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James Joyce (1882-1941)

Of novelists who were prominent between the wars, only a couple seemed by the sixties to have been really influential. One was D H Lawrence, about whom F R Leavis made extravagant claims that continued to be taken very seriously in Sri Lanka for many years. The other was James Joyce, whom Leavis considered comparatively trivial.

His major works were not therefore considered essential reading in Sri Lankan universities, so I was surprised to find how important he was thought to be elsewhere, and indeed also by Leavis, who delivered regular sideswipes at Joyce’s fiction in his writings. However Sri Lankan authorities did regularly prescribe a couple of Joyce’s short stories for study at Advanced Level and thereafter, so most students, and teachers too of language as well as literature, are familiar with ‘Eveline’, and to a lesser extent ‘Araby’.

These are taken from the collection called ‘Dubliners’, which seems to me in fact to be the most interesting of all Joyce’s work. By now I believe that all except the most devoted disciples find ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, Joyce’s last experimental novel, unreadable. That was my impression when I tried it and, unlike with Henry James’ ‘The Golden Bowl’, I felt no desire to get back to it.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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