Wise people say that all new things are well forgotten old ones. This saying has been proved to be true historically. Ancient art came back to artists’ studios, musicians’ houses, and architectural constructions during the period of Renaissance. The whole world at that time felt the need for high-quality art, and every country one after another entered the era of Renaissance, revealing the masterpieces of the past and creating new even more fascinating ones. Irish people were not an exception at this point. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th Ireland entered the period of Irish Literary Revival, also known as Irish Literary Renaissance or Celtic Renaissance.
This cultural, or if to be exact literary movement, was a part of going then political action, the primary goal of which was to struggle for independence and self-government of Ireland. Though the primary functions of writers, poets, and other cultural workers differed from the tasks of political leaders of the country, their influence on minds of Irish people was substantial. This period is characterized by increased activity of literary men, especially writers, poets and playwrights, the establishment of new theaters and the great interest of ordinary people towards Irish literary heritage.
The primary goal of the current study is to speak about Irish Literary Revival by the example of one of the most prominent Irish writers James Joyce. Though James Joyce is the author of multiple literary works, we will focus on two short stories from his book “Dubliners.”
“Clay” and “Eveline” as the descriptions of Irish society
Before analyzing the works of Joyce, it is necessary to take into consideration the political and cultural situation in Ireland in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The majority of scientists describe this period of time as Literary Revival. Why did they choose such a term to apply to this period? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to define the word “revival,” and analyze the meaning of it in the cultural context. Ad verbum, the word “revival” means making something actual again, bringing something back to life after it was forgotten, for example. For Irish literature “revival” means bringing back the old traditions and applying them while creating new literary masterpieces. As it has been mentioned above, this movement was a part of the political campaign aiming at gaining independence for Ireland. Literary, men, who were taking part in the action, wanted to revive ancient Irish literary traditions used in Irish folklore and old legends.
Their activity had a considerable significance for political activists, as they were discovering exciting facts from the past that could be used for the sake of Irish independence. Several prominent playwrights, such as Sean O’Casey and J. M. Synge created several plays that were late acknowledged as the best plays of the 20th century. Besides literary achievements, this period is characterized by the establishment of Abbey Theatre. Prominent writers of Irish Literary Renaissance were Russell, Stephens, Lady Gregory and of course James Joyce.
Being born in Dublin, James Joyce (1882–1941) spent most of his life in Ireland. Joyce is famous Irish novelist, the author of such works as “Ulysses,” “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” “Dubliners,” “Finnegans Wake” and others. “Dubliners” is considered to be one of the best works by James Joyce, despite the fact that twelve out of fifteen short stories contained in the book were written when the author was only 23. However, his first attempts to publish “Dubliners” appeared to be a failure. The collection of short stories wasn’t published until 1914 due to several reasons.
“Dubliners” addressed several political and social issues that were charged by the government. Thus, the book was forbidden to be published. Things changed when “Dubliners” was published, and since then it is a very much loved book by many readers worldwide. Being written at such an early age, “Dubliner” is a rather serious work, touching issues, which were relevant for Dublin society of the late 19th century – early 20th century. Joyce describes Dublin’s society, which consisted mostly of low or middle-class people at that period. The inhabitants of Dublin experienced major financial problems; they had to obey to dominating foreign policy as well as mighty Irish Catholic Church. The society was splintered into nationalist groups and ordinary residence. Joyce saw and felt the problems of Irish people, whose weakness, tender souls and longing for freedom he portrayed in “Dubliners.” Joyce explored how poverty influenced people’s characters. In “Dubliners” the author contrasts poor, cold and cheerless city with strong and weak characters of its residents. He doesn’t describe Dublin’s houses or streets, but he gives the readers a wonderful description of Dubliners.
Having spoken about the book “Dubliners” in general, it is necessary to take a closer look at two of his short stories: “Clay” and “Eveline.” The first short story to be analyzed will be “Clay,” which is the tenth out of fifteen stories published in the book. “Clay” is a story about the elderly lady, who works and lives at one of the Dublin’s laundries. This is a kind of charity institution, because it provides alcoholics and fallen women with work, making them busy with some useful work. The laundry is run by Protestant people, who hired Maria, the main character of the story, as a regular worker.
