not the secretary of the Magdalen asylum. Yet he was there to rescue Stephen Dedalus from his sinful night just like the zealots from the asylums made efforts to save Dublin women from prostitution. His lie had a measure of truth like much of the hallucinations that he had during his nightmare in Nightown.
1. Monto, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. Published by the
North Inner City Folklore Group 2002. Also conversations with
Terry Fagan author.
2. Irish Times, Mary Raferty
3. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne
4. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne
5. Irish Times. Last days of a Laundry, by Gary Culliton. September 25th 1996
6. Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne
7. Radio Telifis Eireann “Circe”
8. Radio Telefis Eireann “Circe”
9. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Monto, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle
Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002
10. An Phoblacht, Republican News, The Miracle of Monto by Michael Pierce
A chequered history, from prostitution to pilgrimages. September 5th 2002
11. Monto, Madams, Murder, and Black Coddle. Terry Fagan and the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002
12. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North
Inner City Folklore Group 2002
13. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group. 2002
14. Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, Terry Fagan, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002.
15. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Madams, Murder, and Black Coddle, Published by the North Inner City Folklore Group 2002
16. Conversations with Terry Fagan. Also, Monto Madams, Murder and Black Coddle.
16(a) Christie’s (New York) James Joyce’s Ulysses: The John Quinn Draft Manuscript of the ‘Circe’ Episode”. Produced and published in England by Christie’s International Media division. (Auction of the Manuscript Thursday 14th December 2000 acquired by the National Library Ireland.)
OTHER SOURCE NOTES
Conversation with Senator David Norris, renowned Joyce Scholar at Leinster House, Dial Eireann, Dublin, on Thursday 8th December, 2005 , where the author of this paper was told about Frank Duff by the Senator.
The National Library Ireland “Exhibition” “Ulysses” Friday 9th December, 2005
Allen, Nicholas, George Russell (AE) and the New Ireland, 1905-30, Four Courts Press, 7 Malpas Street, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
Book of Dublin, Published by the Dublin Corporation, Dublin 1929
Christies, New York. James Joyce’s Ulysses: The John Quinn Draft Manuscript of The ‘Circe’ Episode. 2000
Conlon-McKenna, Marita, The Magdalen: London, Bantam Books, 1999
Eliot, T.S. Introducing James Joyce: London, Faber and Faber, Mcmxlii
Ellman, Richard, James Joyce: New York, Oxford University Press, 1983
Fagan, Terry, MONTO, Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. The North Inner City Folklore Group (Dublin, Ireland) 2002
Finnegan, Frances, Do Penance or Perish: USA, Oxford University press, 2004
Gifford, Don, Ulysses Annotated, University of California Press, 1974
Joyce, James, Ulysses, Random House, New York 1934
Kearns, Kevin C, Dublin Tenement Life (an oral history) Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Goldenbridge, Dublin, Ireland,1994
Levin, Harry, James Joyce A Critical Introduction: London, Faber and Faber, 1960
Maddox, Brenda, Nora: Boston, Houghton Miffin Company, 1988
McCarthy, Michael, Priests and People in Ireland, Dublin, Hoggis Figgs, 1902
Picknett, Lynn, Mary Magdalene: New York, Carroll & Graf, 2004
Rodgers, J.P. For the Love of My Mother: Galway, Ireland, MacRuairi Art, 2005
Staley, Thomas F, James Joyce Today: London, Indiana University Press 1966
ADDITIONAL NOTES TO PAPER
RTE, Ulysses “Circe”, can be found at http://www.rte.ie/readingulysses/episode15.html
Refer to notes 7 and 8 for this source
Notes 3.4.and 6 on request
Notes 2 on request
Additional Source Maria Luddy “Abandoned Women and Bad Characters”: Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Ireland
|Posted by Imelda on March 31, 2011 at 12:13 AM||comments (2)|
Dubliners-Clay Maria's Mistakes
Joyce concluded this seven page short story with Joe’s asking Maria to sing some little song before she went, one of the old songs. Mrs. Donnelly played the prelude and, with Maria blushing very much, Joyce tells us that she began to sing in a tiny quavering voice. She sang" I Dreamt that I Dwelt," and when she came to the second verse she repeated again the first verse instead of continuing. When she had ended her song, we are told that Joe noticed her "mistake" and was very much moved. In this paper, I will discuss what this and other mistakes made by Maria tell us about her.
