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The Long and Difficult Publication History of James Joyce’s Dubliners

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This month marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of author James Joyce’s Dubliners. His collection of short stories depicting the everyday trials and tribulations of the residents of his hometown was released with minimal fanfare in June 1914, but—given the immense literary importance of his subsequent works like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the groundbreaking 1922 Modernist masterpiece Ulysses—has since risen in significance.

But Dubliners didn’t just appear out of nowhere. In fact, its author—and its would-be publishers—endured a painful nine-year-long struggle before the book made it to print. The story of how Dubliners finally came to be printed is a fascinating tale of artistic frustration and persistence despite years of dismissal.


In late 1904, Joyce was living abroad in self-imposed exile—partially for political reasons, and partially because he eloped with his wife, Nora—when he published three short stories (“The Sisters,” “Eveline,” and “After the Race”) in a weekly publication called The Irish Homestead. The author thought that he might publish a collection of stories in a book the following year, and wrote nine more stories for it; while he was trying to make a living teaching English at a Berlitz Language School in Trieste (now a part of Italy) in 1905, Joyce sent the collection to noted London publisher Grant Richards for consideration.

Richards eventually accepted the book in early 1906, and in February, Joyce sent along a new story called "Two Gallants" for the book. The publisher quickly drew up a contract for the eager—and financially strapped—writer-in-exile to sign in March of that year. And that’s when the trouble began.


Richards didn’t bother to read “Two Gallants” before he sent it and the other proofs of the collection off to the printer. At the time, English law stated that a printer was just as guilty of any charges of obscenity as the writer of the book, and not long after Richards sent in the proofs, the printer informed the publisher that there was “obscenity” in the stories. The objections were about risqué sections in the story “Counterparts,” which described male and female anatomy and, in the story "Grace," there was specific disapproval of the word “bloody” in lines like “Then he has a bloody big bowl of cabbage before him on the table and a bloody big spoon like a shovel." 

Richards, who had just rebuilt his publishing company after rebounding from bankruptcy, wanted to make sure there was no trouble with the law. The publisher told Joyce that changes needed to be made. But upon hearing which passages were troublesome, the author pointed out that the word “bloody” appeared numerous times elsewhere in the collection—and in worse contexts, like “Here’s this fellow come to the throne after his bloody owl’ mother keeping him out of it till the man was grey” in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and “If any fellow tried that sort of game on with his sister he’d bloody well put his teeth down his throat” in “The Boarding-House.”

“I have written my book with considerable care," Joyce said in a letter to Richards, "in spite of a hundred difficulties and in accordance with what I understand to be the classical tradition of my art." Still, with much chagrin, he submitted an entirely altered manuscript in July 1906. It included a new story called “A Little Cloud,” and the allegedly questionable uses of “bloody,” as well as the offensive the portions of “Counterparts,” had been removed. There was also a note from the author to the publisher: “I think I have injured these stories by these deletions but I sincerely trust you will recognize that I have tried to meet your wishes and scruples fairly.”

The writer, thousands of miles away from the publisher, eagerly awaited a response from London about his now-bastardized stories. In September, he finally got one: Richards rejected the altered collection outright, but cheekily implied interest in Joyce’s new autobiographical novel (eventually published as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) with the potential to revisit the short stories later.

Tired of being strung along, Joyce promptly got a lawyer with the intention of suing Richards for breach of contract, but was soon talked down. Instead, Joyce focused on his first book of poems, Chamber Music, which was published in early 1907.

Any influence Joyce thought that little milestone might have had on helping get Dubliners published didn’t; between November 1907 and February 1908, the collection was swiftly rejected by at least four different publishers, and while it drew initial interest from Dublin-based Maunsel & Co., Joyce was so distraught over his failed efforts that it took him a year to work up the courage to send the manuscript to them—which he finally did in April 1909. A positive response from that publishing house prompted an emotionally renewed Joyce to travel to Dublin to meet with Maunsel & Co. co-founder George Roberts, which led to a new contract the writer gladly signed on August 19. But more troubles were ahead.


After the contract was signed, Joyce returned to his teaching job in Trieste. In October 1909, he came back to Dublin to oversee the opening of the city’s first movie theater, the Volta Cinematograph—which he had helped coordinate and gather investors for—and to review the galley proofs of Dubliners before they were sent off to be published. The proofs, however, were delayed until the following year because of a very familiar grievance: Roberts was afraid of potential trouble from what he thought were “obscene” passages, particularly a part from “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” that allegedly slandered the recently deceased King Edward VII.

Despite Joyce’s further capitulation to making more changes, Roberts’ overwhelming objections forced the publisher to announce that publication would be postponed indefinitely. Joyce was understandably dejected by the decision. “[I] shall hope that what they may publish may resemble that to the writing of which I gave thought and time,” he wrote to Roberts. But at least he was busy with the Volta ... until July 1910, when financial difficulties and management squabbles caused him to cease his involvement in the cinema altogether.

So Joyce refocused on his old projects, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The writer and Roberts made headway through the end of 1910, with Joyce making reluctant but amicable changes to take out the alleged obscenities in the stories, and the book finally had a proposed release date of January 20, 1911. But after Joyce protested Roberts’ demand to take out all references to the King in “Ivy Day,” the publisher postponed Dubliners yet again.

