- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context
A Painful Case
Synopsis of A Painful Case
Mr Duffy leads an orderly life just outside Dublin. He works as a bank clerk, has some literary aspirations and is interested in music. At a concert he meets Mrs Sinico, wife of a sea captain, and they form an intimate friendship, meeting secretly and revealing their deepest thoughts and feelings to one another. However, when it becomes clear that Mrs Sinico is falling in love with him, Mr Duffy breaks off the relationship. He resumes his orderly life but a few years later he reads a newspaper report of Mrs Sinico’s death; she has been hit by a railway engine attempting to cross the line while drunk.
At first Duffy is angry and disgusted, feeling that her lapse into drunkenness after they parted degrades him and devalues their relationship. As he reflects on the incident, however, he begins to understand her loneliness and regrets having rejected her love. He realises that he is alone and always will be.
Commentary on A Painful Case
Duffy A name deriving from the Irish word dubh, meaning dark or black.
a double desk A desk with a hinged sloping lid for writing on and storage space in drawers and cupboards below.
Wordsworth William Wordsworth (1770-1850), the English Romantic poet, was highly popular at the start of the twentieth century and his works were readily available in finely bound collected editions.
Maynooth Catechism The catechism is a series of question and answers used by the Irish Catholic Church for religious instruction. The version referred to here was issued in 1883 after a synod at Maynooth College, Ireland’s principal seminary. The full document runs to 64 pages, but there is also a shortened version on only 32 pages.
Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer Gerhardt Hauptmann (1862-1946) was a German writer and his play Michael Kramer was written in 1900, so this is a very up-to-date reference. This suggests that Duffy is interested in contemporary writing as well as established authors like Wordsworth and pious publications like the Catechism.
Bile Beans A popular remedy for stomach and digestive problems.
saturnine A means of describing of character that goes back to the Middle Ages, which saw personality as being defined by the humours or different bodily fluids and also influenced by the movements of the planets. So the saturnine man would be influenced by Saturn, regarded as a ‘watery’ planet, and have an excess of bile, making him melancholy in temperament.
a stout hazel A stick cut from a hazel tree, which had magical associations in Celtic mythology.
a cashier in a private bank This is a senior position, carrying a great deal of responsibility, in a bank in the very centre of Dublin and therefore likely to serve a lot of important and substantial account-holders.
Mozart’s music The music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) includes instrumental, orchestral, choral and operatic works.
Leghorn The Anglicised name for the city of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy.
an Irish Socialist Party No such organisation existed at the time the story was written, so Duffy has clearly been associated with one of the many small groups working towards the establishment of such a party.
Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Gay Science Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was one of the leading philosophers of the late nineteenth century, who came to exert an influence on contemporary thought well beyond his native Germany. At this time, Duffy would have been thought of as quite advanced for reading Nietzsche. Also Spracht Zarathustra (1883-4) and The Gay Science (1881-2), which Duffy owns in English translations, were two of Nietzsche’s best-known works. Duffy’s interest in him is appropriate to his sympathy with socialism.
the buff Mail The Dublin Evening Mail, a daily paper supporting the Unionist cause, was printed in this colour.
reefer over-coat A thick, tightly fitting, double-breasted coat, often worn by sailors.
the prayers Secreto Prayers read silently or quietly (i.e. in secret) by the priest, in contrast to the Collects, prayers spoken aloud.
the Deputy Coroner Coroners hold inquests to determine all deaths that seem not to be due to natural causes.
Rotterdam A port in Holland.
a league A temperance organisation, whose members swore not to drink alcohol. Often joined (on a strictly temporary basis) by hung-over and penitent drunks.
a gentleman’s estate in County Kildare At the time the story was written, much of the fertile agricultural land in County Kildare (to the south and west of Dublin) would have been owned by Protestant Anglo-Irish families.
the Herald Another Dublin daily paper, the Evening Herald, which, unlike the Mail mentioned earlier in this story, was sympathetic to the nationalist cause.
Investigating A Painful Case...
- To what does the story’s title – A Painful Case – refer?
- To what extent, and it what ways, does Mr Duffy change at the end of the story?
(1775-1850) He was born in the Lake District and was one of the leading Romantic poets.
In English Literature, it denotes a period between 1785-1830, when the previous classical or enlightenment traditions and values were overthrown, and a freer, more individual mode of writing emerged.
Instruction on the doctrine of a Christian church by a series of questions and answers, which believers were expected to learn.
1. All Christians worldwide. 2. The Church in the West until the Reformation. 3. The Roman Catholic Church.
A synod is a church council or governing body, operating at various levels of jurisdiction.
The period of European history broadly between 1000AD-1500AD.
A classical medical theory in which the body is healthy so long as the four humours (liquids) are in balance.
German philosopher, 1844 - 1900.
A person who desires to keep the union with the United Kingdom, rather be part of an independent Ireland.
Communication, either aloud or in the heart, with God.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
A short prayer used in church services after a period of individual silent prayer to 'collect' all these prayers together, offering them to God.
An individual who confesses guilt and desires to seek forgiveness, especially the forgiveness of God.
Christians whose faith and practice stems from the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century which resulted in new churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
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