The Use of Music in Joyce's Style, Characterization, Structure and Theme

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. State of Research and Problematic Issues

3. Joyce and Music

4. Selected Songs.
4.1. Eveline: “The Lass that Loves a Sailor”.
4.2. Two Gallants: “Silent, O Moyle!”.
4.3. Boarding House: “I’m a Naughty Girl”..
4.4. Clay: “I dreamt that a dwelt”
4.5. The Dead: “The Lass of Aughrim”

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

„The singing voice, like the speaking voice, masks and betrays the unconscious through combinations of pitch and word. Why sing if not to communicate supplementary information that words alone cannot convey?”1

Music and Literature have always been influencing each other and quite often music plays an important role in literature. Sometimes it contributes an entertaining or even humoristic factor, occasionally it pushes the action and at times it serves as a mirror of the culture to emphasize emotions and environment of the characters.

My interest in the power of music was aroused by a musicological seminar during which we assisted in the reorganization of the Sängermuseum in Feuchtwangen. The museum demonstrates the importance of music and singing for the construction of the German nation. In a neat way is shown how music is able to unite but also to disunite people. The impact of music on the unconscious plays a major role in the museum. While it is there focused on the various singing movements in the third Reich the knowledge about this power dates back a long time. Already during the council in Trient in the 16th century it was discussed whether music should be allowed in services since people might not really mean what they sing but simply like the melody. Everybody has experienced this sensation of nodding along a melody without really paying attention to the text. When reading Dubliners in search for a possible theme for my term paper, my attention was drawn to the musical allusions which Joyce uses quite frequently. Whether they are direct references to characters singing or performing or indirect quotes of songs - the musical allusions always add a further dimensions to the stories. Joyce counts on the reader of not simply nodding along but thinking about the allusions. In this respect Joyce use of music differs from other authors. Unlike others who use music for the reasons mentioned in the beginning, Joyce combined literature and music in a very particular way. Joyce has a more subtle approach to the music because he does not use it to illustrate or make an otherwise unappealing text more interesting. Joyce was aware of the power music has on the unconscious and weaves music into his text to make it more complex and multifaceted.

Joyce’s characters in Dubliners sing and perform when they can no longer speak about their frustrations or passions. Therefore the musical allusions always imply a clash between reality and imagination. What is desired in the song will almost certainly not happen. “In its attributes of direct emotional expressiveness, its allusiveness, its contact with the collective past through folk song and physical rhythm, and in its tremendous emotional range from the banal to the sublime, music offers resources that in certain ways can challenge or surpass spoken language.”2

In Dubliners Joyce uses music in three distinct ways. Firstly, in a realistic manner to define the real world in which his character live in. Secondly to emphasize the importance of romance and form the background and the texture of their lives and thirdly for the revelation of character because his characters reveal themselves through music.3 Concerning the first point music contributes in a realistic manner to the representation of the geographic and human scene as well as to the demonstration of the social world in Dubliners.4 Emphasizing the second issue, the stories itself present a confrontation between realistic and falsely romantic views of the world. This can be seen in the characters' striving for a higher, better world that never was and never will be.5 To the final point music adds by reaching some levels of human emotion and character more easily than almost any other means; music is used for the swift and telling revelation of character.6

Throughout Dubliners an increasing significance of music in a structural and thematic way can be seen. In the beginning the allusions function like stage whispers: they beg for attention and point to difficulties and deception of characters.7 Structurally seen objects or references provide similarities to objects in other stories. This is the case of the yellowing picture of the priest in “Eveline” (D, 30) that suggests the priest in “the Sisters” (D, 4) or the discussion of the late priest in “Araby” (D, 21). The thematic importance of music becomes obvious in “The Dead” where music is not only heard and sung and builds the main topic of conversion but also provides a link between the living and the dead.8 In my paper I would like to show, how and to which effect Joyce uses musical allusions in Dubliners. Therefore I have chosen to analyse “Eveline”, “Two Gallants”, “Boarding House”, “Clay” and “The Dead”. For each one of these stories I will try to track Joyce’s use of music in the three distinct ways mentioned above. I will place the musical references in the context of each story and continue by stating specific features of each story.

My conclusions concerning the effects of the use of this allusions can surely only cover a part of what can be discovered. My intention is to state some more or less obvious results and leave the rest to the readers knowledge and imagination. To enable the reader to submerge more deeply into the matter, the following two chapters will give some information on the state of research and of Joyce’s relation to music in general.

