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Literary escapade: Dublin

August 26, 2012 29 comments

Welcome to my personal literary tour of Dublin, the city where the sun shines several times a day. Dublin is a Unesco City of Literature, like Melbourne, Iowa City, Reykjavik and Edimburg. I purchased this marvellous guide, Dublin, City of Literature by Muriel Bolger and it helped me spot the different places I should look for. It includes four literary walks and lists and describes 200 Irish writers. That’s a goldmine for me and to be honest, I didn’t know there were as many writers as that. For a city of this size, there are so many references to writers everywhere that it’s impossible to see everything.

So I decided to do this literary tour my way and show you what I saw while strolling through the city. It started with Swift at the St Patrick’s Cathedral. Swift has been the Dean of the place from 1713 to 1745. He’s buried there with his beloved Stella at his side and you can read parts of his bio.

This is the way I enjoy learning about a writer’s life, being on the premises, seeing and reading things. (That’s the luxury and unrealistic way to do it, I know. I can’t travel all over the globe to see the places where writers came from.) In the nearby park, the literary fest continues with plaques of different writers embodied in a wall. Swift used to live in Dublin Castle, the oldest part of the city and of course, there’s a plaque to draw your attention to it.

Around Merrion Square, it’s a festival of plaques and writers.

I have to admit I’d never heard of “AE”, but I’m not much into poetry or of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Has anyone read him? This Georgian area was visibly a place much enjoyed by artists. It’s quiet with similar houses around a garden which used to be for the sole use of the inhabitants of these houses. (Aren’t there places like this in London as well?)

The garden is pretty and has this big statue of Oscar Wilde.

It looks painted but it’s not. It’s made of different kinds of stones. Honestly, I’m not sure the poor man would be happy about it. Or proud. He’s got a lopsided smirk which is a bit insulting for his wit. Otherwise, you keep stumbling upon his aphorisms in shops and the Olympia Theatre currently features A Woman of No Importance.

Let’s leave Dublin for an instant to say that in Galway, they have a double Wilde statue: Oscar and Eduard, an Estonian writer.

Of course I’ve never heard of Eduard but I will certainly check him out. After all, I still don’t have a writer for Estonia for my EU Book Tour. And of course, there are the inevitable quotes by Oscar painted on a souvernir shop that looks like an American wedding cake. That was for Galway.

Back to Dublin. There you have various statues of writers in St Stephen’s Garden. I never found Yeats but I was surprised to meet with Tagore in an alley. I wonder why he’s in Saint Stephen’s Gardens with Joyce and other Irish writers.

As I haven’t read Ulysses — Yet. I have it both in French and in English and I’m told I need a guidebook, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for — I missed most of the Joyce references while visiting.

I knew I had to look for plaques on the pavement but the only one I saw is the one I included here and I have no idea whether it’s part of the Ulysses pilgrimage or not.

I did figure out that Sweny’s, Drugist and Chemist had something to do with Ulysses when I walked by it since the front window is full of Joyce references. And that’s where the guidebook becomes handy: it gives explanations. This is the shop where Leopold Bloom waited amid the spell of sponges and loofas to buy his four-penny cake of sweet lemony soap. Right. I’ll know what that means when I’ve read the book. This explains why I didn’t visit the James Joyce Centre, I couldn’t impose this on my husband and children.

Then I came accross the hands of Edna O’Brien, on a plaque sealed in the pavement, like famous actors’ hands on Hollywood Boulevard and Trollope was waiting for us at the Post Office since he worked for the post office in Ireland from 1841 to 1844. That was quite unexpected.

I didn’t go to the James Joyce Centre but I paid a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum. That’s a nice place to visit. It’s settled in a beautiful old house and it gives information about Irish writers. They have first editions, clothes and all kinds of relics bookworms long to see. I was a bit in a rush as the rest of the family was waiting outside but I enjoyed the time I spent there and of course, I bought books at the bookstore.

But there’s more to Dublin’s literary side than the constant reminders of the great writers who lived, worked or were born here.  We all enjoyed seeing The Book of Kells in Trinity College, the process of making a book in the Middle Ages fascinated the children. They loved to see how they corrected mistakes with drawings and they had difficulties to wrap their mind around the concept of copying a book by hand. The Chester Beaty Library is also extraordinary, showing books in different cultures: Western illuminations, Ottoman, Chinese and Japanese traditions. The building is fantastic in itself.

