Dubliners by James Joyce

I read Dubliners at the end of July but haven’t had a chance to post my thoughts on it until now as my 20 Books of Summer reviews had to take priority. This is not my first experience of James Joyce’s work as I have read one of his novels, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but that was about twenty years ago and I can remember very little of it now except a long and vivid description of the horrors of hell! Not being a fan of experimental writing, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake have never appealed at all, but Dubliners sounded much more accessible.

First published in 1914, this is a collection of fifteen short stories. Apparently they are arranged so that the first three are about children, the next few about young adults and the rest about older characters – although I didn’t notice this while I was reading and wasn’t aware of it until after I’d finished the book. Each story provides a snapshot of Dublin life in the early part of the 20th century and I found each one interesting for the insights it gave me into the people, society and culture of that time and place. However, they are not the sort of stories I personally prefer; I like them to have a beginning, middle and end, like a novel in shorter form, but many of the stories in Dubliners are more what I would describe as character sketches and others introduce ideas that are not fully developed, leaving the reader to decide for themselves what might happen next.

I’m not going to discuss all fifteen of them here and I don’t think I would have much to say about some of them anyway, but one I particularly liked was Eveline, about a young woman who made a promise to her dying mother to keep the family home together. Now she has fallen in love with a sailor who wants her to go with him to Buenos Aires and she must choose between keeping her promise and staying at home with her abusive father or seizing her own chance of happiness. I also enjoyed The Dead, the longest and most developed story in the book – almost a novella – in which a man makes an unexpected discovery about his wife at a Christmas party, while the snow falls outside. This has been described as one of the greatest stories in the English language and although I wouldn’t go that far myself, I did find it the most intriguing and satisfying story in this collection.

The other themes and topics Joyce includes in Dubliners range from religion, politics and Irish nationalism to poverty, loneliness and marriage. Together they paint a portrait of a city and its people, often bleak and miserable, but that’s how life would have been for some of these people, I suppose. Although most of the stories feel incomplete and leave a lot open to interpretation, I’m still glad I read them.

This is book 32/50 from my second Classics Club list.

18 thoughts on “Dubliners by James Joyce

  1. margaret21 says:

    Goodness, it’s years since I even thought of reading any James Joyce. Despite my resistance to reading challenges, maybe I should join in. I do neglect long established classics in the quest to keep up with more recently published material.

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Like you I read ‘Portrait’ many years ago but can’t remember much about it. ‘Dubliners’ might interest me (it seems pretty ‘accessible’ compared to his experimental stuff!) especially as my father’s side of the family are from the Wicklow region and several either hail from or lived in Dublin around that era.

  3. beckylindroos says:

    I’ve read all of Joyce some more than one time. But Finnegans Wake one time only! Dubliners at least 3 times. I studied that book for similarities in stores. (Windows are an important signifier – fwiw.). Yes, I think it is his most accessible and imo – it’s his best.

    I also enjoyed Evaline and The Dead. I could probably stand

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t notice the window symbolism. I would have to read the book again to look out for things like that, I think. I’m impressed that you’ve read Finnegans Wake even once!

  4. Jane says:

    I do like James Joyce, I agree that Dubliners gives a brilliant sketch of characters and place at the beginning of the century, I think a lot of them were based on people that he knew

  5. whatmeread says:

    I feel like I must have had to read this for my literature degree, but I think maybe I’m thinking of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man instead, because it doesn’t sound familiar.

  6. Lark says:

    I had to read several stories from the Dubliners when I was in high school, and I have to say, I did not appreciate them very much back then. (But then I didn’t like my teacher very much and he loved them, so that probably colored my opinion a little.) It would be interesting to reread some of them and see how I feel now.

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