Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dubliners by James Joyce

I'm still in Ireland!  My unexpected layover has detained me longer than I expected.  Actually, it is more that I intended to bake something, still hadn't, and realized I had Dubliners on my iPad (it can be downloaded free from the Kindle store).  I've read James Joyce before, as any long-time reader of this blog knows (I blogged my excruciating and amazing journey through Ulysses).  But since the first book I read for Ireland was a new-to-me author, I didn't mind breaking my own rule!

DublinersDubliners by James Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Around the World Tally: Book 3 of 52.  Country 2.  This could get complicated.

Compared to Ulysses, which took me months to read with critical aids, the short stories of James Joyce are easy to understand and enjoyable on multiple levels. He wrote them while he was quite young, and I noticed several references to characters thinking about how they hoped they accomplished a certain thing in their lives by age 31 or 33 (Joyce was in his 20s).

The stories go by theme, although I have seen some scholars indicate that only the last story has the death theme, and other scholars like Bob Williams use childhood -> adolescence -> maturity -> public life. Regardless of the labels, I enjoyed how the stories seemed to move into each other.

One of the things I love about Joyce, and it shows up in these stories, particularly in The Dead, is his balance of activity with inner dialogue. I noticed that in many of the stories, the actual action is happening "off stage" and you still learn about it, but largely through the lens of understanding the characters have. This is such a masterful technique!

My favorites were Araby (the boy is so painfully out of place), The Boarding House (oh the manipulation!), A Mother (oh mothers), and of course, The Dead. If I had read these stories first, and finished with The Dead, I would have known for sure I was a Joyce fan. Unfortunately for me, I read A Portrait first, before I was ready, and it took me years to come back to him. I'm so glad I did, and this was a nice second helping after Ulysses.

One theme I'm curious about is the idea of Irish identity. It seemed to be a major concern for some of the secondary characters - traveling in Ireland, learning Irish, and I imagine this must have been a big issue in the culture of the time. It gets briefly discussed by Daedalus and his friends in Ulysses, but it seemed more pointed here.

A few quotations I liked:

"Real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home; they must be sought abroad." (from An Encounter, and according to my Kindle, is a frequently highlighted bit)

"He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense." (from A Little Cloud... it made me laugh because it makes me think of Facebook)

"I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it's not at all honourable for the pope to turn out the women out of the choirs that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers of boys over their heads." (from The Dead, and I had no idea this had happened.  It must have been controversial!)

"Under cover of her silence he pressed her arm closely to his side; and, as they stood at the hotel door, he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure." (from The Dead)

"One by one, they were all becoming shades.  Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." (from The Dead)

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." (from The Dead, and what a beautiful ending sentence!)

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