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Old 12-20-2013, 12:41 AM   #1
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December 2013 Discussion: Dubliners by James Joyce (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the December 2013 MobileRead Book Club selection, Dubliners by James Joyce. What did you think?
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Old 12-20-2013, 01:13 AM   #2
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Dubliners is a gray cold book. The stories are related without emotion and the reader is left to infer from their stark telling the pain, helplessness, and hopelessness of people grappling with the mundane events of their lives.

I understood that each story had an epiphany which I had expected to be a moment of self-realization which could lead to hope and change. But there was no real possibility of change for the people so dispassionately described. To me it seemed that the epiphany was that, whatever their circumstances, they could or would not change.

Even when they could imagine change, they could not imagine effecting it. The entire story of Evaline is one of her imagining her life different. Yet she sits paralyzed as her opportunity passes. “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal.”

In “A Painful Case” the epiphany is clear to both the reader and to James Duffy as he slowly realizes his aloneness and his betrayal of Mrs. Sinico, but, as with other Dubliners, it comes too late. Even if his epiphany had come early, I doubted it would have made a difference.

By the time I got to "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" I was looking for tragic, useless, too late epiphanies. An argumentative discussion of the impending visit to Dublin by King Edward was particularly poignant.

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"But after all now," said Mr. Lyons argumentatively, "King Edward's life, you know, is not the very… "

"Let bygones be bygones," said Mr. Henchy. "I admire the man personally. He's just an ordinary knockabout like you and me. He's fond of his glass of grog and he's a bit of a rake, perhaps, and he's a good sportsman. Damn it, can't we Irish play fair?"

"That's all very fine," said Mr. Lyons. "But look at the case of Parnell now."

"In the name of God," said Mr. Henchy, "where's the analogy between the two cases?"

"What I mean," said Mr. Lyons, "is we have our ideals. Why, now, would we welcome a man like that? Do you think now after what he did Parnell was a fit man to lead us? And why, then, would we do it for Edward the Seventh?"

"This is Parnell's anniversary," said Mr. O'Connor, "and don't let us stir up any bad blood. We all respect him now that he's dead and gone—even the Conservatives," he added, turning to Mr. Crofton.
The great Irish leader was commemorated on Ivy Day, the first Sunday after the anniversary of his death, but he had been repudiated and scorned for his affair with Katharine O'Shea. “We all respect him now that he's dead and gone” was heartbreaking and epitomized what seems to be a constant theme in these stories.

I am happy to finally read Dubliners, but it made me sad.

Last edited by BelleZora; 12-20-2013 at 01:28 AM.
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Old 12-20-2013, 05:36 AM   #3
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Great comments Belle and I absolutely agree with everything you say. I could not find any evidence of epiphanies for the protagonists - there seemed to be no evidence of learning from experience, or any awareness of their shortcomings. And the lack any empathy in the subjects of the stories feels to me as if Joyce shares that lack. Grey and cold indeed!

I also didn't like the way that (for me) the stories just stopped - I kept feeling there should be another paragraph or so. But then every now and then I would be struck by a terrific phrase or sentence. My favourite (already nominated in my Goodreads review) came from "The Mother":

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She sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments, waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life.
But there weren't enough of these to earn Dubliners more than two stars from me.
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Old 12-22-2013, 03:41 PM   #4
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I rated this book fairly high (four stars) for the quality of the writing and highly descriptive scene and character development. It may be a contradiction to state that I did not really enjoy most of the stories and found them not fulfilling. One reason is, as I mentioned before, for a book by Joyce titled Dubliners I did not feel like any of the stories or the collection as a whole transported me to the Dublin of the early 20th Century. There was little in any of the stories that I could see made them unique to Dublin.

I also agree with the assessment that it was a gray cold book. Often the stories ended with little hope but for a bleak future forecast any without any indication whether things would improve, stay the same or get worse.

In The Counterparts the central character Farrington is a lazy drunk who takes out his frustration at being in a well justified dead end life by physically abusing his son. The story just ends abruptly at that point.

