Tucson-based author Bob R. Bogle has provided Joyceana a free review copy of his essay “The Secret Gnomonclature of James Joyce's 'The Sisters' Revisited.”
Although this essay examines the story that opens Dubliners (and in many ways and for many readers opens the entirety of Joyce’s oeuvre) strictly as a short story, it includes a cursory discussion of the story’s place in the wider context, as well.
Bogle starts his exploration by comparing the final published version of the "The Sisters" to an earlier draft, pointing out many stylistic and tonal alternations that Joyce made. The earlier version, Bogle notes, foregrounds the word “providence, signifying the question of predetermination which was to shape that version of the story,” but in the final version “the key concept shifts to paralysis.” Since paralysis is a key concept for Dubliners as a whole, it’s a significant change, but one that is subtle enough that it could be easily have been overlooked.
“James Joyce is never accused of pandering to the reader,” Bogle comments, in a manner of wry understatement typical of his style throughout.
On a whole, Bogle's analysis is excellent. Particularly his interpretation of the phrase ‘pleasant and vicious region,’ use of which has no doubt caused many a head scratch. Bogle is spot on with his reading of the true connotations of 'vicious' in the context. He is no less insightful in his discussion of ‘gnomon’ and ‘simony,’ although admittedly they are less ambiguously purposed.
Towards the end of the essay, Bogle asks a question that we at Joyceana have often pondered, “Is Dubliners to be viewed as an anthology of short stories that just happen to all take place in the same place and time, or is it more properly seen as a novel…?”
There is no simple answer, but, in either case, the fact that the book opens with “The Sisters” is highly significant. Bogle astutely positions this story of paralysis and death as casting a shadow over all the rest of Dubliners and, to a lesser extent, Joyce's other works.