Sunday 1 May 2016

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners by James Joyce was my selected book for the latest Classics Club #CCSpin.

This was my first attempt at reading Joyce, who I felt somewhat nervous about tackling, so I felt fortunate that my first would be a slim volume of short stories.

Over the years I have read quite a bit of Irish literature.

From the glorious short stories of William Trevor to Anne Enright and Colm Toibin's painful stories about growing up in Irish families.

I also read Frank McCourt's desperate coming of age memoir, Angela's Ashes when it first came out.

Furthermore thanks to writers like Roddy Doyle, Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald I appreciate that the Irish seem to have this weird love/hate thing going on with misery, bleakness and grinding poverty.

All this is to let you know that I knew what to expect from Joyce as far as godforsaken, woeful Irish stories goes. Joyce even declared it as his intent in the afterword written by J.I.M. Stewart in the back of my copy of Dubliners -

My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country...I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness.
Joyce was very successful in realising his intent!

I have no problem with stories that highlight the miserable existence of the human experience. I don't need everything to be rosy and positive and uplifting. But right now, misery stories are not working for me no matter how wonderfully well they are written.

And so I struggled my way through Dubliners.

I felt completely weighed down by words and phrases like -

mourning mood
agitated and pained
melancholy (Joyce's favourite word in this collection)
note of menace
dull resentment
tears of remorse started to his eyes
full of smouldering anger and revengefulness
coloured with shame and vexation and disappointment
he was outcast from life's feast

It was relentless and hopeless and just so joyless. Even the elegantly wrought sentences were tinged with such sadness and despair that it made me wonder how on earth the Irish continue on with anything at all!

Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself into my bosom.

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her.

Writing appreciation 5/5 but personal enjoyment only 3/5.

How did you go with your CC Spin book?

My previous spins were - 

#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat @Tell Me A Story.

#2 Tess of the D'Urbervilles with JoAnn @Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

#3 My Cousin Rachel.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov with Bree who also read a Dostoyevsky novel for this spin. I gave up on this chunkster about halfway through, then I lost the bok during our move earlier in the year...serendipity, I say!

#5 The Odyssey with Plethora of Books. This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but struggled to finish. I added it to my list to motivate me to finish it. When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!

#6 No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

#7 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Booker Talk - my first classic non-fiction spin.

#8 Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh has been my one and only dud Spin read so far.

#9 The Great World by David Malouf my first Australian classic spin.

#10 A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.

#11 So Big by Edna Ferber with Christy where we both experienced the joy of rediscovering a forgotten award winning classic.

#12 Dubliners by James Joyce.


  1. I've been meaning to revisit this - my first attempt was not unlike yours - I admired it, but it weighs heavily rather! Three stars from me too. My favourite James Joyce so far is Stephen Hero, his first draft of Portrait of the Artist.

    1. Glad to know I'm not alone :-)

  2. I remember appreciating Dubliners when I read it early on in college, but then my senior seminar was on Irish drama and I haven't read much Irish lit since then...or at least I have not sought it out for the very reasons you discuss in this wonderful post.

    1. Hmmmm appreciation versus reading enjoyment.

      I've been pondering this a bit lately as I'm finding myself avoiding reading and watching disturbing, dark tales, esp ones that focus on the baseness of human behaviour with very little or no redeeming elements.

      And I think that's what I found with the Dubliners is that there was so little hope. Misery, grinding poverty, abuse, joylessness can have their place but I need to now that we can survive this and find a better way forward. I need my stories to give me not just acceptance of our lot but the possibility of change.

      I'm also struggling with the current season of The Walking Dead. When it was about humans trying to overcome the horrors of the walkers, i was there, But now that's it about one ghastly human community after another trying to annihilate each other, I've lost interest. I don't want to watch a show that shows humans at their worst, lost to all kindness and goodness. If that's the best we can do in a apocalyptic scenario, then I hope I'm one of the first to go!

      Rant over :-)

  3. Still, it was brave of you to try Joyce! You have done all the spins! Good for you!

  4. I've tried to read this in the past and Ulysses but gave up! Well done for struggling through. My Spin book is The Mill on the Floss, which I did finish - the first spin book I've read for a while now.

    1. Congrats on finishing your spin book. I think I read MOTF in my twenties, but can't remember much about it now.

      Ulysses is on my CC list, but I suspect I will never get to it....

  5. Good job tackling Joyce. Sorry you didn't enjoy it more. Sounds very depressing and sad stories aren't really doing it for mr lately too. I didn't finish my spin book (Little Dorrit, by Dickens), but I will!

    1. It's always a committment to get through a Dickens in the CCspin time frame - he can't be rushed and there are always so many characters to keep track of in the early stages!

    2. So many characters! I've already had to use the internet to remind myself who certain people are.

  6. I've decided I am no good at reading stream of consciousness books so I will skip this one. I have enough famous classics which I haven't read. Thanks for this good review!

    I read Age of Innocence and liked it.

    1. That's where The Voyage Out was easy - it wasn't stream of consciousness! Or if it was, it was very, very early days of - more like a bit a ramble through the woods :-)

      Age of Innocence is one of my favourite books - I'll check out your review over the w/e.

  7. I'm impressed that you were willing to tackle Joyce at all! Isn't it odd when you find a book that you can appreciate as a brilliant work, but you don't actually enjoy it because it's too depressing? Good for you, though, for pushing through that and writing an insightful review about it! I hope your current read is a bit more uplifting :)

    1. Thanks for the support.
      Curiously, though, I'm now reading another very sad, very tragic story (LaRose by Louise Endrich) ! But I'm loving it in a very sad, very tragic kind of way.


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