The Short Catechism
“It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism.”
-“The Sisters” (D 9)
“The books on the white wooden shelves were arranged from below upwards according to bulk. A complete Wordsworth stood at one end of the lowest shelf and a copy of the Maynooth Catechism, sewn into the cloth cover of a notebook, stood at one end of the top shelf.”
-“A Painful Case” (D 107-8)
The Roman Catholic Catechism appears several times throughout Dubliners. The catechismal concept of “simony” features on the first page of “The Sisters,” and James Duffy in “A Painful Case” keeps a copy of the book in his lodgings alongside volumes by Wordsworth and Nietzsche. Its role as an educational and devotional text ensured its popularity in Ireland.
Catechisms and other religious texts were some of the most readily available books in Joyce’s Dublin. The late nineteenth century saw the rise of Catholic publishing in Ireland, and M.H. Gill & Son, along with the houses of James Duffy and Browne and Nolan, provided much of the island’s popular devotional texts. Joyce parodies the names of these publishers, which filled bookstalls all over Dublin in his works, and he gives the protagonist of “A Painful Case” the name of prominent Catholic publisher James Duffy. As one historian of the British book trade noted, “Irish bookselling, as far as individual enterprize goes, has been commonly associated with the name of James Duffy” (Curwen 459). Duffy began his career profiting from the battle between Catholic and Protestant religious texts. He would buy Protestant Bibles from Catholics who had received them from proselytizers for mere pennies and then sell them in Liverpool. With the profits, he would purchase Catholic prayerbooks to sell in Dublin. While Duffy didn’t publish an edition of the Maynooth Catechism, he did publish Rev. Andrew Donlevey’s bilingual edition of the catechism with facing Irish and English pages in 1848. He was also tied to the mid-century nationalist movement through his close association with Charles Gavan Duffy.
This is a condensed version of the catechism most frequently used in Ireland at the turn of the century (“Doctrine,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. V, 87). This shorter version prepared first communicants while the full version was generally reserved for more advanced study. Gill also published an Irish language version of the short catechism in 1886, which was met with positive reviews from Irish language enthusiasts of the time (“An Irish Catechism” 582).