My first attempt at reading James Joyce when I was nineteen years old failed painfully. Feeling very grown up, I bought a copy of A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man only to read the first thirty pages and give up. I read somewhere that one of the most unread books in the world is Ulysses. It seems that most people have the intention of reading it, but never actually finish the book. Despite the discouraging statistics, I am committed to reading Ulysses someday. Sure, it won’t be as speedy as reading Chick Lit!
Hoping to get used to Joyce’s style with a book less demanding and more accessible, I read Dubliners recently. Dubliners, written in 1914, consists of fifteen short stories portraying everyday episodes with various characters and their lives in the city of Dublin. The stories circle around common human emotions and dilemmas and remind us that no matter which period we live in and what the settings are, we human beings face similar problems and choices. What seems to me to be consistently present throughout the fifteen stories is the mood of melancholy and desperation. Joyce’s characters have significant flaws, and they fall into common human pitfalls. I cannot say I like or dislike the characters, but I surely feel empathy with them and am compelled not to judge.
One of my favorites is the story with the title A Little Cloud, where the main character Little Chandler meets an old friend Gallaher, whom he had last seen eight years ago. He has high thoughts of his old friend, who has become a successful writer in London. We can sense that Gallaher stands for the things Little Chandler yearns for. Little Chandler dreams of being a successful poet or a writer, but feels trapped in a dull life with a job as a clerk and a family, living in a city he finds uninspiring. Even his name is not artistic enough for a poet! In Joyce’s own words He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friend’s. Little Chandler went to meet his friend Gallaher with the hope to be inspired, but all he got was feeling smaller than before. Little Chandler becomes a little cloud over Dublin. When he went home and his eyes met the hatred in his wife’s eyes, he started crying with remorse. Crying, because he has not been able to realize his dreams and he never will be. The story ends with Little Chandler’s awakening to this sad truth about his life.
There is no moral in the stories in Dubliners, but a poetic realism characteristic of Joyce. I also loved reading Counterparts and A Painful Case which also evolve around the theme of entrapment in deadly routine and monotony.
I really enjoyed my first descent into the world of James Joyce. Perhaps Ulysses will be on my nightstand next. I have never been to Dublin and am more curious than ever to go on that trip!