In Clay, Joyce has us follow Maria from her home in Ballsbridge, The Dublin by Lamplight Laundry, to her destination, the home of Joe Donnelly and his family beside the Grand Canal in Drumcondra for a Halloween gathering. Residents of Dublin in the early part of the 20th century would have recognized the Dublin by Lamplight Laundry and knew of the type of women who resided there. Few know about such places now in the 21st century. "Troubled women, "penitents," were institutionalized in such "asylums" and worked in the laundry for little or nothing"(1)
"The women who ran these refuges played out their maternal role creating homes for the penitent ‘child’. They sought to inculcate in the penitent the correct attitudes and behavior expected of women in this period. Penitents were trained in deference and subordination, the world was protected from them as possible sites of contamination. And they were shielded from the world, the source of possible temptation. The women who entered these refuges were held responsible for their actions and rescue workers stressed the importance of personal discipline to their salvation. Within these asylums the women were not expected to display any individual expression of personality or sexuality". (2)
We know from what details Joyce provided in the story that the Laundry was a Protestant charity and from historical documents that it had a matron and Committee ladies who would meet some of the women who were resident and worked there. In Sally Richardson’s review on "Thomas Edmondson and the Dublin Laundry," she writes:
"Hearn devotes some space to the institutional laundries, putting them in the context of the industry as a whole. Contrary to popular perception, not all were Catholic. Hearn informs us that there were nine Catholic and seven Anglican institutional laundries in the Dublin area in 1901"Thomas Edmondson and the Dublin laundry: a Quaker businessman (3)
In the 1862 Thom’s Almanac, the laundry is listed as the Dublin by Lamplight Institution whose matron was a Mrs. Hanny and whose Chaplain and secretary was the Rev,W.G. Carroll.(4) So we know that in 1905, the laundry was at least 50 years in operation.
Maria, we are told, liked the work at the laundry. She used to have such a bad opinion of Protestants but came to think that they were such nice people. There was only one thing she didn’t like and that was the Protestant "tracts" on the wall. Maria was a Catholic.
"In 1860 The Society extended its operations to Ireland with the establishment of the Dublin-based Missions to Friendless Females. In both capitals, Missionaries were required to approach prostitutes and distribute religious tracts, designed to be read in ‘sober’ moments and divert the women from their vicious lives. A much favored pamphlet, Sins and Sorrows of London, had been written by a founder member of the female Mission Committee, John La Touch, of Newbridge, Co.Kildare. Other titles included the popular Mercy for Misery, god’s Invitation, If I had only heeded, Picking up the Fragments and Come Now.
"By this time a large body of rescue literature existed. As well as the proliferation of tracts, pamphlets and articles always in circulation, Proceedings of Conference were now distribute to affiliated Homes, and most refuges published their own Annual Reports. Popular books on Rescue Work were available , and special volumes of prayers and religious Stories were produced for reading aloud in Refuges, Penitentiaries and Homes (for example, the Religious Tract Society’s Prayer for Homes for women and Rescue Associations. No date, but late nineteenth century)". (5)
The laundry was located in a section of Dublin known as Ballsbridge , "which is a village of St.Mary’s, Donnybrook parish, Dublin barony and county, two miles south east from the General Post Office Dublin" .(6)The laundry was "adjacent to the Johnson Mooney & O’Brien bakery, the oldest bakery in Dublin" . (7)
In Clay, Joyce did not inform the reader why the women are there, but a Dubliner in his day would have known. In 1905, Joyce sent his story "Clay" to his brother in Dublin and asked him to bring it into AE, George Russell, hoping that he would publish it in his broadsheet "The Irish Homestead". Russell refused to publish saying "The implication of the name was that the laundresses were kept off the streets."(8) Dublin was a hive for Prostitution in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century and these Magdalen laundries were refuges for women who wanted to reform. It did not suit Russell’s image of his New Ireland, and he refused to publish it. He probably concluded, like most others of the time, that it was best that these women stay hidden. The women were mostly former prostitutes, but others in the early 20th century were taken in because of various reasons. Some were transferred directly from the Industrial Schools,(9) and some like Maria, who did not have much wits about her and could not manage on her own in the outside world, where sent there also for their own safety.
