Read The Death of a Joyce Scholar Online
Authors: Bartholomew Gill
“Step two was to analyze the novel. Some critics contend that Joyce decided that the novel was the ideal literary art form of bourgeois society, in which, of course, people define themselves by the things that they own. The novel then is like a container—first word to last, beginning to end, front cover to back cover—that contains things or at least words that are references of things.
“It follows, then, that that novel is best which, within the established limits of the container, includes the greatest number and type of things. Joyce decided he would set the limits of a single day in Dublin and write a book about it. He chose the sixteenth of June, 1904, the day that he first walked out with Nora Barnacle, the shop girl from Galway who later became his wife.
he would tell
about that eighteen-hour period, such that he would give (and I quote), ‘A picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book.’ And so he poured the names, places, events, streets, buildings, race horses, tram schedules, tides, prices, advertisements, weather, a dog, a dead man, a birthing hospital, a cemetery, music, the theater, pubs, songs, murder, may
hem—you name it—along with the story of the day for two men who, although only partially acquainted, are like father and son. They are like the hero
himself, lost and wandering and trying to find their way back to impossible homes. Hence the mythic element.
“Of course, how Joyce wrote the book was also new, an attempt to weave the actual verbal texture of Dublin—the specific whatness of Dublin verbal things—into the container.
is so perfectly constructed that it takes exactly eighteen hours to read aloud, the amount of time that one would have been awake on such a day.
“Joyce said, ‘If I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of every city in the world. In the particular is contained the universal.’ Shall I go on?”
“Please do,” said McGarr, by now wholly intrigued. Flood was making him wonder not only why he had never read
—an omission that he would soon correct—but also what else he had missed in not having attended university. Like many Irishmen, he had a philosophical, speculative bent, which was what had attracted him to police work in general and to the Murder Squad in particular.
Joyce decided to write the ultimate novel. Instead of exhausting the possibilities of some other day—or a year or a decade or a century—in dear, dirty Dublin, he expanded the container to its final extension. For setting he chose nothing less than the world entire. For characters all people, speaking all voices, who had ever lived. Time? All time, past, present, and—since there is a belief that certain combinations of words can sometimes serve as prophecy—perhaps even future time as well. In conception, at least, it was an impossible project.
“But he made it all into the simple tale of the dream of a Dublin pub owner. Finnegan, like Jung claimed all of us can, establishes touch with the collective unconscious of the race
of man. And his mind, wandering forward and back in time, touches upon all symbol, myth, and history from the hieroglyphics on ancient tombs through Vedic and Norse myths, the Bible in its several forms, sagas and passion plays and verse, and on to modern literature, right up to Beckett himself, who was often sitting across the room from Joyce, and so appears in the
“During the twenty years that it took Joyce to write the
he had a team of readers—the literary groupies of his day—scouring the Bibliothèque in Paris, reading all the great books he suggested. They would synopsize each and include a few representative pages of text so that Joyce could then add both statement and word to Finnegan’s dream.
“With a few dozen minds and at least one, perhaps two—here I mean Beckett—indisputable geniuses working on the
it became the ideally competent novel that the ideally erudite reader might peruse for the rest of his life and still never appreciate in all its ideal complexity. In other words Joyce, within the assumptions of his aesthetic, exhausted the form of the novel of competence. Another novel more complete probably could not be produced, since it would require another Joyce, greater scope, a larger vision, more and better help, a second Bibliothèque Nationale.
“And since the form of the novel as written from Richardson to Joyce was exhausted, Samuel Beckett turned around and attempted to exhaust the form of its ‘negative’ image, as it were—the novel of incompetence. By incompetence Beckett does
mean novels written by incompetent authors. He means that, unlike Joyce, he cannot assume the possibility of communication among human beings, much less between human beings and the collective unconscious.
“For Beckett words don’t work. They are an imposition, given us by others after our births; they really can’t describe our own particular experiences in our own individual terms. Also, when we speak words, we need somebody else to hear and acknowledge them. A witness. In other words, we can’t say
terms for anybody’s ears but
And if we were to try, say, by speaking out all the words of the Others once and for all, we would find that there’s nothing to say, since Western civilization assumes that we are no more than what we were when we were first born—a tabula rasa, a void,
a nothing. And nothing can only be described by silence.
“But if the whole point of communication is to confirm life and existence, then we must try, if only to know we live. With words that are inexact and ultimately unavailing.
“More?” Flood asked.
Sinclaire, who had turned his head to McGarr, said, “Not today, Professor. I think we catch on—Beckett’s novels are worse than his plays. Now I know why he won a Nobel Prize.”
Flood’s laugh was quick and ready.
