We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Rent from DeepDyve Rent from DeepDyve

"Odd Jobs": James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and the Scandal Fragment

From: Joyce Studies Annual
Volume 2008
pp. 105-145

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

James Joyce, an avid newspaper reader and occasional journalist, became fixated, in his youth, on a series of newspaper scandals.1 As every Joycean knows, Joyce returned in his writing almost obsessively to the Phoenix Park murders and the Parnell Scandal, while Kevin Dettmar has persuasively argued that the Clongowes smugging episode in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man recapitulates the Cleveland Street and Dublin Castle Scandals in miniature.2 Oddly minimized within the roll call of scandals invoked as Joycean touchstones, however, has been that most literary of sex scandals, the Oscar Wilde trials. This is particularly true in Ulysses criticism, with Richard Brown declaring that “the Wilde trial appears [in Ulysses] hardly at all; there is little more than a hint of it in ‘Eumaeus.’ “3 In this essay, however, I will argue that Joyce not only identified with Wilde, as he also clearly did with Wilde’s fellow Irish sex martyr, Parnell (Brown 81), but that Wilde’s double identity as both the subject and object of scandalous writing provided a locus in Ulysses for new writerly counter-strategies. Drawing nearly verbatim, at times, from his earlier newspaper essays decrying the treatment that Wilde and the Irish received at the hands of the British press, Joyce both makes use of and savagely parodies the sensationalizing techniques of the London-based “scandal journalism,” or, as it was more commonly referred to, the New Journalism, which had, in his terms, martyred both Wilde and the Irish. By conflating the sex scandal with political martyrdom in Ulysses, Joyce capitalized on the new relations of private to public that the New Journalism enabled, while vigorously contesting the New Journalism’s scandalizing of collective, public identities through the publication of decontextualized private acts.

In an abstract sense, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce were vulnerable relative to British print culture for identical reasons. Both were Irish, and both were repeatedly accused of falling afoul of the British middle class, gentlemanly norms that their public deviations both challenged and defined. Both were stigmatized as outsiders partly by reason of their class and national origins, and partly by reason of their scandalous artistic output. However, as I have argued elsewhere, Wilde’s status as an Anglo- Irishman proved serviceable from the standpoint of an emergent British middle-class hegemony in that he could be subjected to particularly harsh punishment owing to his unsympathetic Irishness, while his status as a British aristocrat could also be invoked as a caution to Englishmen who might share his sexual or indeed aesthetic, intellectual or political proclivities. 4 Joyce’s origins afforded neither the writer nor his critics any such latitude. Yet a brief review of Joyce’s positioning relative to the cultural establishment of his day sheds light on his largely unexplicated allusions to the Wilde scandal, making them both more legible and more signifi- cant elements of his own process of aesthetic and political self-creation.

Joyce occupied an inherently shameful position within existing Irish and British cultural hierarchies. He was an intellectually and formally ambitious Irish Catholic writer educated within the second-tier university system that served both to disguise and rationalize subdivisions within the British imperial apparatus. Joyce’s undeniable but culturally unauthorized erudition, coupled with his flagrant violations of writerly decorum, left him open to accusations of imperfect mimicry, or, symbolically, of the “plagiarism” of which Bloom, in “Circe,” stands accused by his class superior, Philip Beaufoy (U 15.814–55).5 Doubtless in part as a way of making clear the intentionality of his violations against both taste and literary convention, Joyce increasingly opted for a style characterized by flagrant excess of every sort. Twenty years earlier, Wilde had responded to a similar double-bind in a similar fashion, by becoming an arbiter of taste and making taste synonymous with excess. Both men elicited similar forms of cultural retribution; both were accused of ill-bred intellectual ostentation, and discredited in various ways through their suspect association with the lower classes and with filth. Joyce was, owing to his lack of Oxbridge credentials, particularly vulnerable to accusations that he had simply smeared shit on his pages, a charge he transfers to Leopold...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.