Maria is very much loved and respected by everybody, because of her kind heart, mild temper and special ability to create peace everywhere. One day her mistress even noted that by saying the Maria was a “veritable peace-maker” . Maria got accustomed to working at Lamplight laundry and also liked it despite the fact that it belonged to Protestants, whom he used not to like in the past.
Being a lonely woman, Maria felt pretty happy with her life, or at least she showed it that way. When she was younger she helped to nurse two brothers Joe and Alphy, who were very grateful to her, calling her a “proper mother” . But God didn’t grant Maria a family, so very often she went to visit Joe and his family. This is how it was the Hallow Eve. Having finished the work Maria prepared her best clothes to put on and set the alarm clock an hour early in order to have enough time to go to Catholic Church, which she belonged to. However, the author doesn’t mention this fact directly in the story, leaving the space for thinking. Despite of the fact that Maria was rather poor, she wished to make a surprise for her friends. For this reason she bought some penny cakes for Joe’s children and a plum cake for Joe and his wife. She spent quite a bit of money on the sweets, but was very upset when she got to Joe’s place and revealed that she had forgotten the plum cake at the tram. Maria was looking forward to have a good evening; she was also dreaming about being independent and having her own money. But dreams just remain dreams. Maria is a very tiny woman, with not very pleasant features of face, but a good for elderly lady body. This is what Maria thought of herself while dressing: “she looked with quaint affection at the diminutive body which she had so often adorned. In spite of its years she found it a nice tidy little body” . Everybody was happy to see Maria at Joe’s house, the place where she could feel happy. She enjoyed the evening with the kids, playing games and singing. Joe was very nice to Maria; however, he got very angry when she remembered his brother Alphy, to whom he didn’t speak for a long time. The children started playing Irish traditional game, according to which a person had to choose one object when his eyes are blindfolded. At first Maria chose some weird substance, which Mrs. Donnelly ordered to throw away. The second time Maria chose a prayer-book, and Mrs. Donnelly suggested that Maria might enter the convent as she got a prayer-book. The author doesn’t mention what the substance was, which Maria chose the first time. And the readers can guess that it was clay, a symbol of coming death. Generally speaking, James Joyce paid a lot of attention to symbols in his stories. The usage of such symbols was intentional. The author didn’t want to speak about relevant issues of Dublin society directly, thus, he used symbols. He never said directly that Maria was poor, however, the readers know how much money she has and that she dreams about being rich. Her desire to be richer and have a husband is shown with the help of old Irish song written by famous Irish composer Michael Balfe “I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls”. Joyce intentionally makes Maria sing the first verse twice, because it expresses her wish to live in “marble halls” and that someone would love her. Poverty is one of the major themes not only of the story “Clay”, but also of the whole book of stories “Dubliners”. The readers can feel the pain of Maria when she realized that she had lost the plum cake that had cost her a great deal of money. Joyce also depicts Maria’s extremely kind and caring heart, because in spite of her limited resources, she still tries to make happy her friends by buying some sweets. The author also reveals the conflict of Protestants and Catholics, mentioning that Maria didn’t like Protestants, and that she had to get up one hour earlier in order to go to church and not to be late to her work. Obviously, her matron was aware of her religion, but she wasn’t willing to give Maria a day off even for a religious holiday.
Similar issues such as loneliness, poverty, and weakness are depicted in another short story by Joyce called “Eveline.” This is a story about a young girl of about twenty years old, who lives with her father and brother. The girl’s mother and one of her brothers died, leaving her to take care of another brother and her father. Eveline “sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence” .
