Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
James Joyce is widely acknowledged as a literary giant. Many consider his novels—especially “Ulysses“—to be among the most influential of the 20th century. Joyce fans worldwide still celebrate “Bloomsday,” the date that “Ulysses” protagonist Leopold Bloom made his famous journey around Dublin in the vein of Homer’s “Odyssey.” Joyce’s collection of short stories, “Dubliners,” which includes his celebrated “The Dead,” turns 100 years old this month. But despite his great talent, the author struggled to get his early work published. He faced disgrace in his native Ireland and chose to live and write abroad in self exile. Guest host Tom Gjelten and his guests discuss the legacy of James Joyce and “Dubliners.”
- Dan Moshenberg Joyce scholar and director of women's studies at The George Washington University.
- Maureen Corrigan critic in residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University. Her latest book is titled, "So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures."
- Coilin Owens Joyce scholar and professor emeritus of English, George Mason University. His latest book is titled "Before Daybreak: 'After the Race' and the Origins of Joyce's Art."
- Colum McCann author of the novels "Transatlantic" and "Let The Great World Spin."
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us, I'm Tom Gjelten, I'm sitting in today for Diane Rehm. James Joyce's short-story collection "Dubliners," turns 100, this month. Though it's not part of our literary landscape, his portrait of deer, dirty Dublin shocked the conventional publishing world of the time. Joining me, here in the studio, to talk about Dubliners and the Irish writer many consider one of the 20th century's greatest, Coilin Owens of George Mason University, Maureen Corrigan of Georgetown University and Dan Moshenberg of George Washington University. And from NPR's New York studio, author, Colum McCann. Good day to all of you.
MR. DAN MOSHENBERGGood morning.
MR. COILIN OWENSHi, Tom.
MR. COLUM MCCANNGood day.
GJELTENThis will be a great discussion about a literary giant. And it's a discussion that you can all be a part of. If you want to call us, our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email show, our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or it can leave us a comment on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet. Colum McCann, I want to begin with you. You wrote the forward to this collection.
GJELTENAnd you write, that when you were growing up in Dublin, you already knew you wanted to be a writer. And yet, you were not yet inspired by James Joyce whom, according to you, what you wrote in the forward, you felt free to ignore. And then, only when you went away to a university in Texas, of all places, did you discover him. How was that?
MCCANNThere was always a little bit of a whiff of Catholic embarrassment about Joyce, I think, when I was growing up. I remember, we studied Maupassant and other short story writers. But we weren't allowed to delve into Joyce, in our school text. And even in Dublin, the streets of Dublin nowadays, you have pubs, you know, with lines from, from all of Joyce's stories. You have, you have billboards, you've museums, you've all sorts of things. But in the 1960s and 1970s, that really wasn't apparent on the streets of Dublin. Joyce is now, sort of, an industry at home, in Ireland.
GJELTENSo it wasn't just your own reaction to him, he wasn't the nation -- he didn't have the national profile that he has now?
MCCANNHe didn't. I mean, there were many experts and, and many people, obviously, who revered him and loved him. But if you had a Bloomsday walk, yesterday was Bloomsday. If you had a Bloomsday walk, in Dublin, you might've had, maybe, 20, 30, 40, 50 people, you know, following the, the line that Leopold Bloom took through Dublin. Nowadays, there are hundreds, if not thousands, sort of, making that pilgrimage along Sandymount Strand and through the streets of Dublin. It really is, it's quite a sight. It's actually so much better than St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day is such a cliché now, at this stage.
MCCANNBloomsday is really the, the proper holiday for, for the thinking Irishman, anyway. The thinking Irishman and Irishwoman, of course.
GJELTENSo, then you go away to the University of Texas and you write, in this forward, then you rediscover James Joyce. And I'm quoting you from your forward, "The stories in the 'Dubliner' collection contains some of the most beautiful sentences ever written, in English." That's quite an extraordinary statement.
MCCANNYeah. And I think it's very, I think it's true and I would always stand by it. I mean, the, the short stories that everyone knows, the best is, of course, "The Dead," which has in terms of its last few pages, some of the most iconic, most beautifully crafted, rhythmic sentences that you can find anywhere. And you can feel the ease and the, the work that has gone into them. It's pure music. And I, you know, I think, it's, you know, "the snow falling, faintly falling, falling faintly, and on all the living and the dead."
