Cranly's arm

Cranly's arm

In Brief

In Telemachus, as Mulligan holds Stephen's arm and says, "I'm the only one that knows what you are. Why don't you trust me more?" Stephen recalls a similar touching of his arm in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "Cranly's arm. His arm." Cranly was Joyce's fictive name (coined in 1898, long before any fictional works) for his close friend John Francis Byrne. In part 5 of A Portrait Stephen breaks off his friendship with Cranly. A rupture did occur between Joyce and Byrne, but it was repaired less than a year later. In the novel the rift is made to seem more consequential: Stephen rejects Cranly because Cranly likes women and will never devote himself wholly to his friend. This fictional history sets the stage for Stephen's quest for meaningful relationships in Ulysses: longing for some woman to "Touch me" while assessing the intentions behind the actual touches of men

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Byrne was born in February 1880, two years before Joyce. He knew him first at Belvedere College and then at University College, Dublin. At the university, Ellmann writes, he was "handsome, athletic, and clever; he excelled at chess and handball, and disregarded his studies even more cavalierly than Joyce.... it was his manner that attracted: he moved about with the air of a man who knows all the secrets but disinclines to exercise the power he thereby possesses.... His power over Joyce came from his habit of refraining from comment: Joyce's admissions about his feelings towards family, friends, and church, about his overweening ambitions, struck like waves against Byrne's cryptic taciturnity. Byrne listened to Joyce's confidences without offering any of his own, and, as Joyce noted, without conferring absolution. Joyce needed no friend as he did Byrne.... The friendship was of such importance to Joyce that when it dwindled, as it did later, he felt less at home in Ireland" (64).

In December 1903, near the end of his abortive exile in Paris, Joyce had a photograph taken of himself and made into postcards. He sent one to Byrne, on the back of which he wrote a moody poem about the winds and waters heard by the soul. Another went to Vincent Cosgrave, with joking doggerel about the prostitutes of Paris. When Joyce returned to Dublin on December 23, Ellmann writes, "he discovered he had lost a friend. The photo-postcard which he had sent to Byrne, with the poem written in the space for a message, had pleased Byrne very much. He showed it to Cosgrave and said proudly that no man in Dublin knew more about Joyce than he did. Cosgrave, making the retort irresistible [Ellmann may be alluding here to As You Like It 5.4.72], slyly took a similar photograph from his pocket and showed it to Byrne saying, 'Perhaps that's something you didn't know'" (116). Byrne was apparently hurt by being put on an equal footing with Cosgrave, whom he distrusted, and jealous of the confidences offered to another, and offended by the scabrous content. He gave his own card to Cosgrave, saying, "You can have this one too."

The offense taken by Byrne, and the disdain with which Joyce responded, suggest a relationship that exceeded the usual bounds of male friendship. Ellmann remarks that "Joyce had no relationships with women that were not coarse or distant. In his writing more is at stake in the friendship of Stephen and Cranly (Byrne) than in the relationship of Stephen and Emma Clery. Friendship becomes, in fact, a focal point, for if friendship exists, it impugns the quality of exile and of lonely heroism" (116). Joyce searched for reasons to regard Byrne's newfound coolness as some kind of deep betrayal. In A Portrait, Ellmann infers, he "goes further to evolve the fiction that Cranly's motivation is homosexual" (117). 

This is roughly true, but too simple: the novel does suggest that Cranly feels some romantic attraction to Stephen, but it also presents Stephen as receptive to the adoration. The two men engage in an odd dance of protective self-positioning. Part of the confrontation is intellectual: Cranly has listened to many of Stephen’s beliefs and theories, and now he roughly interrogates him, challenging his renunciation of the Catholic faith urged on him by his mother. Also at stake, however, is the nature and future of the friendship. Stephen is struck by the way Cranly talks about women:

Yes. His face was handsome: and his body was strong and hard. He had spoken of a mother’s love. He felt then the sufferings of women, the weaknesses of their bodies and souls: and would shield them with a strong and resolute arm and bow his mind to them.    
     Away then: it is time to go. A voice spoke softly to Stephen’s lonely heart, bidding him go and telling him that his friendship was coming to an end. Yes; he would go. He could not strive against another. He knew his part.
    — Probably I shall go away, he said.

