A young lady was standing on the steps of one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of Irish paralysis. A young gentleman was leaning on the rusty railings of the area. Stephen as he passed on his quest heard the following fragment of colloquy out of which he received an impression keen enough to afflict his sensitiveness very severely.
The Young Lady-(drawling discreetly) … O, yes … I was … at the … cha … pel …
The Young Gentleman- (inaudibly) … I … (again inaudibly) … I …
The Young Lady-(softly) … O … but you’re … ve … ry … wick … ed…
This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care. seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.
In his book Re Joyce Anthony Burgess writes of the significance of dates to Joyce. I start this book on January 13th, 1964 – The Twenty-Third anniversary of the death of James Joyce. I can think of no other writer who would bewitch me into making the beginning of a spell of hard work into a kind of joyful ritual, but the solemnisation of dates came naturally to Joyce and it infects his admirers. Indeed, this deadest time of the year (the Christmas decorations burnt a week ago, the children back at school, the snow came too late to be festive) is brightened by being a sort of Joyce season. It is a season beginning in Advent and ending at Candelmas. January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany, and the discovery of epiphanies – ‘showings forth’ – of beauty and truth in the squalid and commonplace was Joyce’s vocation. February 1st is St. Brigid’s Day. February 2nd is Joyce’s birthday, and two massive birthday presents were the first printed copies of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
I decided to take the 6th of January and run down to Belvedere College, and down Belvedere Place where the Sheehy’s lived and past the house at St.Peter’s Terrace in Cabra where his brother George died on May 3rd 1902. These locations are all mentioned as places which inspired Joyce to write epiphanies in an excellent article from the James Joyce Centre which you can read here
Some hold the view that The Dead is set on the Feast of the Epiphany. There is some logic to this as the dinner clearly takes place after Christmas. Greta and Gabriel Conroy are staying away for a night without their children, which would presumably not happen on Christmas night and the following passage reveals that the Christmas period is at an end.
—Browne is out there, Aunt Kate, said Mary Jane.
—Browne is everywhere, said Aunt Kate, lowering her voice.
Mary Jane laughed at her tone.
—Really, she said archly, he is very attentive.
—He has been laid on here like the gas, said Aunt Kate in the same tone, all during the Christmas.
The Dead centres on Gabriel’s epiphany. Early in the story he is reluctant to visit Galway, in the West of Ireland.
—There were no words, said Gabriel moodily, only she wanted me to go for a trip to the west of Ireland and I said I wouldn’t.
His wife clasped her hands excitedly and gave a little jump.
—O, do go, Gabriel, she cried. I’d love to see Galway again.
—You can go if you like, said Gabriel coldly.
Later in the story, back in the Gresham Hotel, Gabriel reflects on what he learnt of Michael Furey and Greta’s past. He has resolved to head West.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward.
The story closes with snow falling all over Ireland. Ironically my run on 6th January 2015 took place on a mild and bright sunny day.
Burgess, A. (1968) Re Joyce. New York, United States: W. W. Norton & Co.
Joyce, J. (1963) Stephen Hero. Edited by John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon. Introduction by Theodore Spencer edn. New York, United States: New Directions Publishing.
Joyce, J. (2006) Dubliners, Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Edited by Margot Norris, Hans Walter Gabler, and Walter Hettche. New York, United States: Norton, W. W. & Company.