A Century Apart: Intimacy, Love and Desire from James Joyce to Emma Donoghue

  • Teresa Casal


This chapter rereads James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ (Dubliners, 1914) alongside Emma Donoghue’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’ (Touchy Subjects, 2006) so as to consider how they represent love, desire and the longing for intimacy in their respective historical contexts, and specifically whether self-sacrifice, rated as the ultimate proof of love in ‘The Dead’, persists or is replaced by different configurations of love and intimacy in Donoghue’s contemporary Ireland.

Written roughly a century apart, both narratives feature stories of love and desire, both resort to interior monologue, albeit to different effect, and while Joyce’s short story is set in Dublin and looks westward, Donoghue’s unfolds during a conference on bilingualism in Galway. The Ireland longed for by Molly Ivors in ‘The Dead’ thus provides the setting for Donoghue’s story, and the heterosexual desire that was not consummated in ‘The Dead’ gives way to the consummation of homosexual desire in ‘Speaking in Tongues’. Yet, a close comparative reading of both stories indicates that if in ‘The Dead’ heroic self-sacrificial love is explicitly addressed and taken as the ultimate form of love, ‘Speaking in Tongues’ depicts contemporary lovers acting upon an internalised form of non-heroic sacrifice of which the reader alone becomes aware.

By looking into the narrative architecture of each story and how they respectively orchestrate different voices within them, this essay considers whether the self-deprecating and self-sufficient reasoning that draws Donoghue’s protagonists apart may read as the early-twenty-first-century version of the long legacy of self-sacrifice addressed in ‘The Dead’, since in both cases the avoidance of intimacy precludes engagement with life, although now it is presented as self-preservation whereas before it spoke the idiom of self-sacrifice.


‘The Dead’ Emma Donoghue Love Desire Intimacy 


  1. Boland, Eavan. 1996. Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  2. Bowen, Zack. 1982. Joyce’s Prophylatic Paralysis: Exposure in Dubliners. James Joyce Quarterly 19 (3): 257–273.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, Terence. 1992. Introduction. In Dubliners. By James Joyce, vii–xlix. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  4. Cardoso, Teresa Miguéns. 2013. Tradução em Trânsito. Língua, Cultura e Viagem. M.A. dissertation, University of Lisbon, Lisbon.Google Scholar
  5. Damasio, Antonio. 2000. The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  6. Donoghue, Emma. 2006; 2011. Speaking in Tongues. In Touchy Subjects, 179–193. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  7. Eggers, Tilly. 1981. What Is a Woman … A Symbol of? James Joyce Quarterly 18 (4): 379–395.Google Scholar
  8. Ellmann, Richard, ed. 1975. Selected Letters of James Joyce. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  9. Felski, Rita. 2008. Uses of Literature. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Friel, Brian. 1980. Faith Healer. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  11. Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2002. The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 2011. Joining the Resistance. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  14. Holmes, Michael, and Alan Roughley. 2004. From Dubliners to Europeans? Political Change and Political Paralysis. In A New and Complex Sensation: Essays on Joyce’s Dubliners, ed. Oona Frawley, 33–43. Dublin: Lilliput.Google Scholar
  15. Ingersoll, Earl G. 1992. The Gender of Travel in ‘The Dead’. James Joyce Quarterly 30 (1): 29–40.Google Scholar
  16. Joyce, James. 1992. The Dead. In Dubliners, ed. Terence Brown, 175–225. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  17. Marar, Ziyad. 2012. Intimacy: Understanding the Subtle Power of Human Connection. Durham: Acumen.Google Scholar
  18. Norris, Margot. 1989. Stifled Back Answers: The Gender Politics of Art in Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. Modern Fiction Studies 35 (3): 479–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pecora, Vincent P. 1986. ‘The Dead’ and the Generosity of the Word. Publications of the Modern Language Association 101 (2): 233–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Riquelme, John Paul. 1990. Stephen Hero and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Transforming the Nightmare of History. In The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge, 103–130. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Rix, Walter T. 1989. James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’: The Symbolist Inspiration and Its Narrative Reflection. In Critical Approaches to Anglo-Irish Literature, ed. Michael Allen and Angela Wilcox, 146–183. Gerrards Cross: Smythe.Google Scholar
  22. Williams, Trevor L. 1989. Resistance to Paralysis in Dubliners. Modern Fiction Studies 35 (3): 437–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Winston, Greg C. 2004. Militarism in ‘The Dead’. In A New and Complex Sensation: Essays on Joyce’s Dubliners, ed. Oona Frawley, 122–132. Dublin: Lilliput.Google Scholar
  24. Wood, James. 2009. How Fiction Works. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  25. Yeats, William Butler, and Augusta Gregory. 1997. Cathleen ni Houlihan. In Selected Plays, by William Butler Yeats, ed. Richard Allen Cave, 19–28. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa Casal
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Estudos Anglísticos, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de LisboaAlameda da UniversidadeLisboaPortugal

Personalised recommendations