On this day…21 October

On 21 October 1901 Two Essays was published.

The two essays were by Joyce and Francis Skeffington and had been rejected by the University magazine St Stephen’s. Joyce and Skeffington then published the essays in a booklet at their own expense.

Joyce wrote his essay, ‘The Day of the Rabblement,’ in response to what he saw as the Irish Literary Theatre’s surrender to popular provincial and nationalist attitudes. Joyce wrote the article in a single morning and submitted it to Hugh Kennedy, editor of University College Dublin’s undergraduate magazine, St Stephen’s. Kennedy refused to publish it, apparently on the advice of Fr Henry Browne, because it contained a reference to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Il fuoco which had been placed on the Vatican’s Index of prohibited books.

Annoyed at this rejection, Joyce took his case to Rev William Delaney SJ, President of the College, who had previously tried to prevent Joyce presenting a paper on Ibsen to the Literary and Historical Society of the College. When Joyce got no satisfaction from Delaney, he approached his fellow student Francis Skeffington whose essay, ‘A Forgotten Aspect of the University Question,’ on women in the University, had also been rejected by St Stephen’s. (Skeffington felt strongly enough about the issue of women at the University to resign his position as College Registrar in 1904 over it.)

Joyce suggested to Skeffington that they should publish their rejected essays together, and their booklet, Two Essays, was published on 21 October 1901. Eighty-five copies were printed, costing Joyce and Skeffington £2 5s, and they were distributed with the help of Stanislaus Joyce. In a note at the front of the booklet, Joyce and Skeffington claimed they had been commissioned to write their articles by the editor of St Stephen’s but that they were ‘refused insertion by the Censor.’

Joyce’s essay was heavily influenced by his reading of Ibsen and D’Annunzio. He started the essay by citing ‘the Nolan,’ actually the heretic Giordano Bruno of Nola, saying: ‘No man…can be a lover of the true or the good unless he abhors the multitude…’ As far as Joyce was concerned, the Irish Literary Theatre ‘must now be considered the property of the Rabblement of the most belated race in Europe.’

Joyce attacked the writers of the Literary Theatre in particular, saying that Yeats’ ‘treacherous instinct of adaptability’ had resulted in this surrender to the mob, and claiming that George Moore and Edward Martyn were ‘not writers of much originality.’ Joyce’s conclusion was that ‘If an artist courts the favour of the multitude he cannot escape the contagion of its fetichism [sic] and deliberate self-deception, and if he joins in a popular movement he does so at his own risk. …[The] Irish Literary Theatre by its surrender to the trolls has cut itself adrift from the line of advancement.’


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.

Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, edited with an Introduction by Richard Ellmann, Preface by TS Eliot, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.