Three times in Ulysses, Bloom recalls the death of "Mrs
Emily Sinico," bringing back to Joyce's readers the
sadness of her death at the end of "A Painful Case." The Dubliners
story memorably casts her as an aging, lonely woman
seeking intimacy outside of a loveless marriage. When the man
she falls in love with rejects her sexual overture, and she
dies, she becomes for him a searing reminder of his
passionless, isolated existence. Some readers of Ulysses
are convinced that this is the unnamed man who appears clad in
a macintosh near Paddy Dignam's grave in Hades.
Emily Sinico was not a real person, but Joyce named her after
his singing teacher in Trieste in 1905, Giuseppe Sinico. Emily
acquired the Italian name by marrying a man whose
"great-great-grandfather had come from Leghorn." As the
captain of a merchant vessel he spends long periods away from
home, and he has "dismissed his wife so sincerely from his
gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else
would take an interest in her."
But a man named James Duffy, a sternly intellectual and
somberly ascetic young bachelor whom Joyce based in some
measure on his brother Stanislaus, does take an interest in
Mrs. Sinico. He meets her at a music concert where she has
come with a daughter approximately his age. After a couple of
other chance meetings he finds the courage to ask Mrs. Sinico
out. They have many quiet evening walks, but he dislikes
subterfuge, so he begins coming to her house, where her
husband assumes he is courting the daughter. Although Mrs.
Sinico is old enough to be his mother and displays a maternal
solicitude, the relationship is clearly charged with erotic
interest. The two become intimate, but Duffy remains caught up
in the idea of himself: "He thought that in her eyes he would
ascend to an angelical stature; and, as he attached the
fervent nature of his companion more and more closely to him,
he heard the strange impersonal voice which he recognised as
his own, insisting on the soul’s incurable loneliness. We
cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own." When Mrs.
Sinico passionately seizes his hand one night and presses it
to her cheek, he decides to break off the relationship.
Four years later, Mr. Duffy is having supper in a Dublin
restaurant when he notices a story in an evening newspaper of
"an inquest on the body of Mrs Emily Sinico, aged forty-three
years, who was killed at Sydney Parade Station
yesterday evening." Sydney Parade Avenue, and the railway
station on it, now part of DART, are in Merrion, just south of
Sandymount. A slow-moving train struck Mrs. Sinico there as
she crossed the tracks one night. At the inquest, her husband
and daughter have testified that she began drinking
immoderately about two years earlier and often went out at
night "to buy spirits." The coroner's judgment, repeated in
the subtitle of the newspaper article, is that this is "a
painful case," with no blame attaching to the driver of the
The story's title applies equally well, however, to Mr.
Duffy. His first reaction to the sad news is censorious
disgust: "What an end! The whole narrative of her death
revolted him and it revolted him to think that he had ever
spoken to her of what he held sacred. . . . Not merely had she
degraded herself; she had degraded him. He saw the squalid
tract of her vice, miserable and malodorous. His soul's
companion! He thought of the hobbling wretches whom he had
seen carrying cans and bottles to be filled by the barman.
Just God, what an end! Evidently she had been unfit to live,
without any strength of purpose, an easy prey to habits, one
of the wrecks on which civilisation has been reared. . . . He
remembered her outburst of that night and interpreted it in a
harsher sense than he had ever done. He had no difficulty now
in approving of the course he had taken."
Duffy's moral blindness makes for tough reading, but as the
evening goes on he becomes a painful case in a still stronger
sense. He feels her hand touch his, feels her voice touch his
ear. He wonders what he could possibly have done with a
married woman: "He could not have carried on a comedy of
deception with her; he could not have lived with her openly."
He thinks of how lonely she must have been, and realizes that
his own life is no less impoverished. He reproaches himself:
"Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her
to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces." Seeing
some lovers in the grass, "Those venal and furtive loves
filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life;
he felt that he had been outcast from life's feast. One human
being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and
happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of
shame." At the end of the story he feels profoundly "alone."
One other person at Paddy Dignam's funeral may be echoing Bloom in thinking about the unhappy woman. In Cyclops, one of the mocking narrative voices observes that "The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead." Joyce's critics will probably never definitively establish the identity of this enigmatic figure, but for many readers his ghostly passage through the pages of Ulysses continues the painful story of James Duffy, a man whose face was "of the brown tint of Dublin streets," and who was last seen haunted by the memory of the love he turned away.