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Literary Dublin: Background information when reading Beautiful World, Where Are You

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Beautiful World, Where Are You

by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney X
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2021, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amanda Ellison
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About this Book

Literary Dublin

This article relates to Beautiful World, Where Are You

Print Review

Bloomsday performers outside Davy Byrnes pub The backdrop of Sally Rooney's Beautiful World, Where Are You is the city of Dublin and its environs. Rooney herself lives in this UNESCO City of Literature, a metropolis that boasts a flourishing literary scene and an impressive inventory of influential authors, poets and playwrights. The streets of the vibrant capital are infused with the presence of its bookish greats, with landmarks never more than a few minutes away.

Cross a bridge over the River Liffey, and it most likely has a literary connection — three are named after Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, the last of which faces the house mentioned in "The Dead," the final story in the author's Dubliners: "the dark, gaunt house on Usher's Island." Dublin even has its own unofficial literary holiday — Bloomsday — designated as acknowledgement of one of Joyce's most acclaimed novels, Ulysses, which recounts a day in the life of Leopold Bloom (the book's protagonist): June 16, 1904.

Visitors to Dublin can bask in the wealth of literary luxury this city has to offer. What follows are some of its most celebrated libraries, bookshops, pubs and eateries.

Libraries

Tucked away along St. Patrick's Close is Marsh's Library, dating back to 1707 and Ireland's first public library. Housing 25,000 books and showcasing beautifully preserved dark oak bookcases and original seating, it is worth a place on any book-lover's itinerary.

Dublin's jewel in the crown, however, is the Trinity College library. With over six million volumes, it is little wonder that its alumni are so illustrious: Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, Sally Rooney and more.

The Trinity library's "Old Library" is home to the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript dating to between the 6th and 8th centuries that includes the four gospels of the New Testament. The main chamber of the Old Library is called the Long Room; it is lined with marble busts of philosophers and writers. Since 1801 the library has enjoyed legal deposit status, which means that it can claim a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Bookshops

No visit to a city of literature can be complete without patronizing at least one of its bookshops. Ireland's oldest bookshop (and believed to be the third oldest in the world), Hodges Figgis, has graced Dawson Street since 1768. Although giving every appearance of being independent, it was in fact purchased by the Waterstones chain several years ago. It is yet another Dublin location appearing in Ulysses. The shop also gets a mention in Sally Rooney's first two novels, Conversations with Friends and Normal People.

To experience a truly independent bookshop, make your way to Ormond Quay, where The Winding Stair is located. The inspiration behind the store's name is a poem by William Butler Yeats: "My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair." There is a restaurant upstairs where patrons can sample traditional Irish fare while reading a book and accessing views over the Liffey. Following its popularity in the 1970s and 80s, The Winding Stair was close to closure in 2005, but bounced back and is now thriving in the heart of literary Dublin.

Pubs and Eateries

Davy Byrnes on Duke Street has established its reputation through its literary clientele. This is where Leopold Bloom of Ulysses popped in for his cheese sandwich.

He entered Davy Byrnes. Moral pub. He doesn't chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in a leap year once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once.

Davy Byrne came forward from the hindbar in tuckstitched shirtsleeves, cleaning his lips with two wipes of his napkin. Herring's blush. Whose smile upon each feature plays with such and such replete. Too much fat on the parsnips.

The pub's interior is something of a medley of styles, with a colorful ceiling, murals of historic Dublin and small statues adorning the area behind the bar. Joyce frequented this pub and knew Davy Byrne himself, who founded the establishment in the 1880s.

Also mentioned in Ulysses is the Shelbourne Hotel's 1824 Bar. The 5-star hotel has been a favorite of celebrities past and present, including Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as literary heavyweights like William Thackeray and Seamus Heaney. Elizabeth Bowen even wrote a book, The Shelbourne, about the hotel, which is located at St. Stephen's Green. The 1824 Bar, with its decadent dark paneling and green leather furniture, can be found at the top of the Shelbourne's grand staircase.

Of course, the aforementioned venues are simply the tip of Dublin's literary iceberg; there are many more quirky and significant links to the city's rich creative heritage. The Abbey Theatre, for example, is revered for its connection to Yeats, who opened the venue with Lady Gregory in 1904. It is well worth a visit simply because of its history and its relative affordability.

Joyce once famously commented, "When I die Dublin will be written in my heart." Today, literary Dublin will surely touch the heart of any literature enthusiast.

Bloomsday performers outside Davy Byrnes pub in Dublin, 2003, via Wikimedia Commons

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Amanda Ellison

This "beyond the book article" relates to Beautiful World, Where Are You. It originally ran in September 2021 and has been updated for the June 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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