Dubliners, by James Joyce

Reasons to Read Dubliners 2

1. You want to go beyond the green fields and quaint sheep of the Emerald Isle, deep into the heart of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the 20th century.

2. Now that you’re all grown up, you’re ready to relive the sometimes painful experiences of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

 3. You’re a reader with a real life, looking for something short that packs a powerful punch. Joyce gives you 15 for the price of one in this collection.

4. You like singular characters and even more singular descriptions of them. In “A Mother,” Mr. O’Madden Burke’s “magniloquent western name was the moral umbrella upon which he balanced the fine problem of his finances.”

5. In every story, Joyce gives new meaning to “epiphany”—a moment that suddenly reveals “whatness” of a thing, person, or situation.

6. You want to see how people can be shaped by all kinds of circumstances, from religion to money to family history to politics.

7. Common people often make the most interesting characters, and everyday, ordinary experiences make for rich stories.

8. You’d like to understand the sense of paralysis that drove Joyce to leave Ireland and become an expat in Paris. “There was no doubt about it: if you wanted to succeed you had to go away. You could do nothing in Dublin,” muses the main character in “A Little Cloud.”

9. You gave up on Ulysses—and you didn’t even try Finnegans Wake—but you still want to read James Joyce.

10. This is the perfect book to go with a pint.

Day 23


25 Days Read 23

The Dead, by James Joyce

A Christmas feast lies at the heart of “The Dead,” the closing work in James Joyce’s inimitable collection called Dubliners:

A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a meat paper frill around its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these two rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blanc-mange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colors of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes.

If you find yourself, in these days leading up to Christmas, assembling a legion of food and drink for your own guests, you will well relate to this description of a laden holiday table. The Misses Morkan’s annual holiday party is always a predictable, but lavish affair with dancing, music, and plentiful food. For one guest, their nephew Gabriel Conroy, this year’s party will prove far more bitter than sweet. We watch him as he spends the whole evening trying to live up to a certain vision he has of himself, but failing time and again. As the party draws to a close, the story narrows its focus to Gabriel’s relationship with his wife, Gretta. Already a little shattered by the events of the night, he wants to take comfort in their marriage, even hoping to rekindle some romantic excitement from their early days. But he senses something keeping them apart. When they return to their hotel after the party, she reveals a fact from long ago that will forever change him and his outlook on the world. “. . . how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife.”

Like all the stories in Dubliners, “The Dead” depicts a character undergoing an epiphany, a transformative awakening to a new sense of self. So, how fitting that the story’s Christmastime party actually occurs in the early days of January, around the time of the Christian Epiphany. For all of us, Christmas can be a time of renewal. For Gabriel Conroy, it may need to be a complete overhaul.

30 Beards Hath November

Beard Graphic

It’s happening all around us. Just a few short days ago, they had faces as smooth and creamy as young Percy Bysshe Shelley. But, now, as we make our way into No-Shave November, many men are earnestly supporting this annual cancer-awareness event by sprouting some whiskers of their own. In honor of No-Shave November, The Snail is offering a visual tour of some of the most famous beards in literary history. We’ll go around the world in 30 days—yes, a bristly Jules Verne will indeed make an appearance—and we’ll travel across centuries to witness the progression of a beard, from peach fuzz to full-out thickets. It’s a month’s worth of great authors and even greater beards. Make sure to check in periodically to see how hairy things get around here.


Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley starts off the month with a completely clean-cut canvas. But within a few short days, manly faces may be bearing traces of Joycean stubble or the 5 o’clock shadow worn so well by beatnik Jack Kerouac. Tune in next week to see where the whiskers might lead.

beard collage 1