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Rejoice in Joyce Revival

| Wednesday, August 27, 2014

web_graphics_rejoice in joyce_8-28-2014Samantha Coughlin

The last words James Joyce uttered before relapsing into a coma were, “Does nobody understand?” Yet, one hundred years after the publication of his remarkable short story collection, “Dubliners,” we are still grappling and questioning and trying our best to, indeed, understand. With endless amounts of commentary on Joyce’s playwriting feat, poetry collections and, of course, his instant classics “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake,” Joyce has captivated his audiences from the start. This year, the book “Dubliners 100” was published to commemorate Joyce’s mastery of the short story in 1914’s “Dubliners.” It deserves your reading more than any other current collection – here’s why.

The book is a brilliant endeavor to bridge the gap between a classic Irish writer like Joyce and present-day Irish voices, containing revamped versions by fifteen contemporary Irish writers of the same fifteen stories from “Dubliners.” Some of the versions stray far from the original stories; others are aligned in theme and form, but all are successful in their own right and fulfill Joyce’s original vision to represent what he called, “a chapter of the moral history of my country.” I found the book on Bloomsday this past summer in Dublin. Stacked high in Hodges Figgis bookstore, it acted as a physical testament to the scope of connectivity and innovation in Joyce’s works. He is just as good now as ever, and “Dubliners 100” celebrates his enduring significance.

In the introduction to “Dubliners 100,” editor Thomas Morris calls the new versions “cover versions,” like covered songs. The writers included in this anniversary edition were not selected to merely rewrite the “Dubliners” stories in their own modern-day voices, but instead were given the option to rework Joyce’s stories in any way they wished. With this freedom, the book turns out to be one of the most approachable ways to access a broad slew of contemporary Irish writers, while still honoring Joyce.

My favorite story in “Dubliners” remains “A Little Cloud,” for I’m sympathetic towards Little Chandler’s desire to go beyond his present context and perhaps become a poet,travel abroad or, really, be anywhere besides his hometown. The “Dubliners 100” version is spot on: Irish writer John Kelly delivers a tale with the same turbulence and genius. With Kelly’s version in mind, I flipped back to Joyce’s story and recognized new aspects that Kelly emphasized – the new book giving me an innovative way to approach the old. This version is a true treasure — in tandem, Joyce’s voice is revitalized in light of the contemporary writers who make the original stories shine.

Before studying in Dublin this summer, I considered the Irish canon to be constituted by the literary giants we can all identify: Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, but when I returned home I was immersed in the works of modern-day Irish writers who I hadn’t even heard of, like Roddy Doyle and Colm Toibin. It’s no surprise that the Irish canon prospers the same today as it did in the past — it is thriving. I encourage you to access this canon in any way you can, for it will not disappoint.

Conveniently, one opportunity is happening this week at ND — the Seamus Heaney memorial lecture and poetry reading in the Hesburgh Room of the Morris Inn this afternoon at 4 p.m.

For those of you who don’t know him, Heaney is the latest writer who has undeniably solidified his place in the Irish literary canon. The fourth Irishman to win the Nobel Prize, Heaney represented the voice of an entire nation in challenging times and created some of the most memorable, beautiful poetry in recent decades.

So, after you order “Dubliners 100,” hop over to attend the event and prepare to be stunned. Whether it’s been one or one hundred years since first being published, the writers and works that make up the Irish canon are something to be shared and treasured; “Dubliners 100” and Heaney are, in my eyes, the perfect place to start.

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About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly