Toppling masonry

In Nestor, when Stephen thinks of Blake's vision of "the ruin of all space" and time, he imagines "shattered glass and toppling masonry"––an image which does not come from Blake's writings. This is no generic fantasy of what apocalypse would look like to a city-dweller. In Proteus Stephen links it with a specific event: the Fenian bombing of the back wall of London's Clerkenwell prison in 1867. This event has clear relevance to Stephen's historical meditations in Nestor, so it is reasonable to assume that he is thinking of it in both chapters. But there is more. For Dubliners reading the novel in the late 1910s and early 20s, the words would certainly have called up a much fresher memory: the catastrophic destruction visited upon their city by the Easter Rising of 1916. Joyce must have intended for his readers to make this proleptic connection.

John Hunt 2023

1867 illustration of the destruction caused by the Clerkenwell bombing, by an unknown artist. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Damage to buildings near the General Post Office on Sackville Street, in a photograph held in the National Library of Ireland. Source:

Thomas Johnson Westropp's May 1916 photograph, taken from the top of Nelson's Pillar, of damage to the Post Office, held in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. Source:

Another of Westropp's photographs from the top of Nelson's Pillar, looking west at damage to buildings on Henry Street. Source:

Another Westropp photograph looking south from the pillar at damage to the Imperial Hotel and Clery's department store. Source:

Another Westropp photograph, taken from the south side of the river (Nelson's Pillar is visible in the background at left), showing damage to Eden Quay. Source: