Downloading ‘The Dead’ – an online journey into Joyce
A new app of the classic story brings pre-first World War Dublin to life
Having your own iPad app is a kind of digital coming of age for classic works of literature. TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land was one of the first to be given the interactive bells-and-whistles treatment: since then, handsome literary apps are attracting a new generation of readers to works as diverse as Shakespeare’s sonnets and The Wind in the Willows. Today they’ll be joined on-screen by an app dedicated to what many regard as the greatest short story of the 20th century: James Joyce’s The Dead, the final story of Dubliners, which was published 100 years ago this year.
For all the praise that has been heaped upon it by critics and commentators – TS Eliot described it as “one of the greatest short stories ever written”, while Joyce’s biographer Richard Ellmann called it “Joyce’s first great song of exile” – the action of The Dead is deceptively slight. The story takes place in a matter of hours. Little happens. And yet everything shifts, turns, changes irrevocably.
It begins with an overworked housemaid opening the door to admit guests to a party hosted by the sisters Kate and Julia Morkan at Usher’s Island on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany and the last night of Christmas. Among the guests are Gabriel Conroy and his wife, Greta, who enjoy the company, dancing and music. When Greta hears the folksong The Lass of Aughrim sung by another guest, she remembers a young man who sang to her on another snowy night. Her husband, meanwhile, discovers his marriage and his life are not all he imagined them to be.
The brainchild of the UCD Humanities Institute, the new app was put together by Athena Media and Vermillion Design. As well as the full story, read by the actor Barry McGovern, it features music, rare images from Joyce’s Dublin, architectural drawings and a series of podcast commentaries.
In contrast to the apps mentioned above, however – The Wind in the Willows retails at €5.99, while The Waste Land and Shakespeare’s sonnets weigh in at a whopping €12.99 each – James Joyce: The Dead is available to download free from iTunes, thanks to funding from the Higher Education Authority’s programme for research in third-level institutions.
“The app demonstrates what can be achieved by creatively combining cultural heritage, scholarship and technology to bring classic texts alive for a new generation,” says Gerardine Meaney of UCD’s Humanities Institute.
The most successful iPad apps look good, are easy to use, and wear their scholarship lightly, and James Joyce: The Dead scores highly on all three fronts. Those who wish to explore the Dublin of the period can visit the National Archives and the census records of 1901 in the knowledgeable company of historian Catriona Crowe.