Joyce’s famous boast that, if Dublin one day suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed out of his book has been quoted so often that it has taken on the force of a truism.1 Joyce, of course, clearly did not provide his readers with the measurements, elevations, and architectural details of the city. We are provided instead with texture, fabric, and character, an ambience so convincingly constructed that, should indeed Dublin never have existed, the city of Joyce’s novels would be sufficient to fill the gap. The Dublin that Joyce knew over a century ago has largely and gradually, rather than completely and suddenly, disappeared from the earth; and a certain amount of archaeology is required to put Joyce’s claim to the test.
If we overlay the image of the real historical Dublin on Joyce’s picture of it, we discover that they generally correspond, and this is, of course, a tribute to his powers of re-creation. We also discover that the “real” picture complements or illuminates the Joycean image. More intriguingly, there are places where the two do not correspond, and questions arise. Is this a deliberate error? Is it intended to be spotted by the observant reader? Is it a meaningful error, or (shock, horror) is Joyce being lazy? Do we just accept that Homer has nodded? The tension between reality and fiction suggests that Joyce’s Dublin is not bound to be Dublin but merely as like it as damn it, with the odd bit of difference.
Joycean pilgrims, from Frank Budgen to those of the present day, have tramped the topography of Dublin to provide their readings with that extra dimension. They want to put themselves in the place of Joyce’s characters and see the sort of physical environment that shaped their thoughts and actions. This kind of research can be both illuminating and useful, sometimes providing the answer to mysterious allusions in the text, and sometimes raising further questions. (Why, for instance, is Buck Mulligan and Stephen’s view of Bray Head described in the book when in reality it is invisible from the tower?) Research can, indeed, be misleading. Sandymount Strand has been extensively reclaimed; Brown Thomas has moved across the street; and Bloom’s house just is not there any more. Moreover, the environment that made sense of so much of the action has changed [End Page 389] or disappeared. Tramtracks and cobbles have gone; the streets are choked with cars; and movement through the city operates on a different logic.
From the beginning, guides of various kinds have been published to steer the reader or the mobile Joycean through the topographical realities of Joyce’s labyrinth—some of them imprecise, some misleading (to the extent of confusing Sandycove with Sandymount and the Burton with the Bailey), and some, such as the first “Ulysses” Map of Dublin in 1963,2 little more than elementary in nature. It was in 1975 that Clive Hart and Leo Knuth launched their comprehensive Topographical Guide, which went beyond merely locating the action described in the book to reconstructing the action behind and between the episodes and investigating the mechanisms of plot, character, and theme, putting particular characters in particular places at particular times in the story.3 Those who have treasured the slightly unwieldy work with its separate folder of loose maps can now replace it with James Joyce’s Dublin, which, at heart, is the old Topographical Guide but one revised, expanded, and redesigned in a handsome single volume. It contains all that the original did and a great deal more. Although both authors collaborated on all sections, the changes to what might be called the visual quotient can largely be credited to the input of Ian Gunn. The original maps have been redrawn, with small-print names...