A little after this, the reader is told that “Cranly seized his arm and steered him round so as to head back towards Leeson Park,” pressing the arm “with an elder’s affection.” Stephen is “thrilled by his touch,” but affirms his determination to pursue his solitary vision, even if it means being utterly alone. This strikes “some deep chord” in Cranly, who wonders whether Stephen would choose loneliness over having someone “who would be more than a friend, more even than the noblest and truest friend a man ever had.” Stephen asks him, “Of whom are you speaking?” and Cranly does not answer.

It is hard not to hear homoerotic attraction in Cranly's wish to "be more than a friend," and "thrilled by his touch" suggests some reciprocal feeling on Stephen's part. Homoeroticism and homosexuality are not quite the same thing, however. Many men have felt ardent affection for other men without desiring sexual union. Both Stephen and Cranly are clearly interested in something more than mere companionship, but today's doctrinaire understandings of the attraction—homophobic condemnation on the one hand, and celebration of gay love on the other—are probably both inadequate tools for defining it. The relationship makes better sense viewed through the lens that Joyce's fiction provides: Stephen's determination to be a great artist and Cranly's wish to ally himself to, and support, this greatness.

In real life, shortly after his break with Byrne Joyce met Oliver Gogarty and found another such relationship, similarly intense and unsatisfactory. Gogarty was determined to help Joyce write, but from a position of assumed equality or even superiority. The Mulligan of Ulysses supports Stephen financially but treats him with sardonic, mocking condescension, and rather than feeling thrilled by Mulligan's touch in Telemachus Stephen seems to scorn it. Far more than A Portrait, this novel does insinuate that the "motivation is homosexual." In Scylla and Charybdis Stephen thinks "Catamite," apparently as a refutation of Mulligan's designs on him. In Proteus he thinks more sympathetically, "Staunch friend, a brother soul: Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name. His arm: Cranly’s arm. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all." These sentences recreate the stalemate from the end of A Portrait: Stephen's uncompromising demands for artistic integrity imply the imminent loss of a close friendship. But now committing himself to that friend would mean taking up Oscar Wilde's gay lifestyle. (The boldfaced sentence here, which slightly alters the sentence of Telemachus, is found only in Gabler's edition of the novel.)

There is no evidence that either Oliver St. John Gogarty or John Francis Byrne was homosexual, in deed or in desire. Both men married and had children while cultivating close male friendships. Nor does the homoerotic intrigue that Joyce attached to the fictive Cranly seem to have troubled his relationship with Byrne, which after being resumed lasted throughout his life. He visited Byrne when he returned to Dublin in 1909, and Byrne visited him in Paris in 1927. Far from being torn by jealousy, Byrne encouraged him to elope with Nora in 1904, he encouraged him to marry her in 1931, and in a crucial episode during that 1909 visit to Dublin he convinced him to trust in her sexual fidelity. Vincent Cosgrave had told Joyce that after he started seeing Nora in 1904, she "had gone for walks in the darkness along the river bank with another escort—himself" (Ellmann, 279). Although he should have known better of his partner, Joyce was devastated. He discussed the matter with Byrne, who "wrote later that he had never 'seen a human being more shattered'" (281). He pronounced Cosgrave's report "a blasted lie," and Joyce was persuaded.

This conversation took place in a significant location: 7 Eccles Street, where Byrne lived with two female cousins from 1908 to 1910. Not only did Joyce make that house the Blooms' in Ulysses, but his understanding of Bloom was clearly colored by his friendly interactions with Byrne in that year. Ellmann recounts a visit which Joyce paid to the house to thank his friend for helping him through the Cosgrove crisis. The two men had supper and then walked about Dublin until 3 AM. When they returned, Byrne discovered that he had forgotten his house key. "Undismayed, he agilely let himself down to the front area and entered the house by the unlocked side door; then he went round to the front and admitted his companion" (290). The events are scarcely changed at all in Joyce's account of the homeward journey that Stephen and Bloom take in Ithaca.

John Hunt 2022

George Clancy, John Francis Byrne, and James Joyce while they were students at University College, Dublin, in a photograph held in the Southern Illinois University Library. Source: Ellmann, James Joyce.