Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dubliners, to begin with...

Literary Blog HopWhat is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult?

I most definitely have an attitude problem when it comes to Difficult Literary Works.  I get really irritable when I feel like something has been written with the purpose of being inaccessible.  Rebellion rears its ugly head until Jane Austen's voice kicks in and the soothing, subtle, sarcasm calms me down: "I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible."  Yes, my "about me" blurb lurking on the side of my screen is a reminder to smooth down my hackles.  Is being unintelligible really the goal?  Are books only deemed amazing if thousand of scholar hours have been required to figure the thing out?

For the most part, I've been amazed at how approachable most classics and literary works really are.  Of course, that may be partly characteristic to the ones I've chosen to read.  I generally don't choose to read books that I think I'll hate.  Tolstoy, Austen, Bronte, Camus, and Bulgakov--to name a few--are all authors whose works can be appreciated on many levels and withstand rereading.

Dubliners (Everyman's Library (Cloth))The first story in Dubliners really struck me in this purposefully inaccessible manner (I've read 9 of the 15 stories) although I am happy to say my initial impression has begun to turn around.  Really, though, the first stories are pretty bland and boring and just don't say much to me.

I find myself irritated with Joyce.  I probably shouldn't be: I should probably sympathize with him for the stifling world he emerged from, and be moved by the horrid degeneration of the Catholic church and Dublin as a whole.  But he really just strikes me as a bitter, a glass-half-empty sort of person--and my patience starts to wear thin.  Here's the rundown of the first 9 stories:
  1. The Sisters--a boy's first experience with death and coming to terms with a "man of God".  This wasn't even a story really.  There were so many details missing that people who love subtle symbolism and detailed analysis would probably love it, filling in all those things Joyce purposefully left out, but I'm not one of those people.  Like reading Old English: not my cup of tea.
  2. An Encounter--some boys skip school looking for adventure, and instead are bored, and have An Encounter with a old man whom the boy comes to realize is a pervert.  What I gathered: Dublin is bleak and solitary.  Check.  That's why Joyce escaped.  Got it.
  3. Araby--a boy is filled with romantic ambition, but is humiliated when he realizes he was being way too fanciful.  After all his dreaming he cannot escape the fact that he is a poor Dubliner. Trapped.  Like Joyce was until he got away from that horrid place, right?
  4. Eveline--19 years old, Eveline plans to escape Dublin with a sailor, but at the last minute chickens out.  Dublin may be hell, but at least it's a hell she's familiar with, I guess.  Joyce was way braver than that.
  5. After the Race--A bunch of wealthy young men party too hard after an auto race.  No matter how they try, the Irish just can't compete with the rest of the world.  That's why you should move out of Dublin, I'm guessing, and become a leader instead of a follower.
  6. Two Gallants--Two aimless young men in Dublin consider the pursuit of women and drink.  Because that's all that one has a chance of accomplishing/acquiring in Dublin.  It's a bleak, poor place.
  7. The Boarding House --A girl starts an affair with a man living in her mother's boarding house.  The mother observes, then manipulates the man into a proposal.  It isn't about love, it's about getting what you want, stepping on someone else to get a little higher, even if the act of stepping and that smidgen of height leave you a little lower than the person you were stepping on.  This was the first story I enjoyed (although I felt a twinge of appreciation in Eveline) because I felt that there was at least a speck of humor in it.  It didn't leave me as totally bleak and depressing, regardless of Joyce's intentions (of which I can only surmise).
  8. A Little Cloud--(My favorite story so far) A newly married man is both excited and intimidated by the prospect of a visit of an old pal who had moved out of Dublin to London (I'm starting to think that this book can be boiled down to "Bad=Dublin, Good=Anywhere Else").  He starts to wish he had followed his dreams like his pal did, even though he is not impressed by who he's become.  I liked how this story took the "ideal/envy turns into reality/disappointment" idea further by bringing the main character back to his home and showing the next steps, which were cyclical back to the idealization.  I found it sad that the main character viewed escape from Dublin as the road to advancement, being totally blind to any changes he could make at home to improve his life.  So often we think we need a drastic change to make things right, when in reality there is often a simple adjustment that will make a huge difference.
  9. Counterparts--A vivid telling of a sad story.  A dull alcoholic exerts his power and anger in the only area of his life that he can: the helpless target of his young son.  This story follows Farrington through his work day and into the night where he meets up with friends to drink and socialize.  He ends up back at home quite late and rather angry.  The pleading of his young son while being beaten is where the story ends.  Well written? Yes.  But mostly just sad.  Yes, Farrington feels weak and trapped and isolated--a common strand throughout these stories--and yes, it is an unfortunate truth that some parents beat their children.  But...harumph.
If I'm really impressed by the end of the collection, perhaps I'll give the first stories another chance.  After all, many writers simply have a necessary phase of getting acquainted with the writing style before being able to really appreciate what is being read.  Where do you draw the line between difficult to read and simply not-my-style?