MCCANNWhen, when Joyce -- and Joyce wrote this when he was very young. You know, he was only in his, in his twenties. But he, he absolutely hit, you know, top speed with these sentences.
GJELTENWell, I'm gonna actually have you read those sentences and a few more, a bit later in the program, Colum. But first, Maureen Corrigan. So James Joyce is most famous, of course, for "Ulysses," and yesterday, as Colum just said, was Bloomday (sic). But you have said that you love the "Dubliner" collection, most of all, of anything that James Joyce wrote, why?
MS. MAUREEN CORRIGANI think, because of "The Dead." I think, I think it is, yeah, maybe the greatest short story, certainly in the English language. And I also think, you know, it is more accessible and, and I don't mean to make a plea for it on the grounds that, you know, you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be entertained as opposed to "Ulysses." But "Ulysses" always strikes me as more gimmicky. And there are a lot more inside jokes and, you know, "Ulysses" is, is the novel that every die-hard English major loves to try to crack because there is so many symbol systems.
MS. MAUREEN CORRIGANAnd I think it all goes down much more smoothly in "Dubliners." Certainly "Dubliners," has all of the classical illusions and the, you know, the color symbolism, the geographical symbolism as well. But it seems to me to be more integrated into the stories and it doesn't call as much attention to itself.
GJELTENCoilin Owens, you're a Joyce scholar. And I'm interested in your reaction to something else that Colum McCann wrote, in the forward, and seeing if you agree with it. And Colum said, "It's not just a matter of Joyce's creative writing, that appreciating him requires creative reading. We must step into it." What do you think of what Colum said there?
OWENSOh, yes, that's certainly true, he's right. That Joyce can only be read after he's already been read. He requires you to read, again and again, because he's not writing on a simply naturalistic level. Nothing in his language is univocal. It's always equivocal and multivalent. So that every sentence he writes has a significance on several other levels like Dante did. Dante is his model. So you can't simply read him, univocally, as if he's writing about a social situation.
OWENSHe's writing about a much more profound experience. The experience of, that's available to the meditative person, to the metaphysically inclined person, to the religious person. He's a profoundly religious writer influenced by the religious and literary tradition. He's not writing simply out of street experience. He tells us, from the start, that language is used in two ways, as it's, as it's used in the marketplace or it's authorized, as it's authorized by the literary tradition. I'm writing in the latter case.
GJELTENBut if it's true that reading James Joyce requires work and investment and energy and discipline on the readers part, to what extent does that limit his audience because most people don't pick up a book, you know, with that kind of attention available to give to it?
OWENSWell, that's the problem of confronting a genius. I mean, he makes no apologies for the fact that he's an elitist. He's a fellow with an extraordinary intelligence, genius in fact, and he spent most of his life reading. He has very little human experience on, like, most of his here who've traveled, he hasn't hardly at all. But he's traveled in the realms of books. He was a master of several languages. He read hundreds of books by the time he was 20. And therefore all of us who are tempting to read him, not coming with that kind of background to him, are going to feel disabled.
OWENSJoyce makes no apology for that. He's an unembarrassed elitist, as the term now is used. He wouldn't, of course, use it that way. But he does say, in one place, "My mind is more interesting to me than the whole of Ireland."
GJELTENWell, Dan Moshenberg, you were saying, before the, before the show began, when we were just talking off-mic, that you were required to read James Joyce, for a class, and that that was the kiss of death for you.
MOSHENBERGRight. It was. And in some ways, I think it's the discussion of elitism. That, for me, at that age, was most problematic. I think, my experience of Joyce, is you read Joyce. You know, you don't have to revere him as a genius, you don't have to adore the text, some do and that's fine. But there's a lot there to go with. So for those who want to read Joyce socially, you read Joyce socially. For those who want to read Joyce aesthetically, you read Joyce aesthetically. And, like any other document, like any other text, you can always go back to it.
