Joycean Fictions
This page is divided into two sections: Fiction with Joyce as a Character and Joycean Fiction.

Fiction with Joyce as a Character

The Dalkey Archive

Flann O’Brien
Dalkey Archive Press, 1997, ISBN 1564781720; Paperback $12.95. [

Under the pen name Flann O’Brien, Dublin civil servant and journalist Brian O’Nolan wrote a series of remarkable novels, masterpieces of good-natured satire filled with charm, wit, and irreverent humor. Indeed, in the last few years of his life, the nearly blind Joyce thought O’Brien’s first novel, At Swim-Two-Birds, worthy of a painstaking reading through a magnifying glass.
The Dalkey Archive – O’Brien’s last novel – is likewise a wonderful work, and a Brazen Head review will be one day grace these pages. Until then, here’s the publisher’s description:

Hailed as “the best comic fantasy since Tristram Shandy” upon its publication in 1964, The Dalkey Archive is Flann O’Brien’s fifth and final novel; or rather (as O’Brien wrote to his editor), “The book is not meant to be a novel or anything of the kind but a study in derision, various writers with their styles, and sundry modes, attitudes and cults being the rats in the cage.” Among the targets of O’Brien’s derision are religiosity, intellectual abstractions, J. W. Dunne’s and Albert Einstein’s views on time and relativity, and the lives and works of Saint Augustine and James Joyce, both of whom have speaking parts in the novel. Bewildering? Yes, but as O’Brien insists, “a measure of bewilderment is part of the job of literature.”

Set in the late 1940s in the village of Dalkey (some twelve miles south of Dublin), The Dalkey Archive also includes in its cast the mad scientist De Selby (featured in O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman), the magniloquent Sergeant Fottrell (whose “molly-cule theory” holds that a man can turn into a bicycle), and the local da Vinci, a looderamawn named Teague McGettigan. Doing his damnedest to find order in this metaphysical chaos is Mick Shaughnessy, who with the aid of strong drink, his friend Hackett, and Mary, the young woman for whom they both compete undergoes a crisis of faith both sublime and ridiculous.


Tom Stoppard
Grove Press, 1989, ISBN 0802150896; Paperback $13.00. [

The word most often used to describe the work of English playwright Tom Stoppard is “brilliant.” Known for his linguistic virtuosity, manic creativity, and razor-sharp wit, Stoppard treats the whole of Western culture as his artistic playground, freely borrowing characters from fiction and history and weaving them into the most improbable of scenarios. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead resurrects the Shakespearean duo for a spirited discussion about fiction and reality; Arcadia places questions about science, love, and art in a framework of thermodynamic theory; and Dogg’s Hamlet & Cahoot’s Macbeth puts an amusing spin on post-structural linguistic theory. Stoppard is an accomplished screenwriter as well, with films such as Brazil and Shakespeare in Love to his credit.
In Travesties, Stoppard brings his talents to bear on Switzerland in the year 1917, a time and place that saw James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, and Tristan Tzara preoccupied with three different revolutions – literary, political, and artistic. A fourth figure ties them all together: Henry Carr, a young “English Consulate.” Carr serves as the play’s narrator, recalling that year from his senile vantage point in 1974.
Carr is actually a very interesting character. Readers of Ulysses might recall him as “Private Carr,” the English brute who hassles Stephen in Nighttown during the “Circe” episode. Not the most flattering role in the book, the character was Joyce’s attempt to get even with a real-life associate. A minor employee at the English Consulate in Zurich, Henry Carr played the part of Algernon in an English production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Alas, he got in a tiff with the production’s business manager – James Joyce! – and landed in court, where he lost his claim for additional money (compensation for the trousers he purchased for the role), but won the countersuit Joyce brought against him for slander.
Unfortunately for the real Henry Carr, Stoppard’s fictionalized Carr fares little better than Joyce’s. As narrator he is quite senile, given to episodes of egocentric misremembering, both unintentional and deliberate. All the interactions of the principal characters are viewed through Carr’s myopic vision, a fact essential to the play’s bizarre and convoluted nature. Nothing in Travesties is quite what it seems, and we frequently witness whole conversations acted, and then re-acted with wildly different outcomes. The effect is often hilarious, as Carr’s erratic memory tends to derail the action into ludicrous asides – witty repartée breaks down into rounds of limericks, conversations mimic the chapters of Ulysses, and the spirit of Dada bestows absurdity upon even the simplest of tasks. Additionally, Carr frequently recasts events as a Wildean play, complete with scintillating banter and spiked with well-placed epigrams. Indeed, the secondary structural device of Travesties is The Importance of Being Earnest, which serves as a parodic backbone much the same the way as Homer’s Odyssey supports Joyce’s Ulysses.
Despite its frequent time-slips and sudden departures into madcap confusion, Travesties is a remarkably coherent work. Joycean allusion, political dialectic, Wildean paradox, Dadaist poetry – all are absorbed and transformed into a narrative that shimmers back and forth between 1917 and 1974, exposing art and politics to Stoppard’s ironic wit, and dazzling the imagination with endlessly inventive wordplay.
For additional information, check out Michael Berry’s Travesties page. More on Joycean allusions in Stoppard may be read on the Fiction & Drama page.

