James Joyce's 'Dubliners': the city as character

Detail from Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) 'James Joyce', 1921. © By kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

‘Does a fellow good a bit of a holiday. I feel a ton better since I landed again in dear dirty Dublin ...’  ‘A Little Cloud’, from James Joyce’s Dubliners, p.86*


The fifteen short stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners depict a down-at-heel city populated by frustrated citizens. Most of the stories were written in Trieste around 1905, although ‘The Dead’ was finished in 1907. The rough language and allusions to sexual activity contained in a number of the stories meant that potential publishers shied away from it. On May 5, 1906 Joyce wrote to the London publisher Grant Richards defending his refusal to compromise his text and explaining his reasons for writing Dubliners:

'My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. […] It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. 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, vol. 2,134)


Finally, on June 15, 1914, a month before the outbreak of World War I, the book was published by Richards. The atmospheric paintings and watercolours on display here illustrate the smoky capital of Joyce’s time and give a sense of the city of Dublin as a character in itself. Selected from the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection, they do not relate directly to the stories but evoke the city Joyce knew intimately.


Find out more about the Dublin: One City, One Book festival, an initiative of Dublin City Public Libraries


The Exhibition

This exhibition brings together sixteen atmospheric works from the Gallery's collection. It features paintings and watercolours by Walter Osborne, Rose Barton, Jack B. Yeats and William Orpen which give a sense of the city of Dublin as a character in itself.

See the works in the display