Week Thirty-Seven and Thirty-Eight: “The Dead” by James Joyce

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Cover of the Penguin edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners, of which “The Dead” is the last story-novella.

 

 

It’s time for our Winter Novella Challenge! The votes are in and our book club members have decided to study “The Dead” by James Joyce, so get ready to visit the city of Dublin, just after the turn of the century!

Dubliners is a book of short stories penned by Joyce at the height of Irish Nationalism, published in 1914 . . . the beginning of the first world war.

“The Dead,” often considered a novella in its own right, is the culminating tale in Joyce’s book.

The stories depict a myriad of characters from everyday life. In order, the stories are:

 

  • “The Sisters” – A priest, Father Flynn dies, and a young boy deals with it.
  • “An Encounter” – Two schoolboys playing truant encounter an elderly man.
  • “Araby” – A boy falls in love with the sister of his friend,.
  • “Eveline” – A young woman weighs her decision to flee Ireland.
  • “After the Race” – College student Jimmy Doyle tries to fit in with his wealthy friends.
  • “Two Gallants” – Two con men, Lenehan and Corley, and their deeds.
  • “The Boarding House” – Mrs Mooney successfully maneuvers her daughter Polly.
  • “A Little Cloud” – Little Chandler’s dinner with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher casts fresh light on his own failed literary dreams.
  • “Counterparts” – Farrington, a lumbering alcoholic scrivener, takes out his frustration in pubs and on his son Tom.
  • “Clay” – The old maid Maria, a laundress, celebrates Halloween with her former foster child Joe Donnelly and his family.
  • “A Painful Case” – Mr Duffy rebuffs Mrs Sinico.
  • “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” – Minor politicians try to live up to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell.
  • “A Mother” – Mrs Kearney tries to win a place of pride for her daughter, Kathleen.
  • “Grace” – Mr Kernan injures himself falling down the stairs in a bar.
  • “The Dead” – Gabriel Conroy attends a party, and later, as he speaks with his wife, has an epiphany about the nature of life and death. At 15–16,000 words this story has also been classified as a novella. The Dead was adapted into a film by John Huston, written for the screen by his son Tony and starring his daughter Anjelica as Mrs. Conroy.

 

HERE is the text of Joyce’s novella, “The Dead,” Enjoy!

Penguin Random House summarizes Dubliners this way:

“Joyce casts a wide net, arranging the stories so they move from childhood to adulthood and from public to private. In his thoroughness, Joyce is as tender as he is fierce. The first Dubliners we meet are curious children hungry for adventure and love. There are young boys with romantic visions of chivalry and young women longing to escape. Yet (some) youthful dreams quickly fade for the adults in later stories,”. . .culminating in the character of Gabriel in “The Dead.”

What do you make of Gabriel? How would you describe his character?

 

Some other thoughts to contemplate, as the snow falls and the holidays approach:

In “The Dead,” the narrator describes Gretta listening to music on the stairs as “a symbol of something.” Is Gretta a symbol of anything? And, if so, of what?

Once Gretta falls asleep after telling Gabriel about Michael Furey, why does Gabriel feel so alienated from her?

 

“The Lass of Aughrim”

I am a poor young girl
That’s straight from Callander
I’m in search of Lord Gregory
Pray God I find him!
The rain beats my yellow locks
And the dew wets me still
My babe is cold in my arms
Lord Gregory, let me in!

Lord Gregory’s not here and
Henceforth can’t be seen
For he’s gone to bonny Scotland
For to bring home his new queen
So leave now these windows
And likewise this hall
For it’s deep in the sea
You should hide your downfall

Who’ll shoe my babe’s little feet?
Who’ll put gloves on her hand?
Who will tie my babe’s middle
With a long linen band?
Who’ll comb my babe’s yellow hair
With an ivory comb?
Who will be my babe’s father
Till Lord Gregory comes home?

Do you remember, love Gregory
That night in Callander
Where we changed pocket handkerchiefs
And me against my will?
For yours was pure linen, love
And mine but coarse cloth
For yours cost a guinea, love
And mine but one groat

Do you remember, love Gregory
That night in Callander
Where we changed rings on our fingers
And me against my will?
For yours was pure silver, love
And mine was but tin
For yours cost a guinea, love
And mine but one cent

And my curse on you, Mother
My curse being sore!
Sure, I dreamed the girl I love
Came a-knocking at my door

Sleep down you foolish son
Sleep down and sleep on
For it’s long ago that weary girl
Lies drownin’ in the sea

Well go saddle me the black horse
The brown, and the gray
Go saddle me the best horse
In my stable to-day!
And I’ll range over mountains
Over valleys so wide
Till I find the girl I love
And I’ll lay by her side

 

As member Jeri Harbers Thomson reminds us, ”’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

There is that moment of bleak epiphany when one realizes that something they’ve always thought of as a reality was never real, after all. So then you question everything else in your life that rests upon that. It’s worth reading Joyce’s “The Dead. ”  Of it, author Karl Knausgaard says ” The Dead is a perfect short story. The best short story ever written .”

