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Likely Stories: Dubliners

Jim McKeown
Dubliners by James Joyce

James Joyce demonstrates his poetic and wonderful voice in this collection of short stories.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

February 2, 2015 was James Joyce’s 132nd birthday.  He is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  His masterpiece, Ulysses, often finds itself at or very near the top of lists of the greatest novel ever -- despite the attacks on Joyce for, what some called salacious events in the novel.  He published a collection of 15 short stories in 1914.  The stories are loosely connected, since they detail stages in the lives of the citizens of his birth place.  “The Dead,” added shortly before publication, is a wonderful tale of love lost and love misunderstood.  John Huston died during post-production of an exquisite film based on the story.  His daughter Angelica portrayed Greta, one of the principle characters.

Joyce is notable for his meticulous attention to detail and breathtaking prose.  My favorite story is “Araby,” a touching tale of an unnamed young boy’s first crush and his attempt to impress her.  She is 16, and is only known as “Mangan’s sister.”  The boy, about 14, is obsessed with her.  Here is a sample of some of the wonderful prose Joyce created.  “I had never spoken to her except for a few casual words and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood” (21).

In the beginning. the young boy plays with his friends.  “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed” (21).  He helps his aunt on a shopping trip by carrying some parcels, while fantasizing about heroic deeds.  “I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes” (22).  Finally, he does speak with her about a carnival coming to Dublin.  The boy confidently says, “If I go … I will bring you something” (23).  His quest to “rescue” the damsel now has a focus.  Joyce writes, “I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that is stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play” (23).  He must wait for his uncle to come home from the pub for the money to ride a train and gain entrance to the magical bazaar – Araby.  He finally arrives late, but gives the boy 2 shillings.  By the time he arrives at the entrance, he has spent most of his money, and he only has 8 pence left.  He finds the stalls only carry trinkets he cannot afford.  The story closes with another great line.  Sensing failure in his first venture into adulthood, Joyce writes, “Gazing up into the darkness, I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity: and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (26).

But my absolute favorite line occurs early in the story when the boy daydreams about his love.  “I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration.  But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (22).  Wow.  I get chills every time I read that great sentence.

Dubliners, by James Joyce, is a marvelous introduction to this great Irish author.  Take a look at the collection, and re-imagine Dublin at the turn of the century.  These stories are worth reading over and over.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!