Publication History: “Araby” is the third of 15 short stories in Dubliners, Joyce’s first book. The collection had a difficult journey to print. The initial manuscript of 12 stories, including “Araby,” was accepted by the London publisher Grant Richards in 1905, when Joyce was only 23 years of age, but publication was canceled after the printer refused to set several of the stories because of scandalous content. In 1909, circumstances repeated: a Dublin publisher accepted the manuscript but then withdrew it from publication following protests about the content from the printer. Finally, in 1914 Grant Richards had a change of heart and came out with the book, now expanded to 15 stories.
Realism Drawn from Experience: The alarm of the printers and caution of the publishers were a response to the stories’ focus on literary realism—a movement that had taken hold in the mid- to late-19th century, and that the young Joyce particularly admired in the work of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Joyce wanted to portray life as he saw it lived day-to-day by the residents of Dublin, and what he saw was unsettling. Dubliners contains frank, dispassionate portrayals of poverty, tedium, hypocrisy, cruelty, disillusionment, sexism, bigotry, and alcoholism. Although there’s little in “Araby” that’s likely to shock or offend readers, signs of Dublin’s degenerate state lurk beneath the surface.
- Joyce’s realism draws heavily on personal experience, and he explicitly identified Dubliners’ first three stories, of which “Araby” is the third, as “stories of [his] childhood.” Details from his life add nuance and a sense of authenticity to “Araby.” It’s interesting to know, for instance, that the Joyce family lived for a time in the 1890s on North Richmond Street, where most of the story is set. Joyce briefly attended the Christian Brothers’ School mentioned in the opening sentence, and the narrator’s uncle is widely believed to have been based on his father. The Araby bazaar of the story was an actual event that took place in May of 1894, when Joyce was twelve—a clue to the likely age of the narrator when the story’s events occur.