dubliners. dig it.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012

Dubliners: among the very best short stories ever written by one of history’s greatest authors.

For nearly a decade, from 1905 to 1914, James Joyce submitted these 15 stories 18 separate times to 15 publishers. “The book’s publishing history is a harrowing tale of persistence in the face of frustration.”

Joyce’s Dubliners— along with Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Short Stories and Vergil’s epic Aeneid— make up the triumvirate of my favorite works of literature.

Araby is by far the most memorable story in Dubliners for me—and it’s where I return frequently simply to bathe my spirit in the music of the lines. Araby so powerfully and perfectly captures the joy and the pain a young boy experiences when he falls in love for the first time.

There is this unforgettable passage in Araby, when the boy feels perhaps for the first time the true power that love brings to his heart:

“One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: “O love! O love!” many times.

There is also this classic passage from The Dead, the longest and last of the stories in Dubliners. The scene captures the mood of Joyce’s entire work: the sense that at the dawn of the 20th century, Ireland was a dying culture: slowly being buried in a suffocating dread of routine, sad and restricted lives.

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”