James Joyce – Dubliners

James Joyce didn’t write many novels, but about all he wrote has become well known. I will not elaborate on that part. Dubliners (1914) is one of his earlier works and not a novel either, but a story collection. As the title tells, it’s about the inhabitants of Dublin.

There is no clear period given for when events have taken place, but one can say it’s between 1890 and 1900. It’s a bit much to name the events in the stories as such. I thought Dubliners to be a bit unusual. The book starts with a number of very short stories. So short they can hardly be called stories. I would prefer to name them fragments. There is hardly a beginning or an end, just enough so one can speak of closure. Gradually the stories become a bit longer and thus get a bit more fleshed out until the last few stories which feel more complete. The fragmentary stories have a strange effect. Even if they are short, they are clearly styled and purposeful. I have read other works by James Joyce and even if it has been a while, I recognize his strong hand. I sometimes call it the smell of literature. Some writers have that strength in their prose that within a few sentences you recognize that the words have been chosen carefully to shape the intent of the story.

The style of writing remains fairly constant throughout the story. They carry a similar atmosphere. The mood of the stories vary but overall there is a dark feeling to it, like something depressing. Even in stories where the mood is jollier and more casual this feeling of, I could best call it “doom”, keeps looming around. Some stories are quite negative and dark, or sometimes just tragic.  The Dubliners are in general not very happy. That the stories aren’t long allows moments to recover oneself. Every story starts afresh, taking time before heading to the downturn.

Dubliners is however not a depressing book. There are plenty of interesting elements, giving one a view of those times. Two themes dominate throughout several stories.

The first is Irish nationalism versus English dominance. One who has read about the history of Ireland will know that this was the dawn before Ireland regained independence from the United Kingdom. There is a clear patriotism among a number of characters aiming to revive Celtic culture and denounce everything English. On the other hand there are those who profit from the dominance, seeing this as something to improve their lives.

The second theme is religion. Catholicism plays a role in many stories and in some cases also Protestantism. In that sence it’s again the Irish versus English theme. Catholicism has a strong impact on the daily lives and although there is light criticism, it is always followed by piety. One could see such as Catholicism sets them apart from the English, so upholding that would help them to have a certain extent of independence.

The stories cover many parts of the society of that time, although it revolves mainly around the middle class. Normal people who live unremarkable lives. The longer stories are able to deliver a stronger message. As more things were taking place it allowed me to get more into them. The shortest stories kept a distance because they ended quickly.

Would a set of longer stories worked better instead of short ones or the other way around? It is impossible to tell. The change in length create their own effect. The final and longest story provides a good closure. The way it was set up forced me to take a break after each story. Sometimes I read two, but never more in a row. Thus it sort of forced me to take some time and think about what I had read. I would call that well crafted.

Is Dubliners a great book? I do not think so, but it surely is an interesting read from which each reader can find their own insights.

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