[Setting “Counterparts” on the Dubliners Calendar requires some finesse. If sunset occurs at about 5:30 PM, the date might be soon after February 12 and also after mid-month. Ireland, however, did not begin Daylight Savings Time until 1916. Joyce finished “Counterparts” on July 16, 1905. Alternately, the sunset might coincide with a November setting, but if we accept that having endured a season of sunlight deprivation might make Farrington even more irascible, a February placement might improve your appreciation of the plot.]
“Counterparts” sits upon a somewhat obvious comparison of owner and laborer with father and son, suggested by the story’s title. Underneath, tier upon tier of meaning reveals the “nightmare of history.” While face-to-face confrontations shape the nature of the counterparts, there is also a third party in each conflict who promotes the conflict, sometimes through interference at other times through inaction. Joyce is never conspicuous in all his intentions. In this story, many interlocking and dysfunctional relationships are at play.
Clerical Farrington stoops and scribbles during his days in the service of his North of Ireland employer, Barrister Alleyne. Alleyne, a verbally abusive bully, is known as a tyrant among the firm’s employees and perhaps to the senior partner who solely maintains final judgment in the management, discipline, and dismissal of employees. Alleyne’s practice is to harry unsatisfactory employees into resignation rather than dismissing them. Farrington suspects he will receive this treatment, as did little Peake. We might come to suspect that Alleyne is reluctant to act against an unsatisfactory employee because he would also face abuse in turn from his superior, Crosbie.
Employees of the firm serve two masters. One overtly authoritarian, the other is absent from the story, not benevolent and even perhaps more sinister for his silence. Similarly, Joyce wishes to awaken from history’s nightmare, a buffeting between two masters: “The imperial British state, …and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church.” In “Counterparts,” he traces the flow of a youthful nightmarish trickle to an aerated river of white water and finally to a thunderous cascade of historic proportions.
Of all the abuses meted out by the story’s relationships, the least remarkable is abuse by a conqueror heaped on the conquered. An imperial overlord constructs a system seizing the law, land realty, politics, inheritance, finance, and control of the means of production. The colonial subject of an empire comes to expect a bilking in the public marketplace. When pawning his watch, Farrington anticipates as much. He argues too long and without much benefit for a slightly better bargain. Significantly, he demands a “crown” (Scholes). Farrington’s helplessness leads him to create strategies to confound the conquerer. These include the deceits of the shepherd’s cap and the caraway seed. He does not need a watch. The conqueror’s adage preaches: “Time is money,” but time has no currency for Farrington.
With imperiousness, Farrington displaces his shortcomings onto his boy. The son is unrecognized by the parent’s drink-squinted eye, and his name is unavailable on the paternal tongue. Bully Farrington, not strong enough to cow a skinny circus performer, can, at home, throw his bulk about. The historical nightmare paid forward, Little Tom Farrington is battered by an abusive father. That is not the greater of Tom’s crosses. Unlike Squires Dedalus or Sargent, this boy lacks the saving grace of a mother’s sheltering love.
Unlucky Tom finds himself exposed to the old man, who is uncomforted by thin drunkenness from his day of failures. The carousal bonfire, the sparks of paternity and career, the flickering of economy are all extinguished like the fire meant to heat his supper. In flailing the boy, Farrington reflects an imitation of the master bully, Alleyne. When Farrington has “drink taken,” he also rules his tiny kingdom with a closed fist.
Her lord’s drunken rage is predictable to Mistress Farrington, who abandons the household and its young peasants to the tyrant. Had she stayed at home, he would also have taxed her with his strap. In the morning, his rant will be overtaken by a swollen head, and she will resume the rule of the realm. On this night of her lord, she is off to the chapel, perhaps offering a few prayers against broken bones for her children. During the last quarter of the 19th Century, Mother, Mary, and Church, personified in Mother Farrington, were raised beyond reproach. Rome had formalized traditions claiming Immaculate Conception (sinlessness) and Papal Infallibility. Joyce succinctly presented the Church’s haughty declaration with the quote: “You be damned! Kissmearse! I’m infallible!” Tiny Tommy hasn’t the girth to stand against his father, so he follows his mother’s path for now and bargains with a simoniac’s prayers. He offers a feminine paean to his mother, to The Virgin Mary, and to the Church for salvation. The boy of the house, still docile, will one day become a “faithful copy” of the man (Jackson and McGinley point out that, in the Irish language, fear means man or husband and fearh, a pig).
The Farrington household is ruled by a violent invader, demanding the little food remaining in the pot. A “devout” agent absents herself, Mother sacrificing her charges when trouble wears its crown. Teary Tom, too weak to resist, follows her superstition that the conquerer will spare him in exchange for piety. If Farrington is a “faithful copy” of Alleyne, the home is an inversion of that relationship with Farrington in the oppressor’s role. These dysfunctions also reflect the relationship of Irish peasant culture, an imperious conqueror, and a self-serving Church, remaining silent to avoid imperial displeasure.
