The school year traditionally ended on June 30 (Terrence Murphy in “James Joyce and Narrative Territory: The Distinct Functions of Lost Time in ‘An Encounter” and ‘The Sisters'”), and Jackson and McGinley indicate Pluck’s first issue, in Joe Dillon’s “little library,” would not be available until June. Most significantly, the Joyce brothers miching expedition occurred on June 14. That is where we will place this story on our calendar.
Nautical invaders brought sexual segregation and sexual violence to Ireland. That segregation later extended through the educational system was part of a strategy, explicit or implicit, to emasculate the conquered race. Clerical celibacy, long contended against by the Catholic Church in Ireland, the product of aestheticism, misogyny, and avarice by the universal Church, has fueled sexual abuses even to modern times.
Fierce Celtic warriors went to battle painted and naked. The Greek Strabo described them as “war mad” (Wood The Celts 121). In Welsh lore, warriors fight eternally on Mayday for the singular most beautiful woman (124). The Celtic men were accompanied and led in battle by Celtic heroines and goddesses (Wood The Celtic Way 15). In Irish tradition, the separation of the sexes was long resisted, past the time when Roman Catholicism insisted on clerical celibacy. When finally imposed, the effects of clerical celibacy included hidden disgraces. Educational and nautical traditions, segregating the sexes and contributing to Celtic manhood’s emasculation, are also featured in Joyce’s “An Encounter.”
Irish wildness needed taming for the comfort and profit of Empire and Church. By the 4th Century, aesthetic influences flogged the Roman Church toward celibacy influenced by the writings of Saints Jerome, Ambrose, and a Spanish synod. This despite the refusal of The Council of Nicea to endorse celibacy in 325. By the 11th Century, much of the argument centered around the inheritance of priests’ property. In Ireland, clerical marriage was unquestioned, being status quo during the First Synod of Patrick. The saint’s father, in fact, was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. Brehon code also settled law about both married and unmarried priests and addressed the inheritance rights of clergys’ wives. At large in the Roman Church, the debate continued whether married priests’ would give first allegiance to Church or family. That argument continued until celibacy became another divisive issue between Luther and the Church of Rome (Ellis).
Both law and canon regulation forbade Celtic tradition. Foreign refinements also superseded it, so Joe Dillon, the future celibate priest, converts from his tribe to pursue a new ideal. His regime will conquer and punish the natives, scorn female contact, and replace that contact with sadism and humiliation of the subjugated. Empire-building demands deployment away from familiar lovers, teaches regimented violence, and excuses larceny in the service of a vengeful deity. This is especially necessary to subvert the youth who might prefer “unkempt fierce and beautiful girls” (Joyce 24). The boys of “An Encounter” dream of sailing the three-master in the company of men. Their strategy is to lay siege to the Smoothing Iron. They have impounded Leo Dillon’s sixpence (28-29). In keeping with their indoctrination, “Smith and Murphy” set out on a males-only expedition with Mahoney chasing off “ragged girls.” Meanwhile, the unnamed boy plays sycophant to the Anglicized literary tastes of the “josser,” but he soon feels threatened with sadism as punishment for having a sweetheart (35).
Empires exist to seize the land and treasure of conquered indigenous peoples. Similarly, the Church took worldly wealth held by priests on their deaths. The indoctrinated boys have applied these lessons and impounded Leo Dillon’s sixpence (28-29). Mahoney scorns his companion’s fear they might “encounter” Fr. Butler during their miching: “What would Father Butler be doing out at the Pigeon House?” Torchiana points out that the Butlers, unlike most Irish Norman families, had never been entirely Hibernianized (38). Due to Crown loyalty, they retained great tracts of land, including property near the Pigeon House. The priest might have been there to look after family property seized from disenfranchised Celts (Tindall 18). Some or all of this property might pass to the Church on Butler’s death. This practice was no longer a requirement of Canon Law in Edwardian Ireland but a custom as described in Dubliners first story, “The Sisters.”
As the Stranger approaches, the unnamed boy chews at the shoots of the plant “on which girls tell fortunes” (Joyce 32). The device predicts an unholy meeting, recalls the old druidic worship of nature, and reflects on the traditional Celtic female’s good offices. Meanwhile, the josser circles rehearsing his lines, ” shabbily dressed in a suit of greenish-black and wore what we used to call a jerry hat with a high crown” (34). He re-establishes the ruined priest who in the collection’s first story has “a great wish for him (the boy)” (7).
Boy-Smith has been seduced into self-loathing by the “bullying vigor” of the future priest Joe Dillon. He is an indifferent Indian, and disappointed, he cultivated a desire for superiority from his peers. As a consequence, he inclines toward the green-eyed Other (Mooney 226-227). The analysis that James Degnan offers springs from Psychology. Living under foreign laws, conflicting traditions, commandments, and superego “… runs the risk of neurosis, emotional paralysis (the inability to function caused by perfectionism and scrupulosity) and of perverting his nature.” He fears that his refinements of taste and nature “have in them the seeds of the vices the old man embodies…” (Degnan 91-92).
