For all 20th Century Lit lovers, Dubliners is probably on your list of the ultimate. It is mine, at least. I actually listened to the audio book version of Dubliners and then found a used paperback copy at the Matter Book Store in Fort Collins. The audio version is wonderful – the readers embody the stories and make the literary experience truly dramatic.

Dubliners was published in 1914 in London. Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882 to a large family riddled by poverty. Joyce lived in London, Trieste, Paris and Zurich, where he died in 1941. His well known works include Chamber Music (poetry), Finnegan’s Wake, and Ulysses.

With Dubliners, I was drawn in to Joyce’s writing style, character development, use of realism in these short and stark stories. He paints the reader a picture of all the human elements most difficult to embrace: misery, loneliness, lost love, lost time, lost youth, and general degradations of humanity. These are not uplifting stories. And yet, I couldn’t get enough. I was not feeling particularly bleak or depressed, but filled with a greater sense of understanding of the human dilemma. I suppose the story that most embodies that for me, was “Evaline” where the story starts at….

“She sat at her window watching the evening invade the avenue.”

Does not that very first sentence evoke the story to be told? “Evening invade the avenue” – that is a pessimistic realist statement, if anything!  Joyce is a masterful storyteller. With only a few pages for each short story, he leaves the reader with more to ponder than most 400 page novels. “Evaline” especially so. She ultimately can’t break free from the chains of her responsibility to family over an opportunity to marry her lover. To hear this story read aloud, or read it aloud yourself, the desolation and desperation will impart a philosophical sadness that will stay in your mind for a long time. It did for me.

Other stories within Dubliners had similar effects and the reader is given a thesis on life through Joyce’s eyes. What does that mean?  Joyce was sensitive and had an amazing observer of people in and out of his life.

Another story to read and reread was “Two Gallants” with characters who share their pain and embarassment of not living up to personal standards in career, money, and relationships. Even as Lenehan simply walks by a cafe pondering his life, Joyce creates a moving-picture of Lenehan: observing the cafe with its ginger beer, and a “very light plum pudding.” Joyce delivers the story further with Lenehan walking in the cafe to order that ginger beer and plate of peas, and all with that simplicity, but yet with an unstated portrayal of Lenehan’s loneliness and akwardness. What a wonderful creativity with words and emotions Joyce had!

Every story is worth reading twice or more. It takes that many times really to get a sense of Joyce’s writing and what he is saying. This also makes for a perfect historical study of Europe and Ireland at the time to present.

I am planning to read more of James Joyce in 2008-09, probably starting with Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake. I’d also like to read his book of poetry, Chamber Music.

Superb! Happy Reading, or not so happy as in this case, but rather, Enjoy Reading!
~Sarah

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