A commentary on one of Joyce’s shortest Dubliners stories
‘Araby’ is one of the early stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the 1914 collection of short stories which is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature. At the time, sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). And yet ‘Araby’ shows just what might have initially baffled readers coming to James Joyce’s fiction for the first time, and what marked him out as a brilliant new writer. But before we get to an analysis of ‘Araby’ (which can be read here), a brief summary of the story’s plot – what little ‘plot’ there is.
In summary, then: ‘Araby’ is narrated by a young boy, who describes the Dublin street where he lives. As the story progresses, the narrator realises that he has feelings for his neighbour’s sister and watches her from his house, daydreaming about her, wondering if she will ever speak to him. When they eventually talk, she Read the rest of this entry
‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is one of the best-known nursery rhymes in English literature, but its words are so baffling and odd that it almost qualifies as nonsense literature. Whilst not quite up there with ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ in the nonsense stakes, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is nevertheless an odd little children’s rhyme. What does it mean, and what are its origins?
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing—
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before the king? Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle visits a futuristic London that is decidedly medieval
Richard Jefferies, who appears to have been the first person to use the phrase ‘wild life’ to describe the natural world in 1879, is one of England’s greatest ever nature writers. But what is less well-known is that he was also a novelist. If his novels are recalled, it tends to be his book Bevis, a tale featuring a group of young boys who play games and build things and otherwise amuse themselves among the natural world, which is mentioned. Far less celebrated is his work of dystopian fiction, After London, which was published in 1885. The original title of Bevis was going to be After London, suggesting that the two novels have an affinity; but After London offers something starkly different. Ten years before H. G. Wells published his far more famous book The Time Machine, Jefferies was predicting a time in which London had reverted to pre-industrial greenery, much like the London of 802,701 in Wells’s novella has become a vast garden.
After London is set after some great cataclysmic event (an unspecified environmental disaster, such as a flood) that has destroyed the industrial Victorian London that Richard Jefferies knew. As with The Time Machine, the landscape (especially for a nature-lover like Jefferies) appears utopian while the people mark this future world out as a dystopia: although the chimneys and factories of the modern city have vanished to be replaced by idyllic woodland and pasture, the people of this future world have Read the rest of this entry