A Literary Map of Dublin
In a country whose entire population is roughly the equivalent of Toronto, the amount of literary talent produced by Ireland’s great capital city is uncanny. What Dublin’s best-known writers have in common – other than generally very strong ties to the Church and a couple Nobel Prizes between them – is, oddly enough, a strong desire to leave their birthplace (or such was the case a century ago) and then write about it from afar; either that or satirize the hell out of the English.
Samuel Beckett, for instance, left Dublin for Paris at a rather opportune moment. It was the 1920s. Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and all those soon-to-be legendary Americans were there. They were not, however, who Beckett was looking for. He was there to meet his literary idol – a writer who was, and unquestionably remains, Dublin’s greatest known writer.
JAMES JOYCE left his beloved city early on and yet the mark it left on him is everywhere in his work. Ulysses, often considered the most important novel in history, is set there. And his most accessible work, a collection of short stories which includes the ever-celebrated “The Dead,” is not only set in Dublin but is also called Dubliners. Joyce believed that “the particular is contained in the universal” and for that reason always wrote about Dublin, though he had left the city for continental Europe in his twenties.
By the time Samuel Beckett met his literary idol, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would have been published and a third, rather large, novel was on its way. While Dubliners was sent to fifteen publishers before it was accepted, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had a far more difficult route to publication. Over ten years in the making, Joyce’s first novel was originally written as an “essay-story” and dealt mainly with aesthetics. When that was uniformly rejected, Joyce would some years later rewrite it into a hefty tome titled Stephen Hero. This, too, was turned away by publishers, and the Dublin author would, after toiling away for years, abandon the book. Nearly a decade later, he revised that thick work into a much thinner – and what would soon become world famous – novel. The Modern Library ranks A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the third greatest English language novel of the twentieth century. It ranks Ulysses first. Like no novel before it, Ulysses made enormous advances in the form, primarily in its manner of manifesting thought on the page. Thematically the novel alludes quite a bit to Homer’sThe Odyssey. Joyce’s goal was to create the ultimate everyman in the character of Leopold Bloom. Like the hero in The Odyssey, Bloom is on a quest – in this case, to win back the love of his wife. Dublin’s most famous author is said to have influenced everyone from Philip K. Dick to Salman Rushdie and Jorge Luis Borges. First, however, there was a young writer also from Dublin named Samuel Beckett...
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