Mr. Joyce Is Leaving Paris

Tom Gallacher
Calder and Boyars, 1982 (?), ISBN 0714509248; Paperback; Out of print. [
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Scottish playwright Tom Gallacher’s drama about Joyce’s final days. Commentary by Colin Owens:
This play was filmed, and was shown at the Joyce Symposium in Dublin in 1982. It is about James Joyce’s last days in Paris in 1939. Surrounded by the ghosts of the past, he goes through another crisis like Stephen’s in Ulysses. The lead actor’s likeness to Joyce aside, it did not seem to me very sympathetic to the historical Joyce.

Masks of the Illuminati

Robert Anton Wilson
Dell Books, 1990, ISBN: 044050306X, Paperback $13.95. Out of print. [
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A novelist, humorist, philosopher, and cultural critic, R. A. Wilson holds a sacred place in the American pop-consciousness as God of Conspiracy Theories, having devoted his entire fictional oeuvre to making people feel Extremely Paranoid About Nearly Everything. His most famous work, the original Illuminatus! trilogy, is a cult classic, and his role in founding the Discordian Society has invested him with a kind of sci-fi sainthood. An associate of Timothy Leary and a devotée of Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley, Zen Buddhism, and quantum theory, Wilson has also produced some amazing books of postmodern philosophy, including the seminal Cosmic Trigger. A devoted Joycean, Joyce references may be found in almost all of his works, but only one goes so far as to use Jim as an actual character.
As its title suggests, Masks of the Illuminati is a member of the sprawling Illuminatus! series, an eccentric opus which includes over a dozen novels and a few side pieces of guerilla philosophy. Like many of these books, however, Masks of the Illuminati can stand on its own, and may even be Wilson’s most earnest novel – a work of anarchist philosophy disguised as an occult mystery. Its two main characters are no less personages than Albert Einstein and James Joyce, who encounter each other in a pub in Switzerland. There, they meet a strange Englishman with a riddle to solve, and so embark on a twisted quest through the very nature of reality itself, entering a convoluted world of conspiracies, ancient religions, and mysterious cults. Thought-provoking and genuinely funny, Masks of the Illuminati is written in a freewheeling style that moves from Burroughsian “screenplays” to Joycean pastiche. (The book introduces Einstein with: “Stately, plump Albert Einstein came from the gloomdomed Lorelei barroom baring a paleyellow tray on which two mugs of beer stood carefully balanced, erect.”) Typical of Wilson’s fiction, the investigators uncover plots within plots, wheels within wheels, and learn a few important lessons about belief, faith and doubt.
More on Joycean allusions in Wilson's work may be read on the Joycean Authors page.

Murder in the Latin Quarter

Tony Hays
Iris Press, 1993, ISBN 0916078329; Paperback $10.95.[

Part of Tony Hay’s “Who’s Who Dunit” series, Murder in the Latin Quarter stars James Joyce and assorted other Parisian expats. If you’d like submit commentary or a review to the Brazen Head, please send us email!

Joycean Fiction

The James Joyce Murder
(A Kate Fansler Mystery)