28 comments:

  1. Like you, I have found most classics to be more accessible than I had hoped.

    Some more modern "literary" books sometimes seem to have been written to be hard to read. I just could not get through Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' even though I wanted to.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Believe me when I say that, Joyce's Dubliners is the most approachable and enjoyable of his books. He's a dangerously smart man and sometimes it makes his novels a tad pedent. Dubliners is amazing though. He makes you want to go to Dublin.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Give yourself credit for even attempting to read James Joyce for leisure. There aren't many people on Earth who would dare do such a thing :D

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like this but struggled with Ulysses he was a complex writer ,think he paints the dublin of the time wonderfully and lot the events lin this like Ulysses can be traced to Joyces own life or the city at the time ,all the best stu

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree, inaccessible books can be no fun to read. I just came from Dead End Follies where another Joyce piece was mentioned as difficult literary fiction. I read a lot of stories in The Dubliners, and agree that it's inaccessible and difficult fiction to read, but I did enjoy them. I hope to some day muster up the courage to read Ulysses.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I feel like Joyce is going to come up a lot for this topic. I've personally avoided Joyce because of how difficult I hear it is. I want the stuff I read to be intelligent but I don't want to feel like I need a PhD to understand it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Joyce is hard, that's for sure. And his arrogance doesn't help. I have to say, though, that I really liked Dubliners. "Araby" was my favorite story of all. There was one line in there about a harp that struck me as incredibly beautiful. The last story, "The Dead" was incredible ... you should read that one and see what you think. I know I've commented on your blog about this before, but I can't remember what I said. Sorry if I've repeated myself.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sam--I haven't read any of Salman Rushie...interesting to find out that he's difficult to read. Piques my interest, actually.

    Ben--I have found Dubliners to fairly approachable and enjoyable...although it hasn't yet made me want to visit his Dublin. It's what I'm picking up about Joyce's personality in general that's bugging me.

    Teacher/Learner--Well, I've started with the least intimidating one of his, I believe. I figured this would give me a good idea of whether I'd ever want to try something else of his.

    Stu--It has been a good picture of Dublin at the time, and for that reason I do appreciate it. I just get the feeling he wrote with complexity for complexity's sake, which is not something I admire.

    ReplyDelete
  9. eatthebooks--see, I can't decide if I think he is simply a challenging/difficult read, or if his style and perspective just really aren't my taste. hmm.

    Red--Exactly. It seems to me that if you purport to write literature/fiction/whatever, than you should be making it at least minutely graspable--give a person a reason to read it for goodness sake! Dubliners is not so bad as that, though.

    IngridLola--I have heard that "The Dead" is incredible. I'm hoping it lives up to that. :) And like I've said, it's not necessarily the difficulty of the reading as much as the attitude of the author that is irritating me.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm slowly working my way through Dubliners now, but have only read the first story (The Sisters). I liked it, but have a nagging feeling this may be as far as I get with Joyce!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've never read any of Dubliners except Araby, which I loved. I'm disappointed to hear that the rest may not be as good! My husband insists that The Dead is one of the greatest short stories ever written. We shall see...

    ReplyDelete
  12. JoAnn--I found many of the other stories to be more enjoyable than The Sisters, so if you liked that one, you may end up really enjoying the collection as a whole.

