The Boarding House

Synopsis of The Boarding House

After separating from her drunken and violent husband, Mrs Mooney has opened a boarding house where she lives with her son Jack and her daughter Polly.  Her lodgers are all young men and Mrs Mooney hopes that Polly might marry one of them. In fact Polly attracts the attention of one of the older lodgers, Mr Doran, a man in his thirties who has a steady job and is quite respectable.  When Mrs Mooney discovers the affair, she is determined that Doran should make amends for what he has done, preferably by marrying Polly.

Doran, who has confessed to his priest, also believes that he should in some way pay for his immoral behaviour. However, he is concerned because he considers Polly to be socially beneath him and fears that, if he marries her, his family will disapprove and his friends will laugh at him.

One Sunday morning Mrs Mooney confronts Doran and, after they have spent a short time together, Polly’s mother calls for her to join them.

Commentary on The Boarding House

foreman Mrs Mooney has married one of her father’s employees, a senior workman with a responsibility to supervise other workers.

Statue of Father Mathew, The Temperance Priest, in Dublintake the pledge To swear not to drink alcohol.

separation Ireland was excluded from the Divorce Act of 1857 because of the opposition of the Catholic Church to divorce.  The only other means of obtaining a divorce was by Act of Parliament, an expensive process which could not be initiated by women other than in exceptional cases.  A legal separation could be granted by a Church court, but of course did not free either party to remarry.

sheriff’s man An employee of the person in charge of the collection of debts and other money due to the city.

Liverpool The large city on the north-west coast of England which was the principal destination of those sailing from Dublin.

the Isle of Man An island to the west of Liverpool. 

artistes from the music halls Mrs Mooney runs a theatrical boarding house, patronised by performers in variety shows.  Respectable Dubliners would have regarded such shows as vulgar, but they continued to be popular in both Ireland and England until the mid-twentieth century.

The Madam  A double-edged title, used here as a term of respect for Mrs Mooney’s role as proprietor of the boarding house, but also a popular term for a woman who runs a brothel. 

the chances of favourites and outsiders Terms for the bookmakers’ odds on runners in horse races.

a commission agent A person who does business on behalf of other people, taking a percentage for each transaction completed.

handy with the mitts Slang for a fighter, a man who is good with his fists.

I’m a … naughty girl A slightly bawdy music hall song.

corn-factor A person who trades in corn.

the little volumes in their gloved hands The volumes are Bibles and/or prayer books.  The gloves are an important detail, indicating the Protestant insistence on respectability. 

Doran In Gaelic, the Irish language, this word means exile or stranger.

catch short twelve A shortened or ‘Low’ Mass celebrated at twelve noon, and said to be popular with people who have spent Saturday night drinking.

sit.  Short for ‘situation’, a job.  The use of this term suggests it is a respectable post.

screw Slang for wages or salary.

a bit of stuff put by Slang for savings.

pier-glass A pier is the space between two windows, which in older Dublin houses were often very high.  A pier-glass was a mirror of the appropriate height and width to fit into this space.

reparation A means of making amends – by cash or penance – for having committed an offence against another person.

Reynolds’s Newspapers A London Sunday paper which combined political radicalism with scandalous stories.

to get a certain fame To acquire a doubtful (sexual) reputation.

combing-jacket A kind of dressing-gown.

Bass The brand name of a strong brown ale, brewed in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England.

the return-room A small room added to the wall of houses.  In Dublin houses it was often built on the first landing of the staircase.

Investigating The Boarding House...

  • What role does morality play in The Boarding House?
  • Who is more moral – Mrs Mooney, for making Doran marry her daughter; or Doran, because he confesses to his priest?
  • How does the boarding house itself figure in the theme of ‘home and ‘away’? (see Themes for ideas)
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.