Hugh Kenner invites us to consider that Frank of “Eveline” speaks for Frank’s creator, James Joyce. Sondra Melzer expands that comparison claiming Eveline speaks for Nora Barnacle.
Joyce carried Nora off to parts unknown on October 8, 1904, but resisted any urge to marry her until 1931. Were his motives noble, or did he find himself “trapped,” and dependent on her? “Eveline” was written before the Barnacle-Joyces embarked for the Continent. James’ intentions toward Nora proved to be both duplicitous (marriage delayed) and mostly faithful (that he remained with Nora). The character’s (Frank’s) promises remain ever-unrealized, neither kept nor broken.
Eveline wandered through a childhood’s Garden. Darkness hadn’t yet come to “invade the avenue,” and her father was neither benevolent nor a threat. He rousted them from play with his blackthorn, but there’s no report that he used the cudgel on their backs. He never raised his hand against the littlest Eve. Sequestered in an unmanicured garden was a solitary apple tree still unmolested (Ellmann).
In the Garden, Little Flynn, twisted with concupiscence, introduced deception to their play. He was the lookout, hissing “nix” in warning as Father Hill approached (Jackson and McGinley). Before his coyness cheated authority, Eveline Hill lived in innocence and ignorance. She is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. With knowledge of good and evil comes the possibility of duplicity and the loss of certainty. Flynn the Trickster promised power, independence, and knowledge but delivered them without revealing the consequences. Mr. Hill could now be violent and vengeful. He will expel uncompliant children from the Garden (Jackson and McGinley) and substitute mysterious anonymous replacements for the children he has driven away. Eve remains subservient not from devotion but weakness. Perhaps she heeds the warning of The Irish Homestead: “displacement from Ireland was dangerous, isolating, and disappointing.”
Silent Mrs. Hill accepted abuse as part of her station. William York Tindall interpreted her slurred dying words “Derevaun Seraun!” as “The end of pleasure is pain,” perhaps referring to sexual pleasure. Her pain is the tax levied for her pleasure. Planning her escape, Eveline says: “She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence.” Her mother is now just a shade. She left for her daughter’s “dowry,” the demand that Eveline keep the household together. Mother’s final wage was dementia and the gathering dust. This reward would be Eveline’s too.
In the drawing-room, the wall’s inspirations included the promises of The Sacred Heart of Jesus given to Margaret Mary Alacoque. Among the Sacred Heart’s unkept promises to Eveline are peace in her home, “abundant blessings for all… undertakings,” and that her lukewarm heart would be made fervent. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s devotion caused her to refuse a proposal of marriage. In return, she experienced visions producing ecstacies of sexual displacement. In one vision, the nun put her mouth to the open wound on her Savior’s side.
Despite her vows, Margaret Mary is acclaimed. Her veneration traveled from France to Ireland, Australia, America, Canada, Portugal, Belgium, and other countries where Benedictines and Cistercians serve. The Sacred Heart also has ecumenical expressions in the Anglican, Lutheran, and Western Rite Orthodox Churches. Father Anonymous of the adventurous, missionary spirit is also memorialized in the “yellowing” photo, but the only detail about his existence is that he landed in Melbourne.
It is curious to note that Poppie Joyce also took her mother’s order to hold the home together. That Poppie lived both roles serving as cornerstone for John Joyce’s domicile and becoming a missionary. Poppie repeatedly asked her father’s permission to join a convent; he used the promise to May Joyce to keep his daughter bound. Ultimately, she took matters into her own hands, living out her days as a Sister of Mercy in New Zealand. Other Joyce girls were pressed into domestic service for the Joyce-Barnacle household in Trieste; one was named Eva. Was Poppie Joyce ethical when accepting her vocation to the clergy requiring her to break another vow? Did Poppie Hill follow the will of God in keeping her vow and accepting a solitary, secular, sterile destiny? The reader would need to know the secret motivations of the Poppies to judge them.
Old Hill’s name reminds us of his antic bonnet-wearing on the Hill of Howth. His name, Jackson and McGinley note, also suggests the polarities of Calvary and the pornographic Fanny Hill. He warns his daughter about sailors’ ways but is silent about Eveline’s future in his drunken service. Father Hill’s mood is unpredictable. He may have been less brutish when Mother Hill was alive– or he may have heaped his brutality privately on her. In later days, he might nurse an ailing Eveline back to health. His ways are as inscrutable as the outcome of emigration, the divine source of a vocation, or the faithfulness of a lover’s promises.
Frank will be Eveline’s savior. He will carry her from Dublin’s “black pool” to the “good air” of Buenos Aires (Jackson and McGinley). She will be his wife and will manage a household of her own. Frank, like her brother Ernest, is “open-hearted.” This semblance to the Sacred Heart also suggests the ecstasy of Margaret Mary Alacoque.
The sailor “fell on his feet in Buenos Aires.” Though he came for a return visit to Ireland, we hear nothing of his family or a home to visit. He wins Eveline, who is initially indifferent to his advances though enjoying his attentions. He takes her to a performance of The Bohemian Girl. It’s a romantic comedy about a runaway girl, but the reader continues to puzzle about Eveline’s escape. He seems to have had a strategy.
Frank has no shortage of money. How might an able-bodied seaman gather such a cache? Sidney Feshbach says that during the Argentine economic surge that began in 1850, a laborer might earn enough in three weeks to buy a flock of 1500 sheep. Prosperity is possible but remains mysterious. He tells tales but not about how he gained his fortune. Instead, he excites Eveline with tales of wild Patagonians, reported falsely to be cannibals [three Patonians were transported to England to be hunted like animals. They were more victims than terrors.] Magellan named them for the size of their feet, and Joyce is deliberate in saying Frank “fell on his feet” rather than “landed.” Satan fell too but retained an archangel’s powers. Jackson and McGinley note the phrase “to go to Buenos Aires” also meant to become a prostitute.
Notably, Frank wears his hat at the back of his head like Lenehan, the would-be pimp of “Two Gallants.” Research in Laura Barberan Renaires’ Eveline and Sex Trafficking discloses a Jewish underworld syndicate Zwi Migdal that marketed sex in Buenos Aires. “Recruiting” for Zwi Migdal might be a profitable occupation.
That Frank is a procurer is supposition. Hugh Kenner, a giant in Joycean commentary, was roundly condemned for suggesting this motivation by Benstock in “The Kenner Conundrum.” [ Could Benstock jack the giant?]. The criticism calls Kenner’s reading as reckless as Evil Knievel’s motorcycle jump over the Grand Canyon. Kenner’s evidence of his guilt is at least as significant as the clues supporting his innocence. Any evidence is self-reported and subject to misrepresentation.
Another complication is the comparison of action taken (results known) to action not taken (results not known). This asks the reader to accept or reject a condition that does not exist. The unknowable and the impossible, however, are exactly the stuff that makes literature a worthwhile pastime. Suppositions like Hugh Kenner’s about events after the story concludes are among the delights of literature.
Examining every outcome is the basis of scientific and financial modeling like weather prediction models. Quantum physics proposes the actual existence of all possible outcomes in “invisible” realms. Various propositions of quantum theory are proven mathematically, and some are supported in mechanical tests. These invisible realms appear to be “real” in some sense. Hugh Keener leads us down the path of each quantum outcome. Should they be pursued? Quantum theory says they must.
Irish-Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger set out to make the Copenhagen Quantum theorists appear ridiculous with a thought experiment resulting in a feline subject that was both dead and alive. Like Schrodinger’s Cat, Eveline Hill is both saved and damned, both blissful and broken, at the same time made secure and paralyzed by her grip on the pier’s steely railing.