One of the biggest gaps in my reading has been James Joyce. I tried to read Ulysses some years ago, but I didn’t get past the first chapter—not because of difficulty but because of interest. I picked up Dubliners mainly because I’m teaching AP Literature for the first time, and the short story that closes this collection, “The Dead,” is a perennial AP text.
I spent about two weeks studying that final short story and decided to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing. Dubliners is a collection of stories, or more accurately, a portrait of Dublin. It reminds me almost of a really large painting with several scenes. If you zero in on one scene, here is a story about what you are looking at. Perhaps this idea of mine is influenced by Roman Muradov’s cover design, which includes a pastiche of scenes from the stories. Here is a link to Muradov’s website, where you can see the artwork. I’m really in love with his design for the cover, which is why I bought this particular edition, but the unexpected (and truly valuable) bonus is that this edition has really excellent endnotes, and if you are new to Joyce, I can’t recommend this edition more highly. The notes explain everything from historical references to slang to geographical details. They really are superb.
In the collection, my favorite story by far is “The Dead.” There are so many layers to that story that I feel that I could read it over and over and find new things in it all the time. What a phenomenally gorgeous and perfect short story. Of the others, I also enjoyed “Clay,” “Counterparts” (which had a sad ending), and interestingly enough (because not much happens) “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” I loved the way Joyce captures the speech of his characters. He is particularly adept at dialogue, but the entire collection shines with brilliant writing. I’m trying not to be depressed by how young Joyce was when he wrote it.
I didn’t enjoy every story in the collection, but I can say the same for every short story collection I’ve ever read. The whole collection hangs together much better than other short story collections I’ve read. For the fact of inclusion of “The Dead” and the coherence of the collection alone, five full stars.
Joyce said, “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.”
At least as far as this collection goes, very true words.