"Two Gallants" passage
This exhibit explores a gesture made by T. Lenehan, the main character in Joyce's short story “Two Gallants” in Dubliners, a character who also later appears in Ulysses. Lenehan makes the gesture as he comments on his friend John Corley’s seduction of a woman who became a prostitute afterwards. The narrator describes Lenehan as making "a tragic gesture" and then saying "Base betrayer!" to Corley (63). We might read this passage as Lenehan making light of the woman’s situation, but if we understand the allusion, we can also read Lenehan’s criticism of Corley’s indifference and see Lenehan, one of Joyce’s most linguistically agile characters, more sympathetically. Lenehan's gesture, though appearing to be a kind of homosocial raillery, is also a performance, an allusion, and a critique of Corley’s womanizing.
A few paragraphs earlier we find the clue for the allusion in response to Corley’s comment that a girl is a “bit gone on [him].”
"'You're what I call a gay Lothario,' said Lenehan. 'And the proper kind of a Lothario, too!'” (62).
Corley later boasts that he had gotten something "off of" another young woman, and explained, "regretfully," that she was "a bit of all right" (63).
Lenehan who nods “gravely” to Corley’s talk, makes his tragic gesture in response to Corley saying the young woman is now "on the turf”—that is, working as a prostitute (63). Lenehan takes up the observation.
"I suppose that was your doing," Lenehan says and Corley responds "philosophically": "There was others at her before me." Significantly, this passage also provides a key to how to read Lenehan's irony and his character.
“A shade of mockery relieved the servility of his manner. To save himself he had the habit of leaving his flattery open to the interpretation of raillery. But Corley had not a subtle mind."
Lenehan is putting on the tragic gesture, not pretending to be the young woman, as we might expect, rather he is pretending to be Lothario as he cringingly mocks the memory of Calista, the woman he has seduced and denied, as he tells a friend of her desperation.
Lothario originated as a character in the work of Cervantes, but he is best known for his appearance in a famous early eighteenth-century play by Nicholas Rowe, The Fair Penitent (1704; first performed 1703), which was often replayed in the nineteenth century. Lenehan’s melodramatic “tragic gesture” alludes to the play and to the joking and mocking villain, Lothario, at times depicted as a clowning and fashionable seducer (as in this 1813 British postcard).
As with Corley’s reference to a young woman, in The Fair Penitent the female character, Calista, is seduced prior to the action of the play by Lothario who boasts to his friend about his seduction. Rowe’s plot primarily concerns her subsequent forced marriage to Altamount; the downfall of her seducer, Lothario; and Calista’s ambivalence about her penance—she is the fair penitent of the title, and “fair” has two meanings. It implies that she is both a beautiful and a mediocre penitent because she remains in love with her seducer. Calista forced marriage to Altamount and repent her having been seduced, is understandably ambivalent, particularly to modern audiences.
Similar to Rowe’s Lothario, Corley boasts that he had gotten something "off of" another young woman, and explained, "regretfully," that she was "a bit of all right" (63). Lenehan, however, nods “gravely” as he listens to Corley’s explanation that the young woman is now "on the turf”—that is, working as a prostitute. Lenehan observes: "I suppose that was your doing," to which Corley responds "philosophically": "There was others at her before me." Lenehan demurs, Corley denies, saying “‘Honest to God!’ [ . . . ] ‘Didn’t she tell me herself?’”
Joyce then gives us these two short lines.
Lenehan made a tragic gesture.
“Base betrayer!” he said. (63)
The narrator does not pause to comment on the apparent raillery but moves on, as the characters do, passing in front of Trinity College. Despite what it seems, Lenehan’s brief remark and gesture is not him putting on the guise of the young woman. Rather he is pretending to be the character of Lothario as he cringingly and brutally mocks the memory of Calista, the woman he has seduced and denied. The tragic gesture, as well as the earlier Lothario reference provide our clues to the reference to the melodramatic tragedy.
The original passage in The Fair Penitent, has Lothario not Calista delivering the line "Base betrayer!" as he relays to his friend, Rossano, how Calista protested when he said that he had no intention of marrying her. In other words, Lenehan is not mocking the seduced woman (and Calista), but mocking Corley's (and Lothario’s) denial.