I could write more, add more pictures and I would fail to tell you how much I enjoyed my stay in Ireland. True, the weather gods were with us, we had a lot of sun. But still, I’ve seen more statues of Joyce than of the Virgin Mary and it means something in a Catholic country, no?

PS: I have to thank my husband (who took most of the pictures) and my children for their patience. They think I’m nuts but they let me have my way. As always when I write a post with many pictures, I hope it looks fine on your computer, phone, tablet or whatever you use to watch this. It looks good on my computer.

Do you need to be Irish to love Dubliners by James Joyce?

August 5, 2011 30 comments

Dubliners by James Joyce. 1914.

I’m well aware that my post title will raise eyebrows or bring frowns on faces. I’ll explain later. I’m not going to introduce Dubliners here, I don’t see the point of poorly rephrasing what is already written on Wikipedia. So check here if you need explanations. This is my first James Joyce, a writer I’ve never read because I thought he was daunting. After several recommendations from readers I finally decided to try Dubliners. What can I say? I was stupid not to have read it before. It’s beautifully written and of course Joyce is a great author. So thanks for the recommendation.

Dubliners is a vivid picture of Dublin before the independence. He caught me with Araby, Eveline, A Painful Case and particularly with The Dead. I loved his style (“Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance.”), his quick thoughts about humanity (“Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money”), his descriptions of faces (“His face, which carried the entire tale of his years, was of the brown tint of Dublin streets.” Or “He wore a round hat of hard black felt. His face, shining with raindrops, had the appearance of damp yellow cheese save where two rosy spots indicated the cheekbones.”). I really enjoyed his wit and his gift at describing characters:

She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male.

Sometimes I found French way of speaking with English words. “What age are you?” which is exactly what French pupils learning English would tend to say instead of How old are you? (Literal translation of the French Quel âge as-tu?) Same comment for “how goes it?” (Comment ça va?)

But he lost me sometimes.

He lost me in the language but that was predictable. So I asked for help and downloaded a French translation and went back and forth the original and the French. There were many expressions (“that emphatically takes the biscuit” or “He’s gone to the dogs.”) or sometimes acronyms (a.p. for appointment, g.p. for I don’t know what except that I don’t think they were drinking a doctor, so I assume, being in Dublin, that it was beer). The problem was that he lost the kindle’s dictionary too with words such as barmbracks or peloothered, which was less predictable. Hence the French translation. Then I got angry at the translator for unnecessary changes. Why does Maria from Clay became Ursule in French? And why a man of 66 became a man of 70? But all in all, it helped me with the original.

He lost me in Two Gallants, I never quite understood what the two guys wanted from the girl, even after reading it in French. Prostitution? Sorry for being slow…

He lost me in a sea of boredom in Grace. – Yes, holiday by the coast, can’t help sea metaphores – All that stuff about religion. Perhaps he wanted to show how boring religion was to him.

He totally lost me in Ivy Day in the Committee Room as it is rife with political issues. I knew about Parnell but my mind went blank when I read about all the details about politics, King Edward’s visit to Ireland and so on.

He lost me in the internal cracks and divisions about nationalism and independence, like here:

O, innocent Amy! I have found out that you write for The Daily Express. Now, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” “Why should I be ashamed of myself?” asked Gabriel, blinking his eyes and trying to smile. “Well, I’m ashamed of you,” said Miss Ivors frankly. “To say you’d write for a paper like that. I didn’t think you were a West Briton.

I assumed the Daily Express was a pro-London paper and I guessed that West Briton is an insult. That’s the point: I guessed and I can’t tell if I guessed right.

He lost me in the streets and the public transports of Dublin, a city I’ve never visited although I’d love to. I felt I was missing something there, Joyce obviously loves his city and his people. I’m sure it’s pretty evocative for a native but I felt left aside from private jokes. And that’s the persisting feeling about it. Although I was blown away by The Dead, I felt I was intruding in a book written for Irish people about their lives, their customs, their history and their identity. I felt Joyce wanted to show them who they are, from childhood to old age and that they should stand for themselves.

Hence my post title.

But I’ll let Joyce have the last word with his observation of changes in the Irish society:

A new generation is growing up in our midst, a generation actuated by new ideas and new principles. It is serious and enthusiastic for these new ideas and its enthusiasm, even when it is misdirected, is, I believe, in the main sincere. But we are living in a sceptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belonged to an older day.

For another review, read Sarah’s here.

Max’s review is available here

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