2. State of research and problematic issues

The most important step towards the identification of musical allusions was done by Matthew Hodgart and Mabel Worthington in Song in the Works of James Joyce9. This work contains references to 1000 songs employed in Joyce’s work by identifying musical titles with a page and line reference. They only name the musical references but do not attempt to explain the function or the significance which they have in the passage of the text. Yet the base for later research was set.10

With Ruth Bauerle’s work The James Joyce Songbook a further step was done. She not only named the songs, but also provided information about their provenance and interpretation as well as the letters. For Dubliners she chose to present “Father O’Flynn”, “I’ll sing thee songs of Araby”, “The lass that loves a sailor”, “Silent, O Moyle!”, “I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls”, “Killarney”, “O, ye dead”, “Yes! Let me like a soldier fall” and “The lass of Aughrim”.11 Through this small selection Joyce’s broad knowledge of Irish folk music, music-hall songs, nursery rhymes, 16th-century madrigals, liturgical music and opera is already shown.12

After having compared the studies on music in James Joyce’s work it can be said that there are nearly 1500 references to musical titles. Some appear only once, others as many as 20 times.13 Throughout his work, music became increasingly important which amounted to 18 musical references in Dubliners. Here, unlike in later works, the songs are used to illustrate the individual story, but not to link the collection.

Even though the musical references are more or less obvious the interpretation is difficult for a number of reasons. The first difficulty occurs when a song, that Joyce and his contemporary audience knew well, is not directly mentioned but lingers in the background of a story. This is the case in the popular Irish song “Father O’Flynn” which describes the ideal “Soggarth Aroon”. The song may have influenced his naming of Father Flynn in “The Sisters” even though no song is mentioned in the story. Another problem is Joyce’s use of double allusions. It is difficult to distinguish whether he refers to music, to his work or to both of them. Sometimes even a phrase in one song points to the title of another. This makes the identification more difficult and leaves a lot of space for intertextual interpretation. Another problem concerning the interpretation is Joyce’s realistic use of language. Since he uses phrases that were part of popular speech and also appeared in popular music it remains uncertain if an allusion was intended or not. Reasonable ground for the assumption that we are dealing with an allusion is given when there is an exact quotation, evident parody, rhythmic echo or a repetition of a key word from a song.14

3. Joyce and Music

Music played an essential role in Joyce’s life. This can be seen by his immense theoretical knowledge as well as by his practical experience. His biography reveals much of the background of the songs he used in his works. I would like to start with disclosing a few biographical links between music and Dubliners. Afterwards I will give a few examples for theoretical and practical employment of music to show the importance for his life. Firstly, music is strongly related to Joyce's biography. Already as a young boy Joyce became acquainted with a large repertoire of popular ballads, songs and opera arias. The Joyce family had regular gatherings on Sunday evenings at home were they would carry out little recitals with the family and close friends. At that time Dublin was decidedly music- conscious and no season passed without its share of opera. Joyce was “impregnated with the fireworks of old-fashioned opera and the gentler melodies of Tom Moore, to say nothing of the vast store of come-all-yous and ballads”15

In 1903, the year his mother May Joyce died, he began writing many of the poems he would publish in Chamber Music. He also got going on the earliest stories of Dubliners and took up composing the novel Stephen Hero. At the same time he started taking music lessons which might be a hint that he had an eye on an other career. The climax of his music lessons was his participation at the Feis Ceoil16 in May 1903 where he obtained the third price. He could have done even better if he had not refused to participate in the on-sight part of the competition.17

Practical and theoretical employment with music would be important to Joyce throughout his whole life. Taking into account the fine tenor voice he inherited from his father, the success at the Feis Ceoil is not surprising. Nora was convinced he should abandon writing altogether and take up singing: “Jim should have stuck to music instead of bothering with writing”18. He was concerned to keep the musical element in his family alive and passed a recommendation to his son Giorgio, concerning Moore’s Irish Melodies.19 As can be read in this letter, Joyce had thorough knowledge of the Melodies, the words, the music, how the songs were to be sung, their hidden meanings, the Irish myths and legends to which they refer.20 I will explain the importance of Moore’s Irish Melodies in more detail in the chapter about “Two Gallants”.

In his private life he used music rarely as a matter of passive appreciation but was primarily concerned with its performance.21 The songs are seen as a possibility to escape the dull and grey every day life. Music and singing also serve as a loophole for emotional energies. In these respects he used music in Dubliners. It could consequently even be stated that Dublin is such a musical town because the operation range of the citizens is limited by the paralysis and music is the only possibility of escape.

