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Ecological readings of Joyce’s works have not exactly flourished over the past decades, as the field was establishing itself, and for an obvious reason: unlike, say, Thomas Hardy or even George Moore, Joyce is a deeply and determinedly urban writer. His stories are entitled Dubliners, referring in the first place to the characters, who are mainly distinguished by the fact that they belong to a metropolitan area, a capital city even if it only sometimes assumes that status as a ‘mask’.1 In the second place the term ‘Dubliner’ might refer to the urban setting that is itself sketched in each story, as if any characters were secondary to the space they inhabit. Ulysses, famously bounded temporally by a single day, also takes place within the enclosure of Dublin – within the Pale, as it were – with only a few sketchy recollections, such as Molly’s memories of Gibraltar, to evoke a different locale. It is notoriously difficult to ‘place’ the action of Finnegans Wake, but at least on one level much of the book transpires in a public house in Chapelizod. This evasion of the natural world reflects the fact that Joyce’s personal experience was first suburban and then urban. Still, as Michael Bennett and David Teague point out in the introduction to The Nature of Cities: Ecocriticism and Urban Environments, an important critical task ‘is to point to the self-limiting conceptualisation of nature, culture and environment built into many ecocritical projects by their exclusion of urban places’.2 Joyce’s limited deployment of the natural world reflects the fact that in some ways he was consciously resisting the rural/pastoral ideology that had been developed by Yeats and Æ to undergird the Irish literary renaissance. Finally, it reflects his political conviction that, for better or worse, the future of Ireland would be inseparable from the fate of her major city. Still, this does not mean that Joyce’s writing simply ignored or denied nature. To appreciate Joyce’s relationship to the ‘natural Joyce Beyond the Pale BRANDON KERSHNER 123 world’ in Ireland it is important to understand that country’s paradoxical attitude toward ‘nature’.3 Partially because of cultural tradition, partly for reasons connected with a reliance on tourism, the Irish have for centuries imagined their country as fundamentally rural, a place of picturesque ruins, small farms, and gorgeous landscape . Obviously, Fáilte Ireland exploits that image to this day. And yet the country – early deforested during the eighteenth century and in economic depression for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – has been historically unable or unwilling to undertake action toward recovery of the very natural environment on which it depends so heavily for income and food. Today’s situation is not much better. Tim Wenzell points out that statistically, Ireland has been ranked near the bottom in Europe on the environment, and urban sprawl is growing faster in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe. This is mainly because people can no longer afford to live in the cities of Dublin or Cork . . . and the amount of urbanised land is expected to double in twenty years. As a result, Ireland has been transformed into one of the most car-dependent countries in the world.4 Wenzell suggests that with the potato famine in the 1840s, a ‘deep disconnection between the Irish and the natural world’ arose, severing whatever organic relationship had originally existed between people and their environment in the primarily rural country. Elaborating on this idea, Catherine Maignant claims that ‘in the nineteenth century, the reign of almighty History began, irrevocably putting an end to the traditional Irish social mode based on the reproductions of patterns of behavior within a dull and uniform temporal frame’.5 But at least from a British standpoint, the place of nature in the image of Ireland was never that straightforward. Eóin Flannery observes: ‘While never civil or metropolitan, the physical and cultural topographies of Ireland did oscillate between the anemic aesthetics of the picturesque and the degeneracy of “strangeness”.’6 Of these alternatives, Yeats, Æ and their followers chose the aesthetics of the picturesque and tried to infuse it with mystery and vigour enough to inspire creative works. Both poets sought to assert a nostalgic pastoralism that was rather oddly blended with Eastern spiritualism; both Yeats and Æ believed that the key to the great mysteries could be provided through the discovery of a peasant figure from the West, perhaps a fisherman.7 Yeats’ and Lady Gregory’s adaptations and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781782050735
Related ISBN
9781782050728
MARC Record
OCLC
882713144
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-04
Language
English
Open Access
No
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