Book rewind: Dubliners by James Joyce (1914) - life in a middle-class way
by James Joyce
Irish writer and scholar Declan Kiberd said of James Joyce: "Many of the great modern writers, from Conrad to Sartre, saw theirs as a literature of extreme situations, but Joyce was exceptional among them in cleaving to the quotidian, the great middle range of experience between exaltation and tenor."
Joyce earned his reputation as one of the most prolific Irish writers of all time not only through his penetrating portrayals of the everyday, but more specifically through his raw and realistic renderings of his home country.
Written at the height of Irish nationalism, Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories that provide intimate glimpses into the characters of Dubliners and middle-class Irish life during the early 20th century. By the time the stories were first published in 1914, Joyce had repeatedly sent them to dozens of publishers; for decades afterwards, they have been adapted for film, TV and radio.
For Joyce, there is virtually no fiction without Ireland. His experiences and perceptions of his home country are the subject matter of much of his work - in Dubliners, but also in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (a depiction of growing up in Catholic Ireland) and Ulysses (the tale of a day in the life of Dublin).
His writing in this collection - simple and detailed - makes Ireland tangible and realistic. Through everyday nuances, geographic details of Dublin, and the innermost thoughts and feelings of his varied characters, Joyce presents universal themes, spanning the lives of mothers, students, alcoholics, politicians, schoolboys and couples.
Although the events themselves appear fairly ordinary - a party in The Dead, a meeting with a friend in A Little Cloud - something significant happens to a character in each story. And at the end comes an epiphany; the characters realise something potentially life-changing about themselves or their world.
The stories in Dubliners represent a slower life change, too, mirroring the progression from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Children initially narrate the tales, progressing to older protagonists. Instead of happy endings, Joyce shows a world of the ordinary and habitual, one in which the characters must come to their own conclusions.
What's more, Dubliners is not just a collection of stories. Every tale is a vehement and unifying portrayal of Ireland and the Irish experience.