Saturday, December 26, 2009

A James Joyce Christmas

"It was always a great affair, the Misses Morkan's annual dance. Everybody who knew them came to it, members of the family, old friends of the family, the members of Julia's choir, any of Kate's pupils that were grown up enough and even some of Mary Jane's pupils too. Never once had it fallen flat."
~ James Joyce, "The Dead"

Not everyone is merry at Christmas time. That's one of the more obvious lessons of James Joyce's classic story, "The Dead." The final piece in Joyce's 1914 short story collection Dubliners, "The Dead" follows Gabriel Conroy to the Morkan sisters' annual Christmas party in Dublin in 1904. (This photo shows Joyce in that same year.) Conroy is a rather awkward man, somewhat lacking in the small talk department. Amid the rituals and obligatory gaiety of the party, he struggles to enjoy himself and find common ground with others and, at the story's end, to make sense of life and its mysteries.

You can read "The Dead" here in its entirety courtesy of Nebraska's Creighton University. Don't miss its final, haunting line:
"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
I offer this in memory of my cousins Joel Morkan, streetwise scholar, professor of Elizabethan literature and author of scholarly works on Milton and Wordsworth, and Neil Morkan, who ran recklessly through life as if knowing death was chasing him. They burned bright and died young.


  1. Just came across this via Google as I thought of my long-ago Professor at the University of Manitoba (Milton, naturally) on the day of the passing of one of his other students. (Wayne and I were both in his seminar.) He was a good guy -- proud of this name-check by Joyce -- a very smart guy too. Knew his stuff. Cheers to him and the family.

    1. I can't tell you how much it pleased me to read your comment. I'm so glad you remember Joel and thought well of him. Thank you!