“The Sisters” by James Joyce

This is the first of fifteen short stories in James Joyce’s collection
Dubliners.  (It’s not “The” Dubliners,  just Dubliners.)

The first line:  “There was no hope for him this time: it was
his third stroke.”

That’s Joyce for you—-off and running.    

The “him”–the stroke victim, is the local priest –the Reverend James Flynn
–and our young narrator had been his student–had learned to speak Latin
properly from him.  The priest had told him stories about the catacombs,
church history and quizzed him about moral predicaments and whether
acting in a certain manner would be a mortal or a venial sin, or only an

In the evening, the boy’s aunt and he go to the house of mourning to pay
their respects.  They are greeted by the sisters of the fallen priest.  The
one motions to the aunt–to go upstairs?–and the boy and his aunt
follow the elderly sister up the stairs to the bedroom— (she) “proceeded
to toil up the narrow staircase before us,  her bowed head scarcely
above the level of the banister-rail.”

Downstairs again a decanter of sherry is brought out and glasses are
passed, along with cream crackers.  The boy declines the crackers,
fearful that the crunching would make too much noise in that house.

The conversation turns to the signs the sisters had concerning their
brother’s final days.  There had been some troubling events.

It’s when it’s all over when you’ll miss him,” said my aunt.

It’s a story of family, of Catholicism, of Ireland, simply told, yet
very powerful.

Illustration for "The Sisters" by James Joyce in Dubliners.  ©booksandbuttons

Illustration for “The Sisters” by James Joyce in Dubliners.










P.S. Whoever (heh-heh) drew this illustration has shown some
awkwardness in the details, but I defend (her) ultimate definition
of the sense of the piece–the destination–the trek to that
bedstead upstairs.

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8 Responses to “The Sisters” by James Joyce

  1. Stefanie says:

    I think whoever did that drawing did a fine job!

  2. Buttondeb says:

    I agree. The drawing conveys well that feeling of pulling oneself heavily up a flight of stairs. I can feel it!

    • booksandbuttons says:

      Do you think so? The old priest lying upstairs certainly
      pervades the atmosphere of the story. Some people think the last
      story in the collection, “The Dead” is the strongest one, but I
      think “The Sisters” is.

  3. Peggy Ann Osborne says:

    Dubliners has long been one of my two favorite books. Good to see you featuring the stories in it! I have tried to get so many friends, over the years, to read it, to almost no avail; once they hear “by James Joyce” they just sort of get a fogged-out look as though I’d suggested they read a classic in the original Greek. 🙂
    Thanks for the synopsis and the terrific drawing–I agree it shows such a sense of dread, her foot becoming heavier with each step, as she contemplates the many steps (and life stages) still ahead.

    • booksandbuttons says:

      Yea! a soulmate! You know I have to ask what the “other” favorite
      book is . . . !!

      • Peggy Ann Osborne says:

        Of course!
        It’s The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.
        I could go on for about a 30 page review of just why everyone should read this book, even if they have no religious bones whatever in their make-up, but I won’t.
        It’s an amazing book, one I re-read about every 5 years (I first read it at age 19, too darned many decades ago!) just to see how different my interpretation is each time, as life and events buoy and buffet me in the interim. I always find something new in it that makes me ponder life: my role in it, and my role within myself. I guess I would say it talks to you, makes you laugh, makes you re-think your attitudes and actions (and non-actions), and makes you pay kinder attention to others around you.
        On top of all of that, and foremost perhaps, for most readers, it is funny, ironic, and a darned good idea for a book. It is possibly among the most creative, catchy ideas ever used for a book of fiction.
        That said, it is not a quick read, though I suppose it could be, if you don’t stop and think about what you just read. And, finally, being by Lewis, the vocabulary and use of words is also not simple or to “popular” fiction standards; it’s far higher, so if you like having your vocabulary challenged and enjoy/ appreciate brilliant use of phraseology, it’s “a great read” and a book to cherish.

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