Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Sisters" by James Joyce-Day One of Irish Short Stories Week

"The Sisters" by James Joyce-(1904 and reprinted 1914, 8 pages)

Resources for the Week

The View from Mount Parnassus
Day One
James Joyce

James Joyce (1882 to 1941-Dublin), our first author for Irish Short Story week, is the author of Ulysses (1922).  It is up for debate if Ulysses is the highest literary achievement of the 20th century, that it is the most influential work of the century is simply a fact.    Ulysses is a very high status canon work with some of the most beautiful prose ever written.  Joyce was also very much into the reading life.     Ulysses is not an easy book and was in fact meant to be difficult.  It has been many years since I read  Ulysses but much of it sticks in my mind.    Joyce had a massive ego and famously said he wanted people to study his books for their entire lives.   I felt I had to start  the week with a work by Joyce.   In Ireland since, 1922, you are either a follower of Joyce or in revolt against him.    His short stories, collected in The Dubliners (1914) set a very high standard for other Irish short story writers.   I think that is one of the reasons the quality of the Irish Short Story is so high.   In order to be a literate Irish writer, one  had to have a grasp of the work of  Joyce and this required you take the trouble to educate yourself to a fairly high level.    
"James,  so glad to have you as my first guest,
I hope we can talk privately"-Carmilla 

"The Sisters" was first published in 1904 and then it became the lead story in Joyce's collection of short stories, The Dubliner's in 1914.    "The Sisters" centers on the relationship of a young boy whose name we never learn and a Catholic priest.    As the story opens we learn the priest is terribly ill and is not expected to recover.     The boy is fascinated with the impending death of the priest and begins to look for hidden meanings and omens in the common place.   (There will be some spoilers in the plot summery here-I am sort of OK with spoilers on very high canon status works).   The priest dies the next day and the boy dreams of the priest and his own escape to a strange land.   He goes to the wake and he views the corpse in the company of  two sisters.  

Father Flynn was a very intellectual highly educated man.   He was not in fact considered a very good priest as it was felt he "over thought things" and confused his parishioners.    He also found the routine of being  a priest to be unsatisfying and in fact boring.   He seems to have  suffered from a mental collapse at one point in his career from which he never recovered.     The boy is unaware of this and has tremendous feelings of guilt for not visiting Father Flynn in his final days.
"Mr Joyce, it is a find start for
Irish Short Week you are making"-Rory 

"The Sisters" could be seen as about the relationship of Ireland and the Catholic Church.   Is it being suggested that the Church is caught up in ritual and old ways and out of touch with the needs of the people?   It also seems a commentary on the nature of religion and the existence of hidden structures seen only by a few.   

"The Sisters" is not a story told in a ground breaking fashion.  It is an open story that all can read.   It has real feeling for the boy and the Priest.   It is thematically rich.   Much of the history of Ireland is in this short story.    The boy and Father Flynn both come alive for us.   It is worth reading just for the sheer beauty of the prose.

You can read "The Sisters" online here, along with 14 of his other short stories and if you are so inclined you could even read Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake there!

If you want to participate in Irish Short Stories week all you need do is to post on one story by an Irish author and leave me a comment with a link so I can do a master post.   If you need reading ideas, Google "Irish Short Story Writers".     If  you have any questions, suggestions, or have some ideas for authors to cover, please leave me a comment.

Our first post for The view from Mount Parnassus Day One of Irish Short Stories Week one was on a story by  the most important novelist of the 20th century.     The next post will be on a very odd short story by the most important playwright of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett.     This will be followed with a post on a folk tale by the most important poet of the 20th century, W. B. Yeats.   After today I will post on mere mortal writers and we will meet Carmilla, the first lesbian vampire in the literary world tomorrow.

If you want to participate in Irish Short Story week all you have to do is post on any short story by an Irish author and leave me a comment so I can include it in the master post.

Mel u

Mel u


JoAnn said...

"The Sisters" was the first story I read by Joyce and stands out as one of the most memorable. I doubt I'll ever get to Ulysses...

Short Story Slore said...

I really need to read The Dubliners. I liked how this story was told from the POV of the boy and how he was unaware of a lot of things concerning Father Flynn. This is a great example of a short story not only entertaining the reader, but also commenting on what's going on during this time. I enjoy getting a bit of a history lesson through stories.

Mel u said...

JoAnn-"The Sisters" is a great story-thanks for stopping by

Short Story Store-thanks for your comments and support-

ds said...

How could you not begin Irish Short Story Week with a tale by Joyce? Though I believe my favorite from Dubliners is "The Dead." Have I mentioned that I love the shamrocks and the new additions to your header? Well in the spirit, Mel!

Aine Greaney said...

This is a great idea and a wonderful dialog and showcase of Ireland's signature literary form. My two favorite collections: "The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction" and "Cabbage and Bones: An Anthology of Irish American Women's Fiction." From the first one, check out "Orange Horses" by Maeve Kelly. From the latter, I like "The Other Woman" by Valerie Sayers.

Thanks again!
Aine Greaney

Rebecca Reid said...

Hi Mel u, I didn't have a chance to read anything for this week -- but I do want to at some point, maybe I'll revisit Dubliners next week when I have some time. I actually can't remember details of this story but I did read all of Dubliners a while back. I should revisit it thinking about the relationship of the Catholic church to Ireland.