The Dubliners

The Dublinersbook by James Joyce

annotation by Devin Galaudet

I’m torn after reading Dubliners.

Not from the stories themselves, which ranged from entertaining to not. Or because some of the topics that at one time would have been highly vulgar/salacious/groundbreaking have now become common place.

It is because Joyce seems to go against some of what I am learning in grad school – the rules of writing and how to tell a story. Yes, I know that there aren’t any rules really. Or that there are rules and that once I have learned the rules then I will know how to break them.

Here are just a few thoughts that I had while reading the short stories of Joyce:

• Confusing pronoun use. A couple of scenes became chore of deciphering who did what with whom.

• Economy of words. There are a lot of sections that circled around information in a long winded fashion rather than get straight to the point.

• Unexplained references. Example, in Counterparts a woman was referred to a “appearing Jewish.” While I have no problem the political uncorrect-ness, I know that any writing instructor would have circled this and written “explain this!”

So I am left wondering, why is this great writing? After all, Joyce is Joyce and the writer of a couple of novels frequently considered the best ever written.
I am not either slamming the importance of what I am learning in my MFA pogram – I am grateful – or the writing of Joyce – less grateful – but definitely thinking about why one certain cultural writing style become standardized/praised and others don’t. Some of the concepts that are no-nos today maybe be ideal later.

Dubliners is a book, I would have likely put it down and picked it up nine months or a year later before putting it back down rather than be drawn in by the stories. I think Joyce does a great job with setting mood and a place, I think I could get around Dublin of 1915 based upon a few street descriptions. Moreover, if I want to get a sense of writing a time period and the kinds of details to make a particular scene come alive, I would use Dubliners as an excellent example. Unfortunately with regard to the stories themselves, my mind frequently wandered while trying to read these short stories. I just didn’t care what happened. Moreover, I asked myself, if I were writing this, what would be my point? What am I getting the reader to experience in terms of story. Beyond a slice of life, not much. It would seem that Joyce offers a story without leading the reader in any particular direction. On several occasions, I had to go back to look at stories I had read a few days prior because I had forgotten what I had read. So for me, this didn’t work well and wondering why am I reading this?

I realize I am in a small minority here with Joyce’s most accessible book, the reason why I chose it (I got this beautiful Folio Society edition with these great sepia photo pages of 1900s Dublin). Knowing this, I will give it another go in the next few months and chalk up my experience as workload, the nuance of his style and time period, and new millennium impatience on my part. I know that I still have some work to do when reading the classics.

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