Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439
Dubliners is James Joyce’s first published book of fiction. It is a collection of fifteen short stories about ordinary characters in Dublin in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The themes are childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age. Some of the stories first appeared in an Irish magazine in 1904, under the pseudonym “Stephen Dedalus.” The last and most famous story, “The Dead,” was finished in 1907, but publication of the book was delayed until 1914.
The character Stephen Dedalus also appears in Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses, a classic of literary modernism. The action is set in a single day, June 16, 1904 (the date on which Joyce met his future wife, Nora Barnacle). The story follows Stephen, a newspaper advertising salesman named Leopold Bloom, and Bloom’s wife Molly as they go about their business in Dublin. This elaborately structured novel parallels Homer’s classic epic The Odyssey. Each chapter is written in a different prose style, and Joyce makes much use of the stream-of-consciousness technique.
The Country Girls, published in 1960, is the first novel by Edna O’Brien, Ireland’s most famous female writer. Two girls leave their homes in the Irish countryside and go to Dublin to escape their strict Catholic upbringing and seek excitement. Because of its feminist viewpoint and frank treatment of adolescent female sexuality, this book caused much controversy when it was published.
Fools of Fortune (1983), by William Trevor, is about a doomed love affair during the Irish civil war as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Born in Ireland in 1928, Trevor is considered one of the finest Irish writers of his time and is particularly known for his poignant short stories.
Christopher Nolan’s Under the Eye of the Clock (1987) is a remarkable autobiography by a young Dubliner who is severely physically disabled and unable to speak. Nolan overcame great obstacles to write a book that critics have compared to the work of Joyce.
Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce (1959, revised 1982) is the definitive biography of this author.
For a different view of Joyce’s life in Europe, read Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom, by Brenda Maddox. Published in 1988, this book shows how Nora Barnacle helped Joyce as he struggled to create great literature in the face of economic and personal hardship.
The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland, edited by R. F. Foster and published in 1989, is a good introduction to Irish history. Chapter Six, “Irish Literature and Irish History,” by Declan Kiberd, provides a useful survey of Irish writers and their relationship to the culture from which they sprung. Among the many interesting pictures is a photograph of James Joyce at the piano.