I know today isn’t All Hallow’s Eve, a.k.a. Halloween, when tonight’s story from James Joyce’s Dubliners takes place, but with temperatures like the ones we’ve been experiencing in Berlin the last few weeks, I’m tempted to podcast a whole series of unseasonable stories just to keep cool. What do you think – should I start in on A Christmas Carol tomorrow…?
Perhaps there is no feeling more disheartening than the realisation that, despite all your hopes and dreams, and all the potential others once saw in you, you really are just “Little Chandler” after all – a work horse, good citizen, devoted family father, and utter bore. They say the grass is always greener… and sometimes, I suspect, “they” know exactly what they’re talking about – as in this story from James Joyce’s Dubliners from 1914.
I love listening to such Irish traditional bands as the Chieftains and the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, particularly late at night, when my thoughts wing their way back to the experiences of my own Irish ancestors along the Shamrock Shore. But as lovely and dreamy as the melodies are, the lyrics quickly pull me down to the tragedy and cruelty that has informed Irish culture until a fairly recent date. Tonight’s story by Liam O’Flaherty takes us back to the heart of the Irish Civil War of 1922/23. I expect that O’Flaherty, a veteran of both the First World War and of the Civil War, knew a thing or two about tragedy and cruelty.
This is one of my favourite Joyce stories. It packs a short lifetime of emotion and apprehension into just a few lovely pages. From Joyce’s collection Dubliners, first published in1914.
Stepping out into life, like the young hero of this story, demands courage and open eyes. As Joyce wrote in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.