In 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' James Joyce tells the story of a boy growing up in the city of Dublin, Ireland. The novel was wrtten against a background of dreadful poverty in that city and in the country as a whole which had been facing issues of destitution and deprivation for centuries. The context the novel was set in includes the issues of disease, insanitary housing conditions, unemployment and early death. Starving people pushed off their land by absentee English landlords began flocking to the city for food or work so that by 1800 Dublin's population had grown to about 180,000. Fever hospitals had to be built, for example for typhus, which spread rapidly in the lice-ridden environment.Many families had to double up in their accommodation, often several living in one room.
The health of the people was not helped by the dirty water. By the beginning of the 19th century sewers were being laid but only in the upper and middle class parts of the city as the poverty stricken districts couldn't afford the extra rates. By Joyce's time at the beginning of the 20th century there was still terrible poverty in Dublin with up to a quarter of families trying to exist in one room. Some of Joyce's stories mention new houses - in 1912 the slum demolition began and houses north of the River Liffey were demolished and higher quality ones built. But already the seeds of anger and resentment were growing as people started to question why the country was being exploited by an oppressive foreign power and a movement for freedom and better conditions grew.