Monday, March 5, 2012

Musings: Dubliners

Dubliners James Joyce
Oh, James Joyce!  I have avoided him since high school, when I read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and analyzed the pants off that book's epic amounts of symbolism.  Also because Ulysses seems to me just a study in extremism and does not appeal to me in the least.

But Dubliners.  It's a collection of short stories, and they are set, as you might imagine, in Dublin.  I went to Dublin in late February and just couldn't resist the temptation to be in Dublin, reading Dubliners by one of Ireland's most famed authors, James Joyce.  So I succumbed.

And I'm very glad I did.  I didn't enjoy all the stories in this book.  In fact, I enjoyed very few of them.  But the last story, "The Dead," is so brilliantly amazing that it made up for all my lukewarm feelings towards the rest.

Joyce wrote this book in the early 20th century- it was first published in 1914- right in the midst of the great (and ultimately successful) move for Irish independence.  This part I remember well from The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which had all sorts of references to Irish independence in it.  The stories in this collection are centered firmly on the working class and middle class people that make Dublin work and give it so much of its personality.

As this is James Joyce, symbolism abounds.  I missed much of it.  For example, the narrators of the stories grow older as you get further into the collection (though this is not true for the version I read as it included "The Dead."  That story was not included in the original collection).  Each story's main character has an epiphany, too, wherein he or she gains some sort of inner understanding.

Dubliners James Joyce
There were some stories that I loved - "Eveline," about a young woman who is in love with a very kind sailor but feels guilty about leaving her drunken father on his own; "A Painful Case," about a man who becomes close friends with an older woman, then cuts ties with her, only to find out later that he left her to a life of loneliness and regret; and, of course, "The Dead," about a man who realizes how much he loves his wife one evening, only to find out that she spent the evening thinking about a long-lost love.  I truly appreciated Joyce's narrative style.  He wrote in the language that his characters would use.  While this often made it difficult for me to understand the context and the meanings behind some words, it also made the characters feel much more vivid and the stories that much more real.  I also loved reading the names of different neighborhoods or streets and thinking, "I was just there!  I know where this character is!"

But there was also just such a sense of cynicism throughout this story collection.  The characters seem so stuck in their lives, and many of them are so unhappy it is palpable.  In one story, the character takes out his rage about his life in alcoholism and abuse towards his son.  In another, the character realizes, while sitting alone in a small restaurant eating mushy peas for lunch (quite possibly one of the saddest mental pictures I will ever have in my mind), that he has done very little with his 31 years on Earth, and is unlikely to do anything very great with the rest of the time he has.  These are people who have accepted their lots in life, but are desperately lonely and constricted by them.  In many ways, those feelings seem so relevant to our world today, with so many people unemployed or underemployed.  Particularly in Ireland, where the unemployment rate is so high, I could see the frustration and fear that so many of these characters felt is also present in their descendants today.

In some ways, I wish I had read a lighter and more peppy set of stories while in Ireland (I had a copy of William Butler Yeats' Irish folk tales, for example).  But by reading Dubliners, I think I got the gritty reality behind the marketing of shamrocks, Guinness, beautiful green rolling hills and dramatic seaside cliffs.  I think these are stories that I would love to come back and read when I am less distracted and more able to appreciate the symbolism behind them.  And I think "The Dead" is a story that may stay with me for a long time because of just how evocative and beautiful it is.

Eating brown bread ice cream and yellow man while reading Dubliners in Dublin!
 

32 comments:

  1. Ohhh, what fun! I hope you blog a bit about your trip. :) (For some reason, I thought you were still on it & that you were autoposting, lol.)

    Back to books. So, James Joyce is one of those authors I'm skeptical of; I have no real interest in his longer works. BUT I read "The Dead" a couple of years ago and, like you, loved it! Which made me put The Dubliners on my wishlist. Now it sounds like I may have already read the best part. Oh well.

    Also, if I were going on a trip to Ireland, I would be SO overwhelmed by reading choices! I haven't really delved into Irish lit yet, but when I posted about it awhile back, my commenters left a million suggestions that all sounded great.

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    1. Oh, I'll have to go back and look for that post! I have missed so many blog posts over the past few months that I often worry that I've missed fantastic books because of marking all as read. I'll definitely comb through the suggestions on your post.

      I agree about the overwhelming number of choices there are of books to read by Irish authors! The people there are so proud of their heritage, too, which is wonderful. There's actually a movie version of "The Dead" that I want to check out, if I can find it somewhere.

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  2. Oh yes, The Dead is so beautiful! The last line makes almost every list of best last lines! How funny that you wished for a happier set of stories while in Ireland - one might say (a) not easy to find and (b) certainly not representative of Irish lit! :--) I think you made the perfect choice!

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    1. Haha, well the Yeats fairy tales probably would have a different feel to them! I think Dubliners was a good choice, too- all the Irish people I met loved that I read it :-)

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  3. Honestly, I don't think I've ever read The Dead. I only made it about 2/3rds of the way through this collection before I abandoned it and refused to ever read any Joyce again unless forced to by a class.