To get from Ballsbridge, on the south side of the River Liffey, to Drumcondra, on the north side, Maria, we are told, took a tram. My research informed me that the trams then were very frequent, running about every three minutes. The tram was served by the Dalkey line to Nelson Pillar on Sackville Street ( now O’Connell Street). The tram wore the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUCT) livery of Prussian blue and ivory. The symbol on this line was a green shamrock, superimposed with the letter K on cars working between Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire)Town Hall and the Pillar. The fare to the Pillar was 2d (two pence). On Sackville Street, she would have had to take a second tram the tram to Drumcondra. The tram Maria would have taken from the Pillar to the Royal Canal had a Maltese Cross symbol. It ran at a frequency of every seven or eight minutes with a fare of 1d(one penny). (10)
From the story, we can calculate how many coppers Maria had in her purse when she set out that evening for the Donnelly’s. Including her return journey, Maria paid out 6d (sixpence) in total and in her purse after the tram fare was paid she was left with 5 shillings to spend (two half-crowns). Maria thought out all her plans, she counted her money, but she didn’t think of what would happen when she went into the shop in Henry Street to pick up some cakes to bring with her to the Donnelly’s. At the cake shop, the assistant was impatient with her and over-charged her for a slice of plum-cake, demanding "2 and four." She paid without questioning the amount. Her first mistake. That sum would have been a very high price for a slice of cake. When she started out she thought how nice it was to have money in her purse and be independent. Within half an hour she had almost spent everything she had and only had a dozen penny cakes to show for it. She was not very worldly wise. Her time in the laundry would have taught her not to be questioning.
When Maria was on the tram to Drumcondra, she had one bag with her. A gentleman engages Maria on the tram. We are told that he supposed "the bag" was full of good things for the children. So we know she only had one bag on the tram and the stylish young lady behind the counter at the cake shop had parcelled the plum-cake up. I would say when Maria was suiting herself in the cake shop in Henry street and the shop assistant impatiently asked her "was it a wedding cake she wanted," this would have been typical of how an assistant would have spoken to someone who was holding up the whole shop.
Maria got off the tram carrying her bag in Drumcondra at the Royal Canal most probably at Binns Bridge. She walked "up" the terrace. This detail tells us that Joe lives on the west side of Drumcondra,(11), as going up is west and going down would have been the east.
The two big girls from next door were at Joe’s house and Maria gave the bag of cakes to the Donnelly’s eldest boy Alphy. She had bought something special for Joe and Mrs. Donnelly and when she couldn’t find it she asked the children whether they had eaten it by mistake. Her own mistake here was that what was about to happen to her wouldn’t have if she hadn’t accused the children of eating the special surprise within the cakes. When it was time to play Hollow-Eve games, the children blindfolded her. The children were guiding her and lead her over to the saucer where she picked the saucer of red clay. The children worked to embarrass her because of Maria’s earlier mistaken accusation. The children were just being bold and making fun of her. And she was no match for them.
In the family parlor, Maria was asked to sing a song. She initially declined but Joe insisted. Maria was prevailed upon by Joe to sing a song for old time sake. Mrs. Donnelly plays the prelude and signaled her by saying "Now, Maria!" And Maria blushing very much began to sing in a tiny quavering voice:
I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count, could boast
Of a high ancestral name,
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you loved me still the same.