Amanda Cross
Ballantine, 1990, ISBN 0-345-34686-6; Paperback $6.50. [

When I set out to establish The Brazen Head, I wanted it to be the best Joyce site that I could create. And that means that I’ve had to wade through some fairly bad stuff as well as the good; subjecting myself to some ridiculously pretentious papers, a few nearly incomprehensible books, and a spate of painfully bad movies. But nothing could have prepared me for The James Joyce Murder. Ladies and gentlemen, I do not often pat myself on the back, but in this case, I think you should know that your humble narrator went to the very edge of sanity for your edification. I completed this book through a heroic effort of will, sacrificing irretrievable hours of my life to the Gods of Completion in the noble effort to round out this section of The Brazen Head.
To put it simply, The James Joyce Murder is an awful book. Now, before I continue, I’d like say a few things about my reading habits. I do not usually read mystery novels, and this is the first (and last) Amanda Cross book to cross my path. But I do enjoy a lot of fiction which may be considered “trashy,” and I am the first person to relish a good pot-boiler. In other words, I was not expecting The James Joyce Murder to be Proust, but I was counting on an entertaining read, and I would have reviewed it as such. And besides, Amanda Cross is the pseudonym for an English literature professor at Columbia University, so I thought – how bad could it possibly be?
Very bad, as it turns out. In fact, it was so fantastically bad, I almost began enjoying the book, returning to it with a grim pleasure, a perverse combination of appalled fascination and artistic masochism.
The plot itself is simple. The hero of the book, as in all the Cross mysteries, is Kate Fansler, a New York English professor. She has been asked to sort through the letters of a recently deceased publisher, Mr. Sam Lingerwell. Lingerwell, who for the purposes of the novel was responsible for publishing Dubliners in the United States, was a frequent correspondent with Joyce, and therefore his letters represent quite a literary treasure. In order to better facilitate her task, Kate is spending the summer in Mr. Lingerwell’s home in the Berkshires, a huge estate in the middle of the country surrounded by farms and nosy neighbors. Her entourage includes her nephew Leo, whom she was forced to baby-sit for the season; her friend and “gentleman lover,” Reed Amhearst; and two grad students, William Lenehan, who is charged with watching Leo; and Emmett Crawford, who is charged with sorting through the Joyce papers. Also present are Grace Knoles, an elderly professor, and Evaline Chrisana, a young professor infatuated with William Lenehan. (See the names? Aren’t they cute?)
The plot is (finally!) set into motion halfway through the novel, when nosy neighbor and all-around pest Mary Bradford is shot and killed. How does this happen? Well, William and Leo have an interesting hobby. Every morning they aim an unloaded rifle at Mary Bradford, fix her head in the crosshairs, and pull the trigger. (By the way, Fansler’s cronies are decidedly unconcerned about this appalling lack of safety. After all, nobody likes Mrs. Bradford, and “boys will be boys.” It’s a perfect example of the astonishing arrogance and self-centeredness inherent in all the protagonists. More on this in a bit.) Well, anyway, one day the predictable occurs: didn’t a bullet just happen to be in the rifle when William was at his turn? And so begins the mystery. Who loaded the rifle? Was it Mary’s husband, who is having an affair with a younger woman named Molly(!)? Was it the dissipated professor Mulligan, the next-door neighbor whose sexual excesses so alarmed Mary? Or – heaven forfend, to use one of Kate’s pet phrases – was it a member of her own party? And what, if anything, does this have to do with James Joyce?
A fairly silly plot, perhaps; but the real trouble with this book goes much deeper. Essentially, all the major characters – every single one! – are irritating to the point of openly inviting a reader’s disgust and loathing. The women are strident and aloof, the men are prissy and effete, and the whole damn crew spends most of the book trading pompous remarks over numerous drinks, badmouthing everyone around them and acting for all the world like characters from a faux-Edwardian version of Seinfeld. No, wait – an utterly witless and humorless faux-Edwardian version of Seinfeld. I have never met a more self-absorbed cast of characters, all nattering on about themselves and looking down their noses at countryfolk, police, students, and even other professors. In fact, not a single person in the household really believes that William did anything wrong. They are actually offended that he is the principal suspect!
Unbearable as an ensemble, individually the characters fare little better. To Reed, the presence of single (well-behaved) twelve-year old in the house, coupled with a stay in the country, is enough for him to “develop a permanent tremor;” while Kate spends much of her time simpering over a martini and proudly declaring her lack of understanding for such things as the Beatles or Elvis Presley; or why the dim-witted cops are persecuting poor William. Emmet comes across like a charmless, third-rate Oscar Wilde, sorely in need of a good thrashing. (Sample dialogue: “Oh dear, is it that obvious? I don’t mind some little boys, about five perhaps, with short pants and Prince Charles haircuts, bless their well-bred little hearts; Leo’s a shade on the hearty side, don’t you find?”) William is an equally miserable creature, a young man who blows the head off his neighbor in the morning and plays games with Leo a few hours later. Additionally, William is, for some mysterious reason, holding onto his “chastity,” whereas his girlfriend Evaline loudly carries her virginity around like a distasteful burden. (Yes, this is a woman nearing the age of thirty, who actually utters the line, “As you know, to my shame, I’ve thought considered being seduced, if not attacked.”) The sole function of Professor Knoles is to embody what must surely be Cross’ platonic ideal of the academic grande dame – a rigid spinster dispensing literary bon-mots and “shocking” witticisms vaguely involving sex.
As you might have noticed, all the characters talk in exactly the same way, a grating mix of archaic mannerisms and shallow epigrams. Their conversations are sprinkled with words such as “whence,” “forfend,” “blackguard,” “fornicate,” and my personal favorite, “confabulation.” Allow me to select a few choice sentences to demonstrate how bad this gets. Kate, about to hear that she is to baby-sit her nephew: “This in itself was ominous. He said he had a favor to ask of me, and hoped I would lunch with him at White’s, where they serve Beefeater martinis for which, he remembered, I had a fondness.” Another, in reference to investigators sent to the house after the murder: “Mr. Stratton consented, since it was four o’clock, to partake together with his cohort, of a sandwich and a glass of milk.”
Oh, right – so where again does James Joyce fit in?
Back to the discovery of Lingerwell’s letters. As all the main characters are academics, Cross plays on the fact that Joyce scholarship is fertile ground in which to cultivate an academic career. Other than that, it’s hard to see why it couldn’t have just as easily been The Jane Austen Murder, as none of the characters even seem to like Joyce. Still, to a Joyce enthusiast, parts of the novel provide some harmless amusement. There are several trivial discussions about Joyce throughout the novel, and of course many of the characters’ names are borrowed from his work. The chapters are named after stories from Dubliners, but the relationship between title and content often feels labored. As a unique plot element, Joyce figures in only near the end, where we discover that a very important “letter” has been missing – a possible motive for the murder.
This reveals the last deadly flaw in the book, and perhaps the most frustrating of all: the whole “mystery” has been laid out in a deliberately misleading fashion. Cross delays all the most important information until the final twenty pages, which prevents her reader from feeling any real sense of involvement with the mystery. As readers, we discover that we’ve been strung along from one red herring to the next, locked out of a sequence of clues and private actions which are only exposed at the very end. As the final insult, the resolution arrives as an amazingly trite “let’s all share what really happened” conversation held over a billion martinis. I’ve seen episodes of Scooby Doo that were better scripted.
For those of you who will not read The James Joyce Murder, but are still curious to know why the “missing letter” was the motive for Mary Bradford’s assassination, I will reveal a critical part of the ending below. Spoilers ahead! So skip the closing paragraph if you want to read the book.
The missing letter turns out not to be a letter at all, but a manuscript intended as a gift for Lingerwell. It is nothing less than the manuscript of a story that was left out of Dubliners, a story that featured the first appearance of Leopold Bloom and later formed the nucleus of Ulysses. Of course, such a find would make any professor’s career, and if poor Mary Bradford happened to have seen a certain person secreting away a packet of paper on her farm.... In truth, I am actually rather fond of this twist. Joyce did originally conceive of Leopold Bloom as a character for a Dubliners story, so the notion itself has a certain Borgesian charm. What a shame such an intriguing idea should meet such a dreadful execution. Heaven forfend!

