Photo of James Joyce (Graham)

Back in Joyce's Day

By Chauntae, Cynelsa, Kiara, and Lauren


Imagine living in nineteenth century Ireland, a country that struggled to control its land due to the threats of invasion by another country. Tension grew every time a religious group encountered another religious group, which caused more struggle between the people. The country's women were not appreciated, and the education of children was very rare. This conflict in Ireland is exemplified by author James Joyce in Dubliners. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Joyce first handedly experienced the hardships and corruption in Dublin during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because this city was his home, he felt that it was unique and interesting enough for the world to read about. Joyce once wrote to his brother, "When you think that Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years, . . . that it is the 'second' city of the British Empire... that it is nearly three times as big as Venice, it seems strange that no artist has given it to the world" (Joyce, Back Cover). His intentions were to educate the world about his hometown and its struggles. In Dubliners, James Joyce creates a realistic portrait of Dublin through great similarities between society, politics, and religion.


Social Classes in Dublin History

During the early twentieth century, Dublin's social classes were determined by a variety of criteria. Firstly, the location in which people lived showed how social classes were divided by area. Examples of areas that determined people's social class were Great Britain Street, Irishtown, Ringsend and Baggot Street. Great Britain Street, now named Parnell Street, is located in Northern Dublin. According to Terence Brown, Great Britain Street was home to the majority of Dublin's lower class in the twentieth century (240). Showing similarity to Great Britain Street was Irishtown. Irishtown, which is in Southern Dublin, was known as “a poor area of Dublin" (244). Another area that was inhabited by a specific class was Ringsend. Ringsend is located in Southern Dublin. According to Terence Brown, Ringsend was known as the “working class district of Dublin” (249). This means that the people in Ringsend
Map of Dublin (From Gray)
were not the poor lower class, but instead they were the average middle class. The people in Ringsend were employed and lived more comfortably than the lower class. The last example of a location that was home to a certain class was Baggot Street. During the twentieth century, Baggot Street was home to the upper class.This can be seen when Brown says that Baggot street was “a street of fashionable Georgian houses and expensive shops” (259).

In addition to the location in which people lived, the jobs people had illustrated their social class. The types of jobs around Dublin and most of the Irish cities concentrated on farming. Before industrialization, there were wealthy farmers, strong farmers, and family farmers. According to Séan Connolly, all of these farming groups were based on social groups. Wealthy farmers had an average of about 80 acres per family and their population was 50,000 people across Ireland. 'Strong farmers' handled an average of 100 acres, while about 200,000 family farmers worked with an average of 20 acres. Those with less than twenty acres were known as smallholders. There were up to 250,000 smallholders in Ireland. They owned an average of 5 acres per household and about one million laborers, who worked on other men’s land either for a cash wage or as ‘cottiers’ in exchange for a plot of ground to grow food for themselves and their families (Connolly 7).

After industrialization, more job positions were created. The local government, police force, and civil services provided ever-increasing employment. Also, the growing public sector opened up opportunities for women to work as clerks. Hill describes that women had clerical opportunities, as Guinness’s Brewery, in 1906, had its first examinations for lady clerkships. The Post Office became viewed as the ‘pioneer’ of women’s employment. It even changed the whole structure of rural life due to its spread across Ireland, while offering positions to educated working-class girls as telegraph operators (Hill 1).

The Universities Act of 1879, which allowed females to earn degrees on the same basis as males, offered further opportunities to easily enter these professions. However, progress in this area was very slow. For example, despite women’s significant role in nursing, "only 33 qualified female medical doctors and 68 female medical students are recorded in the census of 1911" (Hill). Because most schools were under clerical control, they often tended to reinforce the influence of the clergy and toughen religious divisions. The Intermediate Education Act of 1878 provided a serious funding and made it more available by funding secondary education on a payment-by-results basis (Hill).

