I’m reading a book called “Reading Joyce” by David Pierce, and I’ve got to the chapters where he starts to discuss Dubliners. So I read the first story of Dubliners, called “The Sisters” so that I could encounter Joyce before David Pierce gets to me, as it were. Not that I don’t like Mr Pierce. He strikes me as a very amiable and encouraging companion for someone embarking on a trip into the world of James Joyce.
The Sisters is about the death of a priest. The narrator is a young man who had known the priest and been taught by him. He is fearful about the priest’s illness and his dying. When it comes it brings vivid and rather unearthly impressions to the young man’s experience. The stupid comments of his relatives, the dusk light when he goes round to see the priest laid out, and of course the appearance of the body. A child, still, in the eyes of some, the young man, mainly silent while others talk, goes into the ‘death room’ on tip toe, and seems to trip through the whole story as someone who doesn’t quite belong in that world.
And the priest, it seems, was not quite right, and did not fit either. The sisters, apparently very caring, yet curiously unmoved by his death, reveal that an incident long before seems to have made Fr. Flynn unstable, perhaps mentally ill. Their easy coping seems to diminish the dead priest. ‘Ah, poor James!’ said Eliza. ‘He was no great trouble to us. You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now.’
It’s only ten pages, but leaves many questions hanging, many impressions that worm around in the mind. I read it during the dogment’s second walk of the day, finished it beside Lucia’s grave as the dusk faded.