Exiles is James Joyce's only play, completed in 1915 and first published in 1918 between A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), and, like Portrait of an Artist, it is rather autobiographical. Unfortunately, it's generally agreed to be his least successful work.
Exiles tells the story of Richard Rowan (a writer), his common-law wife Bertha and his friend Robert Hand, and Robert's cousin Beatrice, recently recovered from a life-threatening illness. Richard and Bertha have recently returned to Dublin from Rome. We find Bertha jealous of the close relationship of Richard and Beatrice; Robert, meanwhile, is jealous of Richard and Bertha. Robert attempts to seduce Bertha, Bertha tells Richard and he advises her to do what is right for her. When they meet again, following an awkward moment between Richard and Robert, Bertha and Robert are left alone, and what occurs is largely left to the audience's imagination. As this love-triangle plays out, Richard must also decide whether or not to settle down in Dublin and teach at the university or live, as Joyce himself did, as an 'exile'.
It is a fairly simple play, certainly not the finest I've read by a long stretch, but entertaining enough. Joyce was very influenced by Ibsen, and from the little I've read of Ibsen I see this in Exiles, the psychological drama of conflict imposed on these exiles living almost on the edge of society, their unusual relationships very much outside the norm, and their various attempts at a resolution. Because I've read so little Ibsen I'll have to refrain from saying any more on that topic and simply recommend an article from the New York Times - Revaluing James Joyce's 'Exiles' by James T. Farrell (1946). It is an entertaining play, I dare say memorable (though time will tell), but I can see why this is James Joyce's least popular work. Still, it's a must-read for Joyce fans, and I'd be curious to know what Ibsen fans make of it.
Exiles was my 43rd title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Mariana by T. S. Eliot.