Joyce's Hero Mythicized: Charles Stewart Parnell

By Melanie Arndt

This student paper was originally presented to fulfill the requirements of a University Joyce class.

"In his final desperate appeal to his countrymen, he begged them not to throw him as a sop to the English wolves howling around them. It redounds to their honour that they did not fail this appeal. They did not throw him to the English wolves; they tore him to pieces themselves."

James Joyce concluded his essay "The Shade of Parnell" with this statement. Parnell's fate and downfall typified Ireland for Joyce and at a young age Joyce had found his hero. "To be aware of a national attitude at this time was to be aware of Parnell as a hero. Just as small children loved or hated Franklin Roosevelt during the 1940's . . . simply because of the attitude to which they were exposed at home, at school . . . so young Joyce acquired his hero ready-made" (Magalaner 33). This Parnell era coincided with a Jocyean childhood filled with family love, religious fulfillment, and financial soundness. This was the bond, found at a young age, that led a man to continue to glorify his hero throughout his work.
Charles Stewart Parnell was born on June 27, 1846 at Avondale in County Wicklow, Ireland. His ancestry was of both Anglo-Irish and American. Educated in private schools, Parnell attended Cambridge University. He was elected to Parliament in 1975. Parnell, a Protestant who had little in common with his Irish Catholic fellow countrymen, led the Irish members of the British House of Commons in the battle for Irish self-government. Along with former "Fenian," Michael Davitt, he founded the predominantly Catholic Land League to redistribute farm land. He gradually became head of a political group that included nationalists of all extremes-from moderates to militant revolutionaries.
Parnell, a wealthy landowner, did not have much to gain financially from the reforms he sought. However, he began at once to fight for Home Rule. Irish party leaders who had come before Parnell had little success in getting English support. Parnell began a policy of lingering all business of the House of Commons in hopes to force the English members to favor home rule. He became leader of the Irish party in 1877.
During the famine in Ireland, landowners began to drive tenants from their farms. A policy of boycott was adopted all over Ireland due to Parnell's direction. Under this policy, the landowners who had evicted tenants could no longer invite new tenants. Parliament passed a coercion bill to enforce an obedience to this law. Parnell fought back by again postponing the work of the House of Commons. Due to these tactics, Parnell was jailed in 1881.
The Irish and British leaders were forced to work out a compromise due to further chaos in the country and in Parliament. Thus, Parnell was released from jail. In 1882 Home Rule was almost in sight when, unfortunately, two British officials were stabbed in Phoenix Park by assassins belonging to the Invincibles secret society. The two men who were murdered were Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Chief Secretary of Ireland, and T.H. Burke, Cavendish's Under-Secretary. This tragedy both helped and hindered Parnell and his path to Home Rule.
Due to public reaction against the act of terrorism, Parnell had help in persuading many citizens to abandon the radical nationalistic Irish National League and to support his more moderate Home Rule party. Despite this achievement and his public condemnation of the assassination, The London newspaper The Times accused Parnell of encouraging Irish violence. The newspaper printed a letter, supposedly written by Parnell, that approved of the Phoenix Park murders. Parnell refused authorship of the said letter. A trial showed the letters were written by a forger. Although damaging at first, this incident increased Parnell's popularity.
Once again, just when Home Rule was to become a success, a situation became public that ruined the career of Parnell. Katie O'Shea, the wife of William O'Shea who was one of Parnell's party aides, had been Parnell's mistress for seven years. In 1889, Captain O'Shea sued his wife for divorce although he had given silent consent to the affair. Parnell was incriminated in the suit and intimate details that were exposed became an embarrassment for all. ". . . Katherine and Parnell addressed one another as 'King' and 'Queen' in private. One of Parnell's code names . . . 'Mr. Fox' became widely known, while Mrs. O'Shea was . . . referred to as 'Kitty' which was coincidentally a slang term for prostitution" (Lyons 141).
Parnell and Katie were soon married after the divorce was granted. The scandal created a storm of protest by the Catholic church in both England and Ireland. As his power diminished, Parnell was falsely accused of exorbitant acts; one being that he embezzled the Land Leagues funds to subsidize his love affair. Ironically, at the urging of Davitt and Tim Healy, the Irish party dismissed Parnell.
He died of exhaustion in Brighton, England on October 6, 1891. On the day of his funeral, as many as 150,000 people accompanied his sealed coffin to Glasnevin cemetery led by the radical Fenians whose support Parnell had at the end of his power. "In a revulsion of popular feeling, Parnell gained a kind of mythic status even among many of those who had attacked him, and as it became clear that Nationalism was in disarray he became the 'dead king' who alone could have led Ireland to independence" (601).
