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Dubliners | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Two Gallants

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of "Two Gallants" from James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Dubliners | Two Gallants | Summary



On a Sunday evening in August two friends, Corley and Lenehan, walk together while Corley tells a story about his most recent conquest of a woman, a "slavey" or low-ranking housemaid, and alludes to his plans for her. Lenehan does not think Corley can get away with his plan, but neither of the men talks about the plan directly. Instead, Corley praises the virtues, or lack thereof, of slaveys. He met this maid on the street and discovered she worked for a wealthy family. The two of them see each other regularly now, and she brings him cigarettes and cigars and pays tram fares for their excursions. He had some fears she might get pregnant at first, but he has since learned she knows how to avoid pregnancy. Lenehan speculates the maid might want to marry Corley, but Corley has told her he has no job and has not given her his real name.

Corley talks about going out with girls in the past, spending lots of money on them, and never getting anywhere with them physically—with one exception whom he wistfully describes as "a bit of all right." He recently saw this woman out with two men, saying she is "on the turf" now. Lenehan suggests Corley might be responsible for ruining this girl's reputation, but Corley assures Lenehan he was not the first man to be with her. Lenehan does not believe him and kids him about it.

When the time comes for Corley to go meet his girl, Lenehan wants to see what she looks like. He watches from afar as the two meet, and he follows them at a distance before going his own way into the shopping district on Grafton Street and beyond. Lenehan finds a café and orders a plate of peas and a ginger beer for dinner. As he dines alone he contemplates his age—soon to be 31—and considers how it might be nice to have a good job, a home, and someone cooking for him. He feels bitter about the women he has known and about his friends.

After Lenehan pays for his dinner, he wanders out and meets some of those friends. They ask about Corley and talk about some other people they know, then Lenehan wanders back through the shopping district. He observes Corley at the end of his date, wondering if he managed to pull off his scheme. He thinks Corley will fail as he sees the couple approach, and follows them to the house where Corley's girl works. She goes inside and leaves Corley on the sidewalk. After a few minutes, she briefly returns before going inside again. Lenehan greets Corley and asks if he was successful. Corley does not answer right away, building suspense. Then he opens his hand to show Lenehan a gold coin.


Corley and Lenehan might be comical figures if they were not so sleazy and pathetic. Each man behaves in a totally different fashion from the way society expects them to behave at their age. They are in their early thirties, but they behave like much younger men, still sowing wild oats, working sporadically, and trying to manipulate women into doing their bidding. Lenehan dimly recognizes his lifestyle is not sustainable as he considers the benefits of settling down. However, even as he imagines what a settled life might be like, the focus is on how such an arrangement might benefit him and his comfort. He does not think about human connection and companionship but the prospect of a warm fire and a warm meal provided for him by a faceless individual. Still, he recognizes that the women he knows are not the sort that can provide him with such a life, and he sees his friends are not really friends at all, but just a bunch of guys who tolerate him and buy him drinks from time to time. He might read as sad and sympathetic in his loneliness if he were not friends with a man scheming to convince a maid to steal from her employers.

Unlike Lenehan, Corley has no self-awareness. He has a glimmer of regret about a girl he once slept with who has fallen into extremely ill-repute, but he denies any responsibility for what has become of her. Lenehan presses him on the matter, and Corley resolves to deny that he was the one who ruined her reputation. Likewise, he feels no shame about sponging off his current girl and calls her a slavey, a derogatory term for a low-ranking, low-paid house worker. He does not seem to care if she spends what little money she has on him, and he has no concern that she risks her job—as well as future employment and possible arrest—by stealing a gold coin for him. In the meantime, he does not even give her his real name to protect himself against any possible future demands she might make of him. Corley's sole concern is what he can get for himself, and he is defined by the schemes he can get away with and the women he can sleep with.

Dublin may offer few opportunities for men like Corley and Lenehan to better their situation. They have little education, and most of the jobs available to them offer meager pay and difficult working conditions. While men in other stories in Dubliners marry, have children, and continue to booze and carouse at the expense of their families, at least Corley and Lenehan have chosen a means of escaping their boredom, while not inflicting as much collateral damage on others. The women Lenehan meets and the one Corley seduces must have some idea what kind of people these two men really are, but they are looking for ways to escape from their limited opportunities as well.
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