The History of Literature #124 – James Joyce’s “The Dead” (Part 2)

In this second part of a two-part episode, we look at the resounding conclusion of James Joyce’s masterpiece “The Dead,” which contains some of the finest prose ever written in the English language. Be warned: this episode, which runs from Gabriel’s speech to the final revelatory scene, contains spoilers. But don’t let that stop you! Read the story first (if you want), then come back and listen to the episode – and hear the song that launched a thousand complex thoughts in Gabriel (and a million college theme papers for everyone else).

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Special holiday news! Now for a limited time, you can purchase History of Literature swag (mugs, tote bags, and “virtual coffees” for Jacke) at historyofliterature.com/shop. Get yours today!

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The History of Literature #123 – James Joyce’s The Dead (part 1)

Happy holidays! In this special two-part episode, host Jacke Wilson takes a look at a story that he can’t stop thinking about: James Joyce’s masterpiece “The Dead.” How does it work? Why is it so good? And why does it resonate so deeply with Jacke? We tackle all that and more.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Special holiday news! Now for a limited time, you can purchase History of Literature swag (mugs, tote bags, and “virtual coffees” for Jacke) at historyofliterature.com/shop. Get yours today!

The History of Literature #122 – Young James Joyce


Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:02:15 — 43.0MB) | Embed

We often think of James Joyce as a man in his thirties and forties, a  monkish, fanatical, eyepatch-wearing author, trapped in his hovel and his own mind, agonizing over his masterpieces, sentence by sentence, word by laborious word. But young James Joyce, the one who studied literature in college and roamed the night-time streets of Dublin with his friends, laughing and carousing and observing the characters around him, was a different person altogether – or was he? Host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the James Joyce who studied his fellow Dubliners – and then wrote a masterful collection of short stories that he named after them.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Special holiday news! Now for a limited time, you can purchase History of Literature swag (mugs, tote bags, and “virtual coffees” for Jacke) at historyofliterature.com/shop. Get yours today!

Melancholy Christmas… what to do when it’s almost over

Dear Readers,

Oh, it’s been a good Christmas season here on the Jacke blog, although I’ve been struck by how much sadness, longing, and ache there is out there. Let’s call it the human, grown-up side of Christmas. The kids have their joy and excitement; the adults watch them bouncing around with their new presents and smile through sad eyes. That’s my Christmas, and it sounds like it’s a recognizable Christmas for a lot of you as well.

I didn’t want to spoil our reading of James Joyce’s “The Dead” for Christmas Eve. But now that THAT’S over, let’s go ahead and combine it with another masterpiece for Christmas night. John Huston’s film version of “The Dead,” available on youtube in its entirety.

And of course, there’s always a couple of episodes of The Jacke Wilson Show. We had the one about The Gift (Young Jacke’s attempts to buy a present for his mother) and the Christmas story for my boys (about their great grandfather’s Wisconsin boyhood).

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

So tonight, when the chaos is over, and the house is cleaned up and the fire is still going and the chair is comfortable with maybe a glass of red wine still half full, enjoy this beautiful and quietly devastating film, or suffer along with me in the podcast episodes (there is some triumph in there too, and some smiles!).

And may you and yours have a very merry (and only slightly melancholy) holiday this year.

With love,

Jacke

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: The Dead

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.

[Note: It’s here! Christmas Eve! And we’ve been running our own version of an advent calendar here on the Jacke Blog: reading one Dubliners story per day until today, when we reach “The Dead,” one of the most celebrated works in all literature. So cozy up to the fireplace, but on a little scratchy old opera, and enjoy this beautiful world masterpiece from James Joyce. Seasons greetings, everyone, and may you and your loved ones know much joy and grace during these holidays.]

THE DEAD

LILY, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also. But Miss Kate and Miss Julia had thought of that and had converted the bathroom upstairs into a ladies’ dressing-room. Miss Kate and Miss Julia were there, gossiping and laughing and fussing, walking after each other to the head of the stairs, peering down over the banisters and calling down to Lily to ask her who had come.

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Getting Closer! The Film Version of Joyce’s The Dead (John Huston’s Masterpiece)

We’re closing in! For those of you following along, we’re only a few days away from the culmination of our Dubliners project. If you haven’t been reading the stories each day, don’t worry. This isn’t assigned reading; I don’t give out homework.

Except for one thing. This year, you must reserve some time for The Dead on Christmas Eve. THAT is required.

Well, just kidding, of course. No, it’s not required – just highly, highly encouraged. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m telling you, reading Joyce’s famous novella on Christmas Eve is as good as it gets. Up there with presents under the tree and It’s a Wonderful Life and my family’s great new tradition of buying a tree at the Home Depot parking lot* and then having lunch at Five Guys. (My kids are driving the Christmas train these days.)

But hey! There’s one tradition I get to keep for myself. It’s private and reflective and deeply enriching. And that’s reading The Dead on Christmas Eve.

We’ll get there! But for now, take a look at this video to whet your appetite. The Dead is not only a perfect story, it inspired a perfect movie, directed by John Huston (his last film). Only a genius director at the end of his career could have exercised the restraint necessary to make this film.

And here’s some commentary on the trailer.

Oh sure, it’s not Die Hard. But its quiet, devastating beauty are just as potent. So brew up a little Irish coffee, toss some more wood on the fire, and cozy up to this film.

That’s you this year: sitting under a big quilt with your special someone and/or those ghosts that chase us all and watching a beautiful film.

And then: keep reading the Dubliners, and we’ll all get to the story itself on Christmas Eve. Onward and upward!

* Part of the tradition: “Do you want some paper under this tree to protect the roof of your car?” says the man at the Home Depot. “Does anyone ever say no to that question?” I ask.

Christmas with James Joyce: The Sisters

Happy Dubliners Day! What’s that, you ask? It refers to a holiday tradition I have, which is to read one of James Joyce’s Dubliners story each day in the fifteen days leading up to Christmas Eve. Just like an advent calendar! And today, December 10, is the day to begin. I recommend taking off work, getting roaring drunk on Guinness or some good Irish whiskey, and jumping into the icy river of your choice while screaming sentences from Finnegans Wake at the top of your lungs.

Just kidding! All you need is about fifteen minutes and a clear, open mind. Follow this calendar (it’s not hard!) and you will be a better person at the end of it. Your Christmas Eve just might be the best you’ve ever had. Trust me.

How did this tradition begin? Well, it first came about when I read The Dead, one of the greatest short stories (some would call it a novella) ever written. The Dubliners stories lead up to The Dead the way the songs on Sgt. Pepper lead up to “A Day in the Life.” And with apologies to Dickens, The Dead is probably the greatest Christmas story for adults in all literature. (Maybe I’m forgetting one. But I don’t think so.)

Anyway, I first read The Dead at age nineteen or so. and was completely blown away. I wanted to read it over and over, I wanted to feel everything I felt the first time, but I didn’t want the impact to lessen. And so I thought, “I should re-read this story once a year for the rest of my life.” It wasn’t hard to go from that to “…and it should be on Christmas Eve!” And from there to “I’ll read one Dubliners story a day until I get to The Dead on Christmas Eve!” And that’s how it all began. A secular holiday tradition, but no less spiritual for that.

So here we go! This year I’m inviting you to come along with me for the ride. We’ll start with the first story in the book, “The Sisters.” All texts are provided courtesy of the incredible Project Gutenberg. There’s a great rendition of the story in the video above, too. All highly recommended. Enjoy!

THE SISTERS

THERE was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me: “I am not long for this world,” and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.

Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if returning to some former remark of his:

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