Jack Power

Jack Power

In Brief

The man encountered formally as "Mr Power" in Hades and one section of Wandering Rocks is seen or mentioned more familiarly as "Jack Power" in several other parts of the novel. Another doubleness, possibly related, inheres in his real-life origins: Joyce said that he based the character on a family friend named Tom Devin, but a man called John Power appears to have lent at least his name to the character, and also perhaps some personal qualities. The fictional offspring of these two men began life in the Dubliners story "Grace."

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Early in that story, Power sees Tom Kernan home after he falls down the steps to a pub lavatory and bites off part of his tongue:

Mr Power, a much younger man, was employed in the Royal Irish Constabulary Office in Dublin Castle. The arc of his social rise intersected the arc of his friend's decline but Mr Kernan's decline was mitigated by the fact that certain of those friends who had known him at his highest point of success still esteemed him as a character. Mr Power was one of these friends. His inexplicable debts were a byword in his circle; he was a debonair young man.
The Royal Irish Constabulary was a quasi-military armed police force separate from the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police. Headquartered in Dublin Castle, the center of British power in Ireland, its mission was to investigate and suppress nationalist dissent. Vivien Igoe has discovered a DMP pensioner named John Power, 39 years old in 1904, whose father Pierce Power had worked in the RIC. Her claim for regarding this man as a model for Joyce's character is strongly supported by a sentence in Lestrygonians when Bloom is thinking about nationalist dissent and state crackdowns: "Jack Power could a tale unfold: father a G man." The reference is to armed plainclothes officers in the G division of DMP who infiltrated IRA networks.

If Joyce drew on some knowledge of the Powers to create his character, he probably did so in part because the surname suited the occupation. (One can imagine the serendipity impressing him enough that he resolved to clear space by changing the names of the Fenian sympathizers John Wyse Power and his wife Jennie to "Nolan.") The involvement of his "Mr Power" in imperial governance would explain "The arc of his social rise," and it may also account for some of the character's corresponding personal qualities. While "Grace" implies some human warmth or good nature in Mr. Power's continued friendship with a man sliding down the path to alcoholic ruin, it also notes his investment in ascendant respectability. Sitting at Mr. Kernan's kitchen table, he is taken aback by the low-class manners and accents of the man's three children "and his brow grew thoughtful." Later in the story, when he returns at the head of a delegation to "make a new man of" Kernan, M'Coy calls him "Jack" and the reader learns that "Mr Power did not relish the use of his Christian name."

These details feel consistent with some aspects of the man's behavior in Hades, where he is called "Mr Power" 42 times and addressed only once, by Simon Dedalus, as "Jack." Power scorns the quality of the carriage the four men take to the cemetery ("Corny might have given us a more commodious yoke"), he readily indulges in antisemitic ridicule of Reuben J. Dodd ("In all his pristine beauty"), and he enthusiastically condemns suicide ("The greatest disgrace to have in the family"). Such behaviors might well comport with the sense of privilege felt by a young man on the rise in the Castle, and it is tempting to suppose that Joyce was thinking of the Powers when he gave his Mr. Power these attributes.

His main inspiration for the character never worked in the Castle, however. Tom Devin, a good friend of John Stanislaus Joyce (hence perhaps the fact that only Simon Dedalus calls him "Jack"), was a less exalted bureaucrat, working first for the Corporation in City Hall and later, after a run-in with some higher-ups, for its Cleansing Department in Wood Quay. John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello, John Joyce's biographers, mention cronies "like Tom Devin and George Lidwell––decent chaps who liked a drink" (185). They describe Devin as "clubbable" (243), "a ladies' man" (271), a great borrower of money (287, 308), and "A decent, kindly man" (431). Kernan's fall down the lavatory stairs, they note, actually happened to John Joyce, and it was Devin who saved him from being arrested by the police and took him home (199). Devin remained friends with John Joyce until the latter's death in 1931, and also with James Joyce until his own death in 1937. He got on well with Nora, and the younger Joyce lent him money on various occasions. He was married twice.

Ellmann describes Devin as a "hearty man with a knack for playing the piano" who often visited the Joyces when they lived at the Martello Terrace seaside house in Bray (24). Apparently he lived nearby. In 1934 Joyce wrote to Alf Bergan, another regular visitor at these musical gatherings, "We used to have merry evenings in our house, used we not?" Slote observes that Stanislaus Joyce disliked Devin, saying that he was "known to be still a consummate whore" (Complete Dublin Diary, 82), but his brother felt nothing of the kind. Ellmann reproduces another letter that Joyce wrote to Alf Bergan on 25 May 1937, saying, in part:
I am so sorry to hear your bad news that our old friend Mr Devin is gone. Only on Wednesday last I gave his name to a young American writer who is doing my biography and has gone to Dublin, Mr Herbert Gorman. I told him to see you and Mr Devin as you were the only people still left (as I thought) who could remember all the pleasant nights we used to have singing.... He used to collapse with laughter after a preliminary scream in a high tone at certain sallies of my father's. He must have been a fine looking fellow when he was young and he had charming manners. He comes into Ulysses under the name of 'Mr Power' and also into 'Dubliners.' (704-5)
Some of the qualities displayed by "Mr Power" feel slightly discordant with Devin's hearty good cheer, kindness, and freedom with the ladies. When Joyce wrote that Devin "comes into" those fictions "under the name" of that character, might he have meant, not that Power was a mere pseudonym for Devin, but that the qualities of two different men merged under the one name?

If Joyce did indeed add to his mental image of Tom Devin some details associated with another man, that would help explain the odd fact that in Ulysses he also inserted a separate trace of his friend under his own name, albeit misspelled. In Wandering Rocks the viceregal cavalcade passes by the offices of the Cleansing Department: "From its sluice in Wood quay wall under Tom Devan's office Poddle river hung out in fealty a tongue of liquid sewage." Joyce's decision to feature the Wood Quay wall in this way (and here again he altered historical actuality to put the Poddle River outlet in that spot) may conceivably have been meant as a kind of apology to Tom Devin for combining him with the imperial servant "Mr Power." There is nothing clean about that stream of sewage––far from whitewashing British power in Ireland, the Cleansing office seems to deride it.

Mr. Power figures in Cyclops as one of the men who pull up to Kiernan's pub in the "castle car," emphasizing his connections to state power. Penelope supplies personal qualities more clearly derived from Tom Devin. Molly thinks of a handsome middle-aged man who keeps a mistress on the side and consorts with other unreliable hail-fellow-well-met types: "they call that friendship killing and then burying one another and they all with their wives and families at home more especially Jack Power keeping that barmaid he does of course his wife is always sick or going to be sick or just getting better of it and hes a goodlooking man still though hes getting a bit grey over the ears theyre a nice lot all of them well theyre not going to get my husband again into their clutches if I can help it making fun of him then behind his back I know well when he goes on with his idiotics because he has sense enough not to squander every penny piece he earns down their gullets and looks after his wife and family goodfornothings."

John Hunt 2022
Cyberbeagle's 2019 rendering of the Royal Irish Constabulary badge, drawn from an 1867 RIC original. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Changing of the guard at the Cork Hill entrance to Dublin Castle, in a photograph of unknown date. Source: www.flickr.com.
Robert French photograph of the Martello Terrace house in Bray (the Joyces lived in the unit farthest to the right) held in the National Library of Ireland. Source: catalogue.nli.ie.
Wood Quay, in an early 20th century photograph held in the National Library of Ireland. Source: catalogue.nli.ie.