Man Ray Joyce


[Dubliners|A Portrait|Ulysses|Finnegans Wake]



Modern Library, 1993, ISBN 0-679-60049-3; Hardcover $14.95. [Browse/Purchase]

“My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to be the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under its four aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written in for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness....”

A collection of short stories published in 1907, Dubliners revolves around the everyday lives of men, women and children in the Irish capital of Dublin during the late Victorian era. Generally unhappy tales, they form a chronicle of lost innocence, eroding faith, missed opportunities, subtle hypocrisies, devastating ironies, and paralysis – always moral and intellectual paralysis.
Frequently named as the best short stories of the twentieth century, the stories of Dubliners are told in a pared-down language and using a minimal palette of words, images, and emotions; what Joyce described as “a style of scrupulous meanness.” Although the narrative represents Joyce at his most accessible, the stories contain no real plot to speak of, little action, and certainly no climax or resolution of a typical sort – aspects which shocked and baffled many of his contemporaries. (And occasionally disappoint modern newcomers as well!) Joyce balances his stories upon the thematic fulcrum of the “epiphany,” an idea he developed when he was writing Stephen Hero, a rough draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As described by Joyce, an epiphany is “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or gesture, or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself,” and they “are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” Each of the stories ends upon one of these epiphanies, a moment when all its themes find sudden convergence, and through a character’s thoughts, words, or actions, the reader is gripped by a quiet moment of realization – a second where one perfectly glimpses a facet of the human heart, for good or ill. To an attentive reader, the epiphanies have an almost physical effect, a palpable shift in consciousness as the mind undergoes a subtle rearrangement in perspective. The effect is something like walking slowly away from an impressionist painting, the soft colors and muted brushtrokes suddenly coming together to reveal the complete picture. Vanity, shame, self-loathing, disillusionment, frustration, and regret are some of the principle states of emotion brought into such focus; but there are also moments of peace, joy, and bittersweet nostalgia, and a few touches of fragile beauty as well. It is impossible not to see aspects of yourself in Dubliners’ epiphanies, each story a dark mirror reflecting the soul’s most oblique corners. As Joyce has said, “Dubliners is about how we are everywhere – it’s the experience of modern urban life.”
Although each story may certainly stand alone, taken as a whole they form a powerful mosaic crafted from the tiles of disillusionment and paralysis, and their sequence has been carefully planned. Of all the stories, the final one – “The Dead” – gets the most attention. Concerning an intellectual but frustrated writer named Gabriel Conroy, the story takes place during a single evening, a wintry night when Gabriel discovers that a dead lover haunts his wife’s past. Concluding with one of the most famous passages in English literature, “The Dead” is often read as a separate work; and while it remains quite powerful even divorced from its companions, its impact is greatly intensified when absorbed as the capstone of the collection. Indeed, in many ways it acts as Dubliners’ crowning epiphany.

Advice for the First-Time Reader
Upon reading Dubliners for the first time, I strongly recommend learning a little bit about Irish history, particularly Anglo-Irish relations during the late Victorian period. Joyce makes many references to the events outside his characters’ lives, particularly Irish politics, religion, and music, and a basic understanding of these subjects can be very rewarding. Especially important is Charles Stewart Parnell, an Irish MP who devoted himself to land reform, working at odds with the British until his adulterous fall from grace. The “betrayal of Parnell” is a theme that appears in all of Joyce’s works, and can often serve as a key to understanding his characters’ motivating psychology. Many of Joyce’s characters are partially defined by their reaction to Parnell, ironically or otherwise, and the narrative often invests him with an almost mythical resonance. (This comes to a peak in Finnegans Wake, where Parnell is literally translated to mythical stature.)
Many annotated versions of Dubliners can be found, but my advice is simple: study up a little on the politics, then just simply read the book. Reading these powerful stories is an experience too delicate to interrupt with constant trips to a guidebook – that can wait for a second reading.

