Lisa Grayson's short summary of Dubliners, for Encyclopaedia Britannica's Encyclopedia of Literature


(Short story collection by James Joyce, written 1904-1907, first published in 1914.)

James Joyce read a 1904 advertisement in a farmer's journal, The Irish Homestead, offering L1 for suitable short stories; the three stories he published under the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus became the basis for this collection, Joyce's attempt to "write a chapter in the moral history of my country." Dublin, he said, was Ireland's "centre of paralysis"; the author's supple writing, however, defies the characters' entrapment by circumstance, by place, by actions of their own doing. The stories reveal Joyce's exquisite observation of naturalistic detail that informs his longer fiction.

Dubliners has a definite structure, and interweaving, recurring symbols. The first three stories, narrated in the first person, show children; the next four deal with young adults, and like the remaining stories are told by a third person, whose tone and sensibility shifts to reflect that of the changing protagonists; four stories address mature life from middle age onward; three, the public life of politics, arts, and religion. The fifteenth, final story, "The Dead," is considered not only the jewel of the collection but a world masterpiece of short fiction. After a dull drawing-room party, Gabriel Conroy has a characteristically Joycean epiphany about his life and marriage when a song reminds his wife Gretta of a boy who died of love for her: "[Gabriel] saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror."

While modern critics revere the stories, especially "The Dead," early readers criticized them as cynical, pointless, or both. In fact, Dubliners was refused by 40 publishers; objections were made to the language -- tame by Joyce's later standards, not to mention today's -- and to the book's disrespect for God, the Crown, and Dublin politicians. Misfortunes, from the deliberate breaking up of the lead type for the entire first 1906 edition to the burning of the second, allowed Joyce time to include "The Dead" in the final edition.


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