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Dubliners, by James Joyce

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Dubliners, a collection of short stories, reads more like a series of photographs: each one is still and neatly framed, depicting someone in a limited, static situation from which escape from their constricted circumstances seems unlikely, if possible at all. Through each close-up we get a glimpse of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the twentieth century; it’s narrow streets, it’s dimly lit pubs, it’s struggling population trying to make better lives for themselves through marriage, through travel, through religion, through drink…

Joyce’s writing matches perfectly the scenes he’s dealing with. He uses very dense, hyper realistic language that is evocative and a bit tense. As with the nature of his characters, there is much restrained emotion held teasingly beyond the reach of the reader. At times, though, I felt a little stuck in the thickness of his writing, and the very slim collection took me quite some time to finish.

I appreciate the impression of Dublin that I got from this book, but ultimately, none of the stories really stuck out to me. They are definitely meant to be read together, so I don’t really mind that, in this instance, since that was part of the point–to construct a bigger picture out of parts. However, my lack of real identification any of the stories made reading the next one kind of a chore and I lost quite a bit of reading momentum towards the end of the collection.

Overall, my first experience with Joyce was a good one. But I can only imagine the ways in which the density of his writing, coupled with the stream of consciousness style of his longer works, might make them extremely difficult and tiring to read. I would still like to try Ulysses at some point, but I must admit to being a little wary of it now and am not in a huge rush to do so.

Written by Emily Jane

February 12, 2011 at 1:15 am

Posted in Short Stories

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12 Responses

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  1. I haven’t tried anything by Joyce in ages, Emily Jane, but your post brings back distant memories of some of my own reactions to him back in the way back when. Like you, I’m interested in reading Ulysses at some point without being in any hurry about it. I am planning on reading all of In Search of Lost Time this year, though!


    February 12, 2011 at 1:27 am

    • Great, Richard! I look forward to your reactions to In Search of Lost Time. Maybe we can do some sort of Ulysses read-a-long eventually, but ya know, not too soon, hahah 🙂

      Emily Jane

      February 12, 2011 at 1:35 am

  2. When y’all get ready for your Ulysses readalong, count me in – I’d love to read it again. I think there’s more there to identify with (the Blooms in particular), but also more technical challenges, obviously.

    I read Dubliners in college, but only remember “The Dead” clearly; that final line rings in my heart.


    February 12, 2011 at 2:18 am

    • Will do, Emily. It’s encouraging to hear that you enjoyed Ulysses enough to read it a second time! That line was pretty amazing, you’re right. It definitely struck me, and was the perfect ending to the last story in the book.

      Emily Jane

      February 12, 2011 at 2:52 am

  3. I liked Dubliners (especially The Dead – and yes, the ending is brilliant!), but the rest of Joyce gave me trouble. I keep telling myself I’ll try again, and yet I keep putting it off.


    February 12, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    • Yeah, I can understand that Nymeth. I want to try more, but not for a while.

      Emily Jane

      February 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm

  4. I read a few of these stories separately, which I know isn’t the ideal way of reading them, but I remained unmoved. I don’t care for short stories anyway, and these ones did nothing to make me want to read Joyce.


    February 13, 2011 at 2:42 am

    • I like short stories more and more, but yeah, these are a bit ineffectual on their own so I’m not surprised that they didn’t make you want to read more. To be fair, they really are better as a collection!

      Emily Jane

      February 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

  5. I enjoyed Dubliners thoroughly and should go back now and reread it. Mostly as a challenge to myself — especially after reading Homer’s Ulysses — I pushed myself through Joyce’s Ulysses. Here’s my post on getting started


    February 14, 2011 at 1:21 am

    • Oh, great! Thanks for the link, I can’t wait to take a look!

      Emily Jane

      February 14, 2011 at 3:38 am

  6. I read Ulysses last year (still struggling with the spelling!) but did it as part of a read-a-long. I would not have liked to go it alone!

    Like your take on the Dubliners; and am encouraged to give it a go. I can see how I might enjoy Joyce more in smaller doses…


    February 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

  7. No, I can’t imagine reading Ulysses alone either. If you liked Ulysses though I bet you’d like his shorter stuff, too. Go for it!

    Emily Jane

    March 1, 2011 at 7:53 pm

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