Though he is mostly remembered for the avant-garde epics Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, James Joyce's initial literary forays were the fifteen stories collected under the title Dubliners. Together they form a picture of lower class Dublin around the turn of the century, but far from representing only that city these deeply personal stories reflect a universalism seldom achieved in short fiction. By far the most accessible of Joyce's works, Dubliners explores the great themes—death, suffering, sex, loss, faith—from a variety of perspectives and in a number of styles.
Initially rejected for publication and eventually censored, these stories are by turns melancholy, scary, ribald,and sentimental. Joyce's prose stylings are visceral, evoking the squalor and chaos of the city. Each story centers around a personal epiphany, but far from being mystical elaborations each is blatant and written with a near-excess of physical detail. It was this naturalism, in fact, that offended the sensibilities of many early readers, not the earthiness of much of the content. The stark examinations of people under pressure or hardship are still as moving and unsettling as they were a hundred years ago, and any political nuances the stories once held have been subsumed in the human universality of the narratives.
Joyce's prose influenced, directly or indirectly, nearly every important writer to come after him, from Jorge Luis Borges and Salman Rushdie to William Faulkner and John Updike. While at the time of its writing he had yet to develop the style for which he would be known, Dubliners illustrates Joyce's brilliant portrayals of human psychology and foreshadows the word-magic he used to such great effect in his later masterpieces.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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