Social Classes in Dubliners

In Dubliners, James Joyce accurately portrays the characteristics of the nineteenth century Dublin social classes. For example, he reflects specific locations in Dublin. In the story “ The Sisters,” Joyce describes Great Britain Street by having the narrator explain what he sees when he goes to visit the priest’s house. For example in the story, the narrator describes what he sees by saying, “ The next morning I went down to look at the little house in Great Britain Street…Two poor women and a telegram boy were reading the card pinned on the crape” (Joyce 3). In that quote, the two women and the boy are used to show that this part of town was not full of people in the high social class. Also, James Joyce shows that Irishtown is a poor area when he has Eliza talking about her conversation with the priest. On page 9 in “The Sisters” Eliza talks about the priest saying, “….all he kept on saying that before the summer was over he’d go out for a drive one fine day just to see the old house again where we were all born down in Irishtown and take me and Nannie with him.” This specific quote establishes that Eliza was born in Irishtown. Joyce goes on to show that the family is a poor family from Irishtown by having Eliza explain the type of transportation she wishes she had to take them there. For instance, she says, “ If we could only get one of them new-fangled carriages that makes no noise…and drive out the three of us together on a Sunday evening” (Joyce 9). If the characters were of higher class, then they would not have trouble getting a carriage like the one mentioned in the quote to take them to their destination.

Joyce continues reflecting Dublin areas in the story “An Encounter.” In this story, Joyce illustrates Ringsend as the working section through the narrator’s description of the setting. For example the narrator says, “We spent a long time walking about the noisy streets flanked by high stone walls, watching the working of cranes and engines often being…”( Joyce 14). In this quote the reader is able to see that the main characters in the story are watching people in the working, middle class. Baggot Street is portrayed in James Joyce's "Two Gallants." In this story he shows how the maid worked for rich people in a house on Baggot Street ( Joyce 44). Having the maid work on Baggot Street helps illustrate the type of people who lived on that street. At that time, most people with maids had money. This means that Baggot Street was home to people of high class.

James Joyce accurately portrays Dublin society in the twentieth century except for the fact that he does not talk about farming. According to history, farming was a very important aspect in Ireland. It helped determine people's social class and was people's main source of income. Throughout most of the stories in Dubliners, Joyce does not talk about people having jobs as farmers. In the stories, he talks about people having jobs in offices or public services. For instance, in "The Boarding House" Jack Mooney is described as working as "a clerk to a commission agent" and Mr. Mooney is a "sheriff's man" (Joyce 57). Neither Mr. Mooney's job nor Jack Mooney's jobs are reflective of the farming industry. Another example of Joyce not accurately portraying sociey is in " Two Gallants" when Corley talks about working at Pim's (Joyce 47). According to Terrence Brown, Pim's was a manufacturing company (Brown, 260). If Joyce had made Corley refer to a job in the agricultural field, then Dublin society would have been better portrayed.

Women in Society from Dublin History

Historically, it has been a woman’s job to stay at home and take care of the household. The man of the house had to go to work and make the money to support the family. A census taken in 1911 counted a total of about 90,000 men in Dublin. Of this male population, most were unemployed, and those that had jobs were paid an average of less than one pound a week. On that note, women earned about half the laborer's average wage (Doherty 2). This unfair condition caused women to have few options of what to do with their lives. The only choices in their lives were to either live in a convent or get married. During the 1900s, half of the women over the age of 25 were still unmarried (Doherty, 3). At that time, many women were desperate to find a man. If they did not find a man, then they just moved to another country ( Doherty, 3). Whether a woman was married or unmarried, history shows that the men treated women as they pleased. When the men were not around, some women had to take care of the children alone. In addition to the men treating women as they pleased, men also talked about women in a negative manner. During the twentieth century, it was very popular to hear of women being mentioned as if they were not even human. Joyce's brother, Stanislaus Joyce, provides an example of this disrespectful manner when he talks about a man he knows saying,"he scarcely ever talked decently of them[women], even the ones he likes... 'She's very warm between the thighs, I fancy'" (S. Joyce 22).

