1. Into the Modern:
George Moore (1852–1933) spent much of his early career in Paris and was one of the first writers to use the techniques of the French realist novelists in English. His novels were often controversial. A Drama in Muslin (1886) was banned from public libraries because it dealt with lesbianism. Esther Waters (1894), the book that finally established his reputation as a novelist in the tradition of Zola, had as its subject extramarital sex and illegitimacy, and The Brook Kerith (1916) imagined a Christ who did not die on the cross but who was nursed back to health and then travelled to India to study mysticism. Moore was involved in the setting up of the Abbey Theatre and wrote several volumes of memoirs. His short stories helped popularise the form among Irish authors and he can be seen as one of the precursors of the most famous Irish novelist of the 20th century, James Joyce.
Joyce (1882–1941) is often regarded as the father of the literary genre “stream of consciousness” which is best exemplified in his famous work, Ulysses. Joyce also wrote Finnegan’s Wake, Dubliners, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ulysses, often considered to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, is the story of a day in the life of a city, Dublin. Told in a dazzling array of styles, it was a landmark book in the development of literary modernism. If Ulysses is the story of a day, Finnegan’s Wake is a night epic, partaking in the logic of dreams and written in an invented language something like English, it was a book without followers until the emergence of writers like William Burroughs in the 1950s and 1960s.
Joyce’s high modernism had its influence on coming generations of Irish novelists, most notably Samuel Beckett (1906–1989), Brian O’Nolan (1912–1966), who published as both Flann O’Brien and Myles na Gopaleen, and Aidan Higgins (born 1927). Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, is one of the great figures in 20th century world literature. Perhaps best known for his plays, he wrote many works of fiction and his trilogy Molly, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, written, like Waiting for Godot, in the period between 1947 and 1949, is perhaps the greatest of all second generation modernist fiction.
O’Nolan was bilingual and his fiction clearly shows the mark of the native tradition, particularly in the imaginative quality of his storytelling and the biting edge of his satire. These traits are especially evident in At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), which was highly praised by Joyce, and The Third Policeman, published in 1967, after his death.
The big house novel prospered into the 20th century, and Aidan Higgins’ first novel Langrishe, Go Down is an experimental example of the genre. Higgins later fiction tended towards greater disjunction and experimentation. He has also published short stories and several volumes of memoirs.
More conventional exponents of the big house novel include Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973), whose novels include Encounters (1923), The Last September (1929), The Funny Bone (1928) and The Death of the Heart (1938) and Molly Keane (1904–1996) (writing as M.J. Farrell), author of Young Entry (1928), Conversation Piece (1932), Devoted Ladies (1934), Full House (1935), and The Loving Without Tears (1951)among others.
Francis Stuart (1902–2000) started his literary life as a protege of W. B. Yeats and married Isuelt, daughter of Maude Gonne. He published his first novel, Women and God in 1931. Stuart was a prolific novelist, but many of his books are now long out of print. He went to work in Germany in the late 1930s, and declined to leave with the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war, he broadcast anti-British talks on German radio. The controversy surrounding these actions was to stay with Stuart until his death. However, his finest and most enduring novel, Black List, Section H (1971), is a barely fictionalised account of those years.
With the rise of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland, the terms of the ‘national question’ shifted. The issue of land ownership had been more or less resolved and the real question now was how to build a nation state. Inevitably, novelists from the so-called lower social classes began to dominate. Frequently, these authors wrote of the narrow, circumscribed lives of the lower-middle classes and small farmers. Exponents of this style range from Brinsley MacNamara (1890-1963) (real name John Weldon), whose 1918 The Valley of the Squinting Windows could be said to have created the genre, to John McGahern (born 1934), whose first novel, The Dark (1965), a portrayal of child abuse in a rural community, cost him his job as a teacher.
Brian Moore (1921–1999) was born in Belfast but became a citizen of Canada in 1953. He wrote a series of scrupulously written novels examining the Catholic conscience in the modern world.
