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Dubliners by James Joyce

7 Jul

James Joyce. If you love literature, you either love or loathe him, there’s little in between. He’s famous for a) ridiculously long sentences and ridiculously long books (I’m looking at you, Ulysses), b) hating his mother country Ireland but also writing about it almost obsessively, and c) the dirty letters he wrote his wife (who’s name, no kidding, was Nora Barnacle. BARNACLE, FOLKS) that the internet has now gotten ahold of so all of his adoring fans today can giggle at his secrets. It’s a cruel world we live in.

Yet don’t let this deter you from Joyce. In fact, if you have any interest in Ireland and its history, in the city of Dublin, and the modernist movement, there’s a good chance you’ll love Dubliners. Arguably the most approachable of his works, it’s a great summer book because as I’ve said, short story collections really can be the perfect beach read (whether you’re in Ireland or upstate New York, like me).

Dubliners by James Joyce

Published: 1914

Genre: Short fiction (14 short stories, 1 novella)

Difficulty: Not particularly, but there is a lot to each story. Definitely pay attention.

Quick Read?: The stories are short but dense–it may take you a little longer than you initially expected.

Synopsis: I like to think of the stories in this collection as vignettes of sorts, that paint a picture of life in Dublin right before World War I. Each story follows characters living in Dublin as they have their “epiphany,” Joyce’s main theme throughout, where they realize something important about themselves or what is going on around them. The story “Eveline” shows a young woman about to leave Ireland to run off with a sailor for a life of adventure, only to realize that she does not and cannot actually leave her mother country. “Araby” shows a young boy looking to impress a girl by buying her something from the Arab bazaar, only to miss the bazaar completely, and ruin his chances of ever having her. And “The Dead,” Joyce’s infamous novella, follows a couple at a dinner party, where the husband learns of his wife’s first love, a young man who died long ago, and ruminates on meaning of life and death.

What makes this book awesome: First of all, if you’ve read ANY Joyce, he can at times be far from straightforward. But the beauty of Dubliners is the simplicity of the language when discussing large, important moments in the characters’ lives. This somehow makes the gravity of their situations even more real and apparent.

I think anyone can relate to a moment of epiphany, when something in your life becomes highlighted, or better understood, for the first time, and it is impossible to go back to how you were before.

And for anyone interested in Ireland, Irish history, Irish mythology, Irish anything really, this book was published during the Irish nationalist period, when Ireland was fighting for it’s independence and looking for it’s own voice. Joyce definitely dabbles in that here, dropping the names of important historical and political figures who helped the country come to it’s own “epiphany” surrounding their oncoming independence from bloody England (I’d imagine they’d say it that way, or something).

Some fantastic facts:

James Joyce was pretty good looking as a young man (google search it). Then he got older, and crazier, and got an eyepatch...and more badass. Still attractive? It's your call.

  • It took nearly 10 years to publish Dubliners. It was originally written in the 1900’s.
  • “The Dead” was made into a movie in 1999 and then a musical, weirdly enough. But don’t worry, it gets weirder: Christopher Walken was in the original musical production. Wrap your head around that.
  • Joyce was brought up a Catholic and, though he was pious for awhile, eventually despised the Church and its teachings. The same sort of goes for Ireland itself. Yet issues of faith, homeland, and nationalism play a huge role in Dubliners and his other works.
If you like this, try: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, any poetry by Yeats, poetry by T.S. Eliot,  Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett