Dubliners by James Joyce

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In Dubliners, his collection of short stories, James Joyce captures Irish life, specifically the lives of Dubliners. Each story is a magnificent sketch of the people, setting, and situations; the entire collection presents a variety of such sketches. At the end of each sketch, I felt the despair that I believe Joyce intended to impart in each normal life situation. While each story captures different characters in various stages of life, similar despair pervades each of their lives in related settings.

Joyce’s ability to capture the world through his words greatly impressed me. Each story is incredibly realistic and amazingly readable. However, I was not impressed with the plots behind each story; Joyce seems to hint at the issues, and sometimes I felt too much was left for me to guess at. But while I didn’t love the stories themselves, I would highly recommend reading Joyce’s stories solely for the beautiful writing and careful character development. Reading the stories in Dubliners is an example to me that the plot doesn’t necessarily make something I read “great”; good writing makes it great.

Could good writing make something great for you or does the plot also have to grab you? Would you read something just for the great character development and beautiful writing?

Until I picked up his volume of short stories, I hadn’t thought I’d ever read James Joyce. He’s always intimidated me. To my surprise, I’d read one story, “Araby,” which had been assigned reading in my ninth-grade English class. It remains my favorite of Joyce’s stories because, just as at age 14, the main character’s frustrations and “unrequited crush” resonated with me. If you choose one of Joyce’s stories to read, I’d recommend “Araby.” As I said, much of the underlying plot is left to the reader to untangle, and yet, the characters, setting, and emotions are perfectly captured.

Have you read something as a teenager that still resonates with you today?

Reviewed on September 9, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I read Dubliners in 2001 and wasn’t impressed. I found James Joyce to be very dense and tedious, and I didn’t like reading one misery after another. I have yet to try anything else by him.

  • I read Dubliners in school for English Literature. My favourite short story is A Painful Case, just after Evelyne (which must be the most anthologized short story by Joyce, at least in Italian textbooks). I love Joyce’s style and his beautiful writing.

  • I had the pleasure of reading this book along with Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses as an undergrad. The class was taught by a professor with such passion that I drank his work in and absolutely loved it. At the end of the class, she invited us over for dinner and a viewing of The Dead starting Angelica Houston. It’s a night I’ll never forget. Thanks for the memories!

  • Amanda, I didn’t find Joyce too dense for most of these (I liked his writing!) but I agree that it was a bit too much misery. I dreaded finding out what would happen to each character. I had a hard time persevering to the end, to be honest.

    Alessandra, Yes, I like his writing! It is beautiful!

    Literate Housewife. I haven’t read either of those novels, but I’m going to try them at some point!

    It seems you who have commented either love Joyce or hate him. I’m kind of in between at this point. I’ll have to try something else.

  • Rebecca, I fully admit I read Joyce when I had barely started reading literature seriously – I went through a period of years when I stopped reading altogether, so I was not too well versed in books by the time 2001 came around and I decided to read a book a week that year. It’s possible Dubliners came up in a lull week when I was a little burnt out on reading. One day I’m sure I’ll try Joyce again, but I’m not sure when.

  • Amanda, I completely understand. There are many books like that for me: I wonder which I’d like now. I intend to try Joyce again; I really did think Dubliners was well-written; I just found the stories dull or depressing.

  • You might also like his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (There’s no misery in it–I can see how Dubliners might strike some readers that way.) Portrait is semi-autobiographical, so it’s a more specific slice of Irish life, but fascinating. I also enjoy it as an audiobook–Donal Donnelly voices the characters and place names beautifully.

  • Hi Rebecca haven’t time to read books at the moment so thought I’d come back here to one of your reviews – like you I enjoy James Joyce’s style – I haven’t read Dubliners and you have put me off somewhat – storylines are quite important to me in books and movies, so I’ll give this one a miss – see you’ve reviewed some Hemingway – now we’re talking!

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