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Rhyme and Reason

James Joyce


I SEE that an app of James Joyce's short story The Dead has come on the market on the 100th anniversary of the publication of his book Dubliners. This tale has been hailed as the greatest short story in the English language.

One of the major film directors of the last century, John Huston, thought so and turned it into a memorable movie. All his life he had longed to do this, he told me one day in his house in Galway. But it wasn't until he was in his late seventies, and in a wheelchair, that he got an opportunity to turn The Dead into a masterpiece of our time.

The Dead centres around a Christmas dinner dance given by two Dublin ladies in their fine Victorian house on the Dublin quays. It is a Dublin "musical evening" powered by the remarkable talent that flourished in the city at the time. The story tells of a young Galway couple, Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta, and how their lives change during the evening.

Gabriel senses, when they are going back to their hotel, that a change has come over his wife. Later, when they are in their room, Gretta tells him that a song sung that evening, The Lass of Aughrim, has brought back a memory of her first lover, Michael Furey, a young Galway man who is now dead.

Gabriel knows then he has lost his wife to Michael Furey in the grave.

The last passage of the story is one of the famous prose pieces of the 20th century.

Though it is written in prose, it has all the power and rush of great verse. I have taken it temporarily out of its prose form and set it out like verse where standing alone it can catch the ear with its message of desperate despair.