Characters in "Two Gallants"
Big Man on Campus
In "Two Gallants," Corley plays the alpha male. He's a large, sturdy, sweaty man about town who talks to everyone, flirts or stares at all the girls, and is also self-centered, doesn't really listen, and talks about himself and little else. Listening to him usually means hearing about "what he had said to such and such a person and what such a person had said to him," almost the way a middle school kid would report an argument. There's not much analysis, not much reflection, and not a lot of intelligence involved. He's a real winner, folks.
In this story, Corley's chosen counterpart is Lenehan, who is sort of perfect for the job because he wants to impress Corley and be a bit of a parasite. Corley spends most of the story telling stories that show how much of a ladies man he is. We learn about his dating life, or, more accurately, that he doesn't take girls out on nice dates anymore because he never got anywhere with girls when he spent money on them. He's classy like that.
And we learn that there's one exception to that story, a girl he seems to still feel something for. He denies that it's a big deal that he slept with her because she claimed she'd been with others before him. Lenehan doesn't actually believe Corley about this, and decides to mock him, but it's a sensitive subject, so Corley starts talking about the meeting he has coming up. This is probably the only time Corley shows some sensitivity in the story. But it explains a lot, too: like maybe why Corley is so bent on meeting this girl tonight. Is it possible that this proud and gallant jerk is actually a little wounded by the one that got away?
The title of the story gives us some hints: we're talking about "gallants" here, or "young men of fashion." Now it's a little bit tongue-in-cheek for Joyce to say this, because we don't have to know Corley or Lenehan for too long to realize that they aren't as wealthy or classy as Jimmy in "After the Race," and that their lives consist mostly of running after even less classy women. They aren't even dressed very well, and in their own ways, they're both somewhat awkward.
But "gallant" is also an adjective that means "stately" and "brave" and "bold," (source), and it's most often associated with medieval knights and chivalry. Here's where it gets even more ironic to think of these two guys. If being a knight of Dublin means living like this, it's a sad commentary on the kingdom, right?
Even though Corley drives most of the action and conversation in "Two Gallants," Lenehan is the more complex character. Rather than a big, womanizing lout like Corley, Lenehan lives by his wits and his gift of gab, and narrowly avoids getting kicked out of various groups for being a moocher:
Most people considered Lenehan a leech but, in spite of this reputation, his adroitness and eloquence had always prevented his friends from forming a general policy against him. He had a brave manner of coming up to a party of them in a bar and of holding himself nimbly at the borders of the company until he was included in a round. (Two Gallants.6)
If it's not interesting enough that Lenehan hangs on to the edge of all different groups with his storytelling and jokes, there are also rumors that he considers betting on horses a good source of income. Quite a character, indeed.
Lenehan really seems to be enjoying himself with Corley at the beginning on the story. The phrase he keeps repeating, "that takes the biscuit," means something like, "that takes the cake," and even though it's pretty obvious that he's trying too hard, it doesn't seem like an unpleasant conversation about women. It's gossip after all, and who doesn't love good gossip?
Sour Feeling Guy
It's only when Corley leaves Lenehan behind to go on his "date" that we see the toll this takes on Lenehan. He doesn't really know what to do with himself until Corley comes back, and we see that his way of living is actually kind of exhausting: "He knew that he would have to speak a great deal, to invent and to amuse, and his brain and throat were too dry for such a task" (Two Gallants.71). It might not be digging ditches, but if talking is the way you make friends (and get drinks), it can definitely get old.
Lenehan is, in a way that Corley isn't, conscious of the ways in which his life isn't what he wants it to be. While Corley changes the subject from talking about his past relationships, Lenehan thinks, while he sits alone in a restaurant, that "his own poverty of purse and spirit" is more troubling to him now than it was before. He's getting old, and he's starting to feel the clock ticking for a stable relationship and a warm place to go home and eat.
What's amazing about this moment is that Lenehan balances his disillusionment and his hope: "Experience had embittered his heart against the world. But all hope had not left him" (Two Gallants.77). What's less amazing, and more predictable for readers of Dubliners, is that when Lenehan gets excited after dinner, it's not because of a plan to change his life; he just wants to get the scoop on Corley's date.