Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Dead by James Joyce

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

Often cited as the best work of short fiction ever written, Joyce's elegant story details a New Year's Eve gathering in Dublin that is so evocative and beautiful that it prompts the protagonist's wife to make a shocking revelation to her husband—closing the story with an emotionally powerful epiphany that is unsurpassed in modern literature. (from Melville House)

My thoughts:
So maybe all this hand-wringing at the mere suggestion of reading James Joyce isn't totally warranted after all. Last year, I cautiously began reading a few stories from Dubliners. They weren't as convoluted or obtuse as I'd expected and, in fact, I actually liked them. The Dead, the last and longest story of the collection, has been included in the Melville House Art of the Novella series.

I loved the story, the writing, the physical descriptions (especially of the two aunts) but, oh, the ending.....

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. 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 upon 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 though the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

 Links to other Art of the Novella challenge posts can be found here.


  1. I only read this one because it was assigned in college. I will admit thought that I found it more interesting than I ever exppected!

  2. I haven't as yet been able to get on with Joyce's novels, but I do love this story. Those final paragraphs in particular really are breathtaking.

  3. I love that first quote. I have read anything by Joyce --which I know is a shame.

  4. I love this story, and that ending: best last sentence ever!

  5. I've always been deathly afraid of Joyce but read this one in college and loved it. As I recall we watched a movie based on the story that John Huston directed which was great too.

  6. I'm so happy you enjoyed this, JoAnn!!

  7. Reviewsbylola - I was pleasantly surprise with The Dead.

    Nymeth - Maybe it's best to start with Joyce's stories. I may attempt A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man one day, but doubt I'll ever pick up Ulysses!

    Diane - If you ever get inspired, be sure to start with Joyce's short stories.

    Rhapsodyinbooks - Truly beautiful... definitely a story I will read again.

    Kathleen - I didn't know there was a movie based on The Dead... off to check Netflix. Thanks!

    DS - This was really an unexpected surprise... simply a beautiful story!

  8. Oh, my goodness. If that passage wasn't included in your post, I daresay I would have read your post, all the while thinking that I would never read James Joyce because his writing was too, I'm confident that I will have to include him in my reading and soon. That was unbelievably engaging - where have I been?! Thank you sow much for sharing that, you have converted me! :)

  9. Natalie - Don't know that I'll ever be a huge Joyce advocate/fan, but I think Dubliners is very readable. Hope you get to try it soon.


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