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Historical Context in Dubliners

Historical Context Examples in Dubliners:

The Sisters

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"the papers for the cemetery and poor James's insurance..."   (The Sisters)

This "papers" here refer to Father Flynn's right to a grave in a cemetery plot and also to an insurance policy for funeral and burial costs. This detail suggests a characteristic preoccupation with dignified and impressive funeral rites that many of the middle-class Irish had at the time. A priest like Father Flynn, while of lower-class origins yet trained at the Irish College in Rome, might have been expected to be concerned about such matters.

"July 1st, 1895..."   (The Sisters)

July 1st is significant in two ways: First, Father Flynn dies on the Church Feast of the Most Precious Blood. Second, July 1st was also the date of the Battle of the Boyne in which Catholic Ireland was defeated by William Prince of Orange and the subsequent King William the Third of England.
The latter historical example relates to Dubliners and the motif of paralysis running throughout the lives of the people in Joyce's short stories. The defeat of the Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne was a traumatizing event in Irish history. Their defeat eventually led to the establishment of English Protestant Ascendancy, resulting in more oppression of the Catholic faith. July 1st, with all its emotional and historical connotations, gives the story a historical dimension that shows how England is at fault for much of the physical and mental paralysis that the Irish face.

"National School boys..."   (An Encounter)

British Legislation in the early 19th century established a national school system in Ireland. These primary school provided basic education for the majority of Irish children. National Schools were not only considered anti-national by Irish nationalists, but they were also suspect in the eyes of the Catholic Church because National Schools tried to create curriculum that would allow Catholic and Protestant students to be educated together. This last point speaks to Father Butler’s disdain for National School, saying that he would expect such students to be reading such “rubbish.”

"The man who wrote it, I suppose, was some wretched fellow who writes these things for a drink..."   (An Encounter)

Father Butler is likely unaware of the irony found in his statement. The Halfpenny Marvel, for instance, was one of Alfred Harmsworth's, an Irish newspaper and publishing magnate, adventure tales made with the purpose or getting rid of "penny dreadfuls" and other "wretched" stories out of business. Harmsworth wanted to produce "pure, healthy literature" for boys, and so his intentions in making these stories could arguably be viewed as noble and not simply for profit. Regardless, the priesthood would have likely viewed all texts aside from the Bible and classical ones to be "rubbish."

"this college..."   (An Encounter)

Based on the setting that Joyce has established in “The Sisters” and this story thus far, Dublin readers would understand this to be Belvedere College, a school for boys run by the Jesuits and renowned for the rigor of its instruction and the quality of its education. Joyce himself went there and many of his experiences provided material for stories in Dubliners as well as in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).

"Father Butler was hearing the four pages of Roman History..."   (An Encounter)

This line means that Father Butler was listening to a student read from accounts of ancient Roman history. Such volumes were a regular part of translation classes from Latin of classical authors. These classics had a large role in the curriculum in British and Irish schools during the late 19th century. In Ireland, the Latin language was also used by the Roman Catholic Church, so instruction in it and the classical texts carried political and cultural weight and implications.

"sixpence..."   (An Encounter)

“Sixpence” is a small, silver coin that was worth about six pennies. By saving this much, the narrator likely means that they had this amount on them, rather than one coin of this value. At the time this story is set, such an amount of money was likely a week’s allowance for a middle-class child.

"Gardiner Street..."   (An Encounter)

The Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier is located on this street on the north side of Dublin. The Dillons’ choosing to attend a Jesuit church likely suggests that they are socially ambitious, because the Jesuits in Ireland were considered the most intellectual and admirable of the regular clergy.

"His parents went to eight-o'clock mass every morning..."   (An Encounter)

Eight-o’clock mass is considered early by most standards, with church ceremonies typically starting at a later hour in the morning. As pious as late-19th-century Dublin was, going to mass this early in the morning would have portrayed the attendees as people of very strong faith.

"Indian battles..."   (An Encounter)

This term refers to the mock battles that children sometimes played with one team pretending to be cowboys; the other, Native Americans. The prevalence of this “game” was directly connected to the adventurous, romantic portrayal of the Wild West in the popular imagination, which the boys likely read about in their magazine stories.

"Pluck and The Halfpenny Marvel..."   (An Encounter)

Pluck and The Halfpenny Marvel were popular boys’ magazines that were published in England with the goal to provide clean, instructive stories of adventure. Together with The Union Jack, the goals of these magazines and stories suggest the promotion of an English, imperial agenda in late-Victorian British culture to young boys.

"The Union Jack..."   (An Encounter)

The national flag on the United Kingdom is known as the Union Jack. At the time this story was written, the United Kingdom was officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In addition to being the name of the flag, Here, The Union Jack refers to a popular boys’ magazine, like Pluck and The Halfpenny Marvel.

"the Wild West..."   (An Encounter)

Commonly used to refer to the time when the Western United States existed in a period of lawless development, the Wild West also has been used as the setting for adventure stories. This has led to romantic associations in the popular culture of the Wild West with danger, opportunity, and lone heroes.

"some Freemason affair..."   (Araby)

The boy's aunt is referring to a function organized by a lodge of the Society of Freemasons. This group was very influential in the professional and economic life of Dublin. The Roman Catholics suspected them of atheism, anti-catholicism, and general Protestant bigotry, which explains the aunt's concern.

"my chalice..."   (Araby)

A "chalice" is a type of "goblet." In Roman Catholic tradition, the chalice is the cup used in the Eucharist to symbolize the Holy Grail that Jesus used for the last supper. The boy's imagining this action brings to mind sacred quests, such as the romantic tale of King Arthur's search for the Holy Grail.

"a ballad about the troubles in our native land..."   (Araby)

One of the ways the revolutionary efforts in 19th- and early-20th-century Ireland acquired public support was to rely on a songs and ballads to recount to wrongdoing done to Ireland and the heroic exploits of Irish patriots.

"a come-all-you..."   (Araby)

Songs of this style were typically well known ballads that employed the particular phrase “Come all you gallant Irishmen and listen to my song" in order to get everyone's attention.

"the Christian Brothers' School..."   (Araby)

The Christian Brothers' School was a Roman Catholic school for boys well known for its challenging, if not always humane, efforts to educate Ireland's poor. The school was run by a teaching order founded by Ignatius Rice in Waterford in 1802. Joyce briefly went to the Christian Brothers’ School in North Richmond Street in 1893.

"Mangan's sister..."   (Araby)

Joyce's decision to simply call the girl "Mangan's Sister" may have been intended to make readers think of the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan (1803–1849) whose work focused on doomed love and despair. By giving this name to the girl with whom the narrator is infatuated, Joyce continues to build on his theme of mixed conceptions of love and romanticism.

"cretonne..."   (Eveline)

"Cretonne" is a strong cotton or linen cloth that often has a colorful floral pattern and is used for chair covers, curtains, and other kinds of upholstery. The word is French in origin, possibly derived from Creton, a village in Normandy where linen manufacturing was done. Other sources mention that it could be named after a possible inventor, Paul Creton, who lived in a village with an active textile industry in Lower Normandy.

"What do you put in your gab for..."   (Counterparts)

According to an irish myth, kissing the Blarney Stone, a block of stone on the battlements of Blarney Castle in Ireland, gives a person the ability to speak easily and confidently. This is where the phrase "the gift of the gab" comes from. In context, Farrington is asking "Why did you even say anything?" because he sees the man as having had nothing of value to add.

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