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    1. Wow, that is a strong reaction! Joyce is like your most despised vegetable, in a way... something you don't need to encounter when an adult!

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  4. I love the covers to both of those books! The stories sound interesting, and how crazy that the last story made the book for you. The way you described that story broke my heart a little and I didn't even read it, lol.. I actually have not read a James Joyce book. Maybe I'll start with this one.

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    1. Yeah, I love the covers, too! And the story really is that good ;-)

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  5. Our last reading assignment in senior year was to read The Dead, and if I am remembering correctly, there is also a movie version of the title that we saw as well. I have to say that I am intimidated by Joyce, but feel that as I have gotten older, he intimidates me a lot less than he used to. The Dead was an incredible story, and though you didn't love all the others in the collection quite as much as that one, you wrote a really amazing and cohesive review about the book that I really enjoyed.

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    1. Yes, there is a movie version that I would like to find if possible, though I don't know where one finds older/obscure movies any more...

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  6. Oh I can't stand him. Perhaps cos I read A painting of the A 3 times for a class o_O

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  7. Ulysses scarred me for life...like Amanda, I refuse to read any more Joyce.

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    1. Yeah, I have no real desire to read Ulysses.

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  8. Shows what a rubbish reader I am! I read Dubliners in college; it was and remains the only Joyce I've ever read, and I don't remember "The Dead" even a little bit. I remember "Eveline" and I remember the one about the kid who wanted to go to a fair, or a bazaar or something, and that's it. :/ I thought the stories were nice but unexceptional -- nothing that motivated me to seek out more Joyce.

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    1. Yes, those stories were in the book, too. I enjoyed Eveline, but didn't find anything great about the boy going to the fair and not getting any gifts, either.

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  9. I have to admit that James Joyce has been on my to-read list since about high school and I STILL haven't read him. I just never seem to get around to anything...

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    1. Haha, that's an overstatement! You get around to a lot of things besides Joyce :-)

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  10. One of the story collections that I read last month (Edward P. Jones' All Aunt Hagar's Children) used the same device, arranging the stories in it so that the youngest narrators were at the start; I didn't notice it at the time, and I don't think I noticed it with Dubliners either. "The Dead" was my favourite too (and the film is amazing as well)!

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    1. Gosh, I need to find this film! It sounds brilliant.

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    2. It's very faithful to the text, so I don't know whether you'd want to watch it immediately, when it's fresh in your mind, or let the story settle and then watch. It's rare, I think, to find a film in which you truly feel that the maker wanted to truly bring the story off the page, just as it was but not in text, and that's how I felt about this one. I hope you enjoy it!

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  11. Curious what you hated about some of thrones you hated? Was It just their bleakness? It's ironic, Upysses is MUCH less bleak then Dubliners or Poetrait are.

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    1. I didn't hate any of the stories, I just didn't think they were particularly memorable or great. I'm glad Ulysses is less bleak than the other stories, but I think it's more the way Joyce writes that story and how long and dense it is that keeps me from reading it more than any bleakness present in the novel!

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  12. oh a trip to ireland wonderful my grandfather went to Dublin every year to the antique fair so I spent my young years with visits to the city I read this years ago and loved it I think this is his most accesible book by far ,I just got finnegian wake to try at some point ,all the best stu

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    1. Oh, that is a great trip down memory lane with this book! I agree it's very accessible.

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  13. Don't think that I've been interested in reading Joyce, ever. But your review has me wanting to check this book out, even if it wasn't uniformly great.

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    1. Well, that's what I'm here for ;-) Just to add to the TBR pile!

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  14. Araby is one of my favorite short stories ever. I feel like the boy in that story a lot. I've been thinking I should write about it, but it's difficult, because it gets so personal. I'm not known for being impersonal, but writing about that story could get to a whole new level of TMI on the internets.

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    1. Oh, I can definitely see how your reaction to Araby could be personal. The poor boy, trying so desperately to do one small act, and being thwarted nearly every step of the way. It would be a very personal post, I think. It may be one of those posts you write for yourself and never publish, if the information in it is too sensitive to put out there to the world.

      That said, even if it is very painful, I LOVE when a story can connect with you on such a deep level.

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    2. Well, I have written a post about Araby. It is intensely personal and I have set it to post tomorrow morning (March 26).

      I love when another book blogger gets you thinking about something you've read so that you just have to write about it!

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  15. What fun that you read Dubliners in Dublin! I just finished it, in preparation for a trip to Dublin.

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  16. LOL! I am on the last five minutes of "Death" and enjoying Dubliners immensely! I thought Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and I saw moments of his brilliance, but I liked this book much more. I loved the glimpse, and I wish I could have read it in Dublin. You do things like I love to do and taking a picture of it while I am doing it. Great review. Mine will come out in December. :)

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