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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "The Boarding House"

So I've attempted this post three times and three times scrapped the attempts, have I.  So--  Here's number 4, likely to be uncommonly brief, if unlikely to be finished.

First:  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, much like "Two Gallants," and think that, perhaps, it's even my favorite of the lot thus far.  Like the previous story, there's not quite as much literary meat to sink your teeth into here as "Araby" or "The Sisters," but in a different way--a moralistic way, and all character-driven (whoa!) --there is more here than to any of the stories I so far examined, not to mention the presence of that elusive spark that I just keep kicking and kicking.

Two:  There is an absolutely fantastic balancing act going on under the motives and actions of the three primary characters, the Mother, the Daughter, and the Beau, as well as the menacing local current of the the bulldog Brother.  And this is where the best of the story sits--or leans and sways; among them: why does the Mother bring the Daughter to the house to work?  How does the Beau really feel for the Mother's Daughter?  Is the Daughter an independent contractor, so to speak, or is she working right alongside her otherwise subversive Mother?  The best part of these questions is the same as one of Joyce's primary and greatest (of several) strengths, here realized more fully (and because there is life here!): dichotomy.  No question has but one answer; and any question can be answered in a variety of directions (at least two, but generally more).

Three:  There's a recurrent theme, among others, of sexism in Dubliners, which I haven't really talked about much.  Maybe I was remiss.  Maybe I assumed it a given hallmark of Joyce's writing and wrote it off.  Here, however, faced finally with a contrast and thus bringing it forth from the shadows, there is potential--unanswered, of course--for the typical power of misogyny to be transferred to the narrower, though no less able, shoulders of the story's women.  The Beau is as characteristically impotent as so many of Dublins young men, but if any intentions existed to take advantage of the story's weak young woman, they are not realized.  Of course (and this is one of the reasons I failed the first three attempts of this post) this simple matter doesn't preclude misogyny or, more generally, sexism, in Dubliners, much less Joyce; what we do see is that Joyce, at worst, is equally antipathetic to both sexes--a potentially complete misanthrope, at least for the "anthrops" of Dublin.

Fourth:  Typical of Joyce, there is a novel's worth of substance here in these three thousand-or-so words.  He paints in short strokes with a shockingly broad and expertly wielded brush.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one of Joyce's is worth three of any other's.


  1. 1. My favorite is still "Eveline", but this is right up there.
    2. My sense is that all of the characters are motivated by fear, most of all the beau.
    3. I actually think you might be onto something with the sexism. It was certainly my takeaway from "Ulysses" and has been in a couple of these stories.
    4. I really want to like Joyce, but I always find that I just end up at admiration, sort of like how I'd feel about someone like Napoleon, perhaps. You're right that he's such a great writer, but perhaps not an equally great author. I plan on reading "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" soon, so that will help me find out more. I was going to read it after "Uncle Tom's Cabin", but I need something lighter, so I'm going with one of your recommendations: "Peter Pan".

  2. 2. I looked back through things, and as soon as we get past the couple stories built from child protagonists, there's always at least an undercurrent of sexism, but again, I think it might even go beyond that (though still leaning toward misogyny) to just antipathy.
    4. YES!


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