Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Hundred Year Old Stories

James Joyce has been described as a genius and his novel, “Ulysses”, as the best novel written in the 20th century. However, very few people have been able to read “Ulysses” completely. When our book club read “The Gathering” by Anne Enright, which was set in contemporary Dublin, there were references in the reviews to Joyces’ “Dubliners”. And, although the group chose not to read “Dubliners”, I did read it. The “Dubliners” is a collection of 15 short stories, written about the Irish middle class in the early years of the 20th century. Joyce wrote the stories around 1904 but “Dubliners” was not published until 1914. Joyce described the stories by saying “his countrymen could get one good look at themselves”. Many of the characters in these stories appear again in “Ulysses”.

The stories follow on overall plan, beginning with four stories about childhood, narrated by children. They progress in order to adolescence, maturity, public life and end with a story called “The Dead”. “The Dead” has also been classified as a novella and was adapted as a film, directed by John Huston. It was my favorite story because the characters were more fully developed and the story had a universal theme. Gabriel Conroy is attending a boisterous family party when he realizes that his wife has a secret that has haunted her throughout their marriage. All of the stories in “Dubliners” center on a moment when the main character has what Joyce feels is an epiphany. The characters arrive at a time of self-awareness. Something happens in the story that makes a difference in their lives. All of the stories have a bleakness about them. Alcohol and frustration play important roles in many of these stories.

“Eveline”, another story I especially liked, is from the late adolescence group. A young woman falls in love with a sailor and plots to escape her life in Dublin against the wishes of her father. Joyce writes as a neutral observer describing in simplistic language what the protagonist is doing. James Joyce had a gift of writing simple, realistic prose. His dialogue is short and to the point. His descriptions of the characters and events are beautifully written, although some of the words and phrases are unfamiliar to contemporary readers. The characters in Joyce’s “Dubliners” are often sad or lost, but the writing compels the reader on, to find out what will happen to them.

James Joyce is a legend, acclaimed by many as one of the world’s great writers. Although, reading the “Dubliners” is not an uplifting experience, it is well worth the time to experience writing that has survived over a hundred years and is still being read in literature classes, and by many for the simple pleasure of reading good literature.

1 comment:

  1. Though I would disagree strongly with Dubliners not being an uplifting read, the hundred year aspect is of interest. Did you know there is a version of "The Dead" in which the same story evolves in the town of Boulder, Colorado? It's called "The Ugly" by Anne Pigone and hopefully sitll on line if some lawyer hasn't squelced it. Try "The Ugly"