There is something quiet and comforting to be found down the alleyways and in the pubs of old Europe. Life, life that is our life – from where so many of us came, as much a part of who we still are as the sweeping frozen hills that are nestled in our collective imaginations. Life, the problems from which we were fleeing that led us here, to America. Poverty, crippling and blinding and maddening. Strife, brought on by so great a past which went before leading to the edge of a chasm; a chasm with no way to cross. Abuse; because we are an abusive lot, humanity is and the Lord up on high must just shake His head disheartened by His creation’s inability find their way – even after so long a time, so great a cloud of witnesses and the collective instruction of generations.
This is what “Dubliners” by James Joyce is about. Short stories of Irishmen and women before and perhaps during the great migration to America; illustrating it in all its panic and frustration and desperation for those of us who only know the Ireland of today as a place of rolling greens and quaint dells, safeguarded as it is these days carefully nestled in the bosom of a united Europe at peace. In these fraught days of the European Union’s angst – and I take no position here related to that experiment – it is easy to forget why the project was begun in the first place. It is easy for the new generation to ignore the desperation and poverty and war which for millennia accompanied the European story.
To them, I say re-read Joyce – and Evelyn Waugh and Emily Bronte and finish up with W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece, “Of Human Bondage”. Remember from whence Europe has come, and the poverty which is so much a part of the Irish story as is the whisky with which the disaffected sought to forget. Be gentle and thoughtful, be disciplined and kind; for our prosperity is delicate as an Irish spring Bluebell and our behavior not so greatly improved from that characterized in James Joyce’s “Dubliners”.