Gretta Conroy

Gretta Conroy

In Brief

A second character from Dubliners appears in Calypso when Molly asks her husband, "What had Gretta Conroy on?" Gabriel and Gretta Conroy are the principal characters of "The Dead," the novella-length story that concludes Dubliners. Later, Bloom thinks briefly of Gabriel and of his Aunt Julia, one of two maiden aunts who figure prominently in the story. Stephen remembers the other aunt, who was his godmother. The novel also frequently mentions a "Father Conroy" who may or may not be Gabriel's brother Constantine.

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"The Dead" (written in 1907) was Joyce's first fictional attempt to represent a man's anxiety about the fidelity of his spouse, followed by the play Exiles (finished in 1915) and then Ulysses (published in 1922). Given the adultery plot set in motion in Calypso, it is interesting that one of the first resurrections of a character from Dubliners takes the form of Molly thinking of Gretta. Gretta's spouse enters the novel not too long afterward, when Bloom thinks in Aeolus of J. J. O'Molloy doing "some literary work for the Express with Gabriel Conroy." The Daily Express was a unionist Irish newspaper, and in "The Dead" Gabriel had endured some uncomfortable taunting from a Miss Molly Ivors, who called him a "West Briton" for associating himself with that conservative "rag."

We know that some time has passed between the events represented in "The Dead" and those of Ulysses because Gabriel's Aunt Julia has died. In the novella she performed at the holiday gathering, singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Although the song's subject matter clashed grotesquely with her frail appearance, her technique was excellent, and "To follow the voice, without looking at the singer’s face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight." In Lestrygonians Bloom remembers Julia performing a different song: "There is not in this wide world a vallee. Great song of Julia Morkan's. Kept her voice up to the very last. Pupil of Michael Balfe's, wasn't she?"

Stephen, it turns out, has a very close connection to the household represented in the novella: in Ithaca he thinks of "his godmother Miss Kate Morkan in the house of her dying sister Miss Julia Morkan at 15 Usher's Island."

Gerty MacDowell thinks repeatedly in Nausicaa of a "Father Conroy" who is the curate in charge of the "Mary, star of the sea" church in Sandymount. This was also Paddy Dignam's parish church, as evidenced by his son's thought of the same priest in Wandering Rocks: "That was Mr Dignam, my father. I hope he's in purgatory now because he went to confession to Father Conroy on Saturday night." It is tempting to ask whether Father Conroy may be Gabriel's brother, since "The Dead" mentions that "Constantine was now senior curate in Balbriggan," a town just 20 miles north of central Dublin, and some time has passed.

Gifford's research would seem to quash that speculation: he notes that the actual curate of Star of the Sea in 1904 was Father Bernard Conroy, who lived at 5 Leahy's Terrace. But in Nausicaa, after all of Gerty's thoughts of the good Father, Bloom observes, "Yes, there's the light in the priest's house. Their frugal meal. . . . Gabriel Conroy's brother is curate." Joyce appears to have deliberately blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Did he seize upon the coincidence of the curates' names to evict the real Conroy and install his own? Or is Bloom confusing his Conroys, as other Dubliners confuse him with Bloom the dentist?

An observation of Ellmann's suggests still another, bizarre possibility: "Joyce deliberately confuses Joseph Bloom the dentist with Leopold in one chapter, and in another he lists as one of Leopold's old addresses 38 Lombard Street, which was actually Joseph Bloom's address."

JH 2017
Angelica Huston as Gretta Conroy and Donal McCann as Gabriel Conroy in the 1987 film of The Dead directed by John Huston. Source:
The "Three Graces," Mary Jane (Teresa Willis), Aunt Kate (Judith Scarpone), and Aunt Julia (Jacque Lynn Colton), in a 2008 production of the Open Fist Theatre Company in Los Angeles, directed by Charles Otte. Source: