- Revisiting Joyce’s World
Joyce, Ireland, Britain is an important contribution—or series of contributions—to the study of Joyce and history. In their introduction, Andrew Gibson and Len Platt discuss some of the pioneering studies in that field during the mid-1990s, commenting at length on Robert Spoo’s James Joyce and the Language of History (1994), James Fairhall’s James Joyce and the Question of History (1993), Thomas C. Hofheinz’s [End Page 364] Joyce and the Invention of Irish History (1995), Vincent Cheng’s Joyce, Race, and Empire (1995), and Emer Nolan’s James Joyce and Nationalism (1995). The overview of these works has a double purpose, for it focuses not only on what these authors have done very well but on where Gibson and Platt regard their analyses as skewed or limited. In this way the editors clear ground for the “specifically Joycean historical materialism” that underlies the eleven essays in this collection, each of which revisits an aspect of Joyce’s world in order to describe specific cultural conditions or discourses that shaped his writing.
The volume is organized into three clusters of related essays, beginning with “Joyce and English Culture.” Richard Brown leads off this group with “Joyce’s Englishman: ‘That Het’rogeneous Thing’ from Stephen’s Blake and Dowland to Defoe’s ‘True-Born Englishman.’” Starting with H. G. Wells’s odd description of Portrait as a book in which everyone hates the English, Brown demonstrates that Joyce’s descriptions of the English, and his references to English writers, are in fact far more likely to be positive than negative. Joyce seems especially interested in English writers with a revolutionary bent (Blake) or those who openly ridicule the idea of English racial purity (Defoe, and perhaps also W. S. Gilbert in his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). At one point Brown refers in passing to the young Stephen Dedalus’s “relatively conventional” enthusiasm for Byron, and in “‘My Native Land, Goodnight’: Joyce and Byron,” Steven Morrison enlarges on this point. Morrison notes that for many years “Byron was not merely a writer one read, he was a cause to which one adhered,” and he calls attention to Joyce’s reliance on two main sources for versions of the Byron myth: John Cordy Jeaffreson’s The Real Lord Byron (1883) and the preface by an unidentified “W.R.” to an 1880 edition of Byron’s poems. Although W.R.’s view of Byron was often negative, he praised the poet’s reliance on “facts” as a basis for his poetry. Joyce’s interest in W.R.’s observation is indicated by the way he marked this passage in his copy. Katherine Mullin closes the section on English culture with “English Vice and Irish Vigilance: The Nationality of Obscenity in Ulysses.” Nationalistic Irish moral crusaders consistently associated England and the continent with moral depravity and Ireland with purity, but Mullin demonstrates that Joyce undercuts this simple identification and treats pornography as “global in both provenance and audience.” Her essay is valuable both for its overview of attempts by organizations like the Irish Vigilance Association to ban obscene material and for its demonstration [End Page 365] of how little effect such efforts seem to have had, if we can judge by Joyce’s characters.
“British-Irish Politics,” the second section, begins with Gibson’s “‘That Stubborn Irish Thing’: A Portrait of the Artist in History: Chapter 1.” Gibson reads Portrait in much the same way as he reads Ulysses in his Joyce’s Revenge (2002), finding both novels to be about “the formation of a colonial Irish subject” and his “assertion of independence.” The essay focuses on two major influences on the world that in turn shapes Stephen in the opening chapter of Portrait: Parnell’s emphasis on the importance of an Irish gentry and the spirit of competition in Irish schooling fostered by the Intermediate Education Act of 1878. Gibson notes Patrick Pearse’s criticism of post-1878 Irish education as a mechanical system whose graduates were products or “readymades,” and he compares Pearse...