February 21, 2018
Joyce, Dublin, DublinersOn this day in 1914 James Joyce's Dubliners was published, an event which required "nine years of my life." Three years later Joyce was still fuming at the "litigation and train fare and postal expense," the correspondence with "seven solicitors, one hundred and twenty newspapers and several men of letters," the refusals from forty publishers, and the humiliation from the two who had accepted the book: "The type of the abortive first English edition (1906) was broken up. The second edition (Dublin 1910) was burnt entire almost in my presence."
This was the same sort of trouble Joyce would have with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a great deal less than the furor over Ulysses, but it came to a younger writer, one merely wishing to be the first "who presented Dublin to the world," and gave the Irish "one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass." "It is not my fault," he went on to his first, abortive publisher, "that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories." The publisher continued to balk, fearful that many would see in the stories little more than an irreligious, anti-Irish, spit-in-the-eye. Joyce agreed to some of the changes requested but as these grew he dug in, refusing to make Dubliners "like an egg without salt," or make himself "a literary Jesus Christ."
On several trips home from Europe Joyce tried to complete a deal; on his way out of Ireland in 1912, his last ever visit, he composed a satiric poem about an Irish printer who, for love of country, burns an anti-Irish book and keeps the urned ashes for mock-penitence:
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
Memento homo upon my bum.
Privately, Joyce thought his stories were perhaps too "mischievous," and not the entire truth about home or his feelings for it. The last story in the collection, "The Dead," was the last-written, and critics see a more ambivalent or generous Joyce in it. At its close, young Gabriel quietly weeps as he feels that "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world . . .":
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