At the door McGarr looked up at the wall of books. It was
that concerned them at the moment, and at least one shelf seemed to be devoted to nothing else.
“All in the attempt to prove it’s not
” said Flood in a knowing way.
“What would you recommend for the first-time reader of the book? Surely there’s a…” McGarr searched for a term that was not “trot.”
“Key,” Flood supplied eagerly. “Dozens of them. The best is this little volume.” He handed McGarr a book. “There are others, of course, all the way from long-winded explanations of a single motif to indexes of recurrent elements that
merely list the pages on which words are mentioned.” Taking another book from the shelf, Flood fanned the pages, revealing what looked like a kind of dictionary. “Take whatever you think you might need.”
“This’ll be enough for now.”
Flood smiled. “Sure—the overexamined book isn’t worth reading.” And when McGarr’s head came up, he added quickly, “Don’t take offense. Kinch said that. I’m only quoting.”
Said Sinclaire, “By the way, Professor—you wouldn’t happen to know who drives a Fiat Five hundred? A
It’s white with a learner’s sticker on the back.”
Flood looked from one man to the other. “Why—I don’t drive it myself, but I own one. It’s my wife’s, now my daughter’s, car. She’s in college here and, you know, just learning how to drive. Why do you ask?”
“Where is it now?” McGarr asked.
“At home, I believe.”
“Which is in Foxrock?”
“Are you busy now? Would you mind coming along with us?”
“Well, I…” He turned and looked down at the desk. “May I make a call?”
“My wife. I’d like to tell her that we’re on our way. She doesn’t fancy being…disturbed, you see.”
Disturbed at what? McGarr wondered. “I think it would be better if we just left.”
But Flood did not move; his head again turned toward the desk and the telephone. “Should I phone my solicitor?”
Sinclaire waited for McGarr to respond.
“I’d be interested to know why you think you need to.” McGarr searched the man’s face—the dark eyes, the fully
fleshed bluish cheeks, the slightly aquiline nose. A few strands of gray had just begun to streak his black hair.
a murder investigation, is it not?”
A refreshing question from an intimate of Kevin, or rather,
Coyle, McGarr thought. He motioned to the door, and they briskly followed Flood out into the hall.
“YOU MEAN you have all eighty-six names and addresses on disk?” Detective Inspector Ward asked. He watched her deep blue, almost violet eyes shy toward the computer terminal at the far side of Joyce’s Ireland and Bloomsday Tours office.
“And not only could I get a printout of the names and addresses, but we might also punch in a little letter to those—how many?—seventy-three who live outside the country, asking if they saw the victim after the final pub stop there in Foley Street? Will it do envelopes too?”
She was small and dark, with wavy black hair so thick that it looked kinky and perhaps even rough to the touch. Her face was wide and her cheekbones high, balanced by a long straight nose. And yet for all her Mediterranean features, her skin was fair, and had even taken on a bit of color since Ward had walked in.
And yet it was her body that he most admired, as now with a kind of resignation she rose from where she had been sit
ting behind a counter and moved toward the computer. Her dress was wide and flowing and made of brilliant yellow cotton; it fell in pleats that both made its volume seem greater and her diminutiveness more pronounced.
But the dress also snugged her waist to a distance of—Ward estimated—four inches below her hips. A glance from the action of the flowing skirt to her ankles, well-formed and thin, made him draw in a breath involuntarily. He forced his eyes away.
What was it with him, anyhow? he wondered. It wasn’t enough that he had passed an arduous night with the head nurse of Surgery at Richmond Hospital, a great blond Danish woman who was at least ten years his senior and had practiced on him the only type of abuse worth praising. Here he was already plotting the corruption, really, of this tiny, exquisite-looking person who was not much more than a girl and probably believed in love and trust and fidelity and all the other emotions that Ward was not willing to consider essential in this life—not yet, anyway.
Yet her skin was nicely and deeply tanned, her back a thin arch that he imagined was interestingly firm but not
firm. And he could tell from the perk of her nipples through the soft material of her brown, scoop-neck jersey, that she wasn’t a woman in constant need of support, which was one sleazy thought, he thought.
Girl. Girl, he reminded himself, but not too firmly.
He leaned over her so that he could breathe in the scent of her morning shampoo and glance down the open neck of her jersey. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Didn’t you tell me Professor Flood said that you were to cooperate with the police?”
“Can I tell you something honestly?” The violet eyes
flashed up at Ward and nearly caught him staring down the front of her jersey. He wondered if the color was her own or the effect of some tinted contact lenses. He had once met a girl like that in Greece. There was an also intriguing line across the middle of her chest that separated tanned skin from what looked like the creamiest flesh. It resembled two tightly defined C’s, and he couldn’t keep himself from imagining how different she would be from his statuesque Dane. Something could be said for quality too, especially in regard to flesh.
