Dubliners 100: a celebration of excellence, relevance and engagement

100 Dubliners
Republic of Ireland’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Mulhall speaking at 100 Dubliners conference

The Institute of English Studies recently hosted a two-day conference marking the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. In this article, Dr Conor Wyer gives a snapshot of the event, which he says was a ‘conference of excellence, relevance and engagement’.

Organised by Dr Joseph Brooker of Birkbeck College, this celebration of Joyce’s first published prose work included scholars from Japan, Brazil, USA, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sheffield, Oxford and south London. But celebrating the publication of Dubliners in 2014 might never have been. A number of near starts in the publication history of the book, and an ongoing battle with his publisher, that Joyce so entertainingly recalls in his broadside Gas From A Burner, might have meant Dubliners was a horse of a very different colour.  Indeed these centenary celebrations might not have had as ‘Deadian’ a sense of hospitality as they did.

It was not surprising therefore that a number of papers presented the publication history of Dubliners.  Steven Morrison launched proceedings with an excellent and insightful study of the first appearance of Joyce’s stories in Æ’s The Irish Homestead. He indeed raised the question of why Joyce first published these stories in what Stephen Dedalus would think of in Ulysses as ‘the pigs’ paper’. Lise Jaillant presented a most interesting and thorough paper on the publication of Dubliners in the Modern Library and Travellers’ Library series of cheap editions. This, she argued, allowed Joyce’s stories to be more accessible and widely available due to their relatively low cost.

Accessibility was the theme of Joseph Nugent’s presentation about a student-led project he co-ordinates at Boston College. In a project produced ‘by students for students’, Digital Dubliners: A Multimedia Edition is an edition with video and audio content, notes and images in an ebook format produced entirely with Apple’s iBook Author. The edition brings many of the ephemera, annotations and contextual material available only in research libraries into a more public and open domain.

In a similar spirit, we were reminded that Joyce Studies has been engaged with the public since its origins. Katherine Ebury playfully pointed out that the first recorded celebration of Bloomsday in 1954, was typical public engagement in which Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Anthony Cronin, John Ryan and Tom Joyce traipsed around Dublin from The Martello Tower, To the Cabby’s Shelter’. She spoke too of her experience with a number of public engagement projects in Sheffield, in particular the Tweeting Dubliners Project, where the entire book was tweeted from January to July of this year, 140 characters at a time. The conference itself enjoyed a strong presence on Twitter throughout, with the Irish Ambassador to Great Britain, his Excellency Daniel Mulhall also taking to the twittersphere about the event.

Both plenary speakers at 100 Dubliners were University of London scholars. Claire Wills of Queen Mary presented a thought-provoking paper on the connections between Clay and the Irish navvy helping to shape London in the 1960s. Andrew Gibson spoke of the melancholic tradition of Irish literature, a tradition he argued had emerged from the end of the Bardic Tradition that occurred after the Flight of the Earls in the early 17th century.

Other University of London colleagues played an important part in the success of the conference too: Finn Fordham (RHUL), Scarlett Baron (UCL), IES staff and members of the Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar. As with all events, one of the disadvantages of a conference with parallel sessions, is missing out on other good papers and speakers. But in the end, the feeling was general all over Senate House – this was a conference of excellence, relevance and engagement and we toasted such with the compliments of the Irish Ambassador.

Dr Conor Wyer is Institute Manager of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at SAS. His research interests are James Joyce and Ireland, especially the posthumous reception of Joyce’s work and issues surrounding the ownership of literature.



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  1. Why Joyce put Griffith in ‘Ulysses’
    Arthur Griffith features in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and they both forged in the smithy of their souls their own visions of a new Ireland, writes Anthony J Jordan
    Anthony J Jordan
    Published 02/11/2014 | 02:30

    Arthur Griffith
    James Joyce
    Though Arthur Griffith features throughout Ulysses, this fact does not register with many readers of the novel: this may be because most do not know about Griffith or his 20-year association with James Joyce.

