James Joyce Edited

In a recent Q&A for the writer’s blog My Way by Moonlight (http://debbivoisey.wix.com/mywaybymoonlight), I was asked about advice for aspiring writers. I’ve heard a lot over the years, both good and bad, but as a rule I shy away from the subject. With notable exceptions, writing, like most creative processes, is for the most part not a fixed, formulaic acivity. A recent column in Harper’s Magazine addressed the issue with an article by John Crowley that examined a quote often attributed to a handful of famous authors, but actually belonging to a relatively obscure late-18th/early-19th century British writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch, who published under the pen name of Q.

In writing, Q said, you must “kill all the darlings.” If any writer shoud find a passage which is not essential to the story and yet nevertheless reads particularly well, it must be jettisoned at once. By such stringent standards, James Joyce’s powerful and richly emotional short story, The Dead would end crisply and succinctly with “It had begun to snow again.”

Here is what Joyce actually wrote and we’re better for it. Q be damned!

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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