Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the twentieth century.
The storeys were written when Irish nationalism was at its peak, and a search for a national identity and purpose was raging; at a crossroads of history and culture, Ireland was jolted by various converging ideas and influences. They centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character experiences a life-changing self-understanding or illumination. Many of the characters in Dubliners later appear in minor roles in Joyce's novel Ulysses. The initial storeys in the collection are narrated by child protagonists, and as the storeys continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. This is in line with Joyce's tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.
Between 1905, when Joyce first sent a manuscript to a publisher, and 1914, when the book was finally published, Joyce submitted the book 18 times to a total of 15 publishers. The book's publishing history is a harrowing tale of persistence in the face of frustration. The London house of Grant Richards agreed to publish it in 1905. Its printer, however, refused to set one of the storeys (Two Gallants), and Richards then began to press Joyce to remove a number of additional passages that he claimed the printer additionally refused to set. Joyce protested, but eventually did agree to a few of the requested changes. Richards eventually backed out of the deal. Joyce thereupon resubmitted the manuscript to additional publishers, and about three years later (1909) he found a willing candidate in Maunsel & Roberts of Dublin. Yet, a similar controversy developed and Maunsel too refused to publish it, even threatening to sue Joyce for printing costs already incurred. Joyce offered to pay the printing costs himself if the sheets were turned over to him and he was allowed to complete the job elsewhere and distribute the book, but when Joyce arrived at the printers they refused to surrender the sheets. They burned them the next day. Joyce managed to save one copy, which he obtained "by ruse". He then returned to submitting the manuscript to additional publishers, and in 1914 Grant Richards once again agreed to publish the book, using the page proofs saved from Maunsel as copy.
- "The Sisters" – After the priest Father Flynn dies, a young boy who was close to him and his family deals with his death superficially.
- "An Encounter" – Two schoolboys playing truant encounter an elderly man.
- "Araby" – A boy falls in love with the sister of his friend, but fails in his quest to buy her a worthy gift from the Araby bazaar.
- "Eveline" – A young woman weighs her decision to flee Ireland with a sailor.
- "After the Race" – College student Jimmy Doyle tries to fit in with his wealthy friends.
- "Two Gallants" – Two con men, Lenehan and Corley, find a maid who's willing to steal from her employer.
- "The Boarding House" – Mrs Mooney successfully manoeuvres her daughter Polly into an upwardly mobile marriage with her lodger Mr Doran.
- "A Little Cloud" – Little Chandler's dinner with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher casts fresh light on his own failed literary dreams. The storey additionally reflects on Chandler's mood upon realising that his baby son has replaced him as the centre of his wife's affections.
- "Counterparts" – Farrington, a lumbering alcoholic scrivener, takes out his frustration in pubs and on his son Tom.
- "Clay" – The old maid Maria, a laundress, celebrates Halloween with her former foster child Joe Donnelly and his family.
- "A Painful Case" – Mr Duffy rebuffs Mrs Sinico, then, four years later, realises that he has condemned her to loneliness and death.
- "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" – Minor politicians fail to live up to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell.
- "A Mother" – Mrs Kearney tries to win a place of pride for her daughter, Kathleen, in the Irish cultural movement, by starring her in a series of concerts, but ultimately fails.
- "Grace" – After Mr Kernan injures himself falling down the stairs in a bar, his friends try to reform him through Catholicism.
- "The Dead" – Gabriel Conroy attends a party, and later, as he speaks with his wife, has an epiphany about the nature of life and death. At 15–16,000 words this storey has additionally been classified as a novella. The Dead was adapted into a film by John Huston, written for the screen by his son Tony and starring his daughter Anjelica as Mrs. Conroy.
In Dubliners, Joyce rarely uses hyperbole, relying on simplicity and close detail to create a realistic setting. This ties the reader's understanding of people to their environments. Additionally, Joyce's prose doesn't pressure characters into thinking a certain way; rather they're left to come to their own conclusions. This trait of Dubliners is even more evident when contrasted with moral judgements displayed in the works of earlier writers such as Charles Dickens. This frequently leads to a lack of traditional dramatic resolution within the stories.
It has been argued that Joyce often allows his narrative voice to gravitate towards the voice of a textual character. For example, the opening line of 'The Dead' reads "Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet." She is not, in this instance, "literally" run off her feet, and neither would Joyce have thought so; rather, the narrative lends itself to a use of language typical of the character being described. Joyce's use of the English language for his characters reflects what later became known as Hiberno-English that is, the English as spoken by average Dubliners and greatly influenced by the older Irish language. Joyce expounded on the subject of language and his use of it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Joyce often uses descriptions from the characters' point of view, although he quite rarely writes in the first person. This can be seen in Eveline: "Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne." Here, Joyce employs an empirical perspective in his description of characters and events; an understanding of characters' personalities is often gained through an analysis of their possessions. The first paragraph of A Painful Case is an example of this style, as well as Joyce's use of global to local description of the character's possessions. Joyce additionally employs parodies of additional writing styles; part of A Painful Case is written as a newspaper story, and part of Grace is written as a sermon. This stylistic motif might additionally be seen in Ulysses (for example, in the Aeolus episode, which is written in a newspaper style), and is indicative of a sort of blending of narrative with textual circumstances.
The collection as a whole displays an overall plan, beginning with storeys of youth and progressing in age to culminate in The Dead. Great emphasis is laid upon the specific geographic details of Dublin, details to which a reader with a knowledge of the area would be able to directly relate. The multiple perspectives presented throughout the collection serve to compare the characters and people in Dublin at this time.
- Hugh Leonard adapted six storeys as Dublin One which was staged at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in 1963.
- John Huston's film production of The Dead was released in 1987 .
- In October 1998, BBC Radio 4 broadcast dramatisations by various writers of A Painful Case, After the Race, Two Gallants, The Boarding House, A Little Cloud, and Counterparts. The series ended with a dramatisation of The Dead, which was first broadcast in 1994 under the title 'Distant Music'. These were accompanied by nighttime abridged readings, starting with Ivy Day in the Committee Room (in two parts, read by T P McKenna), followed by The Sisters, An Encounter, Araby, Eveline, and Clay, all read by Barry McGovern.
- In 1999 a short film adaptation of Araby was produced and directed by Dennis Courtney.
- In 2000, a Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of The Dead was written by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey, directed by Richard Nelson.
- In April 2012, Stephen Rea read The Dead on RTÉ Radio 1.
- In February 2014, Stephen Rea read all fifteen storeys spread across twenty 13-minute segments of Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4.
- In June 2014, WNYC's The Greene Space premiered Dubliners - an audio play suite written and directed by Arthur Yorinks based on Araby, Eveline, Clay, and The Dead.
- In July 2014, Irish actor Carl Finnegan released a modern retelling of Two Gallants as a short film which he co-wrote with Darren McGrath. Carl Finnegan additionally produced, directed and performed the role of Corley in the film.