MOSHENBERGPart of that is the richness of the text but part of it is the richness of the experience of the reader. I mean, there is no text that a reader can't go back to and rediscover 20, 30 years later. I'm sure we all reread "The Dead," for today's discussion and we're shocked at how many ways it wasn't the text that we had read earlier.
GJELTENHum. Do you agree with that Colum McCann? That, you know...
MCCANNNo, absolutely. I mean, I'm reminded of the notion that Espinoza says, that, that "All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare." And, and, you know, Joyce is excellent and, and the difficulty causes it to be a rare experience, which makes us want to go back again and again. And it, in fact, in a curious way, once we've cracked it once, the beauty of it is, you go back again and again and you rediscover new things as you, as you go along. Joyce, of course, causes us to lose time in, in extraordinary ways.
MCCANNI even lost time because, of course, Bloomsday was the day before yesterday. And not, not yesterday. I was out on the, on the streets of New York. This was an amazing experience and we all read from "Ulysses," down on Stone Street, there was a couple of hundred people out celebrating the great literary genius, really, really of the 20th century.
GJELTENDo you agree with that Maureen? The great literary genius of the 20th century or do word -- do terms like that sort of, like, fail to capture his, his artistry, in a sense, because it's sort of putting him in a pantheon of others?
MOSHENBERGNo, I don't mind words like genius and Joyce is certainly up there with Gertrude Stein, with F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Hemmingway. I mean, he's W.B. Yeats, if you want to slide him into the 20th century, primarily. He, he is a genius, I think, again to come back to that question of why "Dubliners," for me, rather than "Ulysses." The word compassion comes to mind, that he seems to feel more for the characters he creates in "Dubliners." And he seems to feel some compassion for them. Whereas I always felt "Ulysses," was a little chillier and then, of course, "Finnegans Wake" goes off into the ether all together.
GJELTENAnd we'll get back to that a little later. Maureen Corrigan is critic and residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University. Her latest book is "So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures." We're talking about James Joyce and his collection of short stories, the "Dubliners," which is 100 years old. We're gonna take a short break now, we'll be right back.
GJELTENAnd hello again, I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR and I'm sitting in today for Diane Rehm, for this discussion of James Joyce's short story collection, "Dubliners," which is now 100 years old. And I have an all-star cast of Joyce specialists here to discuss the stories with me. Coilin Owens, professor emeritus of English at George Mason University.
GJELTENHis latest book is titled, "Before Daybreak: 'After the Race' and the Origins of Joyce's Art." Also Dan Moshenberg, director of women's studies at the George Washington University. Maureen Corrigan, critic and residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University. And from our studios in New York, Colum McCann. He's an author who has written the forward -- a new forward to the Penguin classics' centennial edition of "Dubliners." His most recent novel "Transatlantic" is now out in paperback.
GJELTENI have an email here -- and I should remind our listeners you can get in on this conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. But I already have an email from Andrew who writes, "I have never been a fan of Joyce but I have long thought and still feel that the last paragraph of "The Dead" is the most exquisite transcendent prose in all of English literature. Quite a statement from something who says -- describes himself as not being a fan of Joyce.
GJELTENBut we have made, already in this hour, so many references to this short story "The Dead" and in particular to those last few paragraphs. Colum McCann, I wonder if I can get you to read us the closing section of "The Dead" so we have some sense of what it is we're talking about .
MCCANNAbsolutely. I'd be delighted to. These are the last two paragraphs of "The Dead." Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes. And in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near.
MCCANNHis soul had approached that region where dwelled a vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of but could not apprehend their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a gray impalpable world. The solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling. A few light taps upon the windowpane made him turn to the window.
MCCANNIt had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right. Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the bog of Alan and farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.
MCCANNIt was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Fury lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling like the descent of their last end upon all the living and the dead.
GJELTENThank you, Colum. And for those listeners who have not -- are not familiar with the story, we should clarify. When you say he had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love, what love is he talking about here?
MCCANNHe's talking about a -- excuse me, he's talking about a lost love and that his wife has talked about a young man who showed the most extraordinary love for her. But he died of consumption. And he came to her house and looked up at her in the window many, many years before. So it's a lost love and a sort of unrequited love as well.