Ivy Day is a day informally observed as the anniversary of the death of Parnell, October the 6th. On this day, Parnell's followers commemorate his memory by wearing a sprig of ivy in their lapels. "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" is a short story almost dedicated to the man whose death Ivy Day falls on and the date on which this story takes place. "He (Joyce) sets the time of the story as an anniversary of the death of Parnell, symbolic of the death of principle and moral righteousness in government and the rise of factionalism based on self-interest and mean expediency" (Magalaner 80). The committee room in the story also alludes to Committee Room No. 5 in the Houses of Parliament in London where on December 6, 1890; Parnell lost control if the Irish Home Rule.
"Nowhere else . . . did Joyce find a form so appropriate for his love and contempt of the place (Dublin); and nowhere else did he capture so well its authentic tone and quality" (Tindall 33). This quote comes from a discussion of "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" and introduces the theme of Parnell in the story. The dead hero is the core of the value. The men gathered in the "committee room" are campaign workers of various political loyalties. As the day draws to an end, they drink stout and argue over and express their cynical opinions about the forthcoming election. "'What I mean, said Mr. Lyons, is we have our ideals . . . Do you think now after what he did Parnell was a fit man to lead us? And why, then, would we do it for Edward the Seventh?' 'This is Parnell's anniversary, said Mr. O'Connor, and don't let us stir up any bad blood. We all respect him now that he's dead and gone-even the Conservatives'" (Joyce 132). Despite their critical views and argumentive spirit, their sentimental affections for their dead hero come to a harmony after the recitation of Joe Hyne's poem "The Death of Parnell".
"He is dead. Our Uncrowned King is dead/O, Erin, mourn with grief and woe/For he lies dead whom the fell gang/Of modern hypocrites laid low" (Joyce 134). By ending the story with this sentimental poem, Joyce strengthens an experience of contradiction and irony. The stirring verses of the poem point to the nostalgic view of Parnell that Hynes and the other endure. While the sincerity of Hyne's words are in stark contrast to the hypocrisy of their day.
The first time Parnell's name is mentioned in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is when Stephen Dedalus falls into a fitful sleep and then lulled by the words which Brother Michael is reading about the death of Charles Parnell. Stephen's preoccupation with his illness and his fears of death merge with his thoughts about Parnell's death as he dreams. He begins to identify his own plight with that of the rejected hero. ". . . and he saw a multitude of people gathered by the water's edge . . . a tall man stood on the deck . . . and by the light . . . he saw his face . . . he saw him lift his hands toward the people and heard him say . . . 'He is dead. We saw him lying upon the catafalque' . . . A wail of sorrow went up from the people 'Parnell! Parnell! He is dead!' They fell upon their knees, moaning in sorrow" (Joyce 36).
Parnell's death becomes more significant in the Christmas dinner scene which takes place in the novel right after Stephen's dream. This dinner scene was taken right from the Joyce home. "A frequent visitor to the home was John Kelly . . . a fervent patriot . . . they disagreed furiously over the role of the Catholic Church in Parnell's fall, as reflected in the Christmas dinner scene in the Portrait . . . unfortunately such arguments . . . became more frequent within the household" (Beja 5).
At the beginning of this scene, Stephen is happy to be back in the comforts of home; the meal will be his ceremonial initiation into adulthood. Stephen expects this world of grownups to be filled with the joy, excitement and peace of the season. Ironically, the dinner becomes a scene of a harsh, vengeful, religious and political debate. This traumatic experience causes Stephen to wonder about the disappointing truths about the adults in the Dedalus household. The scene also marks the beginning of Stephen's loss of innocence. Stephen will soon begin to view the world with more cynicism and apathy. "Stephen, raising his terrorstricken face, saw that his father's eyes were full of tears" (Joyce 46).
Like Joyce, Stephen sees himself as Parnell's successor, an Artist-Hero who may save Ireland. "...shown that 'language is a creator of reality', demonstrates that the shape of reality Stephen-Joyce finds is one 'determined primarily by the association of words.' When one by one, all the elements that have given stability to his (Stephen) life fail him-father, Parnell, religion, teachers-he still retains . . . his word associations" (Magalaner 232). In Stephen's mind, his word associations will turn him into Ireland's next hero. "Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of freedom and power of his soul" (Joyce 150).
