When I tried reading Ulysses, 10 years ago, I was stunned by the grandiose language but couldn’t quite get drawn into the book. It remains half-read to this day.
– Either, Joyce must be over-rated, thought I, or my literary taste is still not evolved enough to appreciate Joyce.
By chance, I came across and started reading Dubliners (which was lying unread on my bookshelf) on www.polyglotproject.com. And wow, I love it. The language here, in this earlier work of Joyce, is also stunning but the contrast can’t be more striking – he stuns you with the simplicity: the simplicity of narrative style and the simplicity of the plots. The narrative seems to be so non-judgmental and so detached, yet got me totally involved. The simplicity is also deceptive because it disguises the lyrical rhythm delectably. It is magical, particularly, The Dead, towards the end, living up to the hype of being rated one of the greatest short stories.
Sample these…many of these lines spring up at surprising spots, when they are least expected:
She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked that peaceful and resigned. No one would think he’d make such a beautiful corpse. (The Sisters)
— Ah, poor James! said Eliza. He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now. Still, I know he’s gone and all to that. (The Sisters)
Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday’s bread- pudding. (the sarcasm, hidden, without warning, somewhere in the middle of The Boarding House).
The half-moons of his nails were perfect and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth. ( A Little Cloud)
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. (A Painful Case)
He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. ( Ivy Day In The Committee Room)
She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male. (A Mother)
The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude. (Grace)
The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped. (The Dead)
Inspired by Dubliners, I am now onto A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and am loving it so far. Hmm…am I now grown up enough, to encounter and devour, Ulysses again, and who knows, even, Finnegans Wake?