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Celebrating the Sacred in Ordinary Life

James Joyce and the Renaissance Magus


Tom Absher

This book is an introductory examination of the Hermetic tradition in the Renaissance and how James Joyce made use of certain of its salient features in his four works of fiction: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. This book makes a useful contribution to literary studies of Joyce’s work as well as introductory cultural studies of the Hermetic tradition, its philosophy and important figures, like Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno.

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Chapter 4. Dubliners




Joyce said of his collection of short stories, Dubliners, “my intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because the city seemed to me the centre of paralysis.”1 Each of the stories in the collection reflects this paralysis, what Lionel Trilling refers to as “the poverty of experience and passion, of gaiety, wit, intelligence—the death-in-life of a narrow, provincial existence.” In his praise of “The Dead,” the strongest and final story in the collection, Trilling raises the ante for the work as a whole, suggesting that Joyce has written “a chapter in the moral history not only of his country but of the whole modern western world. Gabriel Conroy’s plight, his sense that he has been overtaken by death-in-life, is shared by many in our time.”2 I feel Trilling here has enlarged the moral scope of Dubliners to a scale and focus applicable to all of Joyce’s works of fiction, that his vision in these short stories is also present to one degree or another in Portrait, Ulysses, and the Wake.

Dubliners is key to the development of Joyce’s work because it is rather like a baseline, a ground zero for his overall vision. In this collection of stories, practically no one ventures into the terra incognita of the self and the world, and except for “The Dead” there is no movement, no changes, no talk of...

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