This final short piece in Joyce's Dubliners, in some ways summative of all themes running through the collection, has long been a favorite of mine. Read many times as both assigment and personal choice. And always recommended to those who tell me they find Joyce unreadable. It is more than the reflection of Irish identity that the author often stated he intended. For me, thoughts seldom focus on the political implications of the novella, but rather, upon the ways that culturally and socially scripted conventions can strip the vibrancy, the depth, the meaning out of personal interactions. And, of course, the ways in which the dead never truly leave us.
Gabriel Conroy and his wife, Gretta, attend "Misses Morkan's Annual Dance," an event hosted by Gabriel's aunts to celebrate the Epiphany, an interesting choice of holiday given the personal epiphany with which the story ends as well as Joyce's overall fondness for the epiphany as a literary technique. The party is festive but overwhelmed by a sense of reserve, the artificial, that which is not said. When Gabriel and Gretta leave the party, Gabriel begins to feel an intense longing for his wife, but the actual expression of that is thwarted, as are many of Gabriel's efforts at communicating his feelings, when Gretta confesses the source of her tears earlier in the evening. I don't want to share more because it is best if you read it yourself, but I have to share the final words of the story just because I love them. Love only the closing of Gatsby more.
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted upon the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly though the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
Quietly beautiful. Highly recommended.