Love and Socialism in “A Painful Case”
In “The Open Closet in Dubliners: James Duffy’s Painful Case,” Roberta Jackson challenges the narcissistic characterization of James Joyce’s protagonist that has assumed the level of critical commonplace in Dubliners scholarship. Contextualizing the story within “the homophobic climate that existed in lateVictorian and Edwardian Britain” (88), Jackson contends that the traditional reading of “Duffy’s isolation” as “a neurotic symptom in a man unable to give or receive love” relies on an assumption of his heterosexuality that is challenged throughout “A Painful Case” (90). Rather than reading him as a solipsistic loner who “denie[s] life and happiness” to Emily Sinico (D 113), she argues that “Duffy is trapped,” that “his neuroticism arises from his necessary isolation and his need to distance himself from the homophobia of the patriarchy (90). By taking up Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s suggestion that her queering of Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” would “work just as well-even better-for Joyce,” Jackson highlights a potentially damning limitation of the narcissistic reading of Duffy (83):
Jackson thus implicates traditional criticisms of “A Painful Case” in what Joseph Valente calls the “compulsory heterosexuality” of Joyce scholarship (1), perpetuating the primacy of heteronormativity by assuming Duffy’s rejection of Mrs Sinico to be the refusal of a mutual, reciprocal sexual attraction. However, while she effectively highlights the dangers of automatically castigating Duffy as egotistical, Jackson’s totalizing rejection of such narcissistic analyses precludes an ethical evaluation of his treatment of Mrs Sinico, which ignores her significance to the text and limits the critical potential of Joyce’s story.