Dubliners by James Joyce.
Dubliners is a collection of short stories by James Joyce written in 1904 and first published in 1914, two years before A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). They are Joyce's most accessible of works. There are fifteen stories:
- The Sisters
- An Encounter
- After the Race
- Two Gallants
- The Boarding House
- A Little Cloud
- A Painful Case
- Ivy Day in the Committee Room
- A Mother
- The Dead
All the stories centre around Dublin which, at the time of strong Irish nationalism, becomes itself a theme of the stories. At this time Joyce felt Ireland was out of step with Europe, and indeed I suppose it was insofar as it wasn't embracing the rapidly accelerating industrialisation and was still intensely Roman Catholic. As Joyce was writing Dubliners in 1904 what was called the Irish Revival was beginning and Joyce intended to contribute by writing, in his words, "a chapter of the moral history of my country". He writes on the middle classes of Dublin, the religion and the misery, all of which gives it a dark, stuffy, and heavy atmosphere of gloom in the style of realism, not the modernism which he later mastered. As with other of Joyce's works the age of characters is an important feature, with central characters progressively getting older throughout the collection. Finally, another central theme is the idea of realisation: many of the characters have an epiphany but the question is - what do they do with it?
In The Sisters a young boy learns of the death of his priest, Father James Flynn, and feels a sense of freedom with this news - "I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death". An Encounter, which is quite an unsettling tale, also focuses on a young boy who decides to break the rules and play truant with his friends, though he doesn't get very far he has a strange encounter with a man; Araby similarly deals with frustration and missed opportunity, also focusing on a young boy. Eveline is the story of a woman, a nineteen year old, who is reminiscing over her childhood: that too has themes of disappointment and missed opportunity, as does After the Race. Two Gallants tells the story of two older men in their twenties, Corley and Lenehan (who later appear in Ulysses), and The Boarding House describes how a Mrs. Mooney engineers what will no doubt be an unhappy marriage between her daughter and one of her boarders. A Little Cloud brings us to the nearer middle aged characters with a man who had high hopes and dreams realises he has not amounted to very much at all unlike his friend, and in Counterparts Farrington deals with a similar upset by drinking and beating his children. Clay sees a Halloween scene with a disturbing portent of doom, and in A Painful Case James Duffy suffers from the guilt at a suicide of an old friend. Ivy Day in the Committee Room is set on Ivy Day (6th October) commemorating the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, and A Mother we see a mother trying and failing to get her daughter a starring role at a music concert. In Grace we see the friends of Mr. Kernan attempt to renew his faith, and then finally in Joyce's most famous of short stories, The Dead, we see Gabriel Conroy have an epiphany, a misunderstanding, and a great disappointment.
As I said, it is a gloomy work. Depressing - not poetically melancholic but that heavy feeling of despair. Despite that it is brilliantly done, exceptionally well-written and one gets the very definite sense that Joyce has achieved exactly what he set out to do. It's a masterpiece, but whether the reader has the stomach for that degree of misery must remain up to them.