Dubliners

Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories by the modernist Irish writer James Joyce, concerning everyday events in the primarily lower-middle class life of Dublin. The stories move through tales of childhood, adolescence, adulthood and public life, tracing the routines, desires, inadequacies and delusions of the city’s inhabitants. ‘My intention’, wrote Joyce, ‘was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis’.

As the critic Katherine Mullin has written, ‘these are stories of frustrations great and small, of illusions lost, of deep loneliness, of fractured marriages, of lives of ‘commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness’. They are peopled with a cast of destitute conmen, failed artists, timid spinsters, bullied shop girls, misanthropic celibates, and belligerent, lonely drunks. These are stories of desperate lives lived on the margins; the lives Joyce knew’.

The collection’s complicated publication history – a ‘fiasco’ according to Joyce – began with the author sending 12 stories to the publisher Grant Richards on 3 December 1905. Richards initially agreed to publish but in 1906 he and his printer objected to elements of the book; including the use of the word ‘bloody’ in the story ‘Two Gallants’, the suggestions of sado-masochism in ‘An Encounter’, and references to King Edward VII in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’.

In letters to Richards in 1906, Joyce condemned the censorship laws in England and defended the tone of his stories by stating that he was merely an artist presenting unaltered ‘what he has seen or heard’. Finally, after the poet Ezra Pound had arranged for the serial publication of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in The Egoist magazine, Richards published the book in 1914.

The last and longest story, ‘The Dead’, was written in 1907 and is often described as ‘the finest short story in English’. In it, journalist Gabriel Conroy takes his wife Gretta to his Aunts’ annual Epiphany Night party. Back at the hotel that night, Gretta reminisces about a boy she had known, who had died broken hearted. As Gabriel thinks about his wife’s past life and his own future, the image of falling snow carries the reader across Ireland to the ‘Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves’. It is one of the most famous passages in the English language. ‘The Dead’ is both a meditation on the petty underlying frustrations of urban life, as well as a poignant depiction of our relationships and responsibilities to each other, of memory and the politics of nationalism, our connection to the land, its past, our place in it, and the language we use to describe it.

Creator:
James Joyce
Published:
1914
Forms:
Prose

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