Suggested Guides
A more complete listing of guides to Dubliners may be found on the Brazen Head’s Criticism page. Here are two of the most helpful:

Joyce* Annotated

Don Gifford
University of California Press, 1982, ISBN 0-520-04610-2, Paperback $21.95. [

Annotations for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this useful volume starts with an introductory section on life in Dublin at the turn of the century, including education, history, commerce, and social customs. The book then lists thousands of annotations, including explanations of slang and foreign languages used, relevant song lyrics, literary references, historical notations, and explanations of places and institutions mentioned in the text. Maps are sprinkled throughout the book, and it ends with a reprinting of “The Sisters,” by “Stephen Daedalus,” as it appeared in the Irish Homestead on August 13, 1904. Overall, a very thorough job that illuminates both works quite nicely.


James Joyce’s Dubliners -- An Illustrated Edition with Annotations

John Wyse Jackson & Bernard McGinley

1. St. Martin’s Press, 1993, ISBN 0-312-09790-5; Hardcover $35.00. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. St. Martin’s Press, 1995, ISBN 0-312-11779-5; Paperback $19.95. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

This impressive and quite large book contains the entire text of Dubliners tucked away amidst a storm of pictures, photos, sketches, newspaper articles, cartoons, annotations, handbills, letters, song sheets, and advertisements. The sheer density of the reference materials is staggering – you get the idea that the authors were striving to recreate nineteenth century Dublin right around your head. And as a reference source, it indeed serves its purpose most admirably; but allow me to repeat this bit of cautionary advice: use it only if you’ve already read Dubliners at least once. If you wish to approach the text for the first time, the extra material can be too distracting, as it tends to interfere with the delicate mood that Joyce paints with the palette of language alone – this book, though delightful, is simply too cluttered to use as a first-time reading. But for an enthusiast, you would have to work very hard to beat it as the ultimate Dubliners annotation.

Selected Web Links
A few more links to Dubliners related material may be found on the Brazen Head’s Links page. Here are a few of the more general resources:

Barger’s Dubliners Resources – This page collects numerous links to resources about Dubliners, and is clearly the place to start for online Dubliners information!

Dubliners Student Resources – Charles Cave’s collection of student resources for Dubliners, with lots of useful commentary by Bob Williams.

SparkNotes to Dubliners – The SparkNotes online student guide to Dubliners contains reading notes, character sketches, commentary, and more.

World Wide Dubliners – By Blumberg and Grey, this site contains many links and a few essays about the stories.

Other U.S. Editions
There are numerous in-print editions of Dubliners in addition to the Modern Library edition that heads this page. Here are a few readily available ones:


Bantam 1990, ISBN 0-55321-380-6; Paperback $4.95. [Browse/Purchase]


Knopf “Everyman’s Library” edition, 1991, ISBN 0-679-40574-7; Hardcover $17.00. [Browse/Purchase]


Penguin “Twentieth-Century Classics” edition, 1993, ISBN 0-14-018647-6; Paperback $9.95. [Browse/Purchase]


Vintage, 1993, ISBN 0-679-73990-4; Paperback $10.00. Edited by Walter Gabler. [Browse/Purchase]


"Viking Critical Library” edition, 1996, ISBN 0-14-024774-2; Paperback $17.95. Edited by Robert Scholes. With critical notes and essays. [Browse/Purchase]

The “Joyceworks” Pages

Book through eternity junction – Back to the “Joyceworks” main page.

The Artfull Eye – “Why read James Joyce?” A somewhat fanatical essay on Joyce, his works, his importance, and why people write somewhat fanatical essays about him.

Quailigans Quake – A small essay on Joyce’s narrative technique, and a few general words of advice on how to first approach to his work.

The Essential Canon – Joyce’s major works:

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Finnegans Wake

The Minor Arcana – A listing of Joyce’s “lesser” works, including his poetry, Stephen Hero, Giocomo Joyce, and Exiles.

Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

Spiral-Bound – Click here for information about Spiral-Bound, The Modern Word’s monthly electronic newsletter. From this page you can read about Spiral-Bound, browse archived past editions, sign up for the Spiral-Bound e-group, and subscribe to the newsletter itself.

–Allen B. Ruch
22 June 2003