Beyond the “cracked mirrors” of the Irish societal and the Farrington household analogies, there is an analogy of commercial Europe. Here the mirror’s shards reflect Farrington as man/pig/peasant and Alleyne as the Unionist, with Madam Delacour playing the role of prosperous Continental Europe. Great Britain long courted France as a trading partner, but the French played coyly. Despite tentative British-French military alliances from the mid-nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries, economic rivalry remained just beneath the surface. Why then is Madam Delacour, the symbol of Continental Europe, amused by Farrington’s insult to Alleyne but not inspired to intercede on the clerk’s behalf? This attitude recalls European attitudes toward Irish insurrections against Great Britain. France, Spain, Germany, and the Papacy all offered encouragement, but only nominal battlefield support during three failed rebellions in the 16th Century. In 1798, a French advance guard of about one thousand landed in County Mayo while the main contingent held back. Antecedent to the Easter Rebellion, a German captain, unaccompanied by a military escort to protect his vessel, scuttled a cargo of arms needed to conduct the uprising. Ironically, the Irish lent more than nominal support to the Hapsburg kingdoms in Austria and Spain, then to Napolean’s forces first through the Jacobite Irish Brigade and later as Napolean’s Irish Legion.
Many critics contend that James Joyce was opposed to Irish nationalism and the cultural revival as well as being ambivalent toward the Church. These critics may be shocked by Gareth Downes’ assessment of how strident were James Joyce’s feelings against British Imperialism and Roman Catholic clergy. Downes argues that Joyce’s spite has been watered-down. It may come as an even greater surprise that, according to Vincent Chang, Joyce was “canonized” as a High Modernist to distract from the ferocity of his opposition to Britain. Chang blamed Modernist misdirection primarily on T.S. Eliot, who emphasized Modernism in Joyce’s work to cover for insurrectionism. Eliot, an American, was a devoted Anglophile.
Joyce’s shoddy treatment of Yeats and Lady Gregory supports claims of his indifference to Irish nationalism. However, that seems to have been juvenile attention-seeking by “the artist as a young man.” His rejection of the Irish language was the result of jealousy over the affections of “E.C.” These claims also point to Joyce’s poke at Irish Revivalism (“the cultic toilet”). As the most masterful craftsman of English prose, Joyce had every reason to adhere to the use of English over the Irish Language. He used English with a watchmaker’s delicacy and exactitude. However, in “James Joyce & the Old Man from the West: A Study in Literary Nationalism,” Golden points out that Joyce’s use of cadence and idiom mark him as a stylistically Irish writer. Stanislaus Joyce contended that Irish gradation of meaning would make it difficult for his brother to be accepted by a British publisher. James Joyce is reported to have said that he did not write in English. In discussion with Schwartz, Joyce said that Finnegans Wake was not written as English but as music. And Fritz Senn refers to Joyce’s writing as “foreign English.” Senn goes on to explain the frequent treatment of words as “artifacts” or “specimens” (consider his play with “metempsychosis,” “tundish,” and “gnomon”). Despite his linguistic virtuosity, Joyce was an outsider even to the English language. He was an Irishman using the sounds with shades of meaning (and amusement) not available to the “stranger.” Golden reports that for his efforts, Ellington attacked Joyce’s experimental use of language “savagely” accusing him of writing with “no faintest trace of Protestantism.”
Joyce’s composition is played in three-part Hegelian cacophony. There are tripartite themes in the office (Alleyne, Farrington, Delacour, and Crosbie, Alleyne, and the staff). The same is true in the Farrington household (The Man, The Mistress, and Tom), next is the linking of Farrington, Weathers, and the Cockney Amaryllis (as named by Jackson and McGinley). The inspiration for the story may be Joyce’s overarching theme of the battering and bartering of the Irish native by Church and State. There remains a related but not identical tussle between the Church and the Empire for the Irish peasant heart and purse. Underlying the Church’s role in Ireland is the old tension between the Roman Church, the long-untamed Celtic Catholic Church, and druidism. There is also the interplay of the British Empire and Continental Europe over Ireland’s independence and the related mercantile concerns for Irish land, ports, and men-at-arms. Finally, there is the issue of language for Joyce and all Irish writers: The interplay of English, The Irish Language, and the refinement or defilement of Celtic meaning, tone, and lyricism on Saxon-English.
“Counterparts” might be a story that illuminates Joyce’s “nightmare of history.” It might be a boxing match between jealous English and Papal heavyweights with the Irish peasantry paying the prize. It might also debate whether Joyce was politically and religiously agnostic, the most Catholic and Nationalistic of creatures, or a multinational Modernist. Think that over with a small Irish, a glass of bitters, or an Apollinaris.