Women in Society from Dubliners

Joyce's Dubliners depicts the realities of the unfair treatment of women in Dublin society very well. In "Two Gallants," it can be seen how the men treated women the way they wanted to. For instance, in "Two Gallants," Corley exploits the maid just to get what he wants. He does this by acting as a prostitute just to get money from her. Also, in this story, it can be seen how men talk negatively about women. An example of this is on page 44 when Corley says," ...and I spotted a fine tart under Waterhouse's clock and said goodnight, you know" ("Two Gallants"). Instead of referring to the woman as a "tart," he could have referred to her as something more positive such as a lady. In addition to showing men's negativeness toward women, Joyce's Dubliners illustrates the fact that some women had to take care of the children alone. This is evident in "The Boarding House" when the narrator talks about Mrs. Mooney raising Polly alone after she separated from Mr. Mooney ("The Boarding House", 56). Without Mr. Mooney, there was no one else to take care of Polly except for Mrs. Mooney herself. Joyce continues depicting women in Dublin Society by illustrating how there were barely any jobs for women. For example in "The Boarding House," the whole point of Polly having the affair was so she could get Mr. Doran to marry her and take care of her.

Another example that exemplifies women's lives is "Eveline". In this story , Eveline thinks to herself about how if she marries Frank she will have someone to take care of her. As she thinks about leaving, she remembers her promise to her mother about taking care of the her home and decides to stay. Even though her mother's promise was not the only reason Eveline stayed at home, it was one of the most important reasons she did. Eveline staying shows how women's first priority was to take care of the home instead of doing something else that they wanted to do. In addition to the roles of women, "Eveline" demonstrates how women emigrated from Ireland to find better opportunities. Even though Eveline does not actually leave Ireland, her thoughts express how if she did leave, then she would have a chance at a better life. For instance in the story, Eveline talks about going to live with Frank will ensure she will have a good life with someone who loves her (Joyce 33). Because there were not many job opportunities, most women had to marry a man who was able to take care of them.


Political Aspects in History

Historically, Ireland has been a fighting country. Before the Great Famine of Ireland, there were popular political movements with objectives to repeal the Act of Union and to continue the Union. The Act of Union was the establishment of confined self-government for Ireland (Cronin 1). With problems against Great Britain, the country struggled to keep its religion and government. Ireland soon met a man that most Irish call a hero, who was named Charles Stewart Parnell. He was a Protestant landowner who was raised and educated mostly in England. Parnell was also a candidate that was selected by the Home Rule League, which had just been founded in November 1873 (Flynn 1). Being a Protestant man, it was a huge surprise that he joined the Home Rulers. He would contribute to a national parliament. Unfortunately, he did not carry himself in the best manner during the campaign and left a bad impression on many. According to Flynn, when a leader from the League was questioned about "the Colonel's increased majority, exclaimed, 'And no wonder. Did you see the dim-witted fool we had for a candidate?’" It was observed that Parnell did not seem good enough, despite him being the personal choice of Isaac Butt, the leader of the Home Rulers at Westminster.

Parnell (from Young)

In 1877, Parnell became the President of the Fenian-controlled Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain. This was completely against the wishes of the party leader, Isaac Butt. Consequently, the Home Rule issue was soon the leading focus of Irish politicians. The objective was to secure self-government for the country of Ireland through the organization of a national parliament, but Parnell continually drifted towards other organizations for aid. Maguire explains how Catholic bishops were hugely suspicious of Parnell because of his politics, and more so because he was Protestant while having connections with the Fenians. That made Parnell try to win their support by supporting their need for state aid for Catholic schools, which was successful (2). Throughout his significant rulings, he followed risky tactics that demanded negotiation in the politics of Ireland.

