I recently had the opportunity to check off one of the top items on my Dublin Bucket-List: visiting the Dublin Writer’s Museum. After several minutes of fangirling and several more minutes of fighting the urge to steal all the rare books in the room, I began to appreciate the historical significance surrounding me. Literature is as deeply-rooted in Irish history as any other institution.
James Joyce’s work is particularly noteworthy, as he sought to examine the essence of the Irish people throughout his career. Although he permanently left Ireland in his early twenties, Joyce’s mind seemed to constantly wander back to his home country; his four major works—Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegan’s Wake (1939)—are all set in Ireland. His writing is so significant, in fact, that Modern Library ranks Ulysses first on its “Greatest Novels of the 20th Century” and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man third.
I find that a striking aspect of Joyce’s legacy is how he was vehemently detested in Ireland for decades. Much of his work was protested and banned in Ireland in the early 20th century; Ulysses specifically was not allowed to be printed in Ireland until the 1950’s. The fervor over Joyce’s work was primarily due to obscenities, sexually explicit content, and his harsh criticism of the Irish people. Today, however, Joyce’s exhibit stands as the crown jewel of the Dublin Writer’s Museum; it features first editions of several of his works, as well as miscellaneous objects from his past.
This is just one example of how important literature has been to Irish culture, as well as how much Ireland has grown over the years. With four Nobel Prize laureates for literature, Ireland ranks among the best in the world, and there is likely more to follow.