Critical Overview

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Joyce had a hard time getting Dubliners published. Although he wrote the stories between 1904 and 1906, and some of them were published in magazines, the entire collection was not published in book form until 1914. The book was first accepted for publication by the Grant Richards publishing company in 1906, but after a long controversy and many arguments between Joyce and the editors over changes the company wanted to make to the stories, they withdrew their offer to publish.

The second company that accepted the manuscript for publication in 1909 was Maunsel and Company, a Dublin publisher. This company had second thoughts about publishing the work as well, and in 1912 they destroyed the proofs that Joyce had corrected. This left Joyce extremely bitter. Finally, in 1914, Grant Richards, the company that originally accepted the manuscript for publication again agreed to publish Joyce's work.

This troubled road to publication influenced the early reviews and criticism of Dubliners. According to Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz, the editors of the 1996 edition of Dubliners published by Viking Press, these stories were mostly dismissed by early critics as Joyce's "apprentice" work, or given a secondary place as "skillful but depressing 'slices' of Dublin life."

Dubliners was published four months after the publication of Joyce's next work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Its reception was overshadowed by excitement and attention given to both Portrait and early chapters of Ulysses, which Joyce was publishing in magazines around the same time. Many readers during this time found Portrait—a revealing story of a troubled young man searching for his place in life—far more interesting than the stories in Dubliners. For many years Joyce's problems with publishers and printers were discussed more frequently than the stories themselves.

Early reviews of Dubliners set the pattern for subsequent critical discussion. Many critics protested against the sordid incidents related in some of the stories and the overall pessimistic tone of the collection. These critics complained that these stories lacked a "point," and that they were merely anecdotes or sketches without any definite structure. At least two reviewers found the longer stories the least satisfactory because Joyce did not sustain a "mood" in them as he did in the shorter pieces.

The turning point in Dubliners criticism came in the 1940s and 1950s, when critics began to find in Joyce's work interesting and novel connections between such elements as tone, atmosphere and action. While some critics still focus on these stories as evidence of the young Joyce developing his distinctive style, or emphasize that Joyce provides a truthful, skillful depiction of life in Dublin at the turn of the century, the criticism now encompasses a wide range of interpretations and appreciation. Most critics now agree that Dubliners stands on its own merits as a great work by one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.

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Araby, James Joyce


Essays and Criticism