Margot Gayle Backus
In Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars, Margot Gayle Backus charts the rise of the newspaper sex scandal across the fin de siècle British archipelago and explores its impact on the work of James Joyce, a towering figure of literary modernism.
Based largely on archival research, the first three chapters trace the legal, social, and economic forces that fueled an upsurge in sex scandal over the course of the Irish Home Rule debates during James Joyce’s childhood. The remaining chapters examine Joyce’s use of scandal in his work throughout his career, beginning with his earliest known poem, “Et Tu, Healy,” written when he was nine years old to express outrage over the politically disastrous Parnell scandal.
Backus’s readings of Joyce’s essays in a Trieste newspaper, the Dubliners short stories, Portrait of the Artist, and Ulysses show Joyce’s increasingly intricate employment of scandal conventions, ingeniously twisted so as to disable scandal’s reifying effects. Scandal Work pursues a sequence of politically motivated sex scandals, which it derives from Joyce’s work. It situates Joyce within an alternative history of the New Journalism’s emergence in response to the Irish Land Wars and the Home Rule debates, from the Phoenix Park murders and the first Dublin Castle scandal to “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” and the Oscar Wilde scandal. Her voluminous scholarship encompasses historical materials on Victorian and early twentieth-century sex scandals, Irish politics, and newspaper evolution as well as providing significant new readings of Joyce’s texts.
In Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars, Margot Gayle Backus handles a fascinating topic with skill and insight. Backus treats not only the significance of scandal in relation to the work of James Joyce, but to the whole fin de siècle scene with respect to newspaper reportage, censorship, colonial politics, sexual mores, and their strategic functions in manipulating power in the social realm. Her book will be appreciated as a valuable addition to Joyce criticism and to Irish Studies in general." — Margot Norris, Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine
“Scandal Work adds considerably to our knowledge of the heretofore unnoticed ripples from four or five turn-of-the-century sex scandals, capped by the Oscar Wilde trials. It is full of rich historical material and intelligent analysis. Margot Gayle Backus has produced an impressive piece of research: the scholarship is impeccable, tracing connections between previously unarticulated archives and bodies of knowledge, and producing significantly new readings of Joyce’s texts." — Kevin J. H. Dettmar, W. M. Keck Professor of English, Pomona College
“This incisive, theoretically sophisticated study canvases the scandal-laden historical contexts of Joyce’s revolutionary work. In tracing the omnipresence of sensational events, such as the Phoenix Park murders and the trials of Parnell and Wilde, and of sexual transgressions in Joyce’s texts, Backus brilliantly contends that they at once revel in scandal and resist it. Intermarrying archival inquiry with psychoanalytic rigour, this thought-provoking investigation persuasively reveals the extent to which Joyce’s work eludes the insidious effects of a scandal-mongering modernity which it is also at pains to depict.” — Anne Fogarty, Professor of James Joyce Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland
“This excellent study explores the intersection of newspaper journalism and literary production in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. Backus has written a thoughtful analysis of the early years of scandal journalism and, more particularly, the effects of this journalism on Irish politics and the writing career of writer James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) . . . A fascinating addition to the literature, not only on the work of Joyce but also on Irish journalism.” — Library Journal
“Though this is primarily a work backgrounding and analyzing works of literature (particularly Ulysses), the author provides an important contribution to Irish studies through her insightful and rigorous exploration of the series of scandals.” — Choice
“Margot Gayle Backus achieves an expert masterstroke in this study of fin de siècle newspaper scandals with application to works of James Joyce. With painstaking detail, she reports the Phoenix Park Murder, Dublin Castle, and Cleveland Street Scandals as well as information on the scandal figures Myles Joyce and Charles Dilke. . . . A major strength is the proliferation of Backus’s insightful ways of perceiving Joyce’s developmental theorizing about scandal and increasingly ingenious stylistic integration of those theories.” — Irish Literary Supplement
“Scandal Work provides close textual analysis of Joyce’s earliest writings up to Ulysses and thickens in a palimpsestic manner the political and gendered connotations of what Scandal work might actually signify. The strength of Backus’s argument lies in her contention that Joyce increasingly recognized the journalistic coverage of scandal as the ultimate means to control and subvert artistic activity.” — Breac: A Digital Journal of Irish Studies
“The book also contributes something new to the immense critical literature on Joyce, not just by tracing his lifelong attention to scandal journalism as a form of politically charged speech act, but also by adeptly demonstrating its importance to his own representations of sexual and national identities . . . it provides a richly detailed account of one of our most thoroughly studied modernist writers, which contributes something new to our understanding of his verbal art, not simply as an aesthetic form opposed to low or the commodified, but as an intricate example of communication and dissemination, a powerful, if elusive, instance of the art of mass persuasion.” — Journal of British Studies
“Scandal Work will appeal to Joyce scholars and to a more general audience. The first two chapters, which show that the New Journalism emerged out of a complex network of metropolitan and regional newspapers, are absolutely fascinating.” — James Joyce Broadsheet
“Backus considers the literary implications for the legal, social, and economic factors that led to an intense interest in the idea of sex scandal over the course of the Irish Home Rule debates during James Joyce’s childhood. Excellent on libel laws and on newspapers and politics, this book’s main virtue is that it provides significant new contexts for Joyce’s writings in a lively, engaging, and thoughtful manner.” — Irish University Review
“An engaged, communicative style and approach immediately mark out Margot Backus’s study of the role of journalistic and political scandal in the work of James Joyce as a fresh and winning contribution to the critical debate. . . To approach this material anew in terms of scandal itself . . . is acute and engaging in a way that few academic studies manage to be.”— Sharp News: Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing
“The book presents a powerful reading of Joyce’s engagement with the culture of journalistic scandal at the fin-de-siècle.” — James Joyce Quarterly