Not fully conscious of his smile, Ward waited.
“Well—truthfully, I don’t feel very good about any of this at all.”
Eye contact was intense now, and he watched her pupils dilate once before dropping down to his lips. His own nostrils pulsed, which was a sure sign that he was leading with…well,
with his chin.
Then, there was a fringe of tiny blond hair that he now noticed on her forehead and imagined was repeated someplace else on her body. Along her thighs near her kneecaps perhaps, or at the small of her back.
“Because you’re taking advantage of me.”
Ward’s brow furrowed. Tips of his fingers touched his breast.
“Yes, you. Can I be frank about this? Do you appreciate candor in a woman?”
Sometimes, Ward thought. And sometimes not.
“On first sight, from the moment you walked in here, you could tell that I was attracted to you. Physically. And now”—she paused and again their eyes met—“personally. And you’re using that to take advantage of me, which I think is wrong.
“Oh, I know,” she went quickly on, “you’re an older man, and it’s quite obvious you’re used to dealing with women. But later, you know, tonight when I think of you, or tomorrow and the next day, I’d prefer to remember you as a gentleman, and not somebody who merely
something from me.”
There was nearly a plea in that, and Ward—a precocious twenty-eight—was actually experienced enough with women to know that they sometimes said exactly the opposite of what they really desired. And then her accent, which was mild and fine, with just a trace of a western lilt, appealed to him. Clare, he decided. A country girl. And not long here.
“But I only need what the machine has already got in it—the names and addresses of the people on the tour. And I needed it before we met, A.S.A.P. If we hurry, I can notify the airport and docks, the border crossings into the North, so that those on the list who are touring can be interviewed. This is a murder investigation, and top priority.”
She only breathed deeply, raising her shoulders so that the top of the jersey opened a bit more. When she let them fall, her breasts juddered.
Ward added, “The letter is nothing, really. A list of questions. I’ve got it right here. We could bang it out right now, while I’m phoning the other bit in, and you’d have the eternal thanks of the Murder Squad. My own too, of course.”
Leaning over her chair, Ward’s cheek grazed the side of her hair. The shampoo smelled like shikai or jojoba or both; he imagined how pleasurable it would be to run his hands up under all those long and lustrous locks. He was, he now realized, rather tired of blondes. Or at least sated, for the moment.
“Look—if we get on it now, we can have it done by lunchtime.”
She turned her head slowly. In profile her face was even more strikingly Mediterranean. Her eyes flicked up to the clock on the wall.
“What’s your name, by the by?”
“A lovely name. Emer. Have you ever been to Frères Jacques, Emer?” he went on. “It has a cozy second-level dining room and daily specials that are delectable. McGarr—you know, my chief—he dines there regularly. Country French cooking. One day it’s Wexford mussels marinière, another calves liver Dijonnaise or salmon en papillotes. Their hollandaise?
” Ward had heard McGarr say something like that to his wife over the phone.
she asked. “Dressed like this? Couldn’t we make it dinner instead? I’d feel so”—suddenly the eyes again engaged Ward’s—“
going to dinner with a man of the world, like you. At Frères Jacques,” she added with an inflection that seemed genuinely French. For a moment Ward wondered if she was having him on.
He blinked. Who was he to deny such a lovely young thing the feeling of being special with a—had she actually said—man of the world?
He wondered if he had any credit left on the several bits of plastic in his billfold. Unlike McGarr, with his chief superintendent’s pay and a wife with a prosperous business, Ward, whose tastes in most things were inconveniently elevated, operated strictly on the margins of finance. And then, he would not recover from his recent discovery that Danes were costly companions until the end of the month.
The solution, however, was familiar to him. When he picked her up—he now slid her name, address, and telephone number into his billfold—he would claim that Frères
Jacques was either closed or booked to the eaves. No place else would do for her; they would go there as promised another time.
And instead he himself would cook dinner for her—fresh salmon steaks; he happened to have them already stocked—in his loft apartment on the quays. Some coaxing might be required, but, armed with a dozen freebie long-stemmed roses from his aunt’s florist shop in Dollymount, Ward could sell a woman the Ha’penny Bridge and make her glad she owned it. And then, he had lavished so much attention on his apartment that it virtually sold itself. Or, rather, him.
Which was the point.
Thus Ward left Joyce’s Ireland and Bloomsday Tours in high spirits; knowing that at least part of his evening would be filled with a new and intriguing challenge made him glow.
Had she, the “country girl,” set him up? He had the feeling she had, which would only make whatever sparring was to go on between them more interesting. In the ring Ward had been noted, after all, for his footwork.
