Home and away

Belonging and not belonging

Although Dublin plays a key role in his literature, Joyce was keen to leave his homeland as soon as he could. Joyce first departed from Ireland in 1902 to study medicine in Paris. He returned to Dublin the following year to be with his ailing mother. In 1904, Joyce wrote the following in a letter to his new partner, Nora:

      My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity – home, the recognised virtues, classes of life, and religious doctrines. How could I like the idea of home? (Letters II, 48)     

Joyce and Nora left Ireland for mainland Europe in October 1904. Their first port of call was Zurich but they soon moved to Pola (now known as Pula, in modern day Croatia) as Joyce secured a job teaching English with the Berlitz School. In 1905, Joyce transferred to the Berlitz School in Trieste (in Italy). Apart from six months in Rome, when he made efforts to become a banker, Joyce stayed in Trieste for the next eleven years. In 1905, in a letter to his brother, Joyce wrote: ‘I have come to accept my present situation as a voluntary exile’ (JJ, 201).

The clarity of distance

Dubliners by James Joyce - book coverWhilst moving around Europe, Joyce was writing a series of short stories all about his home town, Dublin. Dubliners is Joyce’s distanced reflection upon Dublin and its inhabitants. In his 1905 letter to the London-based publisher, Grant Richards, Joyce wrote:

      I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass. (Letters I, 63-4)    

For Joyce, Dubliners is a mirror, showing Dublin as it really is.

The desire to escape

Dubliners contains several allusions to exile and the desire to escape Dublin:

  • In A Little Cloud, Little Chandler asserts: ‘if you wanted to succeed you had to go away. You could do nothing in Dublin’
  • Eveline present the protagonist’s struggle to choose between the comforting monotony of home and the unfamiliar exoticism of Buenos Aires
  • The Boarding House portrays an exile within Dublin. The residence is a place that is both home and away, or maybe neither home nor away.
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