“He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
James Joyce, The Dead

Thus Dublin, as Joyce depicts it through the eyes of Gabriel Conroy, is a snow-laden monument not only to appearance versus reality but the final scene in a drama which has progressed from the innocence of street children to the melancholic epiphany of everyone who has ever had a curtain of myth torn down from before their eyes.

And the snow keeps falling around our wiser hero, gently.

 . . .A bit about James Joyce . . .

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From the James Joyce Center website:

“James Joyce (1882 – 1941) is one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers. His most famous work is Ulysses (1922) which follows the movements of Leopold Bloom through a single day on June 16th, 1904. Ulysses is based on Homer’s The Odyssey.

Some of Joyce’s other major works include the short story collection Dubliners (1914), and novels A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). Joyce was born in Dublin on 2nd February 1882 and attended school in Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College (just up the road from the Centre) before going on to University College, then located on St Stephen’s Green, where he studied modern languages.

After graduating from university, Joyce went to Paris, ostensibly to study medicine, and was recalled to Dublin in April 1903 because of the illness and subsequent death of his mother. He stayed in Ireland until 1904, and in June that year he met Nora Barnacle, the Galway woman who was to become his partner and later his wife.

In August 1904 the first of Joyce’s short stories was published in the Irish Homestead magazine, followed by two others, but in October Joyce and Nora left Ireland going first to Pola (now Pula, Croatia) where Joyce got a job teaching English at a Berlitz school. After he left Ireland in 1904, Joyce only made four return visits, the last of those in 1912, after which he never returned to Ireland.

James Joyce with Nora Barnacle

James Joyce walking down a Dublin street with his wife Nora and a friend.

1914 proved a crucial year for Joyce. With Ezra Pound’s assistance, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s first novel, began to appear in serial form in Harriet Weaver’s Egoist magazine in London. His collection of short stories, Dubliners, on which he had been working since 1904, was finally published, and he also wrote his only play, Exiles. It was after these successes that Joyce began to think seriously about writing the novel he had been formulating since 1907: Ulysses.

With the start of World War One, Joyce and Nora, along with their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were forced to leave Trieste and arrived in Zurich where they lived for the duration of the war. It was during this time that Joyce worked on Ulysses and included many characteristics of those around him in the characters of the book. Though Joyce wanted to settle in Trieste again after the War, the poet Ezra Pound persuaded him to come to Paris for a while, and Joyce stayed there for the next twenty years.

It was in Paris that Joyce met Sylvia Beach, an American ex-pat who helped him to publish Ulysses for the first time in 1922. From 1930, after Beach had relinquished the rights to Ulysses, Joyce became very close with Paul Léon, another ex-pat living in Paris. Léon became Joyce’s business advisor and close friend and helped him to publish his final book Finnegans Wake in 1939.

In 1940, when Joyce fled to the south of France ahead of the Nazi invasion, Léon returned to the Joyces’ apartment in Paris to salvage their belongings and put them into safekeeping for the duration of the war. It’s thanks to Léon’s efforts that many of Joyce’s personal possessions and manuscripts still survive today. James Joyce died at the age of fifty-nine, on 13 January 1941 in Schwesterhaus vom Roten Kreuz in Zurich where he and his family had been given asylum. He is buried in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich.”

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Week Thirty-Six: “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin and “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

 

Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor” by Jimmy Breslin

 

From The World of Jimmy Breslin:

In the 1960s, as the once-proud New York Herald Tribune spiraled into bankruptcy, the brightest light in its pages was an ebullient young columnist named Jimmy Breslin. While ordinary columnists wrote about politics, culture, or the economy, Breslin’s chief topics were the city and Breslin himself. He was chummy with cops, arsonists, and thieves, and told their stories with grace, wit, and lightning-quick prose. Whether covering the five boroughs, Vietnam, or the death of John F. Kennedy, Breslin managed to find great characters wherever he went.

Today, let’s take a look at one of Breslin’s signature pieces, via that underappreciated art form, the obituary.

We’ll examine the passing of the well-known Irish American John F. Kennedy, and how one newspaper column can teach us how to write with loving attention to the everyday person.

Here is “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin. Breslin himself passed away just last March.

What do you notice?

