"A Nicely Polished Looking-Glass": James Joyce and Emilia Pardo Bazán

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"A Nicely Polished Looking-Glass": James Joyce and Emilia Pardo Bazán
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Journal of Undergraduate Research
Iglesias, Christina
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Aside from their shared Celtic heritage, Ireland and Galicia found themselves in interestingly similar situations at the turn of the 20th century. As the rest of Europe thrived with industry, social revolution, and new ideas, the peoples of Ireland and Galicia languished, isolated within intellectually and commercially stagnant communities. Like their native countries, James Joyce and Emilia Pardo Bazán, too, found themselves in a parallel situation. Both lived simultaneously among and outside their respective cultures, flourishing intellectually and academically while processing the unavoidable reality that their homes remained stagnant even as the rest of the world modernized. Their works contain some of the best portrayals of the colonial situation their peoples faced, as well as some of the most interesting explanations for why they had to.

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"A Nicely Polished Looking-Glass": James Joyce and Emilia
Pardo Bazan

Christina Iglesias

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Aside from their shared Celtic heritage, Ireland and Galicia found themselves in interestingly similar situations at the turn
of the 20th century. As the rest of Europe thrived with industry, social revolution, and new ideas, the peoples of Ireland
and Galicia languished, isolated within intellectually and commercially stagnant communities. Like their native countries,
James Joyce and Emilia Pardo Bazan, too, found themselves in a parallel situation. Both lived simultaneously among and
outside their respective cultures, flourishing intellectually and academically while processing the unavoidable reality that
their homes remained stagnant even as the rest of the world modernized. Their works contain some of the best portrayals
of the colonial situation their peoples faced, as well as some of the most interesting explanations for why they had to.

I. Historical Context

The turn of the century unveiled a rapidly changing
world, one moved by industry toward economic and social
change. The boom of industry sounded a faint echo,
however, for those in Ireland and the Spanish province of
Galicia. Canning and cigar factories were the only
evidence of industry in the Galician capital, La Coruia.
Even these, however, were funded and controlled by
Catalan, British, and Basque investors (Gemie 45). Thus,
what industry did exist yielded no benefit for the Galician
Another visible expression of Galicia's failure to
modernize is the prominence of caciquismo, the system by
which the nobility of Galicia, or hildaguia, maintained total
political control of the region. Voters in Galicia were
manipulated by caciques by means of bribes, public
holidays, sermons, and speeches. When these maneuvers
failed, the peasants were threatened by the insurmountable
penalty of higher taxes. While the rest of Spain engaged in
extinguishing caciquismo with relative success, Galicia
suffered quietly. Most historians agree that it was Galicia's
pre-modemity that prevented rebellion from occurring.
Indeed, Galicia of 1900 was essentially a chain of
crystallized medieval towns. Sharif Gemie describes the
Galician countryside as a "densely elaborate spider's web,
stretching from the house, through the hamlet, the village,
the parish, to the market town" (46). The Spanish census of
1920 revealed that Galicia was home to 40 percent of all
the villages in the country (Gemie 46). In his book,
Historia de Galicia, Ram6n Villares affirms that rather
than specialize, the typical Galician peasant served as both
farmer and artisan, working only to support himself and his
family (138). Galicia entered the 20th century virtually void

of modes of communication or transportation. Indeed, it
was only at the very end of the 19th century that the first
railroad system was established (Villares 140). This
predicament was responsible for Galicia's failure to
organize and improve its conditions. In many ways, the
difficulty of communication was secondary in importance
to the impossibility of establishing a collective identity as a
region (Gemie 46). Without a doubt, Galicia at the turn of
the century functioned as a colonial society. Thus, Galicia
faced the dawn of the new century intellectually,
politically, economically, and socially paralyzed.
Undeniably, the Ireland of the early 1900s also suffered
tremendously from the effects of colonial circumstances. In
her book, Dublin: The Deposed Capital, Mary E. Daly
describes Dublin as "the entrepot for British trade and
commercial influence and presumably the main centre for
the diffusion of British culture in Ireland" (1). In the wake
of modernity, Dublin's native industries simply did not
develop, with the exception of brewing and biscuits (320).
The implication of Ireland's failure to industrialize is that
the majority of its goods were imported from Britain.
Moreover, while most high-ranking occupations in Ireland
were held by members of the British upper classes, the
native Irish people were doomed to unemployment. Indeed,
Ireland and Galicia alike suffered the social issues
universal to poverty: unhealthy diets, dirty and crowded
housing, disease, alcoholism, and prostitution. Starving,
barefooted children roamed the streets of Dublin (O'Brien
175). In 1910, a total of 3,758 people were categorically
drunk when arrested (Daly 81). The Irish countryside, like
that of Galicia, was largely medieval in structure and
functioned independently of modem technology and ideas.
The Irish situation was complicated by the Irishman's
status as a second-class citizen in his own country, as rabid

