On Sunday evening, I attended the 7th lecture in a series presented by the T.S Eliot Estate, in conjunction with the Abbey Theatre, titled the T.S Eliot Lecture. On the centenary year of Eliot’s publication of The Wasteland, none other than Sally Rooney took to the stage to deliver an insightful, suggestive, and intellectually stimulating ‘misreading’ of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Colm Toíbín has spoken to the relationship between Joyce’s novel and Eliot’s long poem, citing how both ”dealt with the rawness of urban life using competing narrative forms, including pastiche and myth and different kinds of voices.” It seemed therefore, immensely fitting to me that one of Ireland’s newest, and most prevalent literary voices should speak on Joyce’s impact. The audience at the Abbey on this evening were evidently intrigued by Rooney’s eloquent deconstruction of a book that had clearly touched the hearts of each person in the room. As her lecture drew to a close, there seemed a collective sense that those present would return to Ulysses with renewed vigour. It was clear that Rooney’s musings over the text would linger, long after the day had passed.
Rooney’s intelligence, good nature and care for her craft were evident as she spoke of Joyce’s much-beloved characters, and their impact on her as an Irish writer.”
The event was opened by Denise Gough, who read beautifully, and with such careful consideration for Eliot’s words, from the first portion of the Wasteland: ”I. The Burial of the Dead.” Irish author, College Professor, and close companion of Rooney’s, Mark O’Connell then took to the stage to give a touching, and admittedly very amusing introduction to Rooney’s work. O’Connell spoke fondly of Rooney’s global impact when he told the packed auditorium of a time himself and Rooney were accosted in front square by a group of American tourists, who couldn’t quite fathom that they were meeting “the Sally Rooney on Trinity College’s campus.” Rooney then delivered a carefully constructed, feminist-situated lecture on Joyce’s novel. She was humble in her admittance that as an Undergraduate, she found the novel very frustrating indeed — a fact that I am sure many present were able to relate to. Rooney spoke of how she only returned to Ulysses last year, at the insistence of her husband. She spoke generously of her experience as a reader of Joyce and was at times very funny. Her intelligence, good nature, and care for her craft were evident as she spoke of Joyce’s much-beloved characters, and their impact on her as an Irish writer.
“The highlight of the evening, however, was Rooney’s conversation with Anne Enright.”
The highlight of the evening, however, was Rooney’s conversation with Anne Enright. Perhaps grilling might be a better term here, as the pair bounced off one another in an impassioned, and at times heated debate on character, the relational novel, Irish writing, and the transactional nature of all human exchange. As a student of literature myself, it was a masterclass in articulation and independent thought. A night that I am bound to remember for a very long time. I left feeling revitalised, and hungry to pick up my pen, and write.