Customer Reviews: Dubliners (Signet Classics)
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on December 5, 2001
I wish I could stand up here and make some pretentious claim that this is the "greatest short story collection of all time!" or something along those lines but I generally don't read short stories or short story collections. But I like James Joyce and so figured what the heck, I made it through Ulysses, this should be a cakewalk. So I read it and if you were wowed by Ulysses then this should reconfirm Joyce's genius for you and that he could do other writing besides that wacky postmodern stuff (before there really was a postmodern). If you're not a Joyce fan most of these (other than a notable handful) probably won't convert you. In essence these are Joyce's portraits of the people of Dublin and the city itself, most of these stories are character sketches, mostly following a few people around as they go about their lives. They were written over a period of time so the quality does vary a bit, the first few stories I don't find anything special but by the time you get to around "Two Gallants" the quality takes a sharp spike upward and stays there right until the end. The prose is fairly easy to follow, the worst part is deciphering all the Irish names and slang that are used liberally for obvious reasons . . . if anything it showed me how two cultures who technically speak the language can sound so different. The stories run the gamut of the "slice of life" genre, if such a thing exists, showing people from all walks of life and all classes of society, showing them as realistically as Joyce could, all their fears and foibles, warts and all. At his best he makes you live the lives of the characters and immerses you deeply into the city of Dublin, probably more than any group of short stories has ever brought a city to life. If you're still not convinced, then take this advice, buy the book for the sake of only one story, the last story in the collection, "The Dead" . . . simply put it is one of the best pieces of short fiction I have ever read. It starts off mundanely enough at a party but by the time the characters leave the party and go back to their hotel the writing becomes something almost otherworldly and Joyce starts writing some of the most evocative prose ever put on paper. If the last few pages don't send chills down your spine, then you must be dead. That's the only explanation. After that gem, everything else is just icing on the cake. Simply put, everyone should read "The Dead" and if you're the type of person whose fancy shall be struck by the rest of the stories here, so much the better.
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on December 26, 1999
Having grown up in a small town much like Joyce's Dublin, this book has a special significance for me. I've seen so many people from my town graduating from high school without really understanding that there is an entire world outside the place they grew up and lacking the ambition to go explore it. I fear many of them will spend their lives "getting by" in a job they hate, raising children who will inevitably do the same thing. Joyce's "Dubliners" depicts this cycle with as much complexity and compassion as any author I've read.
In an age where the most publicized fiction tends to be simple-minded and genre-bound, it's refreshing to come across a writer with Joyce's complexity. "Dubliners" is so rich in its intellectual and symbolic atmosphere that many readers may be put off by the overall weight of the prose. The writing is so thick with metaphorical contexts that the literal content of the story occasionally becomes obscured, which can be frustrating for those not used to reading Joyce. Yet, while difficult, "Dubliners" is far from impossible to decipher, and although these stories function well as a whole, they are also more or less self-contained, which makes "Dubliners" easier to get through than Joyce's other works(it's a lot easier to take on a ten page short story than a 600+ page novel like "Ulysses" or "Finnegan's Wake"). For readers who are new to Joyce, this would be a good place to start.
A final note: since this book is old enough to be considered a "classic," there are a plethora of editions available from various publishers. I own the Vintage edition (ISBN: 0679739904). Not only is it a quality printing (not that cheap newspaper ink that rubs off on your fingers), it also contains about a hundred pages of criticism at the end that help shed light on Joyce's often illusive themes. Normally I shun forewards and afterwards (I like to think I've read enough to discover a story's theme on my own), but in the case of Joyce I found that a push in right direction can mean the difference between enjoyment and frustration.
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on October 30, 2003
As a young man, James Joyce abandoned his hometown of Dublin, and yet, he never wrote about any other place. He had also rejected Catholicism, and yet all his characters are dominated by it. DUBLINERS, Joyce's collection of short stories which set the standard for the genre, is filled with characters who come to terrible revelations (which he called "epiphanies") about how their lives had been scarred by the provincialism of Dublin, the divisiveness of its politics, and the oppression of religion. By extension, this is how Joyce percieved humanity at the dawn of modernism.
The stories range from the psychologially simple ("Counterparts" and "A Little Cloud") to the extraordinarily complex ("A Painful Case" and "The Dead"). But what is common throughout is the feel for Dublin just after the turn of the last century. The readers see the cobblestones, the chimneys, the trams and carts, the churches, and the street lamps. More importantly, the readers feel the tensions underlying the public smiles and infrequent bursts of confidence that the characters exhibit.