GJELTENAnd the sad thing here is that he is recognizing that he, even though the woman that he's talking about is his wife, that he does not -- he cannot say that he has or knows that kind of love himself.
MCCANNHe has never seen it quite that extraordinarily. He's never felt the pulse of it. It's like the pulse of the wound that go through to the opposite side. That's what Lorca actually talks about. And that's what Joyce was locating there, I believe.
GJELTENCoilin Owens, as someone who has studied Joyce as long and as thoroughly as you have, how do we explain -- if that's the right word -- how someone who is -- what was the age at which he wrote -- I mean, he was in this early 20's when he wrote "The Dead," right?
GJELTENTwenty-four. It's unimaginable to me -- and I think would be to a lot of people, that anyone who's only 24 would be able to write so masterfully.
OWENSYes. Of course he'd been practicing for some time but the event that produced this crisis in his life was his -- Nora Barnacle's telling him that she'd had a lover before him. Very chauvinistically he got highly affected by this.
GJELTENThis is his real life wife.
OWENSHis real life wife and consort, right. And this crisis occurred in Rome. That produced in him a personal crisis because he assumed that she was exclusively his. And he's now here examining himself. This is a great story for various reasons, one of which is that unlike the other Dubliner stories, they're critical of other people. This is critical of himself and of his presumptions that he was a lover.
OWENSThe sentences you just read there refers not to Gabriel's view of Fury's love of his wife but of his love of his wife. And the question -- the critical question then among many here is, how is Gabriel in a position to judge his feelings now as being love? Joyce is too smart a writer to let us off the hook very easily by saying, yes he's right, he is loving now.
OWENSThe question is open because Gabriel is so upset at this moment that his own ability to judge his feelings are highly problematized by the text. Many readers don't see this. They sail right through that as if it's a lyrical celebration of love when in fact it's criticizing it or at least it's raising questions about when and how we know whether we love or not.
OWENSThe last point I'll make about this is of course the rest of that paragraph moves not to human love but to divine love. That's the snow covering all of the universe. That's the last judgment. That's God's love for all of us. This story ends with an image of divine love, grace represented by the snow. And that's the love that he eventually ends up apprehending. And that is not generally understood to be so but this is Joyce's, in my view, one pure Christian moment his entire work. That's one of the reasons it's so admired.
GJELTENWell, I can understand why -- now why you all say that it's important to read Joyce more than once in order to take one layer at a time to really grasp the significance of his writing. Dan Moshenberg, I want to ask you -- and Maureen, I'm sure you have some thoughts on this as well -- so in this last section he is writing from his own, the male's point of view. He doesn't really get into what his wife is feeling at that moment. She goes to sleep. She's clearly, you know, feeling very sad about the recollection of this lover. What does this say, in your view, about his ability or his interest in sort of understanding how women feel as opposed to how he felt?
MOSHENBERGWell, on the one hand, it's not a great surprise that a male writer has difficulty understanding women's inner thoughts and emotional life, although that's not universal. I think part of the decade's long discussion about Joyce among feminists has been precisely how do we understand women's autonomy? How do we understand women's struggles? So you have to put the last three in the context of all of the stories in the book. And it's a mixed bag.
MOSHENBERGBut at the same time you do find where Joyce for me is most interesting -- and it's a little different than what you were saying -- is this question of who we are. You're talking about an Ireland at a moment already of a kind of economic development that is dividing us from us, rural from metropolitan. All of this is in the dead but it's also earlier on, those who stay from those who leave.
MOSHENBERGAll of that is part of the Irish story that Joyce is beginning to recount in "Dubliners." And it's clearly part of the ways in which women are being repositioned and are repositioning themselves or not.
GJELTENMaureen, your thoughts on that. And I don't understand. You've also, in this context, written about Joyce's "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." What's your view of the way that he writes about women's feelings or is even concerned about them?
CORRIGANWell, you know, one of the things that Joyce is celebrated for is writing one of the greatest soliloquies in the English language. Molly Bloom's soliloquy which ends Ulysses in which she's talking about sexual pleasure from a woman's point of view. And so we can't come down too hard on him for not understanding women because he certainly entered into Molly Bloom's head. And I think he enters into some of the other women's, you know, points of view here in "Dubliners."