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British stereotypes portrayed the Irish as simian in
appearance, attitude, and intelligence (Cheng 33). As a
result, many members of the upper classes viewed the
misery of the lower classes as inevitable due to their
fundamental ignorance.
Interestingly enough, both Galicia and Ireland responded
to their respective circumstances with nationalist revival.
Indeed, the Irish Revival and Galician Rexurdiment
coexisted historically in the years before and after the turn
of the century. F.S.L. Lyons writes, "Against the
accusation of barbarism, [the Irish] constructed a consoling
image of an ancient civilization a land of saints and
scholars, a commitment to monastic Christianity that had
laid much of Europe in its debt" (11). Both revivals placed
heavy emphasis on the legacy of a glorious Celtic past, a
heritage both countries shared. Many Galician writers,
including Rosalia de Castro, published works in gallego,
the original language of Galicia, while Irish nationalists
emphasized the revival of Gaelic. Douglas Hyde, a
prominent Irish nationalist, encouraged the Irish people to
abandon English culture, even in literature, music, and
dress (Lee 137-138). Naturally, these flares of nationalist
sympathy were accompanied by hostility toward the
colonial powers they blamed for their woes. Their
eagerness to pinpoint a villain, however, did little to solve
their problems. As Gemie points out, "by scapegoating the
caciques in this manner, nationalists avoided discussing
other important questions concerning rural social
hierarchies" (83). Neither Bazin nor Joyce identified
wholly with these revivals. Though Bazin maintained an
interest in Galician folklore and culture, she stated
explicitly that the true language of Galicia was traditional
Spanish, or castellano, not gallego (Pattison 9). While the
subject matter of virtually all of his work concerned
Ireland, Joyce spent most of his adult life abroad rather
than join the nationalist movement.
Both Joyce and Bazin spent their lives in pursuit of
illuminating the problems their generations inherited from
society. In his book, The Catholic Naturalism of Pardo
Bazan, Donald Brown writes: "Bazin thought there could
never be anything wrong with saying the truth about things,
however painful it was to hear; it was false patriotism to
misrepresent; only through facing the truth could Spain
pull herself out of the morass of ignorance, political
corruption, and slothfulness into which she had fallen"
(40). In a letter to his publishers aimed at publishing
Dubliners as he had written it, Joyce writes "I seriously
believe that you will retard the course of civilization in
Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one
good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-
glass" (qtd. in Balzano 83). Yet another correlation brings
the writers together-their unmitigated certainty that the
tendency among their respective peoples to ignore the
problems their nations faced was what most harmed them.

II. Emigration Stories

Perhaps the most lucid example of the correlation
between Galicia and Ireland is the juxtaposition of Joyce's
"Eveline" and Bazin's "Las Medias Rojas." Both tell the
story of a young woman living under the thumb of her
father, a violent widower, who is seduced by the possibility
of escaping her homeland in pursuit of a promising future
in America. Both women expect to arrive at independence,
financial stability, and respect-yet on the day of
departure, neither is aboard her respective ship. Most
importantly, another force acts behind the scenes in both
"Eveline" and "Las Medias Rojas," one not specifically
mentioned but certainly alluded to in both texts: the
possibility that both of their journeys were destined for
prostitution abroad.
The most significant difference between their frustrated
voyages is the obstacle preventing their flight. Eveline,
frozen on the spot, watches her boat sail away, suddenly
indifferent to her lover's cries to follow him; Joyce writes,
"Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or
recognition" (Joyce, Dubliners 32). The implications of
her refusal to emigrate are disputable. Nevertheless, the
prevailing interpretation, regardless of how it is arrived at,
is that Eveline exemplifies the "paralysis" that haunts all of
the Dubliners in Joyce's work-she is trapped within a
cycle of stagnation, from which any effort to escape is
eventually revealed as delusional. Ildara, on the other hand,
is rendered physically unable to board her boat. Prior to her
departure, she uses the miniscule amount of money given
to her by her middleman to purchase for herself a pair of
red stockings (a purchase suggested by the middleman
himself). Upon discovering the stockings, her father, Tio
Clodio beats her, essentially, to a pulp. Not only does she
lose a tooth in the ensuing struggle, but due to a "retinal
detachment," she is blinded in one eye.
In her book James Joyce, Sexuality and Social Purity,
Katherine Mullin compiles extensive relevant research on
the white slave trade panic. Brenda Maddox writes on the
first page of her 1988 biography about James Joyce's wife,
Nora: "In every young Irish mind the question of
emigration is as inescapable as it has been since the Great
famine of the 1840s" (qtd. in Norris 56). Propaganda
warning against the evils and dangers of emigration
flooded Ireland at the turn of the century, tales of seduction
and abandonment, "startlingly uniform melodramas of
innocent country girls, villainous suitors from overseas,
false promises of marriage, and, eventually, the
chloroformed cloth, hypodermic syringe or drugged drink
that led to certain 'ruin' in an overseas 'house of shame"'
(Mullin 67). Mullin goes on, however, to point out that
Joyce's treatment of the subject matter is "distinctly
tongue-in-cheek, since in the first decade of the twentieth
century, social purity movements like the National

