On this day…25 May

On 25 May 1918 Joyce’s play Exiles was published.

Exiles is the only extant play by Joyce, but it is rarely performed and is not considered a particularly good play. Nonetheless, it is important as a stage in the development of Joyce’s writing.

Joyce had made two earlier attempts at writing plays. My Brilliant Career was written in July 1900 while Joyce was in Mullingar, but he destroyed it in 1902. A second play, Dream Stuff, was probably written late in 1900, but only a few lines of it remain.

Some of Joyce’s notes for Exiles are dated November 1913 when he may have drafted the first Act of the play. Some of the themes of the play look back to ‘The Dead,’ and forward to Ulysses, and many of these are based on Joyce’s experiences. The play is set in the summer of 1912, the time when Joyce made his last visit to Ireland. The notes make connections between Nora and Michael Bodkin and Roberto Prezioso, whom Joyce jealously berated for attempting to seduce Nora.

With the serialisation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man starting in the Egoist in February 1914, and Grant Richards agreeing (for a second time) to publish Dubliners, Joyce had cleared his desk and could begin work on Ulysses. But he quickly put it aside in favour of Exiles on which he worked while revising A Portrait and writing the notebook called ‘Giacomo Joyce.’ By March 1915, Exiles was finished.

Joyce was anxious to get Exiles performed before it was published but WB Yeats, to whom he offered it for the Abbey Theatre, was not optimistic about getting it performed. Ezra Pound told Joyce that while the play was interesting it wouldn’t do for the stage: no audience would be able to follow it and no theatre manager would stage it. This was the gist of an article, ‘Mr James Joyce and the Modern Stage,’ which Pound published in the American journal Drama in September 1915.

Pound suggested Joyce might try to get it performed by the Stage Society but they rejected the play in July 1916. With no sign of any company willing to stage it, Joyce offered the play to Grant Richards, but it was not until July 1917 that Richards agreed to publish it. By the end of 1917, Joyce had corrected the proofs, and American publisher Ben Huebsch had also agreed to publish it in New York. Exiles was published simultaneously by Richards in London and Huebsch in New York on 25 May 1918.

The reviews were not particularly helpful. Desmond McCarthy, writing in the New Statesman, said it was a remarkable play, but he wasn’t sure he understood it. Padraic Colum claimed that, while Joyce had created a modern form for A Portrait, with Exiles he was merely using Ibsen’s form without Ibsen’s symbolism. That said, Colum thought Bertha was the first notable woman character Joyce had created.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Poems and Exiles, edited with an Introduction and Notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.

– -: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

MacNicholas, John: ‘The Stage History of Exiles,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 1, Fall 1981, pp. 9-26.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.