On this day…27 September

On 27 September 1898 Joyce wrote an essay on ‘subjugation by force.’

The manuscript of this essay survives in fragmentary form, and though the end of the essay and Joyce’s signature and date survive, the opening of the essay with its title is missing. The theme of the essay, ‘subjugation by force,’ has led to it being referred to both by the title ‘Force’ and by the title ‘Subjugation.’ Joyce was only sixteen and a half when he wrote it, but it is an early example of what was to become a lifelong hatred of violence.

Joyce looks first at the varying subjugations of the elements by ploughman, gardener, sailor, and miller. The sailor’s case is interesting for Joyce’s later work. The sailor cannot subjugate the wind by force but has to learn to deal with it diplomatically, advancing and retreating until he can turn the wind to his advantage. This is not unlike the way Bloom has to use his wit to overcome others.

Joyce goes on to deal with the subjugation of animals by mankind, and traces the history of progress back to man’s desire to master his environment. This extends even to the subjugation of one race by another, particularly the white man’s subjugation of other races.

The essay then veers into the world of the artist who must subdue his fancy in order to prevent it from running to extremes, and Joyce goes on to examine the way in which men must try to subjugate their passions and develop a form of unselfishness, and how even reason must be subjugated to conform with wisdom.

Coming to the conclusion, Joyce claims that sometimes the higher thing can be subjugated by the lower, as right is sometimes subjugated by might, but that such a situation causes strife and does not diminish the higher thing which, preserved, will win out in the end.

Given the date of the composition, it seems likely that it was written as part of Joyce’s matriculation course, the preparatory stage of Joyce’s university studies. Joyce had started his course at University College Dublin at the beginning of September 1898, taking courses in Latin, French, English, Philosophy and Mathematics. Joyce passed his matriculation examinations in June 1899 with a second-class honour in Latin.

The manuscript as we have it today seems to have survived, albeit in fragmentary form, only because Joyce’s brother Stanislaus used the blank sides of the pages for his Dublin journal. Even so, there are several gaps in the manuscript due to missing pages.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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