‘Eveline’ by James Joyce

Scholars of Joyce might discuss, at length, his contribution to modernist literature, his imitable narrative style and uncompromising prose, but I chose ‘Eveline’ simply because it was the first short story that ever made me cry. 

Eveline is nineteen and faced with the dilemma of eloping to Buenos Aires with her lover Frank, or remaining in Dublin, working in The Stores and taking care of her abusive father. Joyce examines the danger of sentimental reminiscence. When Eveline hears a street organ playing, she is reminded of a promise to her mother, “to keep the home together as long as she could” followed by a swift bout of panic that her life will be as pitiful as her mothers: “Escape! She must escape!”

We are hopeful for Eveline until the last moments, when her fear of what she truly desires becomes too much to bear and instead she commits her to a lifetime of drudgery. Eveline is left “gripping both hands to the iron railings” on the dock, whilst Frank is swept away in the crowds. 

Joyce’s stories are buoyed by his imitable attention to detail and his incredible capacity to inject poignancy and self-reflection into his uncompromising social commentaries on Dublin. 

First published in Irish Homestead, 2014. Collected in Dubliners, Grant Richards, 1914

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