In order to demonstrate that one story from the Dubliners is not only a turning point in that book but also a microcosm of a wide range of important Joycean influences and preoccupations, Coilin Owens examines the dense intertextuality of "A Painful Case."Assuming the position of the ideal contemporary Irish reader that Joyce might have anticipated, Owens argues that the main character, James Duffy, is a "spoiled priest," emotionally arrested by his guilt at having rejected the call to the priesthood. Duffy's intellectual life thereafter progresses through German idealism to eventual nihilism. The contrast of nihilist thought and Christian belief is Owens's main focus, and he demonstrates how this dichotomy is evident at various points in the life of James Duffy.From this springboard, Owens constructs a larger discussion of Joyce's cultural influences, including Schopenhauer, Wagner, Tolstoy, and others.
He considers many other complex interrelationships that inform Joyce's text - theology, philosophy, music, opera, literary history, Irish cultural history, and Joyce's own poetry - and offers detailed elucidations informed by historical, geographical, linguistic, and biographical information.