If James Dean had had a cause…
So often a first impression is of exaggerated consequence. With Joyce, mine was
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
. I can honestly say that Dubliners has resurrected Joyce for me and encourages me to attack his other works in the same way that Portrait had discouraged me.
However, knowing about Joyce was indispensable to this second first impression. Whatever edition you read, make sure it has a good introduction. I will vouch for the edition used here. Brenda Maddox portrays a man discontented with his homeland and with the general hypocrisies and paralysis of its people; a man hardened against censorship, devoted to a single woman though vehemently at odds with the Catholic Church and the institution of marriage, a man who loved his country so much that he thought it pertinent to put a mirror in front of their existence. Appreciating Dubliners begins with knowing Joyce.
His style is gripping, though sacrifices nothing of detail or subtle forms of symbolism. His use of perspective, in particular cases, seemed to push the very limits of narrative device. In “The Boarding House”, for example, a simple third-person narrative fluidly sympathizes with two opposing characters streamlined one right after the other.
I have come across few characters in any literature as rightly determined as Mrs. Kearney in “A Mother”. As a matter of fact, Joyce’s presentation of women can be considered strongly sympathetic to any feminist analysis. Yet Joyce’s sketches of female characters seemed so natural, not simple pandering to a morale or idea, that I wondered if societies have been dooped all along and men were the ones kidnapping feminine qualities and guising them as masculine. Or, if the feminine battle for realized justice, in whatever arena, is something non-gender specific, or, to say the least, does not belong solely to the world of masculinity as oftentimes barbarity, brutishness, sloth and emotional and violent outbursts do.
If Joyce intended to hold a mirror up to Ireland, I think he failed. The mirror is turned on ALL of us. I related to more people in these stories than I have in most other works I’ve read. I wondered if I had hung out with Joyce in another life because of his story, “A Little Cloud”. And despite the stories with sympathetic antagonists suddenly turned selfishly pathetic degenerates and subtle symbolism to an institutionalized Irish culture of control and civil paralysis, I didn’t find that the conflicts were anything specific to Ireland but applied to all nations. To all societies.
Enjoy your second chance with me, Mr. Joyce.