At other times the stories just seem to ramble on to no particular point as in A Mother. It read like an episode of what might now be reality television, but with no past to introduce it or future to come it was difficult to have any interest in it all.

On the other hand for The Dead that almost to the end seemed as much a rambling pointless tale the story was redeemed by its powerful ending.

I'm mainly glad that The Dubliners was selected as the book for December because it gave me a chance to read a work of Joyce that I at least found accessible. Ulysses being the only other book of Joyce I have read.
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Old 12-22-2013, 09:17 PM   #5
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Upon reflection, I have to say that I appreciate James Joyce's apparent view in this book that epiphanies happen and they have little practical value. In other books they are a handy literary device, but in real life they are pretty much a dime a dozen and about as life-changing for most of us as they are for Joyce's Dubliners. Take some of the common epiphanies: (1.) If I don't lose weight I'll likely get diabetes or at least bad knees, (2.) If I don't stop drinking I'll destroy both myself and my family, (3.) If I don't stop yelling at the kids, they will never want to be around me. These epiphanies by themselves are not worth much. Even when we can imagine being different, we might as well be in Joyce's Dublin.

Last month we read The Count of Monte Cristo and, although it was among the favorite books I read all year, I didn't have much to think or say about it. It was just great entertainment. (Okay, there was the part about Dantes' realization that revenge can have unintended consequences). On the other hand, I didn't much enjoy reading Dubliners. I was relieved when it was over. But I can't stop thinking about it. This morning I realized why Evaline was so uncomfortable to read and it was a damned epiphany. Probably a fat lot of good that will do me.
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Old 12-23-2013, 07:33 AM   #6
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Not much to add here but am enjoying the discussion. I've not read the whole book, but what I've read I tend to agree with the above comments.

And now, from modern Dubliners:

http://www.dartofphysics.ie/about

Sign on Dublin Metro
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Old 12-23-2013, 11:05 AM   #7
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And now, from modern Dubliners:

http://www.dartofphysics.ie/about
Modern Dublin is definitely more fun!
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Old 12-23-2013, 02:29 PM   #8
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Upon reflection, I have to say that I appreciate James Joyce's apparent view in this book that epiphanies happen and they have little practical value. In other books they are a handy literary device, but in real life they are pretty much a dime a dozen and about as life-changing for most of us as they are for Joyce's Dubliners. Take some of the common epiphanies: (1.) If I don't lose weight I'll likely get diabetes or at least bad knees, (2.) If I don't stop drinking I'll destroy both myself and my family, (3.) If I don't stop yelling at the kids, they will never want to be around me. These epiphanies by themselves are not worth much. Even when we can imagine being different, we might as well be in Joyce's Dublin.

Last month we read The Count of Monte Cristo and, although it was among the favorite books I read all year, I didn't have much to think or say about it. It was just great entertainment. (Okay, there was the part about Dantes' realization that revenge can have unintended consequences). On the other hand, I didn't much enjoy reading Dubliners. I was relieved when it was over. But I can't stop thinking about it. This morning I realized why Evaline was so uncomfortable to read and it was a damned epiphany. Probably a fat lot of good that will do me.
Yes, the point is that Eveline is presented with an epiphany that could be life-changing but she has become so warped that she is unable to grasp the opportunity when it comes. I think the comparison to an animal at the end is significant. Animals are driven by programmed compulsions to survive in a particular environment and are not self-reflective (at least so believers in reductionist determinism would hold}. Eveline has lost the human ability to be self-reflective and thus make a choice which would change her environment. In fact, Joyce may be telling us that the entire concept of self-reflection and free will is an illusion. That we are all incarnations of "Eveline" in some fashion.

Joyce quite carefully crafts this story but it is so bleak that I lose any sympathy for the heroine and its deterministic philosophy repels me. For me, it is worth reading this type of thing--once--so that one can respond to it intelligently, but one doesn't have to like it.

