An old Irish saying goes that God has invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world. Nevertheless, nothing has prevented them from ruling the world of literature. Some of the greatest literary masters of the twentieth century were Irishman: Yeats in poetry, Beckett in drama, Joyce in fiction. Joyce did, however, write a book of poems, Chamber Music, and the drama, Exiles, but it is his fiction, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, that has made him immortal.
James Joyce was born on February 2, in the year of 1882. He was educated at Jesuit schools and University College, Dublin. He was the oldest of the ten children in a Catholic family, which after short period of prosperity collapsed into poverty. This social transition must have been a shock for the sensitive boy, who was suddenly faced to the world different from the one he had known up to then.
Dublin became his creative medium, the only one in which he was able to express himself truly as an artist. But in order to write about it he had felt he had to go away and leave Ireland.
Among “silence, exile, and cunning”, as William Chase had put it, in the year of 1904, James Joyce opted for the second choice and lived ever after in self-imposed exile in Europe. However, he did not go alone. His life-companion, Nora Barnacle, went with him. He met her on June 16, 1904. Later, he made that date one of the most important dates in the world of literature. Nora Barnacle was an uneducated woman from the western part of Ireland, Galway. Very few people would have thought that she would be the only woman in James Joyce’s life (or, at least, so much has been recorded). A few people, indeed but not Joyce’s father, John Joyce. When he had heard that her last name was Barnacle, which is also an English word for a shell that sticks to bottoms of ships and remains there forever, he said that his son was never to get rid of her. It turned out that parents, eventually, are right. James Joyce spent his life with Nora until his very end in Zurich, in the year of 1941.
Their life together, in many of European cities: Paris, Rome, Trieste, Pula, Zurich, was a prolonged struggle against the poverty.
However, poverty was not the only thing James Joyce had to struggle with. There were emotional crises, semi-blindness, public misunderstanding and, of course, his endless war with the publishing world. All the parts of the publishing machinery got united in only one aim – to prevent James Joyce from presenting his writings to the world. If editors accepted his manuscripts, the printers refused them, if the publishers bought his books, the censors destroyed them. There was always something. If James Joyce was not accused of obscenity, he was accused of blasphemy, if it was not blasphemy it was treason.
When his writing was banned in Ireland, it was published in England, when banned there, it was published in America, and in the end it was banned there as well. Nevertheless, James Joyce carried on his on way, refusing to become just another Mr. Nixon.
James Joyce, an Irishman by birth, but cosmopolitan in spirit, once wrote to his brother Stanislaus:
“When you remember that Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years, that it is the “second” city of the British Empire, that it is nearly three times as big as Venice, it seems strange than no artist has given it to the world. “
With the publication of Dubliners, a collection of stories, in 1904, Joyce gave Dublin to the world. However, neither Ireland not the world was ready for it. The author presented situations and language that were new and shocking to contemporary audience. Therefore, Dubliners caused great controversy in the publishing world. Its publishing history lasted almost a decade. This time publishers and printers objected to the immortality of such stories as “Two Gallants” and “An Encounter”, they also objected to the indecency of Joyce’s diction, for instance, the word “bloody”. After all, Joyce was not willing to compromise about truth.
Joyce’s stories are rather realistic stories about Dubliners at the beginning of the twentieth century, yet his power as a writer gives the stories the universal character. The writer’s attention in Dubliners is mainly focused on a narrow layer of Dublin’s society. His stories lead the reader through the world of the north side of the river Liffey, where, where the city’s laboring and unemployed poor lived. That is the world of clerks, bank officials, traders, shop assistants, the world of rented houses and rented furniture. At the time the stories were written, Dublin had already suffered centuries of colonial degradation and humiliation.
In “After the Race” Joyce says that Dublin wears “the mask of capital”. In another story “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” we are introduced to a group of people who are involved in
Dublin municipal election. Although Dublin at that time was formally the capital of Ireland, it had no power to exercises legislative authority, since the Act of Union restored that power to London. The municipal election in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” is, in fact, lection for some minor position of no real importance.
Furthermore, the characters that are involved in the election work only for the money that they hope to get from their candidates. They, actually, despise and distrust them but nevertheless they work for them. The conversation that takes place in the Committee
Room reveals the degradation of both, civil and national life, which they represent. Further symptoms of human misery and stagnation reveal everywhere.
The most frequently used color in Dubliners is brown. Even one of the characters we meet at the Morkans’ annual party, in the story “The Dead”, is named Mr. Brown. The name of Mr. Duffy, on the other hand is derived from very Irish word for dark. There is hardly a story in Dubliners without a reference to drunkenness. Alcoholism is the most prevalent disease. In that kind of world Joyce acted as a clear-eyed observer, the “one who may look on the un with open eyes.”
He defined that state using the term paralysis, paralysis of Dubliners is oral, intellectual and spiritual; nevertheless, it is not so much about paralysis as about revelation of paralysis to its victims.
What makes Dubliners different form the other, later work, is the fact that all of the stories but three were written while the author was still in Ireland, and the rest of his work was written while he was on the Continent. In terms of style, Joyce’s major innovations characterize his later work; Dubliners do reflect some distinct elements new to the English prose. And, although they may seem understated when compared with the author’s later work, those short stories do suggest the techniques that characterize the Joyce’s later works.
In the final sentence of the final paragraph of “The Dead”, the paragraph that many consider one of the most beautiful in twentieth-century literature, Joyce uses the word “falling” for five times in that rather a short paragraph. And then finishes the sentence by reversing the image: “His soul slowly and faintly falling, like the descent of the last end, upon all the living and all the dead.”
About Joyce’s Paralysis II
About Joyce’s Paralysis III
About Joyce’s Paralysis IV
Notice: From now on the installments of my prose work (a novel maybe) under the working title of - I wouldn't recommend this (with more than 25ooo words already) - are available to subscribers only.
Thanks to Kindle Affair, the most recent follower of this blog on Twitter.