The Dubliners by James Joyce

James Augustine Aloysious Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 2 February 1882 and died 13 January 1941.  He was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century.   Joyce is probably best known for his novel, Ulysses which was published in 1922.  It was a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in several contrasting literary styles.  In this book he perfected the string of consciousness technique . I have never read Ulysses.  It seems an obscure work.

However, my friend Ruth recommended  Joyce’s noted short-story collection  Dubliners.  It was published in 1914, by which time Joyce was living in Europe. Joyce was born into a middle class family in Dublin.  He excelled as a student at the Jesuit schools in Clongowes and also Belvedere. He  then attended University College Dublin.   It was in his early twenties that he emigrated permanently to continental Europe.  He lived in Trieste, Italy, Paris, France and Zurich, Switzerland. Although most of his adult life was spent abroad, Joyce’s fictional universe does not extend far beyond his native Dublin.

. ImageDubliners is a collection of 15 short stories and 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.  The country was at a crossroads of history and culture.  Ireland was jolted by converging ideas and influences.   They centre on Joyce’s idea of epiphany:  a moment where one experiences self-understanding or illumination.

The stories narrators progress through the ages of men.  The initial stories in the collection are narrated by child protagonists.  As the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people.   This is in line with Joyce’s tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.  Dubliners is fantastic literary inspiration.  As a result of reading it I took  better notice of my surroundings, of my own village.   Image

Joyce is undoubtedly a genius.  His writing is powerful, unassuming and devoid of judgment.   It can often be emotionally draining if you manage to get into them.  This can be a demanding task considering the colloquial language and the sparse, yet very representative plot lines.

It is inspiring to watch him lay out the intricacies of his characters through authentic dialogue.  It is fascinating how the protagonists age as the book progresses, so while the first story is from the point of view of a seven year old child, the final story is The Dead, his most famous short-story. Through these characters belonging to different backgrounds and age groups, he paints a realistic, stark picture of Dublin.   My favourite story was Eveline.  I could really imagine the onus of responsibility that changed her life.  I highly recommend this book.


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