4.1 Eveline: “The Lass that Loves a Sailor”

The Moon on the ocean was dimm’d by a ripple, Affording a chequer’d delight; The gay jolly tars pass’d the word for the tipple, And the toast, for t’was Saturday night. Some sweetheart or wife, he lov’d as his life, Each drank and whish’d he could hail her: But the standing toast, That pleas’d the most Was ”the wind that blows, the ship that goes, And the lass that loves a sailor.”

Some drank “The Queen,” and some her brave ships, And some ”The Constitution;” Some “May our foes, and all such rips, Yield to English resolution;” That fate might bless some Poll or Bess, And that they soon might hail her; But the standing toast, That pleas’d the most Was ”the wind that blows, the ship that goes, And the lass that loves a sailor.”

Some drank “The Prince,” and some “Our Land,” This glorious land of freedom;

Some “That our tars may never want Heroes brave to lead them;” “That she who’s in distress may find Such friends as ne’er will fail her;” But the standing toast, That pleas’d the most Was ”the wind that blows, the ship that goes, And the lass that loves a sailor.”22

In „Eveline“ there is not only one song mentioned, but the musical allusions create a musical pattern throughout the story. The combination of the various allusions provides the reader with an auditory experience which gives him the impression of not only reading the story but being inside it, listening to what the characters hear and feel how they feel. The aural elements are the Broken Harmonium in Eveline’s living room (D, 30), the opera The Bohemian Girl which Frank takes her to see (D, 31), the song “The Lass that Loves a Sailor” which Frank sings to her (D, 32) and the Italian Air played by the street organ (D, 32). The implicit auditory experience is further accentuated by a complex system of figures of speech which help to convey feeling, mood and character.23

The Broken Harmonium points to the now long gone once happy days. It is referred to in the context of the description of Eveline’s living room where it stands next to a yellowing photograph of a priest and a coloured print of the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. This vicinity implies that when Eveline’s mother was still alive, everything was in order. The children played merrily, her father joked with them and there was space for feelings, expressed through the music. Now, only the negative figure of her drunken, abusive, unfeeling and always complaining father remains.24

The opera The Bohemian Girl25 makes Eveline aware of her social status as“she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre” (D, 31). While with her family, she could never afford the tickets Frank now treats her to. However, this statement implies that it is not her first time to the opera. It remains unclear if her last visit dates back before or after her mother’s death.

Eveline’s proposed trip to Buenos Aires can be seen as a parody on the abduction and long absence of the heroine Arline. Unlike Arline, Eveline agrees to be captured. Anything that takes her out of her present prison26 is welcome. Since the opera has a happy ending, Eveline identifies with it; it takes her out of herself. Whether she realises later on that her engagement with Frank is only another form of the golden cage or if she simply cannot let go is not said. Eveline therefore identifies with the opera because it presents a status she will never reach.27

“The lass that loves a sailor” was composed in 1811 by Charles Dibdin for “The Round Robin”. It is also the sub-title of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore28, a comic opera in two acts which opened at the Opera Comique in London on May 25 1878.29 In the opera it is associated with love and romance not to be whereas Dibdin’s song is a very gentlemanly ballad about sailors tippling and offering toasts and hence adds an ironic touch to the story. “People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused” (D, 32). The lyrics of the refrain fit closely to Eveline’s story. The “pleasantly confused” feeling is mirrored in the lyrics as “pleased the most”. When they get to the boat which is supposed to bring them to Buenos Aires they are on “the ship that goes”. And “the lass that loves a sailor” is, of course, Eveline.

Nevertheless the song presents a conflict between reality and imagination, even though it is this time more of a foreshadowing. We can listen to the sailors, presenting their toasts on a Saturday night, each wishing to hail “some sweetheart or wife”. Obviously, the sweethearts or wives are not present at this moment. So even if Frank really married her, she would still be alone, only in a different city this time. For her sailor she would be exchangeable, it is indifferent for them if they hail “some Poll or Bess”. In the end she would be dependent again, waiting for a salvation which is not sure to come. The organ player closes the circle and returns to the connection to her mother. By hearing the organ which also played in the night her mother died she is reminded “of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the family together as long as she could” (D, 33). The tension involved in her forthcoming decision with which she radically strips herself off her former life becomes apparent. The contrast is exemplified by the “melancholy air of Italy” (D, 33) associated with romance, adventure and sun and her father’s statement of the “Damned Italians” (D, 33). In Eveline’s imagination Italy holds the key to lyrical sensuality and passion. Since Frank is representing love, health, excitement and adventure her father comes to play the counterpart of a world of sacrifice, sickness and mania.30

The reality in this story is present in the musical elements like the broken harmonium and the street organ. The romantic element is exemplified in the “Bohemian Girl”. The final revelation becomes apparent in the song “The Lass that loves a Sailor” which shows that Eveline cannot feel enough love for Frank to go to Buenos Aires with him. She is tied so closely to her past31 that she cannot believe in his promise as much as she wants it to be true and to experience a romance like Arline does.