CORRIGANOne of the stories I love the most is "Eveline" about a woman who can't make up her mind whether to stay or go, whether to stay in Ireland or leave with her lover.
GJELTENCan I interrupt you for a second, Maureen?
GJELTENDo you have that...
GJELTENYou mentioned "Eveline" and I know that -- I knew that this is something that you feel strongly about. Before I go on, why don't you read us that one little bit there that sort of has inspired you.
GJELTENThis is from the short story "Eveline."
CORRIGANYes. And just to set it up for a second, she is leaving with her lover who's a sailor. She's decided to leave her elderly father behind, and even though she made a promise to her dead mother to stay and take care of him, she is going to get on that boat and go with her sailor, lover off to Buena Aires, or so she thinks. And this is as they're -- this passage, she's at the docks and he is -- the lover is saying to her, come. All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them. He would drown her.
CORRIGANShe gripped with both hands at the iron railing. Come. No, no, no. It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent out a cry of anguish, Eveline, Evie. He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to impassive like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.
GJELTENThat's Maureen Corrigan reading the last lines of "Eveline," a short story in the "Dubliners" collection. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What was it about this section, Maureen, that really caught you?
CORRIGANOh my god, he so captures that feeling of being caught. You know, Eveline wants to leave her old life but does she have the courage, the guts to step on that boat into the unknown? And by the way, we have no idea whether this sailor is actually going to marry her and make an honest woman of her. She really doesn't know what she's stepping into.
CORRIGANAnd I love the way just technically Joyce moves from inside her head to this vision of we're almost watching her on the dock with that white face impassive like an animal. I mean, technically it's an amazing ending to that story.
GJELTENColum McCann, picking up on what Maureen just said, and that is the way that he's able to build a scene sort of from the small to the large, you have written about the almost mathematical quality to some of Joyce's writings. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
MCCANNSure. Well, I think a lot of authors discover a sort of mathematical intent as they go along because you're building something. And, you know, a story has an architecture to it. And the further you go into it you use language and that reveals the mystery of the human existence. But then also you have to put it down on the page. It has to be built. And there has to be, you know, conflict. There has to be some drama. There has to be resolution. And it's all shaped through language.
MCCANNAnd sometimes discovering a sentence in a story is like uncovering a problem in complex mathematics. It reveals itself to you and it was always there. And it somehow seems simple. It's almost like that eureka moment. But certainly in these short stories he builds and he goes from the local to the universal. He moves in that direction and you can sense the way that he understands the craft of storytelling, word upon word, image upon image until it all builds up into one of the most beautiful buildings.
MCCANNI would love, in fact, to be an architect and to make a different model for each one of these stories and see what sort of -- what would get revealed as a result. There's so many good stories in "Dubliners," one of my favorites being "Araby" and another "Ivy Day in the Commitment (sic) Room." When people read these -- when young students in particular read these, they begin to see the craft -- the true craft that is behind the art of writing a lot of work.
MCCANNAnd for such a young man, as we said, earlier, you know, 24, 25 when he was writing these stories, he was going for the epiphany. And so many of these stories are about human epiphanies.
GJELTENI want to pick up on that point of epiphanies. But first to you Coilin Owens.
OWENSYes. I'd like to pick up on one point that Colum just made. Joyce's sense of architecture is quite brilliant in that all of his works are deeply designed so that you have -- for example, in "After the Race," a story that ends with daybreak, gentlemen, and begins in a submerged text the beginning of the race was at the dawn of the morning of the day of the event.
OWENSAnd here is the central story -- the central sentence in the entire story. (word?) blew up -- drew up and Jimmy and his friend delighted near the bank. A little knot of people collected on the footpath to pay homage to the snorting mortar. Now that is the exact central sentence in the entire story. It is also the center of the City of Dublin. It's halfway through the text. It's halfway through the day. It's halfway through the -- it's the evening before the night which is about to commence.
OWENSIt is also a sentence which deals with the central question of the story, that is, the relationship between cars and horses, between mortar races and capitalism, between the bank and the race. Joyce's criticism of the race, which he might level at the World Cup now, is that we pretended we're competing nationally but actually it's a huge business. Joyce is a reactionary against international sports commodified especially, including the Olympics at that time and sorts of things like we have now. So that what this story is doing, and that sentence illustrates the point, that he's focusing on -- structurally on the question of relationship between money and sports.