    Griffith was an Irish journalist who edited the Dublin-based The United Irishman newspaper. In 1901, Joyce wrote a critical article for his university magazine on WB Yeats’ Irish Literary Theatre. Publication was denied, so Joyce sent it to various newspapers.
    The only paper to give it notice was The United Irishman. Griffith himself wrote a piece saying “…I have failed to find any heresy, blasphemy, immorality or sedition in this pamphlet… Mr James Joyce writes on the ILT, and I do not agree with his criticism of it. But why the censor strove to gag Mr. Joyce is to me as profound a mystery as to why we should grow censors in this country. Turnips would be more useful. I hope this little pamphlet will have a large sale”.
    Thus Griffith was the first person to introduce Joyce to the Irish public on November 2, 1901. Joyce did not thank him for it, and within a few years he greatly annoyed Griffith, who had just published a commemorative book of poems by the late Willie Rooney, who had been Griffith’s friend. Joyce reviewed the book from Paris and savaged it, writing, “Little is achieved in these verses, because the writing is so careless, and is so studiously mean…They were written it seems, for a paper and societies week after week and bear witness to some desperate and weary energy.
    “But they have no spiritual and living energy, because they come from one in whom the spirit is in a manner dead, or at least in its own hell, a weary and foolish spirit, speaking of redemption and revenge, blaspheming against tyrants and going forth full of tears and curses, upon its infernal labour”.
    Griffith retorted by using Joyce’s article as an advertisement for the book in the following week’s paper, adding the one word he claimed Joyce was afraid to utter i.e. patriotism.
    In exile Joyce’s main intellectual contact with Ireland was Griffith’s United Irishman and later his Sinn Fein newspaper. His brother Stanislaus said “The United Irishman was the only paper in Dublin worth reading, and in fact he read it every week”.
    In 1904 Griffith published a seminal pamphlet called The Resurrection of Hungary in which he set out a programme for Ireland to become independent of the British Empire. In 1905, Griffith founded an organisation named Sinn Fein. Within 17 years Griffith would became President of a free Irish parliament in Dublin.
    James wrote to Stanislaus of Griffith on September 25, 1906 that “so far as my knowledge of Irish affairs goes, he was the first person in Ireland to revive the separatist idea on modern lines nine years ago. He wants the creation of an Irish consular service abroad, and of an Irish bank at home. What I don’t understand is that apparently while he does the talking and the thinking, two or three fatheads like (Edward) Martyn and (John) Sweetman don’t begin either of the schemes”.
    On April 24, 1907 James told Stanislaus that he thought Griffith unassuming and sensible and supported his call for an economic boycott of Britain. He wrote “The Sinn Fein policy comes to fighting England with the knife and fork… the highest form of political warfare I have heard of”.
    James Joyce had his Dubliners finished in 1905, but could not get it published, despite valiant efforts. In desperation, he wrote to Britain’s King George V in August 1911 seeking an adjudication that he had not insulted the memory of his father Edward VII in one of the stories. Later in 1911 Joyce sent a challenging letter to Irish newspapers about the historical “suppression” of Dubliners. Griffith, who understood Joyce’s tactic, was the only editor to risk libel action by publishing the letter in full, in Sinn Fein on September 2.
    Joyce made his final visit to Ireland in 1912 to try again to have Dubliners published. He met with unyielding opposition from George Roberts of Maunsel publishing house. Among those he called on was Arthur Griffith. On August 26 he wrote from Dublin to his brother Stanislaus, “… I went then to Griffith who received me very kindly and remembered my letter [17/8/1911 in Sinn Fein]. He says I am not the first person from whom he has heard this story. He says Roberts has been playing that game for years. He says the idea of Maunsel suing me is simple bluff and believes that they will not come into court and that if I get a strong solicitor on my side they will yield. He gave me a note to a first-class solicitor in Westmoreland St. He asked me to send him copies of my articles in Il Piccolo della Sera”.
    During that visit, James told Griffith that he realised Griffith was seeking to free the Irish people economically and politically and that he, Joyce, was seeking to liberate them spiritually in his novel. As Richard Ellmann observes, “Joyce was pleased to be treated as a man having a common cause, though working in a less obviously political medium. For he had remained faithful to his goal of creating new Irishmen and Irishwomen through the honesty and scorching candour of his writing. Ulysses creates new Irishmen to live in Griffith’s new State”. Indeed Andrus Ungar’s book Joyce’s Ulysses as National Epic: Epic Mimesis and the Political History of the Irish Nation State, sees Ulysses as responding to the Irish Literary Revival’s expectation that a native epic would crown Ireland’s literary achievements and to the country’s imminent independence under Sinn Fein.
    When Ulysses was finally published on February 2 1922, Griffith was the only contemporary politician featured along with his Resurrection of Hungary and Sinn Fein. Joyce was briefly exhilarated at the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and took satisfaction in the fact that, at the very time that he was giving his country a new conscience by completing Ulysses, his old associate Arthur Griffith was taking office as its first President. Joyce wished to salute Griffith’s at-last successful efforts and the many references to Griffith in Ulysses are more than coincidence. For a moment it seemed that the two events were allied, that Ireland could be a nation once again in terms of both spiritual and political emancipation.

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