The Life of Leopold Bloom: A Novel

Peter Costello
Roberts Rinehart, 1992, ISBN 1568332076; Paperback $9.95. [

From the publisher:

As the central figure to James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom is the most celebrated character in modern fiction. From the clues scattered throughout Ulysses, Costello painstakingly reconstructs Bloom’s life up to June 16, 1904, and then goes on to create the post-1904 Bloom, the man of whom Joyce says nothing. Interlaced with the momentous events in Ireland during Bloom’s time, and sensitively evocative of the lost world of Joyce's Dublin, The Life of Leopold Bloom is a remarkable achievement.

If you’d like submit commentary or a review to the Brazen Head, please send us email!

The House on Eccles Road

Judith Kitchen
Graywolf Press, 2002, ISBN 1-55597-368-X; Hardcover $22.00. [

Taking place on June 16, 1999 in Dublin, Ohio, Judith Kitchen’s compassionate book takes the main characters of Ulysses and re-imagines them in a modern setting.
You may read a full review of The House on Eccles Road at The Modern Word.

Gilligan’s Wake

Tom Carson
Picador, 2003, ISBN 031229123X; Hardcover $25.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Tom Carson’s Gilligan’s Wake tells the individual stories of the seven stranded castaways from a certain TV show popular in the 1960s. (You might have heard of it? Something about an island?) Basically a sharp satire on the “American Century,” Carson’s novel is inventive, funny, literate, and frequently quite moving. As its title suggests, it also functions as a loose parody of Joyce. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Beats, and Thomas Pynchon get their fair share, too.) Although Joycean allusions pop up throughout the book, the presence of Joyce is most strongly felt in the first chapter, which relates the drug-addled consciousness of one “Maynard G. Krebs” through a surreal monologue mixing Beat slang with Wakean puns.
You may read a full review of Gilligan’s Wake at The Modern Word.

Green Bar

Go To:

Main Page – Back to the Joycean influence main page.

Joycean Authors – Authors and playwrights influenced by Joyce.

Nonfiction – Nonfiction making frequent references to Joyce.

Film & TV – Joycean allusions on the screen and tube.

Radio & Miscellaneous – Joycean allusions in radio, spoken word recordings, and other media.

--Allen B. Ruch
14 July 2003

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