GJELTENThat's amazing the way that you're able to take that apart and explain that. And in fact when we -- we're going to take a short break now and when we do come back, I want to get into this issue of the sort of social and political messaging behind Joyce's writings. And we will go to the phones when we come back. Stay tuned.
GJELTENAnd welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm sitting in for Diane today. And we are on the 100th anniversary of the publication of "Dubliners," the short story collection by James Joyce. And we're taking this moment to sort of reflect on Joyce as a writer and on this collection in particular. And my guests are Coilin Owens, professor emeritus of English at George Mason University where he is a James Joyce scholar. His latest book is "Before Daybreak: 'After the Race' and the Origins of Joyce's Art." And the short story that you -- the section that you just read was from that short story "After the Race."
GJELTENAlso Dan Moshenberg, director of women's studies at the George Washington University, Maureen Corrigan, critic in residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University. And her latest book is "So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures." Also from New York, Colum McCann, who's most recent novel is "Transatlantic." It's now out in paperback. And he's here today because of his expertise in James Joyce. And in fact, he wrote the new forward to the Penguin Classics' centennial edition of "Dubliners."
GJELTENNow, to you, Dan Moshenberg, just before the break, Coilin Owens read -- gave us sort of an amazing little analysis of this section of the short story "After the Race," where almost everything he writes has this great symbolic significance, alluding to larger social and political issues. This is an aspect of Joyce's writing that has always interested you, correct?
MOSHENBERGYes. Yes, it is. And I thought that was a terrific analysis for (unintelligible). Yes, I mean, I approach Joyce not so much as a literary figure, but rather as a social commentator and as somebody who was living in a very particular time. A time that we seem to recognize today. I mean, if you look at the last line of "Eveline," which I think is an extraordinary story, when you read it in a period of the greatest migration of women in the history of the earth, right, bar none, right now.
MOSHENBERGAnd you think about Eveline, you think about all of those Evelines, and what it means to have gone and what it means to have not gone and what the possibilities are, and then you look at that sentence, at that last sentence, and you realize that there are many ways of describing it. But in political and economic terms, one of them would be alienation, right, that what you're looking at is a sense of being trapped. But in that sense of being trapped, Eveline is described as actually having lost her humanity at that moment. I mean, she remains a member of the human race as it were. But she has lost that sense of participating with volition, with choice.
GJELTENMm-hmm. Colum McCann, if Coilin Owens' analysis of this section is correct, James Joyce had to be writing very deliberately, not just sort of in a creative way, but he must have been sort of thinking about these bigger social and political issues as well. Is that your view?
MCCANNAbsolutely. I mean, he knew what he was doing, and he also wasn't shy about it in fact. And in a letter at one stage, he said, I seriously believe that you will retire the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking glass. Now, that's a letter that he wrote to a publisher who -- and he was arguing for why the stories had to be published. And he was holding up his own looking glass to the Irish people. And later when he talks about Stephen Dedalus in "Portrait of the Artist," he talks about Stephen going forth and forging in the smithy of his soul, the uncreated conscience of his race.
MCCANNSo Joyce, you know, he wasn't shy about what he knew. And he shouldn't have been shy about what he knew. He also wasn't shy about what he wanted to say. And it was powerful. And it was kind of controversial at the time too. He's taking up the lives of ordinary people in "Dubliners." People on the streets, women who are working in the Magdalen laundries, you know, people who are out betting. And there's a great deal of humor and swerve and kick to all of the stories. And that's one thing we tend to forget about Joyce. We get so serious about him that we forget how deeply, deeply funny he happens to be.
MCCANNYou know, Freddy Malins unbuttoning his fly in the short story, "The Dead." The rheumatic wheels of a carriage going by. The malapropisms, all this wonderful stuff that's going on in his work. He knew exactly what he was doing and what it was that he wanted to say, which is kind of why I suppose that he needed to be abroad. 'Cause I don’t think he could've survived in Ireland, talking about Ireland in that way.
