- A New Case for Joyce’s Dubliners
Palgrave's New Casebooks series attempts to reflect recent critical interpretations for the new century. Andrew Thacker's contribution in editing this casebook on Joyce's Dubliners seems well constructed if [End Page 259] somewhat restricted given space limitations. While his purpose is to focus on the stories in Dubliners that seem too often overlooked in the critical tradition, and the essays he includes offer a wide range of modern critical thought, the result is that the casebook at points overlooks some of Dubliners's stories and thus a critical evaluation of Dubliners as a whole. Perhaps since there is so much critical work on Joyce available it has become almost impossible to capture the breadth and depth of those discussions in one volume. Yet this casebook is an important contribution to its form. The original casebook on Dubliners, published in 1973 (Macmillan), actually included both Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in its focus. Thacker rightly narrows his to Dubliners alone and goes deeper in this story collection as he allows critical and theoretical developments to drive his selections from semiotics to postcolonialism.
While all of the essays in this book are available elsewhere, largely in their form here or in expanded versions, what seems most useful in the collection is not the material of the essays but rather Thacker's synthesis of the last thirty years of Joyce studies. His introduction foregrounds his methodology and establishes interesting intersections among the works he includes. Thacker rightly points out that for many years Dubliners was the poor relation in the Joyce canon, seen as only interesting for what it might reveal for Joyce's more technically innovative later works: Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. In many ways, this casebook reflects the recent trend in Joyce criticism towards an appreciation of his earlier work: Exiles, Chamber Music, and Dubliners.
The essays included in the collection seem like a time capsule of Joyce criticism from the 1970s to the end of the last century. Thacker begins with Thomas Staley's "A Beginning: Signification, Story, and Discourse in Joyce's The 'Sisters'" and Jean-Michel Rabaté's "Silences in Dubliners." These two essays reflect traditional narrative theory and poststructural narrative play respectively. The pairing of these two essays to begin the casebook shows readers how Joyce's works can too often be used simply to reflect the latest critical trend, but also how these various critical perspectives highlight unique aspects of Joyce's art. Thacker wisely seems to acknowledge that useful argumentative comparison incorporates not simply points of common intersection but also critical divergence.
This volume is certainly useful for new students of Joyce as well as more experienced readers and even critics. It establishes the historical [End Page 260] and critical context and methodology of Joyce studies across a broad spectrum of theoretical models. Thacker includes substantive examples of important critical debates; for example, the inclusion of Joyce as a postcolonial writer now seems self-evident to many, but in the early 1990s, Derek Attridge and Marjorie Howes would only identify his work as "semicolonial." What might now seem easily apparent as a consensus in the critical community was actually the reflection of a long and serious critical deliberation.
For more experienced readers and Joyce critics, reading this volume can in some ways seem like returning to familiar territory. Suzette Henke's treatment of "Desire and Frustration in Dubliners" resolutely shows the impact of French feminism on understanding Joyce's work and clearly holds critical and theoretical resonance even after many years. Margot Norris's discussion of "Clay" in "Narration Under a Blindfold" shows readers how the main character's encounters depend on a kind of self-imposed blindness and self-deception. Norris's essay also holds up well, especially because "Clay" is so often overlooked but has achieved increasing exposure and interest because of the recent film, The Magdalene Sisters (2002). Bob Spoo's essay on "The Dead" is the only one in this volume dedicated to the final story in Dubliners. He...