James Joyce - Dubliners

2021-09-30 @Literature

I’ve read little over the last two months, in comparison to my earlier activity anyway. But a few specimens of fine world literature I did muster: a couple of page-turning Bernard Shaw plays, the re-read of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo after the not long-ago first successful iteration, and ultimately, the grand highlight: James Joyce’s Dubliners.

It’s mostly in the last couple of weeks, less characteristic of chaotic movement, more of stable nomadic existence (never mind the paradox), that I gathered some needed focus to read the bulk majority of the short stories comprising Joyce’s 1914 collection.

I actually prefer Dubliners to Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, despite the latter an arguably greater work. Perhaps I’ve simply become more accustomed to the short story format in the last two-three years (something of a rarity for me beforehand), or perhaps I didn’t feel as invested in Steven Daedalus - the Portrait protagonist, and his spiritual/artistic journey.

Dubliners, on the other hand, featured an array of stories concerning the minutiae in the lives of common, middle-class Irish folk circa early 20th-century Dublin.

Though likewise not heavily invested in many of the lives portrayed, most stories showed compactness and sufficient thematic variance. None demanded the endurance of an entire novel-length narrative: a narrative of Joyce’s prose - modernist, impeccably detailed, simply sensational, but nevertheless a notch too demanding for one not 100% invested in this class of literature.

I didn’t harness all the effort it deserved. Countless subtleties likely escaped my attention. But Joyce’s prosaic mastery kept me invested regardless, and not too terribly preoccupied with the rest.

Reading many of the sections, I thought to myself: pure poetry. Selected passages reminded me of Bulgakov’s prosaic technique (the Soviet-era modernist writer), though I couldn’t say the same of Portrait of an Artist, which employs more experimental writing.

Some of the stories are heavily dialogue oriented. Some I could easily conceive as a Shavian or Ibsenian drama with hardly any but a little structural reworking, all thanks to the superb detail.

Others emphasize heavy narration. Quiet often Joyce opts to transmits the very dialogue indirectly through narration. (There must exist a literary term to properly convey this approach.)

On other occasions we see a traditional dialogue exchange. Joyce’s rational behind these varied modes probably varies, though I could selectively identify hints of irony depending on his chosen method. Again, I couldn’t help but compare these subtle instances to Bulgakov.

Concerning humour, I could sense traces all over, though unable to necessarily assert: I lacked not only the fully invested effort, but also that certain historical connotation. And yet even the partial investment sufficed, for that’s how elevated you’ll find this class of writing.

The actual narratives, though working-class Dublin oriented, concern fairly universal issues: adulthood misadventures, unrequited love, family responsibilities, emotional crises, social conflict, disillusion, the recurring theme of Death, among others.

Yet as common to Joyce, the themes manifest themselves between the lines, through the subtle and seemingly innocent conveyances of narrative and dialogue.

You could ultimately appreciate Dubliners at multiple levels of superficiality, depending on your investment. And the stories definitely warrant multiple rereads, each offering the potential to tread new ground.

My personal favourites:

One of these years I’ll tackle the other supposed ‘modernist goldmine’, Ulysses.

Questions, comments? Connect.