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.
"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
"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 the significance of scandal in relation not only 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