The short story has also proven popular with Irish fiction writers. Well known short story writers include Frank O’Connor (1903–1966) and Sean O Faolain (1900–1991).
2. Present Irish Fiction:
James Joyce and W.B. Yeats set quite a precedent. Since their deaths more than 50 years ago, Irish writers have lived in the shadow of perhaps the most influential writers of the 20th century.
Contemporary Irish fiction has moved to reflect the changes in the society that produces it. There are fewer novels set in the countryside and more urban fiction being written. The last few years has also seen a rise in the volume of popular fiction being published across a range of genres from romantic novels to hardboiled detective stories set in New York. Some notable names are Maeve Binchy, Seamus Deane, Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger and Jennifer Johnston. There has also been an increasing emphasis on writing by women which found concrete expression in the founding of the Arlen House publishing venture.
Roddy Doyle and Patrick McCabe may be the next wave of Irish fiction. Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, shares McCabe’s theme of family and adolescence. Much like best-selling countryman Frank McCourt, Doyle takes an unsentimental look at Irish childhood.
Patrick McCabe has carved his own niche with dark fiction like The Butcher Boy, which fellow Irish novelist and filmmaker Neil Jordan made into an acclaimed film in 1998. McCabe’s most recent novel, the dark comedy Breakfast on Pluto, told the tale of a young transvestite caught in the paramilitary conflict of Ireland in the 1970’s.
Far from the bittersweet vision of his young colleagues, William Trevor has long written lyrical fables of Irish families torn between tradition and change. A regular contributor to the New Yorker, Trevor recently came into a wider spotlight with Atom Egoyan’ s film adaptation of Felicia’s Journey. Trevor has garnered a wide audience for his modern-day tales written in a subtle, somewhat ironic style.
Analysis of Ulysses by James Joyce:
Ulysses is a novel by James Joyce which takes its title from the Latin version of the Greek name ‘Odysseus‘. It is sometimes cited as the greatest novel of the 20th century and has been the subject of much scrutiny, criticism and confusion.
Ulysses chronicles the passage through Dublin of Leopold Bloom during an unremarkable day, June 16, 1904. The title alludes to the hero of Homer‘s Odyssey, and there are many parallels, both implicit and explicit, between the two works (e.g. the correlations between Leopold Bloom as Odysseus and Stephen Dedalus as Telemachus). June 16 is now celebrated by Joyce’s fans worldwide as Bloomsday. Joyce chose that date because he and his soon-to-be wife, Nora Barnacle, shared their first date on that day.
Written over a seven-year period from 1914 to 1921, the novel was serialized in the American journal The Little Review from 1918, until the publication of the Nausicaa episode led to a prosecution for obscenity. The book was first published in its entirety in Paris in 1922, but was banned in both the United States and United Kingdom until the 1930s. The work was blacklisted by Irish customs.
Ulysses is a massive novel: 267,000 words in total from a vocabulary of 30,000 words, with most editions weighing in at between 800 to 1000 pages, and divided into 18 chapters. At first glance the book may appear unstructured and chaotic, but the two schemata which Stuart Gilbert and Herbert Gorman released after publication to defend Joyce from the obscenity accusations make the links to the Odyssey, and much internal structure, explicit.
The legacy and impact of Ulysses on modern literature and literaty culture is sizable; one need only note the proliferation of the celebration of Bloomsday on 16 June all over the world, with a notably large celebration in Dublin, Ireland during 2004 to commemorate the centenary of the book’s events.
Joyce is often quoted as saying that one could recreate the city of Dublin, piece by piece, from Ulysses. Many scholars have noted that although this rather bold statement may have been true at or around Joyce’s time, so much of the city has changed that this claim is no longer viable. Nevertheless, many of the places and landmarks featured in Ulysses may still be found in Dublin, such as the Martello tower where the novel begins and Davy Byrne’s pub. Indeed, perambulating around the city as Bloom and Dedalus did, one can still get a sense of how the city influenced Joyce’s novel.