And then, the most difficult part of his present assignment—what would have taken anybody else on the staff days—he had completed at a stroke. Now he had nothing more challenging before him than a leisurely amble through Dublin with the glossy print of Kevin Coyle “playing” Stephen Dedalus, with which Emer—an ancient, hallowed name—had also supplied him, and some phoning to the thirteen Irish residents who had been on the tour.
Granted Ward was new to the Murder Squad, but he had over six years service with the Garda itself, and he now considered himself as much a natural in the streets as he was still—three times a week—on the twenty-by-twenty foot square of buff canvas. Though born and raised in Waterford,
Ward loved the busyness of Dublin, its sooty, narrow streets, the rough pace of its commerce and industry.
Living by choice on the quays, he woke up each morning to their hubbub and roar, actually anticipating the morning news that was so much the bane of the others on the staff, including McGarr. Again as in the ring, there was vital action in those pages, with which he was often connected. The editorial jibes were like shots thrown by a tireless and sometimes skilled opponent, neat and cutting here, wild and inept there, but always and ever churning.
It was a small town really, at least in the city center. Year by year Ward was becoming increasingly well known, not merely for his exploits with his fists or for the figure he cut, but also on the level that now meant most to him. By hard, dutiful work, study, and examination he had become a detective as soon as was possible. Partly it had been the police uniform of the Garda that he had found objectionable, but also the uniformity of service. After having distinguished himself in the ring, Ward was not about to settle for anything but a distinguished position in his chosen career.
For two years now he had not taken a holiday, so that there hardly remained a street or a business or even a church or a government office where people failed to nod or wave or say, “Hello, Hughie, how’s the lad” or, “Whipper,” which had been his ring name, “when’re they bringing you back. Did you see the fight on the telly, those two blokes from America? I was telling the lads how you would’ve…”
Better still were the comments that he heard every once in a while, more frequently in the last year, which made the much-desired equation. Only a fortnight ago at a Garda retirement party he had overheard one man ask another, “What’s his name?”
“The detective. The one from the Murder Squad who can handle himself and looks so polished. Little McGarr.”
“That’s Whipper Ward.”
“The pugilist? He’s no worse off for it, it seems. Where did McGarr recruit him?”
There was a pause, then, “You know McGarr.”
“A likely combination. Let’s keep our eye on him,” concluded the Minister for Justice, who had been speaking to the Police Commissioner himself.
But there was more to police work than style and availability, and stepping into Davy Byrne’s “Moral Pub,” as it had been called in
Ward decided on his strategy.
Since Coyle had last been seen in McGarrity’s in Foley Street, it was unlikely that any of the publicans or barmen in the pubs previously visited on the tour would have seen him again. They might have noticed something else, however: some event or argument or altercation.
But Byrne’s was already crowded, mostly with tourists, and the barmen, who gathered for a few moments when Ward flashed his I.D., said they had seen nothing out of the ordinary. They expressed their sorrow, as if Ward had been in some way related to Coyle. “A brilliant chap altogether.” More selfishly they asked, “Where will we find another the like of him?”
The hotelier at the Ormond worried, “D’you think they’ll put it on next year? I mean the tour. They could get some actor or somethin’. Colm Wilkinson.” Ward didn’t think so. From the snippets of opinion he was hearing, Coyle’s had been a singular talent, and passing by a bookstore on his way toward the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, he purchased Coyle’s first book and attempted to buy the second, stacks of which he could see wrapped in clear plastic behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to sell that volume until its official release on Monday.”
Ward held out his I.D. “But this is an official murder investigation, and it’s important that we understand who Kevin Coyle was as an artist and a scholar.”
The woman’s eyes rolled once. “Really. I can’t. If his publisher even learnt of it…and look, there’s a queue for the book.” She raised a clipboard on which there was a long list of names. “We’re already sold out. What you see here.”
The surrogate pub in Mount Street that the tour had visited yielded only further eulogies, and Ward began to feel discouraged. Only as he was walking briskly down Westland Row, book in hand, did he notice something that made him hesitate slightly before walking on.
It was a straw boater perched back cockily on the head of a lout in front of Pearse Station, a grimy railway terminus. Four others were with him; the girl by his side was wearing a striped blazer that fit her like a sack.
What to do? Ward looked around. There was a green telephone kiosk across the street, but it would put him directly in their line of vision. Softly he cursed himself for the vanity that kept him from wearing the small radio which clipped on one’s belt and was issued to all metropolitan police.
He decided to cross Pearse Street to the pub on the corner and make a quick call from there, when, glancing back, as if for traffic, he saw the band of five move suddenly out onto the footpath. There, the striped blazer and the other girl crossed the street and the three young men walked off the way Ward had come.