Dubliners (Oxford World's Classics) by Joyce, James ( 2008 ) Paperback
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Used item in good condition. In Stock. Used books may not include companion materials, may have some shelf wear, may contain highlighting/notes, may not include CDs. Will be shipped from UK. Excellent Customer Service.
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The sum of the collection is greater than its individual parts, however, so that even the shorter character sketches add something to the reader's understanding of Dublin and its citizens. Despite the wide range of class and circumstance Joyce addresses, each one has a sense of total authenticity, of a deep understanding of how this society intermixes. There is a common theme running throughout, of people trapped, either by circumstance or because of decisions they have made, and many of the stories focus on a moment in the central characters' lives when they become aware of their trap. Drunkenness, violence and the stifling stranglehold of the Catholic church all play their part in showing a society where aspiration is a rare commodity, usually thwarted. I understand some of the stories were considered shocking at the time for their language and sexual content. Given the relative mildness of them to modern eyes, this fact in itself casts another light on how socially restricted the society was at the time of writing.
The prose is somewhat understated, with Joyce relying more on the penetrating examination of character rather than any flamboyancy of language or stylistic quirks, and that works well for me. He achieves a depth of characterisation with few words, acknowledging his reader's ability to interpret and understand without the need to have everything spelled out. Just occasionally, this left me floundering a little in the couple of stories where he is addressing contemporary Irish politics or mores, but I accept that's my weakness rather than his. In the stories where he is addressing more fundamental aspects of human nature, I appreciated his rather sparing style greatly.
Overall, I found the fully developed stories excellent, while the ones that are primarily character sketches are interesting if not wholly satisfying. However, as a collection, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, the weaker parts being more than compensated for by the stronger.
It is not what I expected. In one story Joyce describes how as children they played Cowboys and Indians - with Joyce a somewhat ineffectual Indian. 'An Encounter' describes how as children they met but managed to ignore an old pervert. Another describes a diffident man forced to marry a pregnant girl. 'Two Gallants' describes two men on a pub crawl, one of whom was apparently successful with girls at the drop of his hat, to the envy of the other - though his actual 'success' was tawdry.
Perhaps surprisingly, Joyce also shows a sense of humour. "A Mother" is a masterpiece in avoiding responsibility - it would be a great script for something like the TV show "The Office". Here Mrs Kearney "respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed" - well, this was in the days before privatisation! Drink, pubs, curates and religions abound. In 'Grace' Mr Cunningham explains "...that one of Pope Leo's poems was on the invention of photography - in Latin, of course".
These snippets of Dubliners' lives are far from rosy. Life just goes on, rather pointlessly it seems. You are left wondering what inner worlds these people inhabited.
But what struck me personally were the parallels between the events Joyce describes and some my own past experiences - so for me these accounts have an uncanny power.
Many of these stories, set in Dublin, deal with poverty and social inertia in the early twentieth century; the social inertia and some of the causes for it is illustrated especially in 'The Boarding House' and 'Eveline'. Some deal with the way people use each other, again driven by inertia and desperation as in 'Two Gallants' or just out of greed as in 'After the Race'. There is both the unlovely face of humanity such as the man in 'An Encounter', and nostalgia in 'The Dead'. All is related in rich detail peppered with vernacular, Joyce showing an intimate knowledge of Dublin at the time even though by the time 'Dubliners' was written he no longer lived there. As social commentary on a certain time and place from a certain perspective, 'Dubliners' has passed into classical literature with it's mixture of bleakness and nostalgia for a time of depression in Ireland's history.
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