James Joyce: Dubliners

No one has ever remarked on it, but I personally find it strange that a site called The Mookse and the Gripes has not one James Joyce title under review. Well, truth be told, the first title I wrote about here was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. That post was up for only a couple of hours because it didn’t quite fit in with what I was trying to do with The Mookse and the Gripes. My intent back in 2008 was to revisit the book again and write on it anew. I didn’t think it would take long because I used to reread Portrait once a year, but I haven’t read it since! I also used to read Dubliners yearly, but it’s now been eight years of neglect.

Well, I’ve been spurred into action: Dubliners turned 100 years old on June 15, and to celebrate Penguin issued this gorgeous centennial edition in their Penguin Deluxe Series with the cover illustration by Roman Muradov.

Review copy courtesy of Penguin Classics.

Review copy courtesy of Penguin Classics.

Dubliners is supreme. I feel Penguin hedges a bit when they say, “Perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language.” Is there doubt that it’s the greatest? Of course, there are many other tremendous collections I’d put on the same tier (look at William Trevor and Alice Munro), and I’m grateful for them all. Truly, the work of each of these authors has fundamentally changed my life. Still, I have a soft spot for Dubliners because it was the first. I still remember my first experience reading it. I could actually recognize that fundamental change in myself as it occurred.

Though it was published on June 15, 1914, Joyce first submitted it (without “The Dead”) in 1905, when he was only 23 years old. In 1907, only 25 years old, he finished “The Dead” and still no publisher wanted to take it on. This edition’s introduction, by Terence Brown, who also edited the volume and wrote the nearly 70 pages of notes, briefly goes through the laborious quest for publication. The bottom line was that publishers were frightened of what they were reading and frightened of what would happen if they had their names attached to the published edition. The stories were too familiar (in some cases so familiar the publishers feared they might instigate a law suit for libel). Fortunately, it was eventually published, and we can revel in Joyce’s presentation of the inhabitants of this “defeated city.”

This edition also includes an interesting, poetic foreword by Colum McCann: “[. . .] it sold just a few hundred copies. All that craftsmanship for so much silence. One can imagine Joyce, walking along a canal in Trieste, turning a corner into a shadow, a shade.” I was surprised to learn that Dubliners was not a staple in McCann’s childhood in 1970s Dublin. He finally read the collection in college, in his mid-twenties, in Texas. Despite that, McCann’s introduction also shows just how Dubliners has enmeshed itself in our literary heritage. Now you can’t walk across Dublin without some reminder of James Joyce.

But as much as I enjoyed McCann’s foreword, the real supplementary meat of this volume is Brown’s 35-page introduction, only a bit of which is used to go over Joyce’s publication troubles. Part biography, part literary analysis, this is the best introduction to Dubliners I’ve read. It’s not new (the copyright is 1992), but it’s easy to see why Penguin didn’t discard it and go with something else for 2014. This volume is lovely, inside and out.

I don’t know how long it will take (those following my trek through Sherwood Anderson and Alice Munro know that I stall . . . sometimes for long periods), but I’m taking this centenary as a needed push to get back to my old habits. I’m going to be posting on each story, and I’d love for you to join me. The first post on “The Sisters” is due to go up on June 25.

As the posts pop up, links will be added to this table of contents:

  • The Sisters
  • An Encounter
  • Araby
  • Eveline
  • After the Race
  • Two Gallants
  • The Boarding House
  • A Little Cloud
  • Counterparts
  • Clay
  • A Painful Case
  • Ivy Day in the Committee Room
  • A Mother
  • Grace
  • The Dead

7 thoughts on “James Joyce: Dubliners

  1. sshaver says:

    “All that craftsmanship for so much silence.”

    Heartbreaking.

  2. Yes, though from beyond he has definitely been given satisfaction!

  3. Betsy says:

    Way to go, Trevor. This is going to be good. And then, after that , “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. Great having all this in the air, all this to look forward to.

  4. Lee Monks says:

    Indeed. And then how about a Finnegan’s Wake review….?

    (On a pointlessly contentious note: as great as it is, is it really the greatest story collection in the English language? I think Flannery O’Connor, Cheever and Carver are at least as good, Gardam and Trevor aren’t too shabby and Dear Life is spectacular. Maybe you could set up a ‘Top ten’…)

  5. Carol says:

    The Dubliners is unparelled. The Dead is the greatest short story of all times. The Boarding House is unforgettable…’Mrs. Mooney was a butcher’s daughter…’. I do love William Trevor as well and Edna O’Brien. I am looking forward to this series.

  6. Looking forward to this series of posts. It has been quite a while since I read Dubliners in full and I may try to follow your reading here and even post on the stories if I can get the time. There are few other books as central to my reading as this. indeed, in a lazy shortcut I posted a college essay which I had kept for twenty five years plus so that I would have something up on it. My intentions to post on the short stories I read have not gone as well as with novels.

  7. I read Dubliners again myself recently, and was very impressed by it (http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/dubliners-by-james-joyce/). I saw it in part as a study in paralysis. I’m not sure I agree with greatest collection ever, but then I find the idea that there could be a greatest collection, or any form of top ten really, slightly silly. I agree instead with what you go on to say Trevor, that it has collections that are its peers, at that level though I wouldn’t seek to rank them.

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