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‘Something in the Name of Araby’: James Joyce and the Irish Bazaars

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 4, 2011
pp. 31-50 | 10.1353/djj.2011.0009

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On Friday, 18 May 1894, The Irish Times speculated:

There must be something in the name of Araby that causes the divine afflatus to descend upon those who study its manners and customs. Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’, with its resplendent vivid imagery and perfect poetry, was the wonder of the age, for the Irish songster’s experience of the East was confined to his reading of the Arabian Nights and Oriental literature generally. With the arrival of Araby in Dublin, there has been a passion for producing Arabian poetry and music.1

‘Araby: A Grand Oriental Fête’ was then in full swing at the Royal Dublin Showground in Ballsbridge, attended by 92,052 visitors — a third of Dublin’s population — over the course of one week.2 Among their number was the twelve-year old James Joyce, who was spotted in the Saturday night crush at the turnstiles by a school friend.3 The Irish Times’s sense that the bazaar was a creative stimulus proved prescient in its anticipation of Joyce’s 1905 Dubliners short story ‘Araby’. In the inaugural issue of this journal, Stephanie Rains conclusively established the scale of Joyce’s creative distortion of the historical Araby bazaar of 1894.4 Her article, together with her later work on the Irish charity bazaars, invites us to wonder why Joyce, a writer often remarked for the accuracy of his portraits of his city, should so wholly misrepresent an event at which he was present. In ‘Araby’, I will suggest, the fête’s failure allows Joyce to expose his young protagonist’s ‘eastern enchantment’ (D ‘Araby’ 23.107) — a fascination with commercialized simulacra of ‘Oriental otherness’ which blinds him to more authentic Eastern resonances closer to home.5 Those resonances, for Joyce, were glossed in two later Triestine lectures celebrating the historical and literary relationships between Ireland and the Arab world. But, intriguingly, Joyce made a hitherto unacknowledged creative return to Araby in Ulysses, which significantly revises his depiction of it in Dubliners. ‘Monster’ charity bazaars, run by aristocratic and middle-class women volunteers as fund-raisers for local hospitals, were annual events every summer in Dublin during the 1890s and the 1900s.6 In Ulysses, Joyce transposed 1904’s Mirus bazaar, which actually took place from late-May to 4 June. A poster for it attracts Bloom’s attention in ‘Lestrygonians’; Mirus is the destination of the viceregal cavalcade winding through ‘Wandering Rocks’ on its way to the opening ceremony; the ‘bazaar fireworks’ (U 13.686) accompany Bloom’s encounter with Gerty MacDowell in ‘Nausicaa’; in ‘Circe’, Kitty Ricketts recounts some of the pleasures of her afternoon in Ballsbridge with an engineer (U 15.2716–9). The Mirus bazaar is part of the tapestry of Ulysses — yet its firmly domestic attractions are overwritten by the more exotic ‘Araby’ programme of ten years earlier. Ulysses amounts to a suggestive revision of Joyce’s earlier response to the Araby of his adolescence, as the mature novel reveals second thoughts.

Completed in October 1905, ‘Araby’ concerns an adolescent boy who develops a crush on the slightly older girl next door, named only as ‘Mangan’s sister’ (D 22.34–5). He is unable to pluck up the courage to ‘tell her of my confused adoration’ (D 21.70), or even to initiate a conversation, preferring instead the safety of secret moments of voyeurism:

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye […]

(D 21.44–9).

When ‘At last she spoke to me’, it is to ask ‘was I going to Araby’ and to express her disappointment that it is scheduled against a compulsory ‘retreat that week in her convent’: ‘It would be a splendid bazaar, she said; she would love to go’ (D 22.83–91). Seizing his chance, the boy vows to bring her a souvenir, and can hardly wait until his expedition on...

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