Staunch supporters of Parnell, Simon Dedalus and Mr. Casey begin the fight by denouncing the Catholic Church by asking why priest must be involved in politics. "'And preach politics from the altar, is it?' asked Mr. Dedalus" (39). Dante retorts back with "'A priest would not be a priest if he did not tell his flock what is right and what is wrong." Dante, who was a supporter of Parnell, denounces the hero through her church. The Catholic Church has apparently became most important to her. "Devil out of hell! We won! We crushed him to death! Fiend!" (46).
Although Stephen's mind is racing with memories of Parnell stories, the adults show concern for him only once. With that, Dante hotly retorts, "O, he'll remember all this when he grows up . . . the language he heard against God and religion and priests in his own home" (41). Ironically, it is Parnell and his plight Stephen takes with him from the table.
In Ulysses, Parnell is all over the place. The presence of Parnell hovers over about seven of the eighteen episodes. Parnell is one of the main motifs and metaphors of the novel. The main motif is Bloom as a substitute for Parnell. "By referring frequently to Parnell, by hinting at Bloom's involvement in political affairs . . . by having Bloom think of Parnell often, Joyce arouses our expectations that Parnell is a prefiguration of Bloom. Like Bloom, Parnell did not have Irish blood" (Schwarz 50).
In the text, the reader finds many parallels of Bloom to a Christ figure, an Elijah, and Moses. At the end of the "Cyclops" section, Bloom rises from the street to an ascent into Heaven. "When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven" (Joyce 345). Joyce not only links Bloom to Moses; he has linked Parnell to Moses in "The Shade of Parnell." He spoke of Parnell as "another Moses, who led a turbulent and unstable people from the house of shame to the verge of the Promised Land" (Schwarz 52). Like Moses, Parnell saw his promised land as an independent nation, but was not allowed to enter it. The heroic figure typified by Christ is apparent in Parnell as well. His plight through a series of betrayals and ridicule typifies the plight of Christ. Bloom, also, fights his way through the muck of ridicule and betrayal of "friends."
In the "Circe" section, Bloom plays the Parnell role. Leopold becomes Lord Mayor of Dublin and his rise and fall evokes that of Parnell. The causal remark from the whore Zoe, "Go on. Make a stump speech out of it," stirs up Bloom's desire to serve mankind and win the public love he is missing. As a spokesman for the working class (like Parnell), he becomes a hero and is acclaimed "the world's greatest reformer" and is declared "emperor president and king chairman." However, his fears break into his fantasy and like the Irish leader, Parnell, he is denounced. The Mob cries out "Lynch him! Roast him! He's as bad as Parnell was. Mr. Fox!" (Joyce 492). Bloom is the successor to Parnell. For Joyce. He had to give his hero a successor. And what better man than Leopold Bloom?
The Citizen in the "Cyclops" section calls Bloom "A new apostle to the gentiles" and remarks "That's the new Messiah for Ireland." These condescending remarks reflect Bloom's likeliness to Parnell. Both men were neglected, ostracized, unrecognized, and crucified by their own countrymen.
Bloom's marriage to and situation with Molly is also paralleled to Parnell's relationship to Kitty O'Shea. Parnell was destroyed by a woman; according to Mr. Deasy in the "Nestor" section, "A woman brought Parnell low." Like Molly, Kitty O'Shea was a "fine lump of a woman." The shebeen proprietor in the "Eumaeus" section talks of Kitty: "That bitch, that English whore, did for him . . . She put the first nail in his coffin" (650).
During the divorce trials of the O'Shea's, Parnell became a the butt of jokes when it was revealed that he was seen scrambling down a ladder from Kitty's room in his nightclothes. In the "Ithaca" section, the keyless Bloom scrambles to get into his own home. "Resting his feet . . . he climbed over the area railings . . . lowered his body graduall . . . and allowed his body to move freely in space" (668).
Captain O'Shea also serves as a parallel to Bloom. O'Shea was impotent like Leopold. He also looked away from his wife's affair with Parnell as Bloom shies away from the Blazes affair. While the others in the "Eumaeus" section are joking of Kitty's charms and her husband's impotence, Bloom reflects on the trial. "His view that of conventionalized bourgeois romanticism which regards the husband as a supernumerary and the gifted lover and yielding wife as the victims of their own heroic stature and inflammable nature" (Blamires 218). Bloom's reflection of the Parnell love triangle is a reflection of the love triangle going on in his own home.
Stephen identifies himself with Parnell not only in Portrait, but in Ulysses as well. A fellow victim of Ireland, Stephen feels he has been betrayed by Irishmen. Parnell's alias was Mr. Fox; Stephen views himself as a sly fox. In the "Nestor" section his vision of his fox-self appears: ". . . beneath winking stars a fox, red reek of rapine in his fur, with merciless bright eyes scraped in the earth, listened, scraped up the earth, listened, scraped, and scraped" (Joyce 28). As also found in Portrait, the artist Stephen wants to become will gain him closer to the hero. The very act of assuming another identity binds him to Parnell, since as an artist Stephen will necessarily assume a variety of roles as he imagines how others think and feel.
