A Little Cloud

Synopsis of A Little Cloud

Thomas ‘Little’ Chandler is dissatisfied with his life as a clerk.  For the first time in eight years he meets his friend Gallaher, who is visiting from London, where he has become a successful journalist.  Gallaher is now a man of the world familiar with life in both London and Paris.  Their meeting makes Chandler, who dreams of becoming a poet, even more discontented with his life at home.

Commentary on A Little Cloud

on the London Press Writing for English newspapers.

when his hour had struck When the clock had struck to signal the end of his working day.

the old nobility of Dublin Dublin is full of handsome eighteenth-century houses where the rich had lived a life of leisure.  By the time this story was written, they had fallen into disrepair and were divided into tenements (flats) occupied by the poor.

Atalanta A figure from Greek mythology who refused to marry anyone who was unable to outrun her in a race.  She ensured her victory in these races by killing with a spear anyone whom she could not overtake.  Hippomenes managed to win by distracting her with three golden apples supplied by Aphrodite, goddess of love.  But the newlywed couple displeased the goddess and she turned them into lions. Atalanta is frequently represented as an athlete and/or a huntress. 

Half time … considering cap Ignatius calls for a break, as in a football match, while he thinks out his next move.

all out The Irish way of saying ‘all over’, meaning a move typical of Ignatius.

nearer to London Geographically true, since he walks south and then turns east, in the direction of London.  He is also nearing London metaphorically, since Gallaher now works in London and Chandler will be able to obtain from him information about the city.

The Celtic note The nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in the ancient poetry and mythology of Ireland.  The popular view of the Celtic was partly shaped by Study of Celtic Literature by the English poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1822-88), who represented the Celtic life as a semi-magical, dream-like world remote from actuality.  The notion of the ‘Celtic Twilight’ with its melancholy atmosphere of something coming to an end became a poetic convention, attracting many inferior poets as well as major figures such as W B Yeats (1865-1939).  By the time this story was written, ‘Twilight’ poetry was less popular/highly regarded and Joyce certainly disliked it.

It was a pity … more Irish looking Writers who wished to cash in on the Celtic fashion often adopted names that looked more authentically Irish.  Chandler (meaning a candlemaker and general dealer) is too English-sounding a name.  In Irish-English, Chandler means ‘meat-maggot’.

Malone This was the name of a celebrated family of Catholic landowners in the seventeenth century.

across the water England.

Lithia A kind of mineral water rich in lithium, often used as a mixer with whisky. The two men are drinking malt whisky, probably Irish (often spelt ‘whiskey’), but the worldly-wise Gallaher drinks his neat while the more timid Chandler’s is heavily diluted, as an indication of the difference in their characters. 

garçon (French) ‘Boy’. Sometimes used to address waiters in France.

dear dirty Dublin The phrase appears in The Wild Irish Girl (1806) by Lady Sydney Morgan (c. 1783-1859) and was adopted by Dubliners as a way of referring to their city that expressed their affection in spite of Dublin’s shortcomings.

gone to the dogs A slang phrase for someone who seems to have deteriorated in appearance and behaviour.

a good sit ‘Sit’ is short for ‘situation’ and the phrase means a steady job.

very flush Slang again: with plenty of money.

Boose Slang for alcohol; also spelt ‘booze’.

Isle of Man This island lies between Dublin and Liverpool in the Irish Sea.  A popular destination for both Irish and English holidaymakers but not known for its wild excitement. 

The Moulin Rouge A music hall in the raffish area of Montmartre, on the north side of Paris, famous for the scandalous dance the can-can and viewed from England and Ireland as being morally dubious.

Bohemian cafés Bohemia is a region in the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia.  The term was used to describe the unconventional (and probably immoral) behaviour associated with various kinds of artists, writers and musicians, especially in Paris, itself thought of as a wicked city.

gay The word is meant in the sense of carefree and pleasure-seeking.

a catholic gesture With a small ‘c’, the word means universal or general, so Gallaher makes a sweeping and inclusive gesture.

the students’ balls Dances held in restaurants and cafés, regarded as opportunities for picking up sexual partners.  Not all of those taking part were students and the dances were also attended by prostitutes.

Cocottes (French) Literally ‘hens’ but also a slang term for prostitutes.

many of the secrets … on the Continent Pornographic novels of the nineteenth century frequently described sexual orgies in nunneries and monasteries.  These fed popular stereotypes about the French and anti-Catholic prejudices.  

story about an English duchess It was generally believed that members of the English aristocracy led immoral lives.  Gallaher is titillating the credulous and inexperienced Chandler with a series of stories and allusions to immoral sexual behaviour.  They help to establish his self-image as a man of the world and draw the strongest possible contrast with the narrow kind of Dublin life led by Chandler.

parole d’honneur (French) Word of honour.  Gallaher further establishes his cosmopolitanism by peppering his conversation with French phrases.

an a.p.  Slang for an appointment.

deoc an doruis Irish for a door-drink – the last round before leaving.

Image of shop front of Bewley's in DublinBewley’s The Dublin Quaker family of Bewley ran a number of teetotal tea and coffee houses in the city. 

ten and eleven pence Ten shillings and eleven pence in pre-decimal currency, so quite a lot of money for someone like Chandler.

on the hire system On credit (also known as hire-purchase) with weekly payments, almost certainly at a high rate of interest.

Byron’s poems For many readers the work of George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) represented the peak of Romantic poetry.  

Hushed … dust I loved The first verse of Byron’s poem On the Death of a Young Lady, written in 1802 and published in 1807.  Chandler’s liking for this poem says something about his literary ignorance, for it is hardly one of Byron’s best.

lambabaun (Irish) Little lamb: a term of affection, especially for a child.

lamb of the world  John the Baptist described Jesus as ‘the lamb of God’.  See John 1:29 and Sheep, shepherd and lamb.

Investigating A Little Cloud...

  • How is the theme of escape figured in A Little Cloud?
  • What role does poetry play in A Little Cloud?
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