Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners

Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners

Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners

Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners

Synopsis

Because the stories in James Joyce's Dubliners seem to function as models of fiction, they are able to stand in for fiction in general in their ability to make the operation of texts explicit and visible. Joyce's stories do this by provoking skepticism in the face of their storytelling. Their narrative unreliabilities--produced by strange gaps, omitted scenes, and misleading narrative prompts--arouse suspicion and oblige the reader to distrust how and why the story is told.

As a result, one is prompted to look into what is concealed, omitted, or left unspoken, a quest that often produces interpretations in conflict with what the narrative surface suggests about characters and events. Margot Norris's strategy in her analysis of the stories in Dubliners is to refuse to take the narrative voice for granted and to assume that every authorial decision to include or exclude, or to represent in a particular way, may be read as motivated. Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners examines the text for counterindictions and draws on the social context of the writing in order to offer readings from diverse theoretical perspectives.

Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners devotes a chapter to each of the fifteen stories in Dubliners and shows how each confronts the reader with an interpretive challenge and an intellectual adventure. Its readings of "An Encounter," "Two Gallants," "A Painful Case," "A Mother," "The Boarding House," and "Grace" reconceive the stories in wholly novel ways--ways that reveal Joyce's writing to be even more brilliant, more exciting, and more seriously attuned to moral and political issues than we had thought.

Excerpt

Why do we remain enthralled, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with Dubliners, James Joyce’s stories of ordinary people and ordinary life set in Dublin at the last century’s beginning? Those of us who call ourselves “modernists” or “twentieth-century” scholars have newly taken on the role once held by the Victorians, as critics of a previous century, a bygone era that passed from contemporaneity for the older among us into a time increasingly historical and historiographed. Dubliners, with its obsessive specification of turn-ofthe century shop names, streets, train stations, bridges, books, songs, personages, and events, should appeal precisely to our newly minted status as antiquarians. Yet curiously—while the stories’ historical and topical specificity becomes more, rather than less, necessary for interpretation—our collective fascination with Dubliners is as contemporary as today. This earliest of Joyce’s literary productions, with its tortured and difficult journey to publication, was not always thought destined for such an honored longevity. Garry Leonard reminds us that at the time the stories were published an early, anonymous review declared that “at least three would have been better buried in oblivion” (1). James Fairhall points out that Dubliners was largely ignored until 1956, when American critics rediscovered the collection, which had never sold well and received little early distinguished attention. “Writing separately, Brewster Ghiselin, Hugh Kenner, and Marvin Magalaner and Richard Kain all discerned in the stories a remarkable formal unity whose key is the theme of paralysis,” he writes (James Joyce 65). Yet fourteen years later, in 1969, Warren Beck still lamented the volume’s marginalization. “Strong drifts of relative interest in Joyce’s various works have followed the extraordinary turns they took,” Beck wrote in his influential Joyce’s “Dubliners”: Substance, Vision, and Art. He goes on to say, “to some minds the ‘fame’ which came to Joyce twixt Molly Bloom’s sleep and Finnegan’s wake has relegated Dubliners almost to the status of juvenilia” (1). Still, three collections of essays on Dubliners appeared within a year or two of Beck’s book and the stories’ popularity has quickened over time. There are now a dozen or more books, collections of critical essays, and special journal issues on Dubliners, including significant monographs and works by single authors who approach the collection alone or along with Joyce’s later works. These include, in addition to Warren Beck’s, studies by Garry Leonard, Donald Torchiana, Earl Ingersoll, Craig . . .

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