    Olivia--I don't think it's necessarily true that the rest aren't as good as Araby...in fact I've liked others more than that one. I've heard The Dead is incredible. Like you said, we shall see... :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh, goodness. Now I'm more intimidated by Joyce. Awesome to hear Tolstoy is accesible though; I haven't tried him yet and was worried. :D

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have read a lot of classics in my school and college years. And some still remain my favorites. However, there are a few I could never get into..


    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Dubliners is a good choice. I tried to read it once and finally gave up after about 12 stories.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I agree with Sam I find some of the classics inaccesible,too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Read The Dead (last story in the collection). It has one of the most beautifully romantic love scenes I've ever read.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Jillian--I'm finding that Dubliners is a great way to get a taste of Joyce...then I can say I've read Joyce and feel like I need to read more, right? (btw, I think you'd enjoy War and Peace.)

    gautami tripathy--thanks for coming by! I'll be sure to check out your blog and hop post.

    Amanda--I'm now 11 out of 15 and will finish it this weekend. I'm hoping to find a few more stories I like, although as a whole it hasn't really been so great for me.

    ReplyDelete
  19. bookaddict4real--sometimes, when first starting a new classic, it's hard for me to tell if the author simply takes a little time to get used to. Also, with classics, watching the adaptation first can help a lot!

    2manybooks2littletime--romantic? interesting. I have heard so much about that story. I'll be reading it this weekend for sure, hopefully high expectations won't blow it for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. I love Joyce, love the way he plays with myth, with words,with peoples concept of what denotes a novel.
    Thanks, enjoyed your post.
    parrish.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've trying to get through Ulysses for several years now. Loved Dubliners when I read it. But he is arrogant and I think the lengths he goes to make his work difficult is perhaps not warranted. Quite an in depth response. Love it.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh yes, A Little Cloud is a really beautiful story! My favorite story in Dubliners is The Dead.

    ReplyDelete
  23. parrish lantern--while I can appreciate Joyce's contribution to the evolution of a novel, I'm glad that there are other people around to love him for all his quirks because I'm definitely not the man for the job!

    kinnareads--I'm appreciating Dubliners, and liking parts of it, but it's not really making me want to delve deeper into Joyce. I'll probably leave it to the people that enjoy deciphering his message. :)

    bibliophiliac--A Little Cloud made me catch my breath, I loved it. Just wish there was a higher ratio of breath-catching-stories! I'm looking forward to The Dead.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I just came across your blog --it looks great. This is one classic I should have read a long time ago:)

    ReplyDelete
  25. I was lucky enough to spend a week in Dublin in June. I took The Dubliners as my Dublin reading. I only managed to get through the first story. I didn't hate it, as I was expecting to (damning with faint praise, I'm aware), and I will probably try to read it again on my next trip to Dublin. I think this is the only Joyce that I could ever attempt. I've read a few of the blog hop posts on Finnegan's Wake and have been warned. I believe that Ulysses is beyond me as well. I think it's important as readers to be aware of what we are likely to hate and avoid them, although of course you can get the occasional nice surprise reading something that isn't predictably what you would ordinarily read, rather than confirmation that you were right from the start.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Diane--the good news is that it is short, and finishing it means you can say you've read Joyce. :) It actually isn't difficult to read, although I'm thinking that the more you want to get out of it, the more you'd have to put into it.

    Louise--I picked this up in the first place largely because I'm going to Dublin for the first time in March. Looking forward to it! Reading Dubliners doesn't make me want to pick up any other Joyce, though, and I'm fine with that. It's not horrible, I just haven't enjoyed it enough to be worth it. I will try almost anything that comes with a good recommendation, because I've been pleasantly surprised by some books I'd never have picked up on my own, but I think that you are right when you say that we as readers should know our limits/preferences.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Joyce is a popular choice, with good reason... but it's usually Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake which are cited as his most difficult works. To read your fresh perspective of his most known collection of stories is telling, particularly your thoughts on his personality. Glad to have found your blog and am now motivated to be an active participant in the hop...

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dan, thanks for coming by. Dubliners hasn't been difficult to read, but the hop gave me an excuse to talk arrogance in writing, which I have a difficult time with. I just finished the collection, so now I get to try to pull all of my thoughts together. :)

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!

There was an error in this gadget