University of Florida I Journal of Undergraduate Research I Volume 10, Issue 3 I Summer 2010


Vigilance Association were bitterly resented in nationalist
Ireland as compromising that very self-sufficiency The
Irish Homestead hoped to instill" (74). Indeed, by the time
Joyce published "Eveline," a fair amount of skepticism had
also begun to circulate, mostly in response to the
undeniably obvious degree of exaggeration discernible in
the propaganda (77). This phenomenon was indisputably
Pan-European, affecting the continent as well as Britain
and Ireland. Gemie expounds on how a Galician woman's
journey across the ocean differed from a man's: "they were
usually poorer, they were exploited by the ships' crews,
and-worse still-there was a thriving trans-Atlantic sex
industry, in which women were shipped from Spain to
Argentina to become prostitutes" (52).
Bazan's treatment of the subject is strikingly different
from Joyce's: while Eveline is probably aware of the white
slave trade hysteria (as evidenced by the apparent
prevalence of related propaganda in Dublin), it does not
seem as though Ildara has any idea where she is headed,
geographically or otherwise-nor is she necessarily
worried about it. The narrator's mention of the "gancho,"
or middleman travel agent, is haunting-it is just as
obvious to him as it is to the reader that poor, uneducated
village women like Ildara will do anything to escape their
poverty. Perhaps the question is not so much whether
Ildara will remain at home or suffer a life of demeaning
humiliation as a prostitute, but whether she would
eventually prostitute herself in her own country or abroad.
At the end of the story, though, her ability to live
independently of her father is permanently jeopardized, as
his beating renders her completely useless.

III. International Context

Bazan's short story, "La Armadura," discusses the
growing irrelevance of the Spanish nobility in a modem
context. Despite her relative leniency toward the ruling
class due to her own status as a member of the aristocracy,
Bazan is not blind to its decline and decadence. "La
Armadura" tells the story of a young duke, Lanzafuerte,
who attends a costume ball as his own grandfather, dressed
in his family armor. By the end of the night, the suit is so
heavy, tight, and suffocating that Lanzafuerte has to return
home on the verge of fainting. At home, his friend
comments, "Espafia es como tu...metida en los moldes del
pasado, y muriendose, porque ni cabe en ellos ni los puede
soltar" (My translation: "Spain is just like you... stuck in
the moulds of the past, and dying, because you do not fit
inside them and refuse to let them go") (Cuentos
Completos 273). It is the nobility's failure to relinquish
antiquated notions of superiority based on family name that
hinders Spain's progress. Ultimately, Lanzafuerte's
arrogance about his legacy blinds him to the fact that he
cannot function in society. It is important that he attends
the ball dressed as his grandfather first and foremost
because he cannot afford a new costume. This failure is

thus both interpersonal and national: Spain is no longer a
world power. Maryellen Bieder writes that Bazan
understood "the fact of being something historical,
finished, inextricably linked to institutions that are today
being called into question by social evolution" (44).
Joyce's short story, "After the Race," too, demonstrates
the reality that in the context of the modem world, Ireland
has been left behind. The story follows Jimmy Doyle, a
young Dubliner, who attends a race with some
international friends and ends the night drunk and
penniless. What is perhaps most interesting about the story,
however, is that it begins by describing how Jimmy's
father came into his money. Once a fervent nationalist, he
had "modified his views early" (Joyce, Dubliners 33).
After making his living as a butcher, he secured police
contracts and ultimately made enough money to send his
son to Cambridge. Essentially, Jimmy's father forfeited his
political views to cater to English hegemony, represented
both by Cambridge and the police, for an attempt at a more
luxurious lifestyle. Despite his education, however, Jimmy
is vacuous to the point of idiocy and consumes his time
formulating pretences that are convincing only to himself.
At the end of the day, Jimmy, like the Irish nation, goes
home empty-handed. Even though he plays the part to the
best of his abilities, his life barely constitutes the role of
supporting actor. Ireland is, at best, an extra in the world
drama-and perpetuates its status as such by ignoring it.