Joyce’s first acquaintance with Odysseus was via Charles Lamb‘s Adventures of Ulysses– an adaptation of the Odyssey for children, which seems to have established the Roman name in Joyce‘s mind. At school he wrote an essay on Ulysses as his “favourite hero”. He thought about calling Dubliners “Ulysses in Dublin“, but the idea grew from a story in Dubliners in 1906, to a “short book” in 1907 , to the vast novel which he began writing in 1914.
The publication history of Ulysses is disputed and obscure. There have been at least eleven editions, and possibly as many as eighteen (the discrepancy originating in the difficulty of ascertaining what is a new edition, and what is a mere reprinting). To complicate matters, there are variations between different impression of each edition, and source information is frequently inaccurate. Notable editions include the first edition, published in Paris on 2 February 1922 (only 1000 copies printed); the pirated Roth edition, published in New York in 1929; the Odyssey Press edition of 1932 (including some revisions by Stuart Gilbert, and therefore sometimes considered the most accurate edition); the first official American edition of Random House, 1934; the first English edition of the Bodley Head, 1936; the revised Bodley Head Edition of 1960; the revised Random House edition of 1961 and the Gabler edition of 1984. The latter three, plus the first 1922 edition have most recently been in print.
In 1920 after the magazine The Little Review serialized a passage of the book dealing with the main character masturbating, a group called The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice who apparently objected to the book’s content, took action to attempt to keep the book out of the United States. At a trial in 1921 the magazine was declared obscene and as a result Ulysses was banned in the United States.
The publisher, Random House, decided to try to get the ban lifted. In 1933, an arrangement was made to import the French edition, and the publisher arranged to have a copy seized by customs when the ship was unloaded. A trial, United States v. One Book Called Ulysses ensued, and US District Judge John M. Woolsey issued a ruling on December 6, declaring that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene. Augustus Noble Hand ruled for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in affirming the ruling which allowed the book to be imported into the U.S.
The corrected text:
According to Jack Dalton , the first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors but was still the most accurate edition published. As each subsequent edition attempted to correct these mistakes, it incorporated more of its own. Hans Walter Gabler’s 1984 edition was an attempt to produce a corrected text, but it has received much criticism, most notably from John Kidd. Kidd’s main criticism is of Gabler’s choice of the manuscript as his copy-text (the base edition with which the editor compares each variant). This choice is problematic, in that there is no manuscript as such: Joyce wrote approximately 30% of the final text as marginal notes on the galleys. Gabler had therefore to reconstruct a manuscript, which had never physically existed, by adding together all of Joyce’s accretions from the various sources. Whether this is problematic depends on one’s perspective: on the one hand, it allowed Gabler to produce a synoptic text, which indicated the stage at which each addition was inserted; on the other, more orthodox theorists (such as Kidd) maintain that the copy-text should be the earliest single existing document, the 1922 edition.
Kidd also criticized a number of specific editorial decisions made by Gabler, but again these seem to be a matter of judgment rather than of right or wrong answers.
At present, the debate about which text of Ulysses is, in fact, the ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ version remains vibrant. Many publications of Ulysses will list the previous versions as one of the opening pages. However, for the casual reader, these differences should not detract from one’s desire to read (or, at least, attempt to read) this book.
Reading the novel:
Ulysses has become a byword for the “difficult” novel. Part of this is due to the style of the writing—or perhaps more accurately, to the styles of the writing. For much of the novel, Joyce makes use of the stream of consciousness technique rather than a conventional narrator. Johnson, in her introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition, identifies one fundamental rule which Joyce followed: “absolute fidelity to what really would have occurred”. This means there is no smoothing of the way for the reader. People, places and events are referred to with no introduction, leaving the reader to piece the puzzle together over the course of reading the whole work. Some puzzles are never solved: in Lestrygonians, an insulting postcard bears the message “U.P.”, but why the message is insulting is never revealed, while in Hades the confusion over the identity of a mysterious man wearing a Macintosh is never cleared up.
