James Joyce, Dubliners - e-book

(Re)Read from June 6th to 18th 2013

My rating: 4/5 stars


Joyce, you have to take him in small doses, carefully tasted and swallowed. Do not expect to like his universe, do not expect to lose yourself in some kind of trama bliss. You must never choose to be a first-level reader of his books (to use Umberto Eco‘s terminology), only a second –level one, that is, to look for how and not for what it is told. The epiphanies of his characters are all about dullness and hopelessness, about bleakly understanding their lives and resigning to their fate.

The greatest epiphany concerns Dublin, the main character of Joyce’s books. Stephen Dedalus' and Leopold Bloom's Dublin, “Dubliners”' and “Fineggan Wake”’s Dublin is a dead, grey city where nothing happens, and nevertheless this “nothing” leads to a trama of Homeric proportions, in which every insignificant character fights for his right to be exactly this: insignificant. For there is sometimes a quiet dignity in these existences meant only for the background, in their determination to ascertain that background is also important. And maybe that's why the book begins with a death and finishes with “The Dead”, to emphasize that the dead life they lead, with their lack of ambitions, dreams, that paralyze their actions and diminish their existence, is in fact life.  Life of options you never considered, life of all that could have been but never was, second-hand life that suffocates you and cannot be redeemed. Not important, not novel-material, not exceptional – only life.

Like Eveline’s life, whose hands grip the iron railing in a revealing gesture of all characters’ mentality, of their incapacity of changing, of their clinging to routine. Every one of them is Eveline coming back from the docks, every one of them lost somewhere, sometimes, his chance to become somebody.

And what keeps them prisoners, is the city, the small city where “everyone knows everyone else's business” (The Boarding House), from which you have to go away “if you wanted to succed” (A Little Cloud), which only in the night wears “the mask of a capital” (After the Race). But even when they have this epiphany: "I'm sick of my own country, sick of it!" (The Dead), they do nothing to evade it, forever trapped in a background that estompates their contours and refuses to give them the spotlight: “He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble, and yet a force pushed him downstairs step by step.” (The Boarding House)

No wonder the stories are about unfulfilment – fifteen sorts of it J, dealing with major themes as love, marriage, motherhood, career, politics, religion, but treated in minor keys. Thus, “Dubliners” begins with three young narrative voices that tell about dubious or disappointing experiences in their growing-up process – like the death of and the encounter with a potential child-molester, or a first, unrequited love, to continue in an omniscient voice the story of other, good or bad occasions that slipped away:  to love and to be loved (Eveline, A Painful Case), to be a good mother (The Boarding House, A Mother), to redeem oneself either by following one’s dream (A Little Cloud, After the Race) or changing one’s habits (Grace, Two Gallants, Counterparts), to follow the Irish dream (Ivy Day in the Committee Room).

The last story, The Dead, synthetizes this world in Gabriel Conroy’s image, whose apparently calm and settled life hides an angry resignation for missed occasions either in personal and social life.  The last image of the book is a burial of his soul and his world in the winter of the oblivion:

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

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Comments (1)

Comments on Goodreads.com
  • 1. Comments on Goodreads.com | Tuesday, 24 December 2013
lanalang Devo ancora terminarlo, ma questa tua review mi sembra perfetta!
Jun 19, 2013 08:21AM

Stela Calin Grazie, Lanalang! Non vedo l'ora di leggere le tue impressioni!
Jun 19, 2013 08:24AM

Arwen56 Great! :-)
Jun 19, 2013 08:51AM

Stela Calin Thank you sweetie, likewise!
Jun 19, 2013 08:52AM ·

Arwen56 Stela? Don't you think that "The Dead" is the only novella in which we can find a little hope? I refer to this sentence, in the final scene:

"The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward".

It sounds just like he finally wants to find a way out ... perhaps ...
Jun 19, 2013 09:06AM

Stela Calin Isn't it the sunset at the west? I don't know, the snow seems to cover so definitely all, levelling souls and buildings altogether...
Jun 19, 2013 09:48AM ·

Arwen56 Oh, yes, I know what you mean ... you think Joyce used this sentence in its negative meaning, that is if something "goes west", it is lost or demaged ... yes, it's most probable ...
Jun 19, 2013 09:59AM

Stela Calin Exactly! And anyway, I would have hated to see hope in the end! No hope in the real world for background people without some divine intervention!
Hi, hi I'm wicked and I like it!
Jun 19, 2013 10:10AM

Arwen56 :-))))))
Jun 19, 2013 10:31AM

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