In the "Scylla and Charybdis" section Stephen thinks of Shakespeare as "Christfox." It is an image that combines three figures-Shakespeare, Christ, and Parnell -- three men who he regards as forerunners and spiritual fathers due to being misunderstood victims. "Christfox in leather trews, hiding, a runaway in blighted treeforks from hue and cry . . . walking lonely in the chase. Women he won to him, tender people, a whore of Babylon, ladies of justices, bully tapsters' wives. Fox and geese . . . now her leaves falling, all, bare, frighted of the narrow grave and unforgiven" (Joyce 193). Through the deep metaphor of the fox, Stephen suggests an apostolic sequence from God to Christ to Shakespeare to Parnell. Both characters, Bloom and Stephen, either visualize themselves to Parnell-Christ or Joyce visualizes Parnell-Christ to the characters for you.
The betrayal and return of Parnell is certainly one of the themes of Ulysses. As mentioned and discussed, the betrayal of Parnell is embedded in both Bloom and Stephen as symbols of Christ. In the "Eumaeus" section, Gumley, former revolutionary, and the stones he lays upon remind Bloom of the legend that Parnell is not dead and that his coffin is filled with stones. "The legend has an ironical implication: those of Parnell's followers who turned on him at the crisis virtually stoned him. They were his beneficiaries, tenants whose holdings were his gift, but they took up stones to cast at him" (Blamires 221). This passage exemplifies the betrayal shown towards Parnell and the idea that Parnell is still alive.
The legend of Parnell's return to save his people have no factual basis, yet, the people of Dublin live in this hope. This legend is parallel to today's tabloid stories that Elvis Presley is still alive and well and will return to his fans. "Given that one of the central theme of Ulysses is the return, it stands to reason that there will be numerous variations on the motif, and that these would overlap one another: Bloom's thought that 'in nine cases out of ten' someone who returns, after being thought dead, lives in 'complete oblivion because it was twenty odd years' establishes a connection between Odysseus and other men not recognized after a twenty-year absence" (McCarthy 55). Bloom's thoughts of a man's return takes place in the "Hades" section where return motif shows up numerous times.
Bloom wonders if Paddy Dignam is alive after all. His "undeath" and return is paralleled, of course, to Parnell. "And if he was alive all the time? Whew! By Jingo, that would be awful! No, no: he is dead, of course. Of course he is dead . . . They ought to have some law to pierce the heart and make sure or an electric clock or a telephone in the coffin" (Joyce 111). Leopold's hilarious thoughts parallels to the words of Hynes (who, ironically wrote the Parnell tribute poem in "Ivy Day") spoken a couple of pages later. "'Let us go round by the chief's grave,' Hynes said. 'We have time.' 'Some say he is not in that grave at all. That coffin was filled with stones. That one day he will come again' Hynes shook his head. 'Parnell will never come again, he said. He's there, all that was mortal of him. Peace to his ashes'" (112-113).
Alf Bergan does not believe the fact that Paddy Dignam is dead in the "Cyclops" section. He claims to have seen him not long ago. "'How's Willy Murray those times, Alf?' 'I don't know, says Alf. I saw him just now in Capel Street with Paddy Dignam.' 'With who?' 'With Dignam,' says Alf. 'Don't you know he's dead?' Says Joe. 'Paddy Dignam dead?' Says Alf. 'Sure I'm after seeing him not five minutes ago' 'You saw his ghost then,' says Joe, 'God between us and harm.' 'Dead!' says Alf. 'He is no more dead than you are'" (301). If the legend that Parnell will return establishes him as a semi-version of Odysseus, Alf's account of Paddy Dignam's lasting presence is a comically version of the return motif
"For Joyce, the triumph of petty-minded moralism over the idealism and self-sacrifice of Parnell was a warning that Ireland posed dangers to other forces of liberation, including those of literary art" (McCarthy 3). Joyce took his own liberation and not only showed the world his Dear, Dirty Dublin, he also showed the world how important Parnell was and is in many minds (especially his). To read Joyce is to have an appreciation of a man, a hero, torn down from power by the hypocrites who put him there. Parnell will be perpetually mythicized by his worshipper.


Beja, Morris. James Joyce: A Literary Life. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.

Blamires, Harry. The Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Joyce's Ulysses. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1966.

Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study. New York: Vintage Books,1955.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Boston, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

Lyons, F.S.L. Charles Stewart Parnell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Magalaner, Marvin and Richard M. Kain. Joyce: The man, the work, the reputation. New York: New York University Press, 1956.

McCarthy, Patrick A. Ulysses: Portals of Discovery. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Schwarz, Daniel R. Reading Joyce's Ulysses. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Tindell, William York. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce. New York: Octagon Books, 1971.

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