Thursday, July 14, 2011


As I was listing the authors I'd love to meet in my last post, I was surprised to realize that there were several I hadn't blogged about yet.  One of these great literary figures is James Joyce.  I am absolutely awed by the genius of Joyce.  In college, I once wrote a very long essay in which I simply examined the intricate use of clothing in just two chapters of Ulysses.  I was shocked by how much significance and symbolism I could find in such a small feature of this enormous work.  Perhaps because of this, I have not yet plowed through Ulysses cover-to-cover, although I have picked through a number of chapters and found them quite intriguing.  I want to take a moment and bow down before all of you reading this blog who have read Ulysses, (or Finnegans Wake, for that matter), thoroughly... You deserve much recognition!

So instead of discussing Ulysses, which I hope to do someday down the road, I will talk about Dubliners.  This is a short story cycle, but do not mistake its brevity for a lack of depth.  In the beauty of a marvelously crafted short story cycle, each chapter is individually significant, but they all gain much greater value when read as a unit.  The placement of the stories moves in a theme, gradually transitioning from young to old characters who experience some kind of epiphany moment.  When I hear "epiphany," it has a positive connotation for me, as though a person has become enlightened about some personal strength or hope in life. However, each of these "moments of clarity" are clarifying for the character that his or her world is more sinister, disappointing, or hopeless than he or she once believed.  Nevertheless, Joyce exposes these realizations quietly, without including moral comment or direct implications. 

The true value of the stories is in the details.  In these small literary portraits, Joyce includes a number of minute descriptions and observations which unlock the depth of the characters.  Especially since the stories are short, I believe that there is not a word put in there unnecessarily and I try to carefully consider the meaning behind every remark.  I think the image that most stands out in my mind is that of Eveline at the dock, watching her lover sail away but revealing little emotion.  I'll also never be able to forget the scene at the end of "Counterparts," with the beaten son pleading for mercy.

Of course, I can't discuss Dubliners without mentioning Dublin.  From what I understand, this short story cycle embodies true Irish nationalism, which is particularly clear in the story about Parnell and Ivy Day.  Joyce is also known to have been extremely accurate in his geographical descriptions of Dublin.  People have followed the descriptions of Dublin in his various books around town to confirm the exactness of his details.  Yet this portrait of Dublin is not really all that picturesque, as it also includes much of what was gritty and dark about the city and its citizens. It's a raw, realistic portrait, and I absolutely love it for that.

There's a lot more to say, but I think this is a good start.  So if you are intimidated by Joyce as I am, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Dubliners.  It's wonderfully crafted and yet wonderfully accessible.  I think it gives an excellent taste of Joyce's genius, and I hope to one day dive into one of his bigger works.

1 comment:

Becky (Page Turners) said...

As someone who has always been a little too nervous to pick up a James Joyce book, I will take your recommendation and attempt the Dubliners. Sounds really exciting the way it unfolds