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by James Joyce

Dubliners The Boarding House Summary

  • Mrs. Mooney's biggest problem has always been Mr. Mooney. 
  • As a butcher's daughter, she knew what she was doing when she opened a butcher shop, but Mr Mooney got in the way bigtime. He was a raging drunk, stole money, fought with her in public, and bought bad meat. 
  • Mrs. Mooney got her groove back with a priest-approved separation from Mr. Mooney and custody of the children.
  • On her own and without a drunk sapping all her dough, she opened a boarding house for Dublin's travelers, artists, and middle managers. 
  • Success! Mrs Mooney gained a lot of respect as the proprietor: "All the young men spoke of her as The Madam" (The Boarding House.2). That sounds sketchy, but we'll roll with it.
  • We've already met the parents, so now let's see the kids. 
  • Jack stays out late and amuses his boardinghouse friends with bets on the up-and-coming artists and horses. Polly is a little bit of a temptress at age 19, singing "I'm a…naughty girl" to the men who live in her mother's rooms. 
  • Unsurprisingly, Polly has a lot of energy and she's "very lively," so Mrs. Mooney puts her in charge of the men, knowing that her sex appeal gives her even more power. Things could get dicey.
  • And they do. It's all well and good until Polly gets involved with one of the men (The Boarding House.3,4), and things take a turn for the messy. 
  • Mrs. Mooney waits just long enough to make both Polly and the man uncomfortable, and then, "when she judged it to be the right moment, Mrs Mooney intervened. She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat" (The Boarding House.5). Chop chop, Polly. 
  • Mrs Mooney speaks with Polly first, and "things were as she suspected." Basically, Polly comes clean, even though both mother and daughter are pretty awkward about the whole thing. 
  • So here's why she let it go on for so long: she wants the man to marry Polly. 
  • Basically, Mr Doran owes it to her as "reparation," or penance, for the crime of taking up with her daughter. Mrs Mooney's argument is that "he had simply abused her hospitality" by living "beneath her roof" and "taking advantage of Polly's youth and inexperience." 
  • But here's where Mrs Mooney goes one step farther: "Some mothers would be content to patch up such an affair for a sum of money… But she would not do so. For her only one reparation could make up for the loss of her daughter's honor: marriage" (The Boarding House.8). This is what no holds barred matchmaking looks like. 
  • Oh, by the way, Mrs Mooney was "sure she would win" (The Boarding House.7,9). After all, Mr Doran works for a Catholic wine-merchant, which means he connected to the Catholic Church, and any sexual scandal might mean he'd lose his job. 
  • Wow is Mr Doran anxious. He's been to confession, and he's pretty sure marriage is his only way out. 
  • Polly isn't exactly the kind of woman his family and friends will like, he thinks. He can totally do better. Of course, the biggest complaint against Polly is her bad grammar. (And believe us, a run-on sentence can destroy the best relationship in a heartbeat.)
  • When Polly shows up at Mr Doran's door, she's so out of it she threatens to kill herself. Mr Doran "comforted her feebly," but keeps thinking to himself about the relationship, and weighing the pros and cons (The Boarding House.16). 
  • On the one hand, "her thoughtfulness" and her physical tenderness still send him into convulsions, but he's rational enough to know that "delirium passes" and the daily life with her could be really difficult (The Boarding House.18, 20). So basically he thinks that while she's swoonworthy, he also knows that life with her probably won't be a picnic.
  • While he's thinking, he gets the call that Mrs Mooney wants to meet with him. It's show time, baby, and Mr Doran still doesn't know his lines: "What am I to do?" (The Boarding House.20) 
  • Going downstairs, Mr Doran passes Jack Mooney, who gives him a cold look. Mr Doran thinks back to a night when Jack threatened a boardinghouse resident who made a snide remark about Polly. Typical big bro stuff.
  • The scene shifts back upstairs to Polly, who is calming down from her crying fit and sinking into a "revery" that includes, instead of suicide, "hopes and visions of the future" (The Boarding House.24, 25). Quite the turnaround.
  • She's so out of it that she forgets what's happening downstairs until the last line of the story, when she hears her mother calling her downstairs because, "Mr Doran wants to speak to you" (The Boarding House.29).

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