In June 2004, I searched for 7 Eccles Street in Dublin. I never found it. I didn’t find it because it’s no longer there, the victim of nuns who extended a maternity hospital. I looked for the address because James Joyce made it famous in Ulysses, and Ulysses made me feel like fiction is alive. I read Ulysses because I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, because I had already read “Araby”–one of Joyce’s short stories from his collection Dubliners, and his only short story to be widely anthologized. If there’s one piece of Joyce’s writing that a non-literary people have read, it’s probably “Araby.” It’s short; it’s accessible; it’s ubiquitous.
The short story is indispensable as a stepping stone for writers too. It’s a form of its own that stands alone without having to lead to a novel, sure–don’t get me wrong–but for writers who write in both forms, it’s usually the short story that comes to the surface before the novel. It’s a way to get really good at capturing a mood or a moment. It’s decorating a room instead of a house–nearly immediate gratification.
Joyce’s works got longer as he got older, which I think is a beautiful transition. But the stories got him there; they flung him clear to Finnegans Wake, just as a high-school reading of “Araby” eventually sent me across the Atlantic searching for an address that held incalculable meaning for me: a three-storey Georgian torn down and replaced, but kept alive by perpetuating tiny off-shoot stories all its own.
James Joyce is a master, and Araby is a breath-taking achievement in the world of fiction Thanks for the post.
I loved your piece, Katrina. I too have gone in search of Joyce addresses, and found a lot of them, spending time in Zurich, Paris, Trieste, Dublin, Galway and Pula in Croatia. I have a few photos on my Facebook page – I’ll get them onto a better site, soon. Araby puzzled me a lot when I first read it (when I was about 18 or 19 – many years ago) because I loved the atmosphere in the story and yet wondered why the tale just seemed to end so abruptly. I wasn’t mature enough to realise that the atmosphere was the thing. It reminded me very much of childhood visits to Dublin (my parents are from there) and of my time living there when I was nine years old. Bewlay’s Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street, I realised later, had stuck in my mind; it’s all poshed-up and bland now, but in those days it was dark and gloomy, lit by red and yellow lights, and really did seem like somewhere foreign. When I read Araby, this memory was one of the things that made me get the atmosphere in the story. I didn’t know that Araby was one of the most widely-read JJ stories. I’m obviously a big fan of Joyce, my fandom centred on Ulysses and Dubliners. I’ll never read Portrait or Stephen Hero again, but keep re-reading Ulysses and Dubliners. Finnegans Wake has its moments, but I can never regard it as anything other than literary whimsy, unfortunately – my failing, I’m sure!
My creative writing students are currently reading ‘Araby’ for my intermediate fiction class. It’s one of my favorites.