With all that he contributed as a respected man, all changed as the Irish Parliamentary failed to support him because of an affair with a former member of Parnell’s party's wife. A lot of his support was lost in 1890, which was the year the mistress and husband, Captain William O’Shea divorced. Parnell had been living with Katherine, O'Shea's wife, and had two daughters by her. As the case became public, Parnell’s political ambitions and to his career were destroyed. Most of his party deserted him, and he rapidly lost public support. Many took the view that he was no longer a fit person to lead the Irish Parliamentary Party. Joyce reveals the harsh penalties of the affair in his notes. He was denounced from entering most Irish Catholic pulpits when his affair came to public attention (Joyce291). Even though he was a good man, the controversy quickly destroyed Parnell's career. In spite of all the hardships, he still tried to redeem his leadership in Ireland. That failed because the Irish rejected.

At the age of forty-five, and just five months after he had married Katherine O’Shea, Parnell died. While his political life stayed alive for only fourteen years, he rose to lead a nation and altered the course of its history. An Irish parliament was his goal, while England was his deep-rooted enemy. Magurie provides that the Irish were the people to bring him down, not the English. He gambled recklessly and lost, coming very close to making Ireland the greatest it could be. It is provided that "James Joyce was to describe [Parnell] as ‘strong to the point of weakness’". His funeral was attended by nearly 250,000 people, and a monument was put up on what is now O’Connell Street. In his honor, Great Britain Street was also renamed Parnell Street (Maguire 2).

Political Aspects in Dubliners

In Dubliners, Joyce does well in reflecting politics in twentieth century Ireland. The title of the short story comes from where the meeting took place, which was on Parnell's commemorated death day. We find in the footnotes of Dubliners that October 6, 1891 was named Ivy Day and is remembered each year as this because the mourners at his funeral wore ivy leaves from the graveyard in their lapels (Joyce 286). The candidates in the story "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" are not fully behind their actions. They take place in the campaign and only worry about when they will receive the payment.

Once again, Joyce outlines the recurring theme of incompleteness. An example found in the story is when Father Keon discretely looks for Mr. Fanning. They both are up to no good because Father Keon calls it business. Joyce implies that Father Keon may be "an uncompromising supporter of extra-Parliamentary politics", which is so wrong because he was disciplined and taught to oppose Fenianism (289). This connects and accurately portrays what we have found out about the tactics of Charles Parnell. We find similarity in how politics in the book chose risky tactics, just like the famous Irish leader. It shows how the people of Dublin were unable to consistently support belief systems, whether they are religious or political.

Economical Aspects in History

The economical status of Dublin was not the best, although it had its exceptions. Research has provided that the Guinneis Brewery, producer of beer and stout, was a huge part of the Irish business. In the 1800s, this factory was the nation's most successful private employer and largest industrial exporter. Also at the time, Dublin was famous for its textiles, which included poplin, silk, cotton, and woolens ("Dublin, Ireland"). But at the beginning of nineteenth century, Ireland's long economic expansion was devastatingly coming to and end. With all of this potential economical success, it is hard to believe that by 1911, three-quarters of the work force in the city was very unskilled. The unemployed added up to one-fifth of the work force due to the surplus in labor. The average wage levels were down, causing most families to be forced to live poorly (Barton, Jackson, Yeates 1). Because of the fast-growing demand for food, improvement in agriculture was suggested.

Economy was dead during the early twentieth century. Once forming the largest group in pre-Famine Irish society, the numbers and social significance of the laborers and cottiers dramatically lessened due to starvation and migration.

Economical Aspects in Dubliners

Joyce best demonstrates the unemployment in Dublin in the story "Two Gallants." For instance, in this story neither one of the main characters has a job. This is evident when Corley is talking and says, "I told her I was out of a job" ("Two Gallants",45). This is also demonstrated when the other character, Lenehan, thinks to himself asking,"Would he ever get a good job" ("Two Gallants", 52). Having the characters say or think these things, tells the reader that it must have been hard to find employment in Dublin during that time. Joyce continues reflecting Dublin by illustrating the poor condition of the economy. Joyce illustrates this by having most of his characters in the stories be poor. For example, in "The Sisters," "Two Gallants" and "The Boarding House" most of the characters were in the lower class. This is true in "Two Gallants" and "The Boarding House" because neither Polly, Corley or Lenehan have a good job. Also, in "The Sisters," the family lives near Great Britain Street which is known as a poor area.


