A Writer’s Guide to the Dialectical Landscapes of Dublin

By Therese Cox.

Objects are of course of central importance in Joyce’s Dubliners short stories: think of the coin Corley presses into the palm of Lenehan at the end of ‘Two Gallants’ or the feather in the hat of the plump lady in ‘Counterparts’ who gives rise to violent emotion in the beaten-down Farringdon. In the Dubliners stories, such objects often give way to that favourite old chestnut of creative writing classes everywhere—the epiphany, a dialectical image worn smooth from overuse. But it is not in the Dubliners stories, instead in Ulysses where Joyce truly unlocks the enormous transformative power of the object, and he does it by naming so many specific, verifiable objects and places found throughout the city so as to inspire an urban scavenger hunt—hence Bloomsday on June 16th, when readers take to the streets to create their own re-enactment of an imagined past. What is so limitless and exciting as a bar of lemon soap? Nevertheless, it’s that same imaginary bar of soap— an emblem of the one Bloom buys for Molly—that compels enthusiasts every year to drop by Sweny’s pharmacy for a whiff of that lemon scent, a mass-manufactured Proustian madeleine for the smart set. (Full disclosure: I, too, have bought the bar of lemon soap on more than one of these occasions. it’s very good soap—but no epiphany.)