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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Counterparts" by James Joyce

"Counterparts" by James Joyce   (from Dubliners, 1914, 15 pages)

"Fathers and Sons" Chapter 21 of Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd (1995)

Some Reflections on the Greatest of Irish Writers
The Irish Quarter


My Prior Posts on James Joyce

 Ireland has a population of 4.6 million people.   The earth about seven billion.   The most influential novelist of the 20th century (and beyond), the greatest and most influential poet, the most influential playwright since Shakespeare, and the author of the most important collection of short stories are all from Ireland.   This covers the whole world, not just the English speaking part of it.   Why did this happen in a country with 0.15 percent of the world's population?    If you look at writers considered of world class today, a grossly disproportionate number of them are  Irish.   To bring things close to home, here in the Philippines we have about 90 million people but we have no world class writers.  (Some will insist Juan Rizal is a world class writer but this is really just flag waving.)   India with a billion people has fewer world class writers than Ireland   Maybe England and the United States taken together, go ahead and throw in Canada and Australia also, might be able to match Ireland in a world literary show down but The Reading Life would be in the Irish bleachers.   Lots of very erudite people have tried to explain this and maybe I will also one day but not yet.   Why this is true is up for debate, that it is  true is not.

The most influential collection of short stories ever written anywhere in the world ever is Dubliners by James Joyce (1882 to 1941).     I have been reading a lot in Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd lately.   I have found his post colonial reading of Irish literature brilliantly illuminating.
He says one of the core themes of Irish literature is the weak or missing Father.   "Counterpoints" is the perfect story to illustrate this.   The central character is a clerk, he copies contracts (this was a big source of work in offices before copy machines and printers) and he works for a petty bully who constantly badgers him and often threatens to get him fired.   He has a wife and family but his real passion is hanging out with his mates at the pub drinking.   At home he makes up for his feeling of powerlessness by abusing his family.   This, as Kiberd explains, a commentary on the Irish revolutions against the British.   Those in the revolts had no actual plans to change society they just wanted the British out.

"Counterparts" is, of course, a perfectly crafted story that tells us a great deal about the lives of the man, his bosses (no more than petty workers themselves) and his family.  

I have so far posted on five of the five-teen stories in Dubliners.   I hope to post on all of them by May 15, 2013.  

Mel u


Jørn Roeim said...

Sorry to say, but the most influential playwright since Shakespeare is Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian.

Mel u said...

Tehme Melck-no need to be sorry-we learn more from those who disagree with us than those who share our opinions. I have read a few Ibsen plays and seen a movie or two based on them but I have never seen one preformed due to the lack of theatrical scene here in Manila. I claim no expertise in the history of the drama but to me Ibsen was not really that innovative other than in his themes-he followed the conventions of the stage of the time-I really appreciate your visit