Monday, October 17, 2011

# 12 - James Joyce - ''Dubliners''

It becomes a richer, nuanced thing when you read Dubliners as something other than a precursor to Ulysses. It's inevitable, of course. Dubliners is usually read before with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and/or Ulysses (daresay Finnegan’s Wake) and with that knowledge comes a kind of ease, as though we're reading apprentice stuff, straight prose without much thought, the work of a writer about to write something spectacular. But. Dubliners is a lot more than James Joyce's apprentiship work. There are parts that reach the pitch of Ulysses, that reach down into a character and pull up their life whole.
Much is made of the word Paralysis when discussing Dubliners. But to make one cloth of Dubliners misses the point completely. It is a book of variety, even if the variety of human desire, struggle, impotence, risk and despair on display is always flecked with frustration, there are is no less sprawl of city life in Dubliners as in Ulysses; the main difference really being one of compactness. We find many of the characters walk into Ulysses, and the transition is natural. These are the same people. But whereas in Ulysses a character has that fractal quality, in these short stories each character is solid. By this I mean Joyce gives them a fuller page to stretch out on, and the details of their life is declaratory, rather than suggested through anecdote, passing thoughts or subtexts. Take, for example, this opening line from 'A painful Case.'
‘’MR. JAMES DUFFY lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious.''
This sort of factual bring-in marks the difference between what we have here and what came later. And though opposites, neither one are exactly more or less authoritative than the other. I think the way we think of Dubliners now is tempered by the 'naturalism' and 'realism,' even the much later 'dirty realism' - as we tend to measure it with the same instruments. But consider, Dubliners was written in 1914 (it took nine years to actually get published.) The grit of the stories, the range of these private lives are as much a precursor to the street-level fiction that grew - largely in America - and was made into something else, and made famous, by the likes of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Richard Yates and before them, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck (I'm in no mood for long or comprehensive lists, but you get my drift) - and so it seems like the slower, quieter influence of Dubliners has as much claim as Ulysses does over the novel, over the short story.
These are obviously some passing thoughts, so I fished around for something that could serve anyone with a hungrier mind and found this site which is definitely worth the effort and makes a lot of what I say sound, stupid, and any form of authority I managed to simulate sound, stupid (per paraylsis).
Thanks to the people at the Gutenberg Project you can get a copy for free here.

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