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Old 12-23-2013, 03:15 PM   #9
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Joyce quite carefully crafts this story but it is so bleak that I lose any sympathy for the heroine and its deterministic philosophy repels me. For me, it is worth reading this type of thing--once--so that one can respond to it intelligently, but one doesn't have to like it.
I think that it must have repelled Joyce, also, since he did leave Dublin. But, as Hamlet points out, those stories could have been set anywhere. They made me want to leave Dublin, too...metaphorically speaking.
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Old 12-23-2013, 09:12 PM   #10
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Finally finished today. I have to say, I'm pretty much in agreement with comments I've read here. I actually like prosaic writing which is probably why I've liked most of the Scottish authors I've read. Stark is not usually a problem for me.

However, these stories lacked a little something. Maybe it was because I was also disconnected from the time they were written in. But I think it was mainly because there was not much to chew on in the end. Most of the stories just passed me by with nice writing - but not much else to keep them in my mind.

I did like Evaline though as I think that one more successfully grabbed my attention. The last story just seemed to waffle far too much for me to tie it together in my head. It seemed like a jumble of points that started to materialise but were then superceded by others. It almost felt like the author couldn't work out what point he was trying to make. Obviously, I'm wrong about that, but that's how it read to me.

There were a couple of stories which really fell completely flat for me. One of them was Grace. That was just a gasp of nothingness to me. I think Ivy Day in the Committee Room might have meant more to me if I understood the political history to which it refers. It's obviously a bitch about the state of affairs, but unfortunately, because of my ignorance, it just ended up being words.

Mother was OK I guess, but I just ended up agreeing with the mother even though the outcome was a poor one. I have a feeling I was supposed to find against her - but I just didn't.

I'm glad I read this - mainly because I've never read any Joyce. However, I didn't see anything that made me want to try his more challenging works.
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Old 12-24-2013, 01:02 PM   #11
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Sorry to monopolize this thread, but I think I may be in the beginning stage of an extended love/hate relationship with James Joyce.

Today I think I failed to understand Joyce's meaning of epiphany, but I haven't got to a clear understanding yet. Nevertheless, I got something out of the book by my own flawed definition.

But I was right to feel Joyce's contempt beneath his dispassionate words. I just found James Joyce Revisited by Richard F. Peterson at the library. In the first chapter there is this sentence: He also conceived a plan to develop a series of short stories: “I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city” (Letters, 1:55).


No wonder none of us found it pleasant. The man apparently contained a roiling mass of emotion beneath the emotionless words. I guess if he had let us see, rather than just infer, his passion, he wouldn't be James Joyce. At least he never talks down to you or over explains.

Edit: the gratitude implied in that last sentence was irony.

Last edited by BelleZora; 12-24-2013 at 05:47 PM.
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Old 12-24-2013, 06:30 PM   #12
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Interesting find Belle. I was certainly left with feelings of contempt in some of the cases, most particularly for the central character in The Counterparts. I had no sympathy for him through the story, but for him to beat the child because he had a bad day - which obviously had to be somebody else's fault - was despicable. But of course it would also be very true to life for someone as weak as he was.
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Old 12-24-2013, 09:16 PM   #13
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I have rarely found myself so actively avoiding a book as I have been Dubliners. Perhaps iti the bleak pointlessness of the epiphanies previously described. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced.
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Old 12-25-2013, 12:31 AM   #14
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I have rarely found myself so actively avoiding a book as I have been Dubliners. Perhaps iti the bleak pointlessness of the epiphanies previously described. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced.
If you view depression as part of the ebb and flow of life and are not unduly ruffled by it, you will recover from Dubliners just fine.

Joyce defended himself with these words: "It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass." (James Joyce Revisited by Richard F. Peterson, page 25)
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Old 12-25-2013, 08:33 AM   #15
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Interesting find Belle. I was certainly left with feelings of contempt in some of the cases, most particularly for the central character in The Counterparts. I had no sympathy for him through the story, but for him to beat the child because he had a bad day - which obviously had to be somebody else's fault - was despicable. But of course it would also be very true to life for someone as weak as he was.
I didn't mind that story as much. There was something very real about it. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the "realness" of what Joyce was giving me in these stories. The problems I had were more that they didn't go anywhere that made me feel like the thought was complete. I sort of felt like I'd taken the trip for nothing a lot of the time.

Some stories I liked more than others though.
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