Introduced by Kevin Barry
Once regarded as scandalous, Dubliners is now rightly celebrated as the first in the quartet of masterpieces that established Joyce as the greatest innovator in modern literature.
‘Dear, dirty Dublin’ was James Joyce’s muse. It was the physical setting for all his major works and its landmarks – St Stephen’s Green, the River Liffey, Grafton Street – loomed so large in his imagination that they took on a life of their own within his prose. In Dublin he located all that he wanted to expose to his compatriots about their society and themselves.
At the age of 22, writing with the objectivity of his recent self-imposed exile, Joyce began work on the first of a set of short stories. Three years later, he completed his portrait of human nature in microcosm, by now called Dubliners. The physical and social geography of the city pervades the book, from the bustling bars and back-streets to the gloomy, genteel suburbs and the riverside where boys play truant; its people appear at every turn – the street crowds at dusk, city urchins, men drinking in a sawdust-strewn pub.
The life of the city continues heedless through each story in turn, while Joyce’s attention alights on one individual after another. Within their apparent brief scope, often covering only a few hours of a misspent evening or a casual afternoon, the stories take us to moments of insight where a whole life is suddenly revealed, though often not to the subject of the story. They are told in a language of great skill and subtlety: the voices of the men and women of Dublin are heard vividly throughout, recorded by a writer with an acute ear and a commitment to truth, and set within a quietly poetic narrative.
Dubliners was initially regarded as scandalous, first by Joyce’s publishers, with whom he fought to retain the real place names and the coarse everyday language, and then by reviewers. Now, however, it is rightly considered the first in the quartet of masterpieces that established Joyce as the greatest innovator in modern literature.
To celebrate the centenary of the collection’s original publication, we are delighted to reissue our lauded 2003 edition. With period photographs, a pictorial slipcase and an elegant linen-weave binding, this volume is the perfect way to commemorate Joyce’s landmark work of 20th-century literature
Taken by J. J. Clarke, a medical student, between 1897 and 1904, the photographs illustrating the Folio edition of Dubliners were taken at around the same time that the stories are set, when Joyce, like Clarke, was a young student witnessing turn-of-the-century Dublin. The pictures capture vivid scenes of the city's inhabitants going about their daily lives, wandering the streets or taking a moment's rest. Many of the landmarks that Joyce describes in his works are captured here: the River Liffey, the Merrion Pier and the National Library of Ireland, which now holds J. J. Clarke's original photography.
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