And what she didn’t sing was
I dreamt that suiters sought my hand,
That knights upon Bended knee,
And with vows no maiden heart could withstand,
They pledg’d their faith to me;
And I dreamt that one of the noble host
Came forth my hand to claim.
But I also dreamt, which charmed me most,
That you lov’d me still the same…
That you lov’d me, you lov’d me still the same
That you lov’d me, you lov’d me still the same (12)
No one but Joe recognized her mistake. He knew all about Maria and he understood that she did not know the words to the whole song from the Opera The Bohemian Girl by Michael Balfe.
All the way through this short story we see Maria walking through as if she were blind to everything around her. She did not see anything on her way from Ballsbridge to the Pillar on the tram. She did not see any other shops where she could have bought something very special for Mama and Papa, she only saw the cakes, which she could have bought much more affordably next door to her residence, If we look back to where Maria lived and the building adjacent to her we can get an idea of why she could only think of cakes as a present. Johnson Mooney & O’Brien was the oldest bakery in Dublin and adjacent to the laundry. Because Maria had such a small vision of her surroundings, I suspect that in the laundry the women often smelt the bread, biscuits and cakes being baked next door. Joyce did not tell us the bakery was next door, but Dubliners would have known at the time. In fact this bakery was still situated in Ballsbridge up to the early 1990’s, and is still in existence in Dublin but has moved location over to Finglas. Maria could have saved a lot of money had she gone next door and bought some end of the day not sold cakes. As she left before 7p.m. the deliveries would have stopped and any cakes, biscuits and bread not sold that day would have been given at half price, but still fresh. No Maria couldn’t see herself standing with the women who often came at the end of the business day with their pillow cases to buy at half price. She thought of herself as independent with money in her purse, which she had almost spent the lot in half an hour. She hardly had any money left and the next day was a holy day of obligation (All Saints day) and she had not much left for the collection.
With the amount of money in Maria’s purse we can also see that she probably did not get paid from the laundry. Her bread and board was probably free and she worked in the kitchen for her keep. In Ireland usually when a person gets a purse as a present, the gift giver always puts some money into the purse as this is known as good luck and it’s said the person who receives the gift will never have an empty purse. Maria just about made it with the few pence she had left. We see Maria’s mistakes, but she can’t see them. She was not the full shilling as the saying goes. Others recognized her mistakes but did not tell her. They did not want to hurt her feelings. It was that they stay unspoken of and hidden as AE thought the laundries should be.
The children and the girls next door in Drumcondra were just playing hollow-eve games and really did not intend any sinister meaning for Maria. She just happened to pick this trick, blindfolded. She was blind the whole way through the story. Blind to what was going on at the laundry, blind to the girl in the cake shop, blind to the gentleman on the tram and blind to think that she could be a veritable –peacemaker between the brothers Joe & Alphy. When they were young and she looked after them, she probably made them make-up when they had fights, but now they are adults, and she’s blind to think she can fix this situation.
"In "Clay" with a different situation, we are subjected to the same treatment. The epiphany of the storey comes no more than at the moment when an old laundress stands up and sings "I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls". She is made to boast of wealth, rank, beauty, and love-none of which she has ever possessed-"in a tiny quavering voice". A listener affected by this pathetic incongruity, explains his tears by remarking that there is no music for him "like poor old Balfe". "Here, as so often in Joyce, the music is doing duty for the feeling. The feeling is deliberately couched in a cheap phrase or a sentimental song, so that we experience a critical reaction, and finally a sense of intellectual detachment. Emotionally sated, we shy away from emotion." (pg 41James Joyce "A Critical Introduction" Harry Levin. Faber).
At one point in the story of Clay, Joyce wrote that when Maria laughed her grey-green eyes sparkled with disappointed shyness and the tip of her nose met the tip of her chin. Maria’s mistakes demonstrate how a person like her struggles to get through simple tasks in her life in Dublin.
(c) Imelda Murphy 2004