Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners (Dover Thrift Editions)Title: Dubliners
Author: James Joyce
Pages: 152
Published: 1991 Dover Thrift (orig. 1914)
My Rating: 3 stars

I read Dubliners thinking that it would be a good intro to James Joyce: an introduction into his style without the hefty time commitment that must necessarily go along with reading Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake instead.

Now I’m not sure. I certainly don’t understand what all the hoopla is about. Why is this collection of short stories deemed by some as being among the best in the English language? I read the stories, pondered them, verified that I had no emotional connection or intellectual appreciation welling up inside me, and then got online to find a literary cheat sheet to inform me of what I had overseen.

I’m still at a loss. I reviewed the storylines: check, got all that. I carefully read through the analysis and themes: yep, caught all those. So what am I left with? A great big ? floating above my head.

One story (A Little Cloud) I did really enjoy, but for the most part I felt that the writing was either overly obscure or overly obvious. I didn’t see many shades of grey in the presentation of themes, (perhaps why I liked A Little Cloud, it was only a little cloudy and therefore a nice balance?) which were generally pretty easy to spot: poverty; isolation; corruption in politics, religion, and money. In fact, occasionally the themes were so blatant as to be tiring.

The Dead, the final story in Dubliners, and considered by many to be the definition of a good short story, left me thinking “…and?”  The climax wasn't climactic, the epiphany seemed neither ironically shallow or amazingly deep, it was just there.

The only thing I can conclude is that I simply don’t connect with James Joyce. Perhaps I don’t care about what he cares about in the way he cares about it. My ennui was not a matter of confusion, or a lack of comprehension. I’m simply not a fan. We look at the world in different ways.  At least it has provided me with little Ghosts-of Dublin-Past to keep me company when I visit there in the spring...history, half-way alive.


  1. It's been a few months since I read the first story. The book is still on my nightstand, but I haven't been motivated to get back to it. Soon...

  2. I haven't read any Joyce yet and don't really feel the urge to. Your review hasn't changed my mind!

  3. I haven't ever read any Joyce and I'm not sure I ever plan to, so kudos to you for giving him a try.

  4. Those who connect with Joyce have to connect with Dublin somehow. Apparently, if you know Dublin, it's awesome.

  5. JoAnn--the good news is that it is pretty quick reading. The stories aren't real long or complex. I think it's worth it just to find out.

    Sam--If you ever do get the urge, at least there is a quick option, right?

    Brenna--After having read Dubliners, I almost feel like it doesn't qualify as having read Joyce. It wasn't painful enough. :)

    Ben--maybe I'll like Joyce more after visiting Dublin in March? Or maybe I did the whole thing out of order and should have fallen in love with Dublin first. Oh well.

  6. I loved Dubliners. Eveline, A Little Cloud and The Dead are my favorites, the last of which is one of my favorite stories of all-time. The stories are certainly a great appetizer to the rest of his work. I suggest tackling A Portrait next. It's very approachable and a great work.

  7. You finished!! I'm glad you read The Dead, even if you didn't like it so much. The final sentence always gives me chills. But I can definitely understand why you weren't too excited about Dubliners. Joyce can be pretty obscure, which is irritating.

  8. Kenneth--if I ever find myself in a different way of looking at the world, perhaps I'll give Joyce another go. Thanks for letting me know where the next stop should be!

    IngridLola--you know, it was funny: while reading The Dead, I was really getting into it, it was building nicely, but somehow I anticipated the climax and expected more. I need to go back and re-read the last sentence now though. :)

  9. At least you can say you've read James Joyce which is more than I can say ;)

  10. Why, yes. Yes I can. And he'll stay on my shelf for that reason. :)

  11. I just taught a class on Dubliners this afternoon and students loved it (I'm in Ireland), although they didn't get everything. I guess it's very "Irish" in its themes and they really connect with the stories.
    I can't say I'm mad about it, but there are a few stories I really liked. If I'm courageous enough, I'll do a post once I've finished reading the last two stories.

  12. I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've finished all the stories. It sounds like my issue was indeed simply a matter of not connecting with the stories.


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