The Artist Paring His Quotations: Aesthetic and Ethical Implications of the Dantean Intertext in Dubliners

Boldrini, Lucia. 1998. The Artist Paring His Quotations: Aesthetic and Ethical Implications of the Dantean Intertext in Dubliners. In: Harold Mosher and Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, eds. Re-Joycing: New Readings of Joyce’s Dubliners. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, pp. 228-246. ISBN 0813120578 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

"There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke" (Dubliners 9; hereafter referred to as D). The opening sentence of "The Sisters," much quoted and much commented on, has been brilliantly analyzed by John Paul Riquelme in Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction to show how it can only retrospectively be recognized as first-person narration (a fact generally unnoticed by even the most skilled readers) and can be defined as a rare instance of "self-narrated interior monologue" (Riquelme 101). Despite Riquelme's convincing arguments against fusing boy and narrator in the story (Riquelme 98), some critics have identified the young boy as the narrator of the story, pointing out his "precociousness" (Bremen 61; Albert 359) and charging him with the accusation of unreliability (an accusation already made by Fischer). The critics who identify the boy in the story with the narrator of the story find themselves (understandably) ill at ease with the difficult words and sophisticated constructions he uses, generally put down to the influence of the priest's vocabulary and teachings and sometimes taken as indices of the inevitability of the boy's own "paralysis" in the "hemiplegia of the will" (Richard Ellmann 140) of Dublin city.
The first sentence of the story has also been interpreted as a direct allusion to one of the terrible lines that Dante reads above the portal of Hell as he enters the land of the dead: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" ("Abandon every hope, you who enter") (Inferno 3:9; hereafter referred to as Inf), an epigraph of damnation for the entire collection and for the city of Dublin itself with all its inhabitants (Cope, "Epigraph" 364). The recognition of a precise literary allusion in these words--and, as we shall see, of a dense, pervasive pattern of Dantean echoes and "twisted misquotations" (Senn, "He" 66) --raises the question of the relationship between the status of the "allusion" and the position of the narrator in the story, a question which concerns issues both of attribution (who is quoting or alluding to previous texts?) and of narrative and ethical responsibility (who is judging the characters and the narrators, and from what position?). In this essay I shall follow up some Dantean allusions in "The Sisters" and "The Dead" and try, with their help, to address the general and complex problematic of the relationship between the artist, his characters and narrators, and his sources.

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Book Section

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English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

26 Oct 2010 14:03

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 11:05


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