The current James Joyce exhibit, now on display through October 8th at the Burns Library, focuses on Joyce’s Dubliners and the books referenced in Dubliners. Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories about the inhabitants and environment of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century–a seemingly innocuous proposal, but one that caused no end of frustration for Joyce in seeing it through to print. Digital versions of the books referenced in Dubliners, along with a digitized Dubliners, form the basis of the recently launched Dubliners Bookshelf website.
When Joyce was trying to publish Dubliners, British law stated that a printer was just as guilty of any charges of obscenity as the writer of a book. After Joyce’s prospective publisher, Grant Richards, sent the Dubliners proofs to the printer, the printer informed Richards that the stories contained “obscenities.” In the story “Grace,” for instance, the printer objected to Joyce’s use of the word “bloody,” as in: “Then he has a bloody big bowl of cabbage before him on the table and a bloody big spoon like a shovel.” Richards and Joyce were unable to agree on revisions and so publication of Dubliners was at a standstill. Joyce sought out several other publishers, including George Roberts of Maunsel & Co. in Dublin. Yet all efforts failed. In the meantime, Joyce befriended another expatriate, Ezra Pound, who was associated with The Egoist, a London literary magazine. Pound arranged for some of Joyce’s work to appear in the journal, which impressed Grant Richards, who in turn wrote to Joyce in 1913 offering to reconsider the publication of Dubliners. It took another year, and several editorial concessions by Joyce, but after nearly nine long years of agonizing abeyance, Richards delivered Dubliners to the public on June 15, 1914. Embedded in Joyce’s Dubliners are many references to the books that his characters owned and read, some of these books are featured in the exhibit. This post highlights a selection of these books. For a complete list of these books and to view these books online, visit the Dubliners Bookshelf website.
Two books by Welsh author Arthur Machen are advertised in Dubliners. Grant Richards published Arthur Machen’s short story collection The House of Souls some eight years before Dubliners. Machen’s stories were steeped in the supernatural, reflecting Machen’s interest in occult literature and his experience working as a bibliographer and translator for an antiquarian bookseller who specialized in mysticism. Like Machen and other writers of the time, Joyce demonstrated interest in the occult as a young man and collected books on mysticism, spirituality, and hermeticism. Grant Richards also solicited Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (originally titled The Garden of Avallaunius). Machen’s new novel departed significantly from his earlier writing, however, and Richards refused to publish the manuscript. Machen attempted to find another publisher over the next ten years, until Richards finally decided to issue it in 1907. The loosely autobiographical novel was advertised in the first edition of Joyce’s Dubliners along with The House of Souls.
References to the Catholic Catechism appear throughout Dubliners, reflecting its importance in Irish Catholic educational models. Catholic publishing rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century, with the publishing houses of M.H. Gill & Son, Browne and Nolan, and James Duffy producing large numbers of religious texts, including condensed versions of the official catechism, like this one, used for preparing first communicants. In “A Painful Case,” Joyce gives the name James Duffy to his central character: a socially isolated, probably homosexual, bank cashier who rebuffs a relationship with a married woman, Mrs. Sinico, whom he later reads has been killed by a train, leading him to reflect on his utter loneliness.
After Duffy ends his visits with Mrs. Sinico in “A Painful Case,” she sends him a parcel with the books and music he had lent her, and Joyce notes that on the bookshelf in Duffy’s bedroom appeared two volumes by Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Joyful Wisdom. Joyce himself began to take an interest in Nietzsche around 1903, just before John Eglinton’s essay in the literary magazine Dana made Nietzsche an increasingly fashionable author among the Dublin intelligentsia. Joyce parodies Nietzsche’s notion of the Űbermensch in Stephen Hero and later works.
The queer old man whom the boys met in “The Encounter” prodded them by asking whether they “had read the poetry of Thomas Moore or the works of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Lytton.” Lord Lytton was a popular nineteenth-century writer, and Joyce had a copy of the Tauchnitz edition of his Last Days of Pompeii in his Trieste library. Tauchnitz was one of the primary publishers of Anglophone literature on the European Continent who provided reliable editions of British and American literature for travelers and self-imposed exiles like Joyce. In the library he kept at Trieste, Joyce collected 46 Tauchnitz titles by authors such as Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and George Moore. In May 1930, one of Joyce’s own works, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in the Tauchnitz series. Despite the lack of copyright agreements between Germany and Britain in the nineteenth century, Tauchnitz offered royalties to its writers in order to ensure accurate texts.
Enjoy learning more about Dubliners by visiting Unhemmed As It Is Uneven: Joyce’s Odyssey in Print at the Burns Library through September 12th or by perusing the Dubliners Bookshelf website. If you have further questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.