To shed his Irish-Otherness, the boy gravitates to the Josser’s accent, education, and experience. These are the lures baited. The adventurers passed the site of the Danes’ Thingmote, the symbol of a foreign and imposed law. The Thingmote is also the site where Danes meted out punishment (Torchiana 46). It is the place for scourging, and scourging is another heritage of the maritime way. Joyce connects Mahoney’s catapult and harrying of the Pigeon House cat to the maritime discipline of the cat-o-nine-tails.
This pedophile’s syllabus for acolytes includes the writings of Lytton whose personal life was infamous, Scott, the model for A Portrait’s “perverse… captain,” and Moore who burned Byron’s diary because his friend George was “a bad man” (James Joyce’s Dubliners 16). Could Moore have been implicated in the journals? Irish education also adopted the practice of flailing the Otherness out of young scholars. In the story, Father Butler administers pedagogical abuse. Biographically, Joyce would “mich” on the day of the catechetical exam. This event concluded with his conflict with Father Henry, who then became the model for the green-eyed pervert (Ellmann 56).
The pedophile shifts his strategy from the seduction of Anglo-curious Boy-Smith to the trashing of Celtic-wild Mahoney-Murphy. He attempts to recruit Smith into his service:
He said that my friend was a very rough boy and asked did he get whipped often at school. I was going to reply indignantly that we were not National School boys to be whipped, as he called it; but I remained silent. He began to speak on the subject of chastising boys. (Joyce 37)
Alarmed, Smith withdraws, but tentatively. His hesitancy stems from a reluctance to abandon the Josser and return to Mahoney-Murphy whom he might have betrayed. He dallies, pretending to tie his shoe. The Josser holds a mystical and exotic power that holds the boy. A joss stick is an incense burned in honor of a Chinese god; in Finnegans Wake, “Lord Joss” refers to Jesus (Tindall 18). The boy has been under the trance of a Stranger, disguised in false religiosity, propriety and refinement. As Feshbach warns us, “The society’s purpose is to cloak disorder with mock virtues” ( 87).
The protagonist weakly confesses Mahoney’s near-betrayal as the story ends: “And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little” (Joyce 39). How could it be otherwise after Leo Dillon’s defection, Dillon, who carried the names of Pope Leo, who spurned Home Rule for the Irish, and John Dillon, who declared against Parnell in his lowest days? Duplicitous Joe Dillion shifts between savagery and piety. Even the setting suggests betrayal. Here, government influence squelched O’Connell’s planned Dublin monster rally in 1843 (Torchiana 38-40). Betrayal is encouraged everywhere by the Stranger.
When discussing their actual day of truancy, Stanislaus referred to the odd fellow as “The Captain of Fifty.” The phrase refers to a biblical passage from 3. Isiah 3-10. In the selection, Isreal is threatened with the loss of its leaders. The younger Joyce brother suggested that “Captain of Fifty” become the title of the story. This title would be doubly appropriate since the Josser was about fifty years of age with a military bearing (Stanislaus Joyce 62). An elder, also disguised as a conquerer, a cleric, and a teacher would demand the boys’ respect and obedience.
Ireland would also lose its captains of fifty. Seafaring conquerors came from a nautical society where discipline had replaced affection, supplanting the native wild Celtic captains and queens. Perhaps the strangers were twenty years away from their natural loves. Perhaps they sailed under a situational ethic like green-eyed Odysseus. Perhaps, like the later Joycean Murphy in Ulysses’ Eumaeus episode, the raider had abandoned his wife and child for the sake of adventure. The Boy-Smith epiphanies that he is drifting without heritage or legacy: “As I did so I met the gaze of a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from under a twitching forehead” (Joyce 38).
Degnan, James P. “The Encounter in Joyce’s ‘An Encounter.'” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 35, no. 1, 1989, pp. 89–93. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/441777. Retrieved April 2. 2021.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York. 1983.
Ellis, P. B. (2005, September 21). “Celibacy in the Catholic Church,” https://www.archive.irishdemocrat.co.uk/features/celibacy-in-the-church/. Retrieved April 5, 2021.
Feshbach, Sidney. “Death in ‘An Encounter.'” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2, 1965, pp. 82–89. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25486485. Retrieved April 2. 2021.
Hartdegen, Stephen J, and Christian P Ceroke. The New American Bible, Catholic Book Pub. Co, 1970, p. 749, 3. Isiah 3-10.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Enhanced Media, 2016, Retrieved March 28- April 12. 2021.
Joyce, James. James Joyce’s Dubliners: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations, edited by John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, St. Martin’s Press, 1993, pp. 21-27.
Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years, edited by Richard Ellmann, Da Capo Press, 1958, p. 62.
Mooney, Susan. “Interrupted Masculinity in Dubliners: Anxiety, Shame, and Shontological Ethics.” Joyce Studies Annual, 2017, pp. 220–256. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26798617. Retrieved March 31. 2021.
Power, Patrick. Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland. Mercier Press, 1976.
Tindall, William York. “Dubliners.” A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959, pp. 17-19.
Torchiana, Donald T.” ‘An Encounter’: Joyce’s History of Irish Failure in Roman, Saxon, and Scandinavian Dublin,” Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners, Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 36-51.
Wood, Juliette. The Celtic Book of Living and Dying: the Illustrated Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Chartwell Books, Inc., 2012, pp. 12–19.
Wood, Juliette. The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art, Watkins Pub., 2014, pp. 121–135.