There are a lot of references to accents and speech in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, to make it clear to the reader that the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, is keenly aware of them. These are mostly straightforward, but I was baffled by this paragraph:

Cranly's speech, unlike that of Davin, had neither rare phrases of Elizabethan English nor quaintly turned versions of Irish idioms. Its drawl was an echo of the quays of Dublin given back by a bleak decaying seaport, its energy an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin given back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.

What kind of speech patterns or accent is Joyce describing here, and what judgements about the speaker are implied by this esoteric description?

  • Ah, Joyce. He was THE prose-poet. “Its drawl was an echo of the quays of Dublin”. There is no common word that gets at the sound and rhythm of that sentence but “poem”. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 9:35

1 Answer 1



  • Davin’s speech included uncommon features from Elizabethan English
  • Davin’s speech had idiosyncratic variations of common Irish folk sayings

Davin was (slightly) like an Elizabethan orator


  • Cranly drawled, or spoke slowly and languorously
  • Cranly’s speech evokes the quays, or docks, surrounding Dublin
  • More specifically, it evoked an echo of X given back by Y: an echo of the quays, given (back) by the decaying seaport.


Therefore, Cranly’s speech is slow, and reminds the narrator Daedalus (/Joyce) of the languid rustling and rumbling of waves in the echoing din of a seaport, under and against the wooden docks and the searocks along the water, with a minor hint of something dismal, bleak, or a culturally urban spirit or air of decrepitude (maybe a social signification of urban lower classes, who knows)

…its energy an echo of the sacred eloquence of Dublin given back flatly by a Wicklow pulpit.

  • Yet, Cranly’s speech had eloquence

  • The narrator took it as a kind of sacred

  • It had a flat tone

  • Wicklow is a small town in East Ireland


  • Cranly again does not have the veneer of high status as a Elizabethan orator, but is instead compared to a rural, perhaps even mediocre or dull but stolid pastor, but has the rustic, carnal actuality of “real Ireland”, a poetical true-bloodedness to him.

Ireland, early 1900’s

To recap

  • Cranly’s speech was unlike Davin’s speech
  • Cranly’s speech did not have any intellectual or artful old English phrases in it
  • Cranly’s speech did not creatively reuse Irish sayings
  • Cranley was not literary type, in the way he spoke, as Daedalus and supposedly Davin are (which Daedalus is keenly prefixated with)
  • Cranly spoke slowly, flatly, evenly, calmly, and maybe even slightly boringly, or drawled
  • Cranly’s way of speaking was like (“echoed”, called to mind, or resembled) decaying buildings or areas of the city of Dublin
  • Cranly’s slow speech reminded the narrator of something bleak, as life in Dublin possibly could be, due to the weather and socioeconomic conditions, or a general cultural air, attitude or feeling
  • The energy levels of Cranly’s speech were like (again, “echoes”) Dublin’s “sacred eloquence”

That means that Joyce saturates the image with contrast: Davin is both like the dark side of Dublin, and its bright, holy, slightly mystical, profound or beautiful side: in ugliness there can be whispered a kind of hidden beauty that a person can take an attachment to.

  • And yet, the sacredness, charm, prettiness and regalness of Dublin that Joyce/Daedalus feels for Dublin, has been “given back flatly” by a parish (countryside) priest - none too glamorous; low-brow; country folk, unenthused by any high-falutin big-city pompousness.

Consider the myriad chains of comparisons:

  • Cranly’s speech conveys low energy and low class, both because it is slow and unadorned and unintellectual, and sleepy
  • That is like a decaying city or world, where such a lower class light live or spend time or pass by, or be influenced by
  • There is such a place in Dublin, and Cranly is from Dublin: so we have a degree of bidirectional influence: perhaps Cranly’s speech is like a side of Dublin, because Dublin formed him to be like people in Dublin, in some way.
  • Cranly is also like a (comparatively) low class priest who is not astounded by something officious like the marble colonnades of a capitol building: he remains flat, maybe slightly stuffy. So Cranly is like the way something regal is met by something which is not: the contrast evokes the flat, unbudgingness of his doldrum-like persona

The amount of cross-connections and -comparisons here is staggering, and could continually benefit from further analysis to draw out the number of “interactions” between various associational or metaphorical ideas, here. Though the prose embodies the characteristics less than it tells them, there is the central “echoic” echo on which the sentence hinges - repeated, given back, twice, as an echo - that was Joyce’s trademark, language which performs as what it describes, or as Samuel Beckett said, “words which dance and die on the page” - doubtless not overlooked by Joyce in the slightest!

  • Wicklow Town is contained within County Wicklow; in this county lie the Wicklow Mountains, the northern fringes of which are visible from Dublin City.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 22:48

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