IV. Colonial Elements

The title of Joyce's short story "Two Gallants" sets up
expectations to be disappointed, for its protagonists,
Lenehan and Corley, are anything but gallant. The plot of
the story concerns one of Corley's attempts to seduce a
slaveyy," or domestic servant woman. It is only at the end
of the story that the reader is informed that Corley was
sleeping with the slavey to convince her to steal from her
employer on his behalf. In essence, Corley makes his living
through manipulation and inverse prostitution. Though it is
obvious that Corley is taking advantage of the lower class,
he does not realize that he, too, is being manipulated. Both
Lenehan and Corley are, unbeknownst to them, wholly
manipulated by British supremacy. Indeed, the story is
pervaded with imagery of British dominance over Irish life.
The notion that colonization turns the colonized into
imitations of the colonizer is presented vividly in
Lenehan's distinctly English dress. Joyce's classification of
Lenehan as "leech" is telling-he has no life of his own
except that which he extracts from Britain.
Lenehan is also haunted by the image of the weathered
harpist playing an old Irish melody, Silent, 0 Moyle. As he
walks about the city, his hands inadvertently tap out the
tune of the song on the railings of the Duke's Lawn. Joyce
writes, "The air which the harpist had played began to
control his movements" (Joyce, Dubliners 45). Dressed in
English fashion, Lenehan remains inescapably Irish and

University of Florida I Journal of Undergraduate Research I Volume 10, Issue 3 I Summer 2010


bound to the Irish fate. He is controlled by the stagnation
around him, whether or not he realizes it. Seamus Deane
writes, "The city of Dublin-not just the place but also the
cultural system that constitutes it-exercises an almost
dogmatic authority over the people who inhabit it, yet what
individuality they have best expresses itself in collusion
with that authority" (21).
Bazan treats the effects of a colonial situation on the
poorest of the poor in her story "La Advertencia," in which
a poor Galician peasant woman, Maripepa, immediately
after giving birth to her child is called by her landlords in
Madrid to serve as wet-nurse to their newborn son. The
direness of her situation is such that the opportunity is
virtually the only way to financially support her own
children, especially given the implicit consequence of
disobeying her landlord. Her husband bemoans, "Nos
cumple a los pobres obedecer y aguantar" (My translation:
"The lot of the poor is to obey and to endure") (Cuentos
Completos 208). The situation is made all the more painful
by the implication that Maripepa will be subject to sexual
harassment, perhaps even rape. Her husband tells her at
their parting, "Tu vas para el chiquillo y no para los
grandes, ,oyesme?" (My translation: "You are going for
the child and not for the adults, do you hear me?") (209).
Yet it is clear that both husband and wife are powerless to
defend her honor. The lower class lives only to sustain the
upper class. Maripepa is useful only for her body. Literally,
the poor are milked of their worth by the upper class.

V. The Intellectual of the Backward Nation

The conundrum of the intellectual produced by an
intellectually sterile culture was an issue very near to Joyce
and Bazin, as both experienced it firsthand: both the
experience of living as a stranger in one's own culture and
the frustration precipitated by attempting to change it.
Bazin's story, "El Vidrio Rojo," tells the story of Goros
Aguilln, a young man from the small Galician town of
Santa Mora. As he grows older, Goros tires of his
intellectually and materially impoverished circumstances,
represented in the story by the broken windowpane of his
room. At 15, he travels to South America to escape "aquel
mundo inmundo" (Cuentos Completos 286). Goros works
hard there for a number of years, always sending money
back to his family attached with encouragements to better
the house, making special mention of repairing the broken
windowpane of his youth. The only instruction followed is
the replacement of the broken windowpane, now
substituted by a green glass window. Struck by the sharp
contrast of the new window against the rest of the house,
Goros tells his mother to replace it with the old
windowpane. Goros is suddenly cognizant of what he had
refused to see all his life-that money will not solve their
problem. Their incapacity to use the money is far more
difficult to rectify than their financial poverty. In replacing