GJELTENMaureen Corrigan, Colum just mentioned a book that we're not really focusing on that much today, and that is "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Brian from Indianapolis has sent us an email saying, "I'm surprised that no one has mentioned "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" in addition to "Dubliners." "Portrait of the Artist" is one of the few books I've read multiple times. Can your panel please discuss the significance of this book too?" Well, this is something that you have highlighted the importance of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." It's not true that we haven't mentioned it, but he doesn't think we've mentioned it enough I guess.
CORRIGANYeah, "Portrait of the Artist," I mean, Stephen Dedalus is the stand-in for Joyce. And it is -- you know, it's taken to be a (word?), a (word?). The idea of it tracing a young man coming into adulthood, but also an artist coming into his own. Colum just quoted the end of "Portrait of the Artist." And I always sort of roll my eyes when I hear the end of it, because it almost -- I feel like I've met that guy 1,000 times in my English classes. But the guy who thinks he's the artist who's going to forge the uncreated conscience of his race.
CORRIGANI feel like Joyce is that one guy out of a trillion who actually could do it. You know, he was arrogant. He was obnoxious. He offended people. He met W. B. Yates when he, James Joyce, was 20 and Yates was 36, 37. And he told Yates, you're too old for me to have any effect on you. Here he is meeting the greatest poet of his time, and he's acting so arrogant toward him. And yet he could get away with it because he was a genius.
GJELTENLet's go now to Anthony who's on the line from Montreal, Cal. Hello, Anthony. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANTHONYYes, good morning. I came in on the show when Colum was reading the last paragraph of "The Dead."
ANTHONYFor me, "The Dead," it's one of the -- the greatest short story ever written. And it's really poetic. And mind you, Huston, for his very last film, did quite a bit of justice to it. I...
GJELTENJohn Huston. Mm-hmm.
ANTHONYYes. I particularly like a story called "Play." And there's an area of description of Maria, the main character in "Play," which makes her look like a harlequin. And then, as a child growing up in County Laois, Ireland, we played these games on Halloween, you know, with the three saucers. And then of course there's the foreshadowing at the end of "Play." The one about the father and son, "Counterparts," is actually -- it highlights family violence in the family violence at the end of it.
GJELTENOkay. Thank you very much, Anthony. Coilin Owens, do you have anything to say about either of these two short stories that Anthony just mentioned in addition to the points he made?
OWENSWell, Joyce's take on Ireland is very critical, certainly. And we need to be aware that he's an artist of extraordinary genius. So that the purely naturalistic elements of his stories are only but one level in it. I mean, Dante is his model. And he's writing all of his stories have mythological and religious and allegorical levels to them, as well as the naturalistic. So that, you know, we have to be very careful about how we receive his language. His language is multi-valiant in an extraordinarily complex way. And that's why there are such journals as the "James Joyce Quarterly" that has been in existence for 60 years dealing with some of the problems -- reading problems that he presented us with.
OWENSAnd so we can only read among one level. If we do it -- if we read them simply as a sociological reporter, we're only doing one kind of reading. He's a vastly read, complex writer thinking and imagining on several levels all at once in a highly organized manner.
GJELTENWell, it's good that we have a whole team of analysts here to discuss James Joyce today, precisely for that reason that you need to consider him on many different levels. And Tony from St. Louis, Mo. has his own thoughts on James Joyce. Hello, Tony. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
TONYHi there. Thanks so much. Really, really enjoy this. It's a fantastic book and fantastic show. I'm an Irish American fiction writer. And I'd like the panel to address how difficult it is -- most of what I write is nonfiction, but I have the habit of writing fiction. How difficult it is for Irish American writers to get published, fiction writers, because they're always going up against the giant James Joyce. If not Joyce, J. P. Donleavy in "The Ginger Man." Because the themes are very similar, but themes like it's very hard to get the American experience.
GJELTENWell, Tony, do you write about Ireland? Do you write about growing up in Ireland?
TONYNo, I write about growing up in the Midwest. But people of my generation, the baby boomers, had the strict Catholic dogma and so forth. And there's a lot of -- you know, we deal with a lot of religious things and cultural things. And it's very hard for our eyes to make that new thanks to James Joyce.