Knowing how desperate Joyce was, Roberts fell completely out of contact with the writer—who was still in Trieste—in order to get him to accede to every single one of his demands. But Joyce would not back down, and even attempted to match Roberts’ outrageous behavior: He wrote a letter to King George V himself along with the marked passages from “Ivy Day,” graciously asking His Majesty if they were offensive to his dead father. Joyce requested that the King “inform me whether in his view the passage (certain allusions made by a person of the story in the idiom of his social class) should be withheld from publication as offensive.”

Surprisingly, Joyce received a response—but not from the King himself. Instead, the reply came from the King’s secretary, who said that “It is inconsistent with rule for His Majesty to express his opinion in such cases.”


Left to hang out to dry by his publisher—not to mention the King of England—Joyce decided to take out his frustration by writing an account of Dubliners’ troubled publication history to send to the Irish press. He called it “A Curious History,” and it included the allegedly scandalous passage from “Ivy Day” that Roberts objected to. If the broadsheets printed it, Joyce thought, then why couldn’t Roberts?

It was a good idea, but it didn’t have the effect that Joyce had hoped for. A few Irish papers printed the account, but no real change came from it, forcing the perpetually downtrodden writer to go to Dublin and confront his publisher face to face.

Upon seeing Joyce at the Maunsel & Co. offices, Roberts compared him to massive stone cliffs in Northern Ireland, saying, “The Giant’s Causeway is soft putty compared with you,” and the publisher was forced to address the elephant in the room. Roberts explained that he had slowly understood the book to be “anti-Irish,” and publishing such a book would guarantee that the company would lose money. Further meetings bore even more stringent demands from Roberts: He wanted Joyce to substitute fictitious names for the real places included in “Counterparts,” and excise whole stories completely, which Joyce—no doubt exhausted—agreed to. Roberts also demanded a letter, drafted by a lawyer, that stated that the language within “Ivy Day” wasn’t libelous.

Joyce’s lawyer complied, but in a move unlucky for the beleaguered writer, the letter claimed that while the language in “Ivy Day” was harmless, another story in the collection, “An Encounter,” could potentially be libelous. It was later discovered—unbeknownst to Joyce and denied by Roberts—that one of Maunsel & Co.’s biggest clients was Lady Aberdeen. As the wife of the head of the Irish Vigilance Committee, which could prosecute based on libel suits, it was likely that she had put pressure on Roberts to suppress Joyce’s book.

Eventually, following more demands that diluted Joyce’s original vision, the altered proofs of Dubliners made it all the way to the printer. But before the book could be printed, the proofs were surreptitiously destroyed—though not before Joyce managed to get a complete set himself. The details of just how Joyce came by the proofs is still a mystery; all he would say is that he obtained the copy "by ruse."

After this blow, Joyce decided to go back to Trieste—but not before composing an autobiographical poem called “Gas from a Burner,” slamming Roberts as a publisher and for all he had put him through. Joyce never went back to Dublin again.


The next few years were dark times for Joyce, who struggled to support his family financially and himself mentally while completing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and beginning the initial parts of Ulysses. Then, in December 1913, a letter arrived from Grant Richards—the original publisher who had ultimately rejected Dubliners—inquiring about the collection. In the years in between, Joyce had caught the eye of London literary magazine The Egoist—which was overseen by Ezra Pound and eventually edited by Hilda Doolittle and T.S. Eliot—and Richards, inspired by such literary clout, decided he wanted to publish Dubliners after all.     

Eight years after signing his first contract with Richards, Joyce signed his second, which stipulated Joyce wouldn’t receive royalties on the first 500 copies of the book and that he had to personally buy 120 copies himself. He later approved proofs (which were ultimately not to his liking because of small inconsistencies, including using quotation marks instead of dashes) at the end of April.

Finally, after nine long years, Dubliners was published on June 15, 1914, in a run of 1250 copies. Though it debuted to generally positive reviews, in its first year, the book sold only 499 copies—one short of Joyce being able to contractually profit from it. Richards eventually passed on publishing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—he found it “quite hopeless”—but he would publish Joyce’s play, Exiles, in 1918. Looking back on those frustrating times, Joyce told author and poet William Butler Yeats, “I hope that now at last matters may begin to go a little more smoothly for me for, to tell the truth, it is very tiresome to wait and hope for so many years.”

And indeed, things would go a little more smoothly from there on out. Dubliners found an American publisher in 1916, heightening Joyce's literary profile and pushing his notoriety worldwide. But it was his monumental masterpiece Ulysses, published in 1922, that made him one of the most renowned writers in history.

Additional Sources: James JoyceRichard Ellmann; "Publishing History of Dubliners" [PDF], Professor David Madden; A Dubliners Time Chart; Selected Letters of James Joyce, edited by Richard Ellmann.

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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
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As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.


"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."


"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."


"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."


"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."


"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."


"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."


"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."


"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."


"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."


"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."


"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."


"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."


"True friends stab you in the front."


"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."


"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."


"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."


"Genius is born—not paid."


"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."


"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"


"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."


"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."


"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."


"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."


"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.


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