the window, Goros was even attempting to take away what
good the country provided his family; Bazan mentions that
"fresh air and the smell of the countryside used to reach
him through that windowpane" ( I hc White Horse" and
Other Stories 140). If their perception of the world is
immutable, why attempt to obfuscate their reality with a
sophisticated window?
Stephen Dedalus of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man experiences the same issue. After winning a
large sum of money for his academic achievement, he
proceeds to embark on a "season of merrymaking" (95)
wherein he hopes to better the life of his impoverished
family by buying them gifts, taking them out to dinner, and
opening up a personal loan bank. Once his money runs out,
however, everything in their lives returns to how it was
before the contest: "How foolish his aim had been! He had
tried to build a breakwater of order and elegance against
the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules
of conduct and active interests and new filial relations, the
powerful recurrence of the tides within him. Useless" (97).
Like Goros, Stephen realizes that mere money cannot
eradicate the morass of ignorance that caused his family's
poverty in the first place. Burdened by shame and anger,
Stephen "felt that he was hardly of the one blood with them
but stood to them rather in the mystical kinship of
fosterage, fosterchild, and fosterbrother" (97). In these
lines, it is clear that Stephen has begun to see himself as
intrinsically superior to his family based on his
intelligence, going so far as to identify himself with Jesus.
Through his tongue-in-cheek description of Stephen's
idealization, Joyce points out that even Stephen has not
managed to escape the negative effects of his surroundings.
Indeed, Bazan begins "El Vidrio Rojo" with a similarly
ironic tone: "There exist beings who are superior or at least
different and even resistant to the environment into which
they're bor" ( I hc White Horse" and Other Stories 137).

VI. Conclusion

At the end of Portrait, Stephen is able to better come to
terms with the culture that raised him. In the final pages of
the novel, he writes in his diary about his friend's failed
attempt to educate an old Irish man in the west of Ireland
about the universe and stars. Stephen writes, "I fear him. I
fear his redrimmed horny eyes. It is with him I must
struggle all through this night till day come, till he or I lie
dead, gripping him by the sinewy throat till... Till what?
Till he yield to me? No. I mean him no harm" (223).
Ultimately, Stephen decides to reconcile all aspects of his
native culture by writing them into art. Arguably, Joyce
attempted to do the same. Maryellen Bieder writes, "The
medium and the goal of [Bazin's] life's work were artistic
creation, which in her view transcended both eternal social
problems and temporal social problems and movements."
In order to combat poverty, despair, and paralysis, Joyce

University of Florida I Journal of Undergraduate Research I Volume 10, Issue 3 I Summer 2010


and Bazan create. I give Bazan the last word: in an article
entitled "Feminismo" (1919), she writes, "Let us console
ourselves with art. Consolkmonos con el arte" (qtd. in
Bieder 54).

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Sensation: Essays on Joyce's Dubliners. Ed. Oona Frawley. New York:
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Bieder, Maryellen. "Women, Literature, and Society: The Essays of Emilia
Pardo Bazan." Ed. Kathleen M. Glenn and Mercedes Mazquiaran de
Rodriguez. Spanish Women Writers and the Essay: Gender, Politics, and the
Self Columbia, Missouri: U of Missouri P, 1998. 25-54. Print.

Brown, Donald F. The Catholic Naturalsm ofPardo Bazdn. Chapel Hill, NC: U
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Cheng, Vincent J. Joyce, Race, andEmpire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

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Gemie, Sharif. Galicia: A Concise History. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2006. Print.

Joyce, James. Dubhners. 1914. Ed. Margot Norris. New York: W.W. Norton &
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Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. Ed. R. B. Kershner.
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Lee, Joseph. The Modernisation ofIrish Society, 1848-1918. Dublin: Gill and
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Lyons, F.S.L. Culture and Anarchy in Ireland, 1890-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP,
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Mullin, Katherine. James Joyce, Sexuality, and Social Purity. New York:
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Norris, Margot. Suspicious Readings ofJoyce's Dubliners. Philadelphia, PA:
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O'Brien, Joseph V. "Dear, Dirty Dublhn": A ( stresss. Los Angeles: U of
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Pardo-Bazan, Emilia. Cuentos Completos. Ed. Juan Paredes-Nuiez. Corunia:
Fundaci6n Pedro Barrie de la Maza Conde de Fenosa, 1990. 4 vols.

Pardo-Bazan, Emilia. "The White Horse" and Other Stories. Trans. Robert M.
Fedorchek. Lewsiburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 1993. Print.

Pattison, Walter T. Emilia Pardo Bazdn. New York:
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Villares, Ram6n. Histora de Galicia. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1985. Print.

University of Florida I Journal of Undergraduate Research I Volume 10, Issue 3 I Summer 2010