The Irish but Paris-based de Selby Press (named after Flann O’Brien’s remarkable philosopher – see our post on Flann O’Brien) has just published a limited edition of Dubliners with an introduction by Paul Murray (An Evening of Long Goodbyes and Skippy Dies) and illustrations by Stephen Crowe to celebrate the centenary of its publication in June 1914. What a great Christmas present it would make.
Joyce had enormous difficulty getting the book published. It was first accepted in 1906 and then rejected repeatedly, by the original publisher and others, on the ground of obscenity, anti-irish sentiment and even slander of King Edward VII. It wasn’t until 1913, when Joyce had attracted the attention of The Egoist, with which Pound, Hilda Dolittle and T.S.Eliot were connected, that the original publisher agreed to publish it after all. You can read a great article about these shenanigans and Joyce’s doughty struggle against various publishers here:
The extraordinary thing, as Paul Murray says, is that most of these stories were written before Joyce was 23:
Dubliners is one of those books that tracks you through life, that you return to again and again, finding something new every time. Though Joyce had written most of these stories by the age of twenty-three, he did so with the understanding and forbearance of someone much older. He often portrayed himself as sitting in judgment on his fellow Dubliners, whom he once described to a friend as “the most hopeless, useless and inconsistent race of charlatans I have ever come across,” yet what gives the stories their tremendous power is precisely their refusal to judge. The men and women depicted are a shabby bunch: drunkards, wife-beaters, narcissists, hypocrites. But Joyce is careful to show the forces that have made them who they are, the exigencies that constrict them, the disillusionments that have sapped their will to act differently.
To read a collection of early stories by a writer who has risen to greatness is always to see some of the themes and hear some of the strains of the mature voice. But Dubliners, in which we can recognise the tones of Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses, is unusually complete and coherent as a collection, almost musically patterned. Perhaps that is because its one great theme is Dublin herself, perhaps it is because all the strains that are sounded in the earlier stories come together in the magnificent final story The Dead, like the closing movement of a great symphony.
If you hop over to this site you can hear Lisa Hannigan’s exclusive version of the classic Irish ballad, The Lass of Aughrim, recorded to set the scene for The Dead. http://fr.ulule.com/dubliners/