“The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.”
Along with the two subsequent stories in my personal anthology, ‘Araby’ is one of the great evocations of boyhood. Though all the stories from Dubliners are dazzlers, there’s something particularly special about this brief encounter with a boy and the nameless object of his desire. We know her only as “Mangan’s sister,” though the narrator admits that “her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” Poignantly, Joyce’s epiphanic revelation appears here not as some illuminating romantic disclosure, but as disillusionment in tented darkness, a crisis of maturity metastasized.
First published in Joyce’s collection Dubliners, 1914, Grant Richards Ltd., available now in numerous print editions and online at The Literature Network