- Joyce & the Military Presence
I was a teenager when I first read “The Dead” in an undergraduate literature survey. My professor did an excellent job of unpacking the subtleties of language and technique that make it such a remarkable piece of literature. From that class on, I was hooked on Joyce and have spent much of the intervening time of my life dedicated to the rest of Joyce’s works. One question that I had in that first class, and that has troubled me ever since, involves the battlefield imagery Joyce inserts into the description of the Morkan sisters’ dinner table. [End Page 433] Between the “rival ends” of the dinner table—a goose at one end, a ham and spiced beef at the other—stand “ministers of jelly,” glass decanters standing “as sentries to a fruit stand,” and on the square piano stand “squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms.” I did not receive a satisfying answer in that undergraduate course, nor have I found one since. When I saw that Greg Winston had written the first book-length study of militarism in Joyce’s works, I was hopeful that he would finally provide me with the answer I was looking for. He did not disappoint.
Winston’s heavily researched and infinitely fascinating account of Joyce and militarism investigates the way Joyce subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) worked the issue into each of his major works. In his introduction Winston argues that “militarism provides a frame for reading [Joyce’s] fictional project through relevant historical events and contemporary political values” and says that “Joyce’s work continually reveals the militaristic presence in such diverse social realms and disparate cultural fields as education, athletics, marriage and family life, sexual commerce, and public space.” Winston’s premise left me eager to dive into the rest of the book.
The first chapter, “Joyce and Ideas of Militarism,” investigates the military environment that permeated Europe during Joyce’s lifetime, from Germany’s military actions to British imperialism and to Irish republicanism. Winston provides a solid social and historical background for the book and weaves in Joyce’s own experiences and those of three close friends who lost their lives due to one form of militarism or another. He begins with a close reading of what seems to be an odd insult about Grant Richards’s printer. The unnamed printer refused to print Dubliners unless Joyce made several cuts and revisions. In a response to Richards, Joyce says about the printer: “I am sure that in his heart of hearts he is a militarist.” Winston takes his readers from here through a detailed account of Joyce’s own political education and influences to explain why he would choose this particular insult for an uncooperative English printer. He points to the very subtle ways in which Joyce illustrates how militarism permeates every aspect of the lives of his characters and how this was an unfortunate “condition of modern life” that the Irish had to live with every day.
The second chapter, “Violent Exercise,” investigates how sports reflected the militaristic values of participants on both sides of the Anglo-Irish divide and were used to indoctrinate participants into one ideology or another. He establishes an historical framework of countries using [End Page 434] athletics as a means to keep young men fit for potential military service and examines the specific accounts of the British garrison games and the Irish response with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). He points out many examples of Joyce’s use of these sports as a means of criticism of the militaristic principles on which they were built. Of the GAA, Winston states: Joyce’s “depictions of Irish athletic discourse reveal the hypocrisy of promoting a new national health through bellicose physicality.” He provides many examples of the ways in which Joyce took aim at this form of indoctrination and the effects it had on the people of Dublin. In one example that highlights the extent of Winston’s research, he points...