The Dead by James Joyce (1907)
READING FICTION BLOG
Tuesday’s Tale August 27, 2019
You’ve probably heard this line, variations, or parts of this quotation:
“Pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
James Joyce at his finest! He has many lines in his writings that haunt us, which never seem to die or fade with age.
Our story opens with a dinner party—everyone is chatting, dancing, observing, judging. We are knee-deep in the ritualism of ordinary life of middle-class people living in Dublin, Ireland. Gabriel Conway, a man with personal anxieties, worries about the social norms of the time, is full of self-doubt as a writer. There’s not much plot, the action slow, and we do meander quite a bit. But, we are brought into layers of human behavior, and that is the wave of intensity that keeps you reading. The writing holds you with an emotional grip and with Gabriel’s drama. The characters are fascinating, especially his wife Gretta, who can wring out your heart.
As with all James Joyce’s work, this is serious literature. You do not have to be a literature major to enjoy The Dead. The story has several gut-punches along the way. At the finish, we witness two epiphanies, and they couldn’t have been more beautifully written.
If you want a short story that contemplates mortality with the experience of living, death, and the dead, this one will bring you there deeply.
Some of the most haunting lines that got me …
“He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.”
“In one letter that he had written to her then, he had said: Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?”
The final page has one of the most astonishing moments of a winter night you will ever read.
Read the short story here at Ebooks.Adelaide.edu
Listen to the audio by AudioBook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9tMtsSW1HY
James Joyce ( 2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941 ). Ernest Hemingway was Joyce’s drinking buddy among the Paris bars and a major champion of Ulysses. “Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world.”
In 1941 Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital and slipped into a coma after surgery. His last words were “Does nobody understand?”
James Joyce’s Grave, Zurich
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