A Brief Review
Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.
The stories were written when Irish nationalism was at its peak, and a search for a national identity and purpose was raging; at a crossroads of history and culture, Ireland was jolted by various converging ideas and influences. They centre on Joyce’s idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character experiences a life-changing self-understanding or illumination. Many of the characters in Dubliners later appear in minor roles in Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The initial stories in the collection are narrated by child protagonists, and as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. Documenting life from childhood, adolescence and through to maturity
A collection of stories sharing with us the wonderful complexities of life, love and death. This was my first experience of James Joyce and I whole heartedly enjoyed it. I found it to be beautifully descriptive and enticing. My favourite stories from Dubliners are the first few when the voice is young and honest.
The first of the seventeen stories is The Sisters, where we are greeted by a child dealing with the death of his friend, the local priest. We see how he comes to find out about the passing along with his thoughts and reflections.
“I went in on tiptoe. the room through the lace end of the blind was suffused with dusky golden light amid which the candles looked like pale thin flames. He had been coffined. Nannie gave the lead and we three knelt down at the foot of the bed. I pretended to pray but I could not gather my thoughts because the old woman’s mutterings distracted me. I notices how clumsily her skirt was hooked at the back and how the heels of her cloth boots were trodden down all to one side. The fancy came to me that the old priest was smiling as he lay there in his coffin.” – The Sisters
I like this passage from The Sisters, where Joyce demonstrates the inner thoughts of a young boy faced with the coffined corpse of an elderly friend. The boy isn’t afraid, or consumed with worry and grief, he see’s some sort of humour in the situation.
Araby is a romantic tale of young love and infatuation both full of hope and desperation.
“When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street.” – Araby
I think the imagery that this description conjures is so cheerful and beautiful, and will send many readers back to their childhood with fond memories. Joyce has a wonderful way with words and puts you firmly in his characters shoes. I will leave you with this enchanting passage:
“Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donavan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes where often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures where like fingers running upon the wires.”