All these difficulties are fully intentional. Joyce once commented, “I’ve put so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant…”
The eighteen chapters:
Most chapters of Ulysses have an assigned theme, technique and, tellingly, correspondences between its characters and those of the Odyssey. The chapter titles and the correspondences were not included in the original text, but derive from the Linati and Gilbert schema.
It is morning. The book opens inside a Martello tower on Dublin Bay at Sandycove, where three young men, Buck Mulligan (a callous, verbally aggressive and boisterous medical student), Stephen Dedalus (an Aristotlean author) and Haines (a nondescript Englishman from Oxford) have just woken and are preparing for the day. Stephen, brooding about the recent death of his mother, complains about Haines’ hysterical nightmares. Mulligan shaves and prepares breakfast and all three then eat. Haines decides to go to the library and Mulligan suggests swimming beforehand; all three then leave the tower. Walking for a time, Stephen chats with Haines and smokes before leaving, deciding that he cannot return to the tower that evening for Mulligan has usurped his place.
Stephen is at school, attempting to teach bored schoolboys history and English, though they are unappreciative of his efforts. Stephen attempts to tell a riddle which falls flat before seeing the boys out of the classroom. One stays behind so that Stephen shows how to do a set of arithmetic exercises. Afterwards Stephen visits the school headmaster, Mr. Deasy, from whom he collects his pay and a letter to take to a newspaper office for printing.
Next, Stephen finds his way to the strand and mopes around for some time, doing little more than thinking, reminiscing and walking about on the beach. He lies down among some rocks, watches a couple and a dog, writes some poetry ideas, picks his nose and possibly has a sexual experience.
The role of protagonist suddenly shifts to Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser living nearby in Eccles street preparing breakfast at the same time as Mulligan in the tower. He walks to a butcher to purchase a kidney for his breakfast and returns to finish his cooking. He takes his wife, Molly Bloom, her breakfast and letters and reads his own letter from their daughter, Milly. The chapter closes with his plodding to the outhouse to defecate.
Bloom now begins his day proper, furtively making his way to a post office (by an intentionally indirect route), where he receives a love letter from one ‘Martha Clifford’ addressed to his pseudonym, ‘Henry Flower’. He buys a newspaper and meets an acquaintance; while they chat he attempts to ogle a woman wearing stockings, but is distracted by a passing tram. Next, he reads the letter and tears the envelope up in an alley. Bloom makes his exit via a Catholic church service and thinks about what is going on inside it. He goes to a drugstore then meets another acquaintance, Bantam, whom he unintentionally gives a racing tip for the horse Throwaway. Finally, Bloom ponders his naked state in water as he approaches the baths to wash for the rest of the day.
This chapter is the first with obvious motifs, and these are those of botany, religion, drugs, potions, and guilt and murder.
The episode begins with Bloom entering a funeral carriage with three others, including Stephen’s father Simon Dedalus. They make their way to Dignam’s funeral, passing Stephen and making smalltalk on the way. Bloom scans his newspaper. They talk about various deaths, forms of death and the tramline before arriving and getting out. They enter the chapel into the service and subsequently leave with the coffincart. Bloom sees a mysterious anonymous man wearing a mackintosh during the burial and ponders on various subjects some more. Leaving, he points out a dent in a friend’s hat.
The main motifs of this episode are death and decay.
At the newspaper office, Bloom attempts to place an ad, while Stephen arrives bringing Deasy’s letter about hoof and mouth disease. The two do not meet. The episode is broken up into short sections by newspaper-style headlines, and is characterized by its deliberate abundance of rhetorical figures and devices.
Bloom searches for lunch, eventually settling down to a vegetarian lunch at Davy Byrnes’s.
9. Scylla and Charbydis
At the National Library, Stephen explains to various scholars his biographical theory of the works of Shakespeare, especially Hamlet, whereby they are based largely on the posited adultery of Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway. Bloom enters the library to look at some statues on exhibit, but does not encounter Stephen.
10. The Wandering Rocks
In this episode, 19 short vignettes depict the wanderings of various characters, major and minor, through the streets of Dublin. It ends with an account of the cavalcade of the Lord Lieutenant, William Humble, Earl of Dudley, through the streets, where it is encountered by the various characters we have followed earlier in the episode. Notably, neither Stephen nor Bloom sees the Viceroy’s procession.
In this episode, dominated by motifs of music, Bloom has dinner with Stephen’s uncle Richie Goulding at the Ormond Hotel, while Blazes Boylan proceeds to his rendezvous with Molly. While dining, Bloom watches the seductive barmaids Lydia Douce and Mina Kennedy, and listens to the singing of Simon Dedalus, and others.
This chapter is narrated largely by an unnamed denizen of Dublin. He runs into Hynes and they enter a pub for a drink. At the pub, they meet Alf Bergan and a character referred to only as the ‘citizen.’ Eventually, Leopold Bloom enters waiting to meet Martin Cunningham. The Citizen is discovered to be a fierce fenian and begins berating Bloom. The atmosphere quickly becomes anti-Semitic and Bloom escapes upon Cunningham’s arrival. The chapter is marked by extended digressions made outside the voice of the unnamed narrator, hyperboles of legal jargon, Biblical passages, Irish mythology, etc., with lists of names often extending half a page. ‘Cyclops’ refers both to the narrator who is often quoted with ‘says I’ and the citizen who fails to see the folly of his narrow-minded thinking.
Cissy Caffrey, Edy Boarman, and Gerty MacDowell start the chapter off on the strand near a church. Gerty often daydreams of finding someone to love her. Eventually, Bloom appears and they begin to flirt from a distance. The women are about to leave when the fireworks start. Cissy and Edy leave to get better view, but Gerty remains. She shows off her legs to Bloom, who, as it turns out, is masturbating. Gerty then leaves, revealing herself to be lame, and leaving Bloom meditating on the beach. The first half of the episode is marked by an excessively sentimental style, and it is unclear how much of Gerty’s monologue is actually imagined by Bloom.
14. Oxen of the Sun
Bloom visits the maternity hospital where Mina Purefoy is giving birth, and finally meets Stephen, who is drinking with Buck Mulligan and his medical student friends. They continue on to a pub to continue drinking, following the successful birth of the baby. This chapter is remarkable for Joyce’s wordplay, which seems to recapitulate the entire history of human language to describe a scene in an obstetrics hospital, from the Carmen Arvale and on through skillful parodies of Malory, the King James Bible, Bunyan, Pepys, Defoe, Addison and Steele, Sterne, Goldsmith, Junius, Gibbon, Lamb, De Quincey, Landor, Dickens, Newman, Ruskin and Carlyle, among others, before concluding in a haze of nearly incomprehensible slang. Indeed, Joyce organized this chapter as three sections divided into nine total subsections, representing the trimesters and months of gestation.
In an extended hallucinatory sequence, Bloom and Stephen go to Bella Cohen’s brothel. This episode, the longest in the novel, is written in the form of a play.
Bloom and Stephen go to the cabman’s shelter to eat, and encounter a drunken sailor.
Bloom returns home with Stephen, who refuses Bloom’s offer of a place to stay for the night. The two men urinate in the backyard, Stephen goes home, and Bloom goes to bed. The episode is written in the form of a rigidly organized catechism, and was reportedly Joyce’s favorite episode in the novel.
The final chapter of Ulysses consists of Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy: eight enormous sentences (without punctuation) written from the viewpoint of Leopold Bloom’s estranged wife, Molly (who represents Penelope). Parts of the final sentence were used by Kate Bush as lyrics to her song “The Sensual World“.