The pinnacle of this collection is "The Dead". A novella, actually, "The Dead" encompasses everything: politics, religion, art, journalism, history, love, and the inevitability of death rendering all worldly things meaningless. This doesn't mean the story is a downer: this death is necessary to making a fresh start. The ending of "The Dead" has been interpreted in hundreds of ways. However, there is no denying that as Joyce "pulls back the camera" from the Conroy's hotel room to the universe above, the writing swells to its most beautiful. To me, this is a movement toward the future, toward change, leaving the living dead behind to a more spiritual life on Earth.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
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on December 31, 2009
Generally speaking, I don't particularly care to discuss superlatives, but I must say that this [Dubliners - James Joyce] is perhaps my favorite book (even more probable: my favorite collection of short stories). I thought that I had a decent understanding of the stories after simply reading (and re-reading) a Vintage Trade Paperback edition, but I must say that the extra materials provided here are absolutely illuminating. I won't get into the facts one can simply overlook, but I will say that most of the essays are wonderfully written and brilliantly thought-provoking. The footnotes will come in handy for anyone who is not Catholic and anyone who does not know much about the currency values and gradations in Ireland. The annotations and critical writings will allow almost anyone to develop an understanding of Joyce's prose, which is doubtless some of the most beautiful prose in history.
As most people say, this is Joyce's most readable work. This is an undeniable fact, though to anyone who has enjoyed it, I would recommend taking the next step into "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
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on December 19, 2001
The first of James Joyce's books, "Dubliners" is a collection of fifteen stories written between 1904 and 1907. Joyce wrote the first of the fifteen stories in this collection, "Sisters," in Ireland in 1904. The story was published in August of that year under the pseudonym "Stephen Daedalus." Joyce wrote the last, longest and most famous of the stories, "The Dead," in Rome in 1907. The stories were published in the book known as "Dubliners" in 1914. While there are many editions of "Dubliners" in print, the definitive edition of the work is generally considered to be the corrected text prepared by Robert Scholes in consultation with Richard Ellman, Joyce's biographer. Random House publishes the Scholes edition under its Modern Library imprint and I recommend this edition.
"Dubliners" stands as one of the Ur-texts of modernism, a startlingly original collection of stories set in turn-of-the-century Dublin that began the Joycean literary project. That project subsequently moved through the increasingly difficult, and characteristically modernist, iterations of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake." Like those succeeding texts, the interested reader can find thousands of pages of commentary on "Dubliners," the study of Joyce's works being akin to a Talmudic undertaking, an undertaking that can, if one chooses, occupy an entire life.
Joyce once commented that the stories of "Dubliners" constitute a "chapter of moral history" that represents the "first step towards the spiritual liberation of [Ireland]." He also said, "I call the series `Dubliners' to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city." The stories are, in other words, inherently critical (although also, at times, appreciative) of the Dublin life that Joyce abandoned, living and writing as an expatriate in Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zurich for nearly the entirety of his adult life.
The stories operate on two levels. On one level, the stories are realistic narratives of every day life in Dublin. On another level, however, the stories are suffused with symbolism, with recurring, allusive images of spiritual, sexual and political meanings that mark a departure from nineteenth century literary realism and make "Dubliners" an enduring, and deservedly canonical, modernist narrative.
The first story, "Sisters," begins with a striking example of the tone of the stories in "Dubliners." A young boy stands, in the evening, looking up at the shadows flickering through the window of an upstairs room where a priest is dying:
"Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word `paralysis'. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word `gnomon' in the Euclid and the word `simony' in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work."
Thus, a vivid, realistic image appears in the reader's mind, but so does a collection of words that suggest meanings and themes that go far beyond the real, that capture physical and intellectual and religious undercurrents, the inner life of a young boy living in Dublin.
"Sisters" is a brilliant story, as is "The Dead" and nearly every other story in "Dubliners" (excluding, perhaps, one or two, the worst being "After the Race," a story that Joyce reluctantly included in the collection). Realistic in its narratives, richly allusive in its language and symbolism, "Dubliners" is one of a handful of story collections that truly deserves the label "classic" and should be read and studied by every serious reader.
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Handsomely produced, elegantly assembled, and consistently engrossing: these actors read the stories with appropriate sensitivity, wit, pathos, and distance. The detachment of Joyce in his "voice" on the page is re-created well. When I have taught students "Araby" or "The Boarding House," the chance to hear the language repeated as its author would have meant it to be rendered makes these stories come alive for a classroom six thousand miles and a century away from early 20c Dublin.

