Before Daybreak: "After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art

Before Daybreak: "After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art

Before Daybreak: "After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art

Before Daybreak: "After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art


Joyce's "After the Race" is a seemingly simple tale, historically unloved by critics. Yet when magnified and dismantled, the story yields astounding political, philosophic, and moral intricacy.

In Before Daybreak, Cóilén Owens shows that "After the Race" is much more than a story about Dublin at the time of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race: in reality, it is a microcosm of some of the issues most central to Joycean scholarship.

These issues include large-scale historical concerns--in this case, radical nationalism and the centennial of Robert Emmet's rebellion. Owens also explains the temporary and local issues reflected in Joyce's language, organization, and silences. He traces Joyce's narrative technique to classical, French, and Irish traditions. Additionally, "After the Race" reflects Joyce's internal conflict between emotional allegiance to Christian orthodoxy and contemporary intellectual skepticism.

If the dawning of Joyce's singular power, range, subtlety, and learning can be identified in a seemingly elementary text like "After the Race," this study implicitly contends that any Dubliners story can be mined to reveal the intertextual richness, linguistic subtlety, parodic brilliance, and cultural poignancy of Joyce's art. Owens's meticulous work will stimulate readers to explore Joyce's stories with the same scrutiny in order to comprehend and relish how Joyce writes.


“After the Race” is, after “Eveline,” the second shortest story in Dublin ers, and generally taken to be the slightest. What Cóilín Owens has done is more than rehabilitate this minor story: he has revived the far more important question of Joyce’s origins as an artist. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man never really told us anything about how Joyce learned to become the genius that he was. in Before Daybreak, Owens shows us how Joyce took the clay of his material life, whether biographical, philosophical, religious, literary, cultural, technological, or political, and learned to sculpt. Through gloriously close readings of the world of Dublin at the time of the Gordon Bennett Cup Race in 1903, we are given a window into Joyce’s creative process, and into Ireland’s promise of a new dawn. It is not for nothing that the last line of “After the Race” is “Daybreak, gentlemen!”

“After the Race” is an ur-story, a bronze spearhead in the sand, and Cóilín Owens is our Schliemann, an archaeologist carefully brushing off the dust to reveal a work of telling significance, of proto-Joycean capabilities. With the bravura of Monsieur Dupin in “The Purloined Letter,” he shows us that this nexus of Joycean effects has been hiding in plain sight, skipped by generations of critics as a subpar effort on the way to “Two Gallants.” He shows us the crucial intersection of the racecourse with the sites with the life and death of Robert Emmet; he tracks the automobilists’ wild career over the historical scenes of Irish paralysis; he shows us the implications of the Pauline close to Emmet’s famous speech (“I have done”); he displays how the text’s obsessive doubling makes it truly a work of “Doublends Jined” (fw 20.16); he hears a theosophist hum in the silent ministrations of Villona; and he leads Jimmy Doyle through a Dantean inferno, bringing us out of darkness to admire the stars.

Through this “toptypsical reading” (fw 20.15) of “After the Race” and its afterlife in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, we are shown the rest of the . . .

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