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“Dubliners”: James Joyce (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007
pp. 824-829 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0020

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This recent addition to a familiar publisher’s list will be of interest to readers of this journal. It provides a reliable text, some supporting historical documents and illustrations selected to bring alive the realism of the stories while also “to make [them] come to life for a first-time twenty-first century reader,” and eight critical essays “helpful in illuminating the stories that are most frequently taught and . . . represent[ing] a range of critical and theoretical approaches” (xi, xi–xii).

It opens with Hans Walter Gabler’s substantial and original essay on the composition and publication history of Dubliners. The study is carefully assembled and precisely expressed but a bit too technical for neophytes. With the eye of an Hercule Poirot, he reviews the difficulties Joyce encountered in writing and publishing this book. On the basis of some fresh forensic evidence, he explains his rationale for accepting the 1910 page proofs (incomplete as they are) as his copy-text: mainly on the grounds that these were authorized by Joyce himself. Gabler’s adoption of a continuous lineation system for each separate story is a welcome, and long overdue, inducement to precision, accuracy, and ease of citation, and the text here reproduces the Vintage Press edition (1993), but comes with a page-by-page apparatus, purporting to provide readers with an account of the variants. They are but selectively presented, however, and on what principle, we are not informed.

One example, from the apparatus accompanying “A Painful Case,” illustrates the problem. In the introduction to the volume, Gabler informs us that Joyce’s original title was “A Painful Incident” (xviii), but the apparatus does not register this significant alteration. The reader’s attention should be flagged to consider the advantage that Joyce saw in the word “case” in its various applications in a narrative enclosing the newspaper report: the medical, legal, and moral senses, at least. I have, moreover, some reservations beyond the scope of this review about the textual decisions he has made in consequence of his decision about the copy-text.

The stories are accompanied by bottom-of-the-page annotations. This is a tricky business, as we all know from the controversies provoked by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman’s annotations to Ulysses.1 In my opinion, annotations should provide only essential historical, geographic, or other information; should not do so prematurely; should avoid hindsight interpretation; should not be tautologous or irrelevant; and, above all, should be accurate. I regret that, despite the many previous sets of annotations in print, approximately 20 percent of the annotations here violate one or more of these principles. Here are a few examples.

[P]aralysis” (“The Sisters”—D 9) is annotated: it “may be caused by an apoplectic seizure or other medical condition such as syphilis” (3). This ignores the import of the “stroke” in the first sentence and steers readers to prejudge potential symptoms that do not appear until several pages later in the story.

The annotation of “English accents” (“Araby”—D 35) informs us that “the young people at the stall are British rather than Irish” (25), whereas the reference conveys nothing more reliable than the narrator’s perception (salient to an understanding of this story). Elocution classes in Irish Protestant schools taught “the King’s English”: thus, the observation may reflect no more than the boy’s social insecurity.

There are several annotations for “Eveline” that are speculative, mis-emphasized, or in error. We are informed that the “man from Belfast” (D 36) is “possibly a Protestant” (27). This is both speculative and inconsequential. Margaret Mary Alacoque (D 37) is annotated twice, the first time with the tautologous misstatement, “[s]he was canonized and made a saint in 1920” (saints are recognized, not “made”—27, 219). The note on “Derevaun Seraun” (D 40—“meaning unknown”) is supplied in ignorance of my own careful translation and contextual explication (31).2

Turning to “The Boarding House,” I observe that “little volumes” (D 63) refer to copies of the Book of Common Prayer and not of the Bible, and the “short twelve” (D 64) does not describe a “Mass without the liturgical embellishments of a ‘High Mass’” (52) but merely...

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