4.2 Two Gallants: “Silent, O Moyle!”

Silent, O Moyle! Be the roar of thy water, Break not, ye breezes! Your chain of repose, While, murmuring mournfully, Lir’s lonely daughter Tells to the nightstar her tale of woes. When shall the Swan, her deathnote singing, cabinet minister in charge of the Royal Navy. A surprise twist changes everything dramatically near the end of the story.


1 Allan Hepburn, “Noise, Music, Voice, Dubliners”, Bronze by Gold. The Music of Joyce, ed. Sebastian D.G. Knowles (New York: Garland, 1999) 190-212, at 189.

2 Robert Haas, “Music in Dubliners”, Colby Quarterly, Bd. 28. Heft 1/March (1992) 18-33, at 23.

3 Cf. Haas 20.

4 Cf. Haas 23.

5 Cf. Haas 24.

6 Cf. Haas 27.

7 Cf. Hepburn 192.

8 Cf. Zack Bowen, The Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce (New York: State University of NY Press, 1974) 12.

9 Cf. Mabel Worthington, Matthew Hodgart, Song in the Works of James Joyce, (New York: Columbia UP, 1959).

10 Cf. Bowen 3.

11 Cf. Ruth Bauerle, ed., The James Joyce Songbook (New York: Garland, 1982).

12 Cf. Bowen 4.

13 Cf. Bauerle, The James Joyce Songbook, XVII.

14 Cf. Bauerle, The James Joyce Songbook, XX.

15 Cf. Herbert Sherman Gorman, James Joyce (New York: Octagon, 1974) 18.

16 The Feis Ceoil is Irelands largest traditional music festival.

17 Cf. Nicholas A. Fargnoli and Michael Patrick Gillespie, Critical Companion to James Joyce. A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, rev. ed. of James Joyce A to Z (1995) (New York: Checkmark, 2006) 7.

18 Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford UP, 1959) 174.

19 Songs recommended to his son Giorgio: “Fly not yet, O, ye dead, Quick we have but a second (this needs a lot of breath), The Time I lost in wooing, Silent, O Moyle! (this is a lovely air, but Giorgio should study the legend of Lir’s daughters)” See: James Joyce, Letters. III, ed. Richard Ellmann (Leipzig: Faber,1966) 342.

20 David Pierce, James Joyce’s Ireland (New Haven: Yale UP, 1992) 36.

21 David Pierce 37.

22 Bauerle, The James Joyce Songbook, 156.

23 Cf. Bettina Knapp, “’Eveline’ An Auditory Experience”, Etudes Irlandaises, No. 10 Nouvelle Série (Décembre 1985): 67-76, at 68.

24 Cf. Knapp 72.

25 See „Clay“ for further description of the opera.

26 She sits on the window sill, divided from the outside world by the window pane.

27 Cf. Knapp 73.

28 Bauerle, The James Joyce Songbook 155.

29 The opera's gentle satire reprises and builds on love between members of different social classes. It also pokes good-natured fun at the Royal Navy, parliamentary politics and the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority. The title of the work itself is humorous, as it juxtaposes the name of a little girl's garment, pinafore, with the symbol of a naval war ship. The plot revolves around a naval captain's daughter who is in love with a lower-class foremast hand (a common sailor, well below officer rank), even though her father intends her to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty, the

30 Warren Beck, Joyce’s Dubliners. Substance, Vision and Art (Durham: Duke UP, 1969) 67.

31 The promise to her mother and the aging objects in her living room.

Excerpt out of 25 pages


The Use of Music in Joyce's Style, Characterization, Structure and Theme
University of Augsburg  (Lehrstuhl für Englische Literaturwissenschaft)
James Joyce - Dubliners
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
475 KB
Music, Joyce, Style, Characterization, Structure, Theme, James, Joyce, Dubliners
Quote paper
Elisa Berlin (Author), 2007, The Use of Music in Joyce's Style, Characterization, Structure and Theme, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Use of Music in Joyce's Style, Characterization, Structure and Theme

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free