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Anatole France, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce

A Queer Genealogy of “The Dead”

Michael F. Davis    Le Moyne College Syracuse (USA)    



This essay re-situates James Joyce’s story “The Dead” in the alternative intellectual genealogy of late-nineteenth-century European religious skepticism, its reexamination of the historical origins of Christianity, and its fresh reinterrogation of the epochal transition between the pre-Christian and the Christian worlds. Taking a cue from Richard Ellmann’s suggestion that it was Anatole France’s “The Procurator of Judea” that inspired “The Dead”, the essay argues that just as France had written a revisionist story about the disappearance of Jesus from the history, so did Joyce write a similar story, about a failed Annunciation and the death of God. Further, the essay identifies Oscar Wilde’s Salome as a twin text of France’s and triangulates it with France and Joyce, showing how Wilde’s play had excavated this same territory and provided a recent Irish precedent for restaging a New Testament dialogue, for redramatizing the contest between female pagan voice and prophetic Christian voice, and for reviving a sustained pagan rhetoric of “the dead”.

13 Aprile 2023
18 Gennaio 2023
30 Dicembre 2022

Keywords: Anatole France“The Dead”Death of GodFailed AnnunciationAtavismHistorical CriticismChristian Origin StoryJames Joyce

Copyright: © 2022 Michael F. Davis. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.