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James Fairhall's study actually poses a series of questions that shed light on the relationships between certain historical events and Joyce's texts. The questions converge in Fairhall's thesis that Joyce tried to "wrest a realm of freedom from history" for himself and for his readers.
To prove this hypothesis, Fairhall repeatedly returns to two key events: the 1882 Phoenix Park murders, and the decline and fall of Charles Stewart Parnell. By comparing a conspirator's account of the murders with later academic histories Fairhall generates a compelling discussion of the intersection of fictional and historical narratives. Although his claim that the murders "lie at the center of Ulysses" is surely exaggerated, and his analysis of the novel is disappointingly cursory, the contrast he draws between factual and "felt" history persuasively demonstrates how Joyce's texts exploit and critique the tendency of history to become fiction and vice versa.
Fairhall's rather derivative treatment of Joyce's socialism in his second chapter, while heavily indebted to the work of Dominic Manganiello, nonetheless [End Page 404] furnishes a lucid, straightforward summary of Joyce's politics. When he turns to Dubliners, however, Fairhall gains force and focus. Here he takes Joyce to task for propagating a one-sided view of Dublin and its citizens, and chides Joyceans for uncritically accepting that view. Fairhall provocatively exposes Joyce's blindspots: his effacement of the close relationship between the city and the countryside (as when the first version of "The Sisters" was published in AE's "pigs' paper" flanked by ads for dairy machinery), his depiction of women as passive victims, and his middle-class bias. But these last two claims seem questionable. Dubliners accurately and often sympathetically documents the oppression of Irish women and the religious and social conditions that have created it. To blame Joyce for the victimization he records is to miss the point. Likewise, although it is true that the poor are largely absent from Dubliners, that fact does not prove that Joyce was biased; it merely suggests that he portrayed—often scathingly—the petit bourgeois world that he knew best. Fairhall concludes this section with an enlightening reading of "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" that places the story against the backdrop of contemporary Irish election practices and party politics. His discussions of the alliance between the Nationalists and the drink trade, and his speculations about the significant absence of James Connolly, are particularly illuminating.
The chapter on Portrait is highlighted by a detailed and knowledgeable explication of the events surrounding Parnell's fall, and of Joyce's transformation of those events into personal legend. Charting the clergy's involvement in Irish politics, Fairhall attempts to revise Joyce's "history," while questioning the Joyce industry's uncritical acceptance of his distortions. But Fairhall's version—which interprets the clergy's motives far too generously—betrays as much about his own biases as about Joyce's. Nevertheless, Fairhall convincingly shows that the conflict over Parnellism was essentially a middle-class struggle. In the final section of this chapter, Fairhall again contends that Joyce's "handling of female characters" (an unfortunate phrase) implies that he "shared . . . many of his culture's assumptions about women." Yet Fairhall's evidence (for example, Joyce's relationships with intellectual women) could just as easily point to the opposite conclusion. Here Fairhall seems to assume that Joyce cannot see beyond Stephen's myopia.
Fairhall's reading of Ulysses demonstrates its creative anachronism: although set in 1904, the novel responds to the social, technological and political events of the teens and early '20s. Borrowing Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined communities," Fairhall explores ways that Ireland reverberated with contradictions that Nationalists attempted to repress but that Joyce reveals. The chapter also provides brief, intriguing treatments of Joyce's adaptation of technological innovations—cinema, trams, autos—-for his formal experiments. But here Fairhall relies too heavily upon tenuous speculations about what Joyce "must have" known or felt, and his insistent paralleling of Ulysses and World War I often seems contrived and artificial. Indeed...