Eveline’s father used to shout at the girl, threatening her and at the same time trying to excuse himself, buy saying that everything he did was for the sake of his dead wife. They used to quarrel because of money a lot, and Eveline had to give all her wages to the father. The author shows the way in which the city where Eveline lives changed, by describing new brick houses which were built in the field where little children used to play. Before death Eveline’s mother told the daughter to “to keep the home together as long as she could” , and Eveline promised it. Eveline’s mother died rather long time ago; however, she didn’t live a happy life either. For this reason Eveline hoped to have a better life than her mother had, she also wanted to be treated differently. Now the girl was going to leave her house as well as her miserable, poor and unhappy life. Eveline met a sailor with whom she was going to escape to Buenos Ayres and live a happy life there. Joyce describes the last moments of Eveline staying at her house. The girl was remembering good and bad events from her previous life, and was getting ready for her new life. She was dreaming about how she would get married with Frank, how she would become a respectable lady, because she was aware of her “right for happiness” . The girl felt her duty, but she also felt that nobody needed her. She could hardly remember any moments when her father was nice to her. However, something happened inside of her soul, and Eveline couldn’t leave her home town. At the station Eveline felt that she didn’t want to go. She didn’t listen to Frank, who was trying to convince Eveline that it would be better to leave.
Everything was in vain. When Frank pulled her hand, “she gripped with both hands at the iron railing”  and did not wish to go. Frank tried to call her several times, but she never answered him. Eveline became an insane from her fear to leave for another country. Human weakness is another characteristic feature of Dublin’s society, which Joyce depicts so masterly. Eveline doesn’t have enough courage to leave her life in Ireland despite the fact that it was awful. Before going to the station she remembered several good moments from her previous life and her promise to mother, thus she felt that she couldn’t leave. It is sad to realise but Eveline would probably end up like her mother, who died when she was already totally mad. But aren’t all Eveline’s problems enough to escape from them? The readers see that they are enough, but the main character doesn’t think so. She would better come back home to her father, who was always shouting, and fulfil her duty than leave with Frank. At first, Eveline treated Frank as her saviour, who would show her better life, but at the station Eveline seemed not to recognize Frank and treat him as if he was the worst evil in the world: “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her.” . Eveline stayed in Ireland, and it’s up to readers to decide how her life would be like in future. Such inability to leave Ireland is a characteristic feature of Dublin’s society. People knew that they had to do something, but they did nothing and continued to suffer.
As it can be seen from the two stories discussed above and the book “Dubliners” in general, James Joyce emphasizes several features of Dublin society of the period of Irish Literary Revival. First of all it’s glaring poverty of people, which can be seen everywhere. Both main characters of the two stories are very poor, having meagre financial resources which are enough only for sustaining life. Indeed, at that period of time low class was the biggest one in Ireland. The second feature is human weakness, or even paralysis. The main heroine of “Clay” is rather old to change something in her life; all the more she doesn’t have any chance to change something. Things are different with the main heroine of “Eveline”. The girl is young and has the biggest chance in her life to change everything, the place of living, the way of living; she has an opportunity to be with a person who loves and cares for her. However, she is unable even to do that. The only thing she has to do is to step on board of a ship, but this action seems too complicated for her. Eveline is closely related with her hometown, her angry father and a brother, who is never home. She has the duty to care for them, because she promised it to her mother. But her life is miserable. She is poor, working hard both at work and at home, but nobody appreciates what she does. Obviously it’s better for her to leave, but she is weak, too weak to leave her past behind and become happy. Another feature is the atomism of Irish society, caused by discrepancy of political, social or religious interests of people. In “Clay” the author mentions that Maria’s friends Joe and Alphy, who are brothers, don’t speak to each other. Joyce doesn’t name the reason, which is of course not too important, because readers can guess that it is because politics or religion.
In conclusion, James Joyce wrote his short stories masterly, making the readers feel the atmosphere existing in Dublin. He gave us an opportunity to see people’s feelings, thoughts, problems, and concerns. The author didn’t embellish his stories with invented details, but he depicted the real people facing the challenges of their real lives. The characters of Joyce are ordinary people, having regular appearances and personalities. He didn’t describe superheroes, but he did represent real people, who may be weak, miserable and unhappy, but at the same time kind-hearted and caring.
Joyce, James. “Dubliners” (“Clay”). New York: The Viking Press, 1975.
Joyce, James. “Dubliners” (“Eveline”). New York: The Viking Press, 1975.
Bloom, Harold. “James Joyce’s Dubliners.” Chelsea House, 1988