Although all of the stories succeed, those in the center of the book emerged when conveyed aloud most enlighteningly. Clay, A Mother, A Painful Case, and most of all Two Gallants, After the Race, and Counterparts all hit my ear with more force than they had when I had only read them. These stories are often overlooked compared to the others, but the skill that the actors brought to these more prosaic, less lively, and more nuanced examples of Joyce's careful craft deserve special acclaim. The packaging keeps the CDs securely in place, is itself compact and well-designed, fitting its outwardly austere & Edwardian yet subtly decorated and inviting contents.

Students, the curious newcomer, the experienced teacher, and those who read the book out of delight and not duty: all will benefit from the music on the page that by a technology Joyce himself spoke into at its early gramaphone stages is now digitally preserved so that those of us all over the world and a vastly changed world later can be entertained and instructed. I think JJ might have been pleased at this version of his pioneering, eloquent, yet accessible and moving, accounts of his imagined neighbors and municipal counterparts.
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on November 7, 1999
Dubliners is a collection of short stories ranging through chidhood, adolescence and adulthood ending with three public life stories and the grand finale "The Dead" Critics have associated many of the stories to Joyce's personal life as he to became dissillusioned with his home city of Dublin. In each story we find a struggle for escapement from each character with the ever burdening features of alcohol and religion amongst other things trapping the protaganists from breaking out of the Dublin mould. Hopes are often dashed such as those of Eveline and Duffy. Joyce intelligently creates an interplay of senses towards the end of each story which creates an epiphany and a defining moment in the life of each character. Throughout the book the characthers start in the middle of nowhere and end up in the middle of nowhere. The text starts with the phrase: "There was no hope for him this time", which symbolises the book perfectly with paralysis being a continuing theme throughout the text ending in the final component: "The Dead". Overall this is a fascinating insite into how Joyce viewed his birth place. Joyce himself can be viewed in many of the characters including Duffy who found love with Sinico in: "A Painful Case" and felt awkward at her death as he had let her go. A thoroughly enjoyable book where nothing actually happens!
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on August 25, 2007
There are wine enthusiasts who claim that certain vintages are wasted on those who fail to appreciate them. I'd never go that far in trying to restrict anyone from reading anything that's out there, but in Dubliners there is a certain sense that for those who have trained their minds to seek out the nuances hidden within literature, a great reward lies waiting. These ultra-realistic, almost dry stories of ordinary men and women and the para-extraordinary in each of their lives, is set in Dublin, circa 1900, and is one of those collections that shows a new side of itself on every reading. Plus unlike most of Joyce's work, this book is easily readable.
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on April 7, 2004
Despite being written almost a hundred years ago, James Joyce's `Dubliners' is still as fresh as when it was released. The characters are Dubliners, but above all they are human beings and act as such, and this makes this collection of fifteen stories so universal. Moreover this book is a good start for readers who want to read Joyce and are afraid of his most famous and notoriously difficult works such as "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake".
The tales are supposed to be read in the order they are published because they follow the natural course of the human life. The first ones deal with childhood, then with adolescence, later adulthood --and in this segment some of them deal with public life-- and the last one is called "The Dead", making it clear that the stories follow the sequence of life events that happen to everyone.
Joyce's brother Stanislaus Joyce once wrote that the book pairs up stories on common themes: adolescent life, sporting life, artistic life, amorous life, political life, religious life, and celibate life (male and female), plus four 'petty employees' (two married and two unmarried), plus the final story on 'holiday life'. But this kind of classification is only a plus when one reads the book, because what really matters is Joyce's ability to create real people and situation.
Not only does the writer makes a wonderful job when developing his characters in such a small form of telling a story, but he also has a sophisticated command of the language. And some academics claim that "The Dead" is one of the best --if not THE best-- piece of short fiction written in the 20 century.
The view of the human nature in this book is quite dark most of the time, dealing mostly with the failure or the impossibility of acquisition something desired, Joyce is able to sneak in the human soul and its incapability of coping with loss, fear and another difficult feelings.
Most of the stories in "Dubliners" are not easy to be read, but all of them are a real pleasure to be discovered. An important book that with some concentration is accessible to everyone.
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VINE VOICEon August 25, 2011
Sad to say, but I have never before read anything by James Joyce although I knew this was a serious omission in my reading life. I took the easy way out, and started with Joyce's short stories, Dubliners, set in middle class, early 20th century Ireland.

I do like the way that some of the stories were loosely interconnected, the way a character in one would pop up again in another. And I liked the earlier stories, the ones with children and then adolescents, best. Some of the writing is lovely, and some of my favorite quotes are:

"The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot."

"He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense. He never game alms to beggars and walked firmly, carrying a stout hazel."

"He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her."

Joyce's descriptions of characters were wonderful. To me, however, the stories were not, for the most part, especially interesting. I'd finish one and think, "Is that all there is?" Perhaps I'm just a reader who needs more definitive conclusion, more action, perhaps I just missed the point and am showing my ignorance. I'm going to give Joyce another try. But not just yet.

About the specific edition I read - avoid the free Kindle edition. The occasional typo didn't bother me too much, but in the story "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," the free Kindle version was missing the entire "The Death of Parnell" poem, and that poem was integral to the story. Fortunately, I had an old copy sitting on my shelf, and I switched to it. However, my rating is based on my opinion of the writing, not on any particular edition.
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