GJELTENMaureen Corrigan, have you heard this complaint from anyone else, that James Joyce makes it difficult for other writers?
CORRIGANI certainly have read that complaint expressed by his contemporaries. You know, he was worshipped. And I'm thinking of another Irish American, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who when he met Joyce in the mid-'20s, got down on his knees and then also offered to jump out the window of the room they were in just to show his adoration of Joyce. So he was certainly recognized as, yes, a tough act to follow.
CORRIGANBut I don't -- listening to your caller, immediately the name that jumped into my head was Mary Gordon, who is an Irish American writer who's certainly done a great job of I think dramatizing the world of the Irish immigrant and the second generation Irish American here in this country. And how, yeah, the old world still carries over in some sense of repression and things that you shouldn't do or say. But, you know, I think we do have our writers here who are able to express what it's like to be Irish American.
GJELTENWell, I think, Colum McCann, you once wrote that reading Joyce is enough to make other professional writers just want to put down their pens and give up. So we can get back to that in a moment. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, Colum, what's your own relationship with James Joyce, if I may ask? We actually -- you know, one of the last callers, a point that he made to our screener was that he has a hard time -- he finds James Joyce daunting, but he likes your books even better. You, Colum McCann. How have you managed to sort of balance your admiration for James Joyce with your own writing, with your own creative process as an Irish writer?
MCCANNWell, I do agree that there is a certain weight on an Irish writer's shoulders. You know, Joyce was talking about writing a chapter of the moral history of his country. But I actually think that he opened up so many doors. I think it's great American Irish writers, there's so many. Mary Gordon just been one, Bill Kennedy and Pete Hamelin, Dan Barry and so many others. It seems to me that Joyce opened things up. And for me, personally, I have to say that, you know, I never met my great-grandfather. And I only met my grandfather from Dublin one time in my life. How and ever, I know my grandfather and I know my great-grandfather because I have read Joyce.
MCCANNIn a way he gives me access to my own personal history. You know, I sit here with the blood of my grandfather thumping through me, but I know my grandfather really only because I've had a chance to read Joyce. So for me, and the further I get into it, and the more I read "Dubliners," the more I read "Ulysses," which I try to do, you know, every couple of years, the more complex my own history becomes.
MCCANNAnd I think this is part of the beauty of -- not only of Joyce, but of literature in general. It gives us access to those things that we wouldn't necessarily have. We can live so many other lives by going into the pages of a novel, of a poem, of a play, whatever it happens to be. We become these people who develop so many new skins. And to me, I am grateful for Joyce in particular, for helping me access my own history.
GJELTENDan Moshenberg, this is another whole level of appreciating James Joyce. Apart from the structural analysis of his writing which we have discussed, the window that his writing offers just into what it was like to be Irish at the turn of the century.
MOSHENBERGRight. And what it was like to be European and what it was like to be a woman, what it was like to be a working person. I mean, I think one of the -- one of the values, if you like, that Joyce provides, and this goes to the last caller as well, is that with all the seriousness he was also just completely irreverent at the same time. And part of the pleasure of his works is that he was breaking rules. And some of those rules are still in effect today. And it's complicated. So you have a writer who is resisting the market at the same time that he has a patron, and at the same time that he's always scrambling for money, because you need to survive.
MOSHENBERGBut with all of that, in the same breath, he is saying the marketization of literature is evil and we need to understand that. So if your aspiration is to do well in the market, fine, go ahead, do well in the market.
GJELTENDan Moshenberg is director of women's studies at the George Washington University. We've been discussing the short story collection "Dubliners," by James Joyce, which sees its centennial publication right now in a new version from Penguin Classics. Colum McCann's another one of our guests. He wrote the foreword to this new edition. And his most recent novel "Transatlantic" is now out in paperback. My other two guests are Coilin Owens, professor of emeritus of English at George Mason University, and Maureen Corrigan, critic in residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University. And her latest book is "So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures."
GJELTENThis has been a fascinating discussion. And you can read more about it on our website. In the meantime, I'd like to thank all our listeners. I'd like to thank our guests. It's been a pleasure for me to sit in today for Diane Rehm. I'm Tom Gjelten.