The Tension Between Catholics and Protestants in History

Another part of Irish history that has gone through major changes similar to Dublin government is the religion in Dublin. The problems dealing with religion in Ireland caused a separation in the country's society. On one side was the Catholic population and on the other were the Protestants. Most of Ireland is historically Catholic, which made the Protestant population the minority. Hill comments of how “[Minor religions] remained convinced that the Roman Catholic religion was the primary cause of all other Irish problems” (Hill 1). The nineteenth century was a time where much progress took place. This situation of the two religions not getting along, paralyzes Ireland from become a united and complete country. Before these times, there were many persecutions that came to break down the structure of the Church. Consequently, the churches of Dublin would be unable to function effectively (Hill 2). We have seen that religion was extremely important in the lives of the Irish, for where they lived, what they believed, and who they associated themselves with. According to Hill, due to there being a small population of Protestants, all of its denominations were united. “All were concerned with social problems such as poverty, and immoral behaviour” ( Hill 1).

The Tension Between Catholics and Protestants in Dubliners

Not only does Joyce’s work show the incompleteness in society through politics, but it shows the corruption in the practice of religion as well. Throughout the centuries, Ireland has been at constant war because of religious differences between Protestants and Catholics. The strains of religion in society are shown through "The Sisters." The story is seemingly about a priest who succumbs to his clerical standing; however this is a parallel to Ireland’s fall to corruption due to the overwhelming stresses of religion in society. It seems as though even the Irish knew that there was something corrupt about religion, but won’t accept it. Old Cotter mentioned how he found it strange that the young boy had spent so much time with the priest; however for such a religious society this is an odd comment to make. One would expect this sort of relationship and mentoring of a priest to a youngster to be encouraged, but apparently it is not.

Joyce portays the tension between Protestants and Catholics very well in the story "An Encounter" and "Grace." In "An Encounter," this religious tension is shown through the way children relate to one another. As the narrator and Mahony were walking, two poor boys throw rocks at them and call them "Swaddlers" ("An Encounter", 14). The children do this because Mahony is assumed to be a Protestant, since he is dark-skinned and is wearing a Protestant emblem on his hat. This proves that even children harvested the religious tension from their society.

In the story “Grace”, Joyce portrays the Catholic community as corrupt. In the beginning, Mr. Kernan is introduced as an alcoholic who is in a life crisis. He is described as a Protestant converted to Catholic through marriage. He is not active in his new religion because he never went to church or knew about his religion. He is paralyzed by not knowing what his faith really believes in. This confusion is what Joyce wants to show in the story. Mrs. Kernan also participates in Church, but she is not very devot. “Her beliefs were not extravagant. She believed steadily in the Sacred Heart as the most generally useful of all Catholic devotions and approved of the sacraments. […] if she was put to it, she could believe also in the banshee and in the Holy Ghost” (Joyce 157). It is as if she is the example of an average Catholic only there for the promises of blessings, but does not understand the purpose of the Holy Ghost. Mr. Kernan’s friends, who believe they are active Catholics, are successful business men. It can be seen in the story that even though one religion is of higher praise they both are oblivious to what their religion stand for.


Overall, the history of Dublin in the early twentieth century proves to be reflected through Joyce's writing in Dubliners. Joyce reflects Dublin by addressing the ways of society, women in society, Irish politics, Irish economics and religion in Ireland. Joyce’s purpose was to convey the feelings of paralysis, things not being what they seem, and incompleteness in Dublin society. He carefully depicted these feelings through every aspect of one’s life- from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, to old age. By just reading Dubliners, the reader will be able to see what late 19th century and early 20th century Dublin was like.

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