 

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, at the funeral of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Breslin captured not only the call of duty through the musings of Pollard, the gravedigger, but also the uncertainty and grief of Jackie Kennedy through a touching description of the widow’s timid movements at the ceremony.

 

Here is one book club reaction from Wonderlings member Rick Williams:

I read this beautiful selection while pumping on an exercise bike as I listened to Beethoven’s 5th symphony on my headphones. Words and music can inspire me to a more intense workout. Ironically, even though I’m on a bike that is going no where, the words and music transport me to an imaginary world like a Twilight Zone episode.

Jimmy Breslin contrasts the death of the most powerful man in the world with his gravedigger. Three times, the author mentions the diggers salary of $3.01 per hour.
And twice Clifton Pollard responded that “it was an honor” for him.

While reading this obituary, I saw “John John” salute his father’s coffin. And then Hamlet talking to Ophelia’s gravedigger while looking at the court jesters Yorick’s skull.

It is etiquette to wipe off the fitness machines after using. I’m typically forgetful or superficial at best. But this time, I was amazingly patient and thorough making sure I did not miss a spot. I even took a measure of pride in this lowly job. My favorite part was when Breslin describes how Clifton and Jackie were similar in being quietly conscientious and wanting to do the right thing.

In my imaginary world, Jackie goes out of her way to meet Clifton. She shakes his hand, simply says “thank you” and gives him a memento from the President. Of course the grave digger responds “thank you, it was my honor.”   – Rick Williams, Wonderlings member

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

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The intrepid Jimmy Breslin

 

Jimmy Breslin was the biggest, the baddest, the brashest, the best columnist in New York City.

And the first to say so, too.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Daily News columnist died Sunday at age 88, leaving an unparalleled legacy as an unyielding chronicler of his hometown and an inspiration for a generation of writers, reporters and readers left to mourn his loss and envy his unmatched prose.

Armed with just a pen and pad, Breslin’s one-man beat covered the five borough’s streets, courthouses and barrooms, while inevitably uncovering a story that left the city’s press corps lagging far behind.

He was an unmade bed of a reporter with an unkempt mane of hair, unflinchingly speaking truth to power, exposing corruption and cheering the underdog across four decades.

To call the proudly blue-collar Breslin larger than life was pure understatement.

“It feels like 30 people just left the room,” said Pete Hamill, a Breslin colleague and contemporary, after learning of his death.”¹

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

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A Sledge of the 1800’s, this one in Siberia

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov is a sort of “silent obituary of the heart.” It’s also one of the most highly anthologized and studied short stories from the Russian literary canon.

One question to ponder as you read: how do we grieve?

Let’s follow Iona the sledge driver, as he navigates one winter evening of his life.

HERE is “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

“Misery” follows one evening in the life of the sledge man, Iona.  Iona’s son recently died. He desperately and unsuccessfully tries to have a talk with the people he meets and tell them of how shattered he is. He ends up talking to his horse.²

Breslin’s Clifton Pollard and the main character of Anton Chekhov’s “Misery” share common ground. Both are the salt of the earth; one a grave digger at Arlington Cemetary, one a sledge driver; both paying last respects to someone dear who was lost.

Yet both forgotten by society; the dead, both beloved sons in different ways. One is a darling of the nation, the other an unknown but beloved son, whose father’s grief is fathomless.

How do you grieve?

Said Shabnam Mirchandani on The Wonderlings Book Club Facebook Page:

I think the language of the deepest grief is silence. The indifference of others and the unabashed lack of empathy for the driver’s loss is unfortunately the way of the world. Isolation usually accompanies grief and traumatic loss. It is so poignant that the mare is the only audience for the driver to vent his sorrow to. I think this experience is integral to the human condition, and when there is poverty, the suffering is made worse by indignity.

I can’t help thinking of certain countries of the world as entities who are experiencing a violent passing of a “civilized’ persona” and are seemingly helpless and voiceless in the face of this (figurative) carnage.The grief of their citizens is filled with helplessness and fury, but does not seem capable of creating a shift toward a more viable system . . .

– Shabnam Mirchandani, The Wonderlings

 

 

Thanks to all who read and commented this week on our Facebook Page!

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

 

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A young Chekhov (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov January – 15 July 1904)was a Russian playwright and short story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. His career as a playwright produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.

Along with Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, Chekhov is often referred to as one of the three seminal figures in the birth of early modernism in the theatre. Chekhov practiced as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career.

Chekhov renounced the theatre after the reception of The Seagull in 1896, but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and premiered his last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a “theatre of mood” and a “submerged life in the text.”

Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story.[9] He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.³

 

 

 

¹The New York Daily News, March 19, 2017 by Justin Silverstein and Larry McShane

², ³ Wikipedia