Today I’ve chosen two more titles to revisit somewhat at random. I wanted to do the two Melville novellas, but I’ve been extremely busy and wanted to devote more time to them, so instead you get two (or at least 1.5) Irish writers.
Dubliners is the only James Joyce I’ve read, and while I wasn’t what you’d call blown away, I did enjoy “The Dead,” which is here considered a novella (so I’ll start italicizing it I guess). But going back over it now, I realize how distorted my memory of the story was. I saw “the story” as being about Gretta and her tale of woe: when she was a girl, she was “great with” a 17-year-old boy who was very “sensitive” and ended up dying, possibly of consumption, possibly for her. Gretta begins thinking about this boy, or at least, she gets upset and tells her husband about him, after an annual dance given by her husband’s maiden aunts and their neice. I remembered the festivities of Miss Kate and Miss Julia as a framing story, a device to set up Gretta for her memories.
In this 64-page novella, less than 5 are devoted to Gretta’s story of Michael Furey. So much for that framing story.
Still, what is the party story if not a set-up for the sad one? What are the talking and laughing and eating and family and friends, not to mention Gabriel’s speech about remembering those dead and gone, if not preparation for Gretta’s tale—or, really, preparation for Gabriel’s reaction to Gretta’s tale?
“It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.” Oh, Sherlock Holmes, I revisit you and I only want to quote passages I already quoted—not to mention see Dartmoor again. Although Watson does make it awfully creepy. “Always there was this feeling of an unseen force,” he says when he discovers that he’s been watched, “a fine net drawn round us with infinite skill and delicacy, holding us so lightly that it was only at some supreme moment that one realized that one was indeed entangled in its meshes.” Fortunately, the net here is woven by someone who can be trusted, at least mostly.
Everything about this mystery feels classic to me, as, I imagine, Sherlock Holmes should. But it’s more than that. It’s the setting, the structure, the author’s own assurance. I do love this genre.