Dubliners: Novel Summary: Two Gallants
On a warm August Sunday evening, two young Dublin men walk down to Rutland Square. Lenehan, the one listening to the expounding other, wears a yachting cap and has a "ravaged face" (36). He is a leech who blends into groups so he get free drinks and is generally considered an unsavory character. He listens intently to the other man named Corley who has been talking at length. Corley explains that he has been seeing a girl, a "slavey," as he puts it, and continues on about all the good times they have been having. Corley, who looks "globular and oily," is not worried about pregnancy because she knows how to handle it, and besides that, he's told her he doesn't have a job so as to discourage her from thinking he might make a good husband (38). He speaks without listening to others and generally about himself. Servant girls, the men agree, make the best girls because, as Corley explains to Lenehan, while he used to go out with girls from the South Circular, a good neighborhood, they would refuse to have sex with him: "damn the thing I ever got out of it" (39). Then he explains there was one exception, but that girl now is "on the turf," or has become a prostitute.
At this point, Lenehan looks up at the clock near Trinity College and nervously informs Corley of the time. "Time enough," Corley responds, "she'll be there all right. I always let her wait a bit" (39). Lenehan keeps asking if Corley can "bring it off" all right and Corley insists he can. As the time of Corley's meeting with the girl approaches, Lenehan says he wants to have a look at her but Corley backs off and tells him he will meet him later. Lenehan doesn't like being alone. It makes him very uncomfortable. He feels desperately lonely and doesn't know how to fill the time until he can meet up later with Corley. He thinks over his terrible financial condition and his ruined relationships, and he firmly believes that the future looks even bleaker. Finally, he goes to a restaurant, orders peas and ginger beer, and feels better.
Corley returns on time walking with the girl and they stop in front of a house. Lenehan watches from a distance, wondering if he's "brought it off," as the girl runs down the basement steps and after a moment runs out the front door, stops in front of Corley and just as suddenly runs up the steps again. Lenehan runs across the street, doubtful that Corley has "brought it off," and indeed Corley does at first look grim, until he extends a hand toward the light and smiles at the small gold coin shining in the palm of his hand (46).
The title of the sixth story in Dubliners is highly ironic. Lenehan and Corley are hardly gallant. Indeed, they are cowardly, repulsive, despicable and on top of all that, really ugly. But Joyce, who himself grew up in poverty, never passes judgment as he takes great pains to illustrate the extremes to which poor people will go to get money. "Two Gallants" demonstrates the lack of direction inherent in many of the era's unemployed young male Dublin population. Young Doyle in the fifth story, "After the Race," is also aimless and useless, but he has money. Neither Lenehan nor Corley have a job and they will never get anywhere. Their only job is setting up people they can sponge off, especially women from whom they take gratuitous sex and money. They make snide remarks about Corley's former girlfriend who turned to prostitution-but consider, is Corley's behavior any better?
Isolation is a recurring theme of Dubliners: "the problem of how he could pass the hours until he met Corley again troubled him" (42). We see in Lenehan as he wanders around Dublin one of the myriad Joycean alienated figures. He is without family and
reliable friends, and his future, whether financial or personal, is growing ever darker. He lives in Dublin, a city without hope, Joyce would have us believe, his sole enjoyment a pathetic meal of peas and ginger beer: "he ate his food greedily and found it so good"(42). Indeed, so small is his life that he must live life through Corley, the ultimate anti-hero who milks simultaneous sex and money out of an impoverished girl who labors literally like a slave, hence her title "slavey."