“Issues from the hand of God the simple soul….”; and issue from the pens of pundits definitive works. Or so they’re meant to be and so we, the readers, must take them on faith, not able to engage in our own arduous literary researches to confirm or contest that wealth of detail which scholars dredge up to confound and amaze us when mining the life and works of the particular authors they’ve claimed as theirs. The great men are not to be questioned; their words set slippery things like literary tastes in place. Eliot could change the taste for Milton and Dickens could be almost eradicated from the scene by critical edict.
Now, on the subject of definitive works and how much trust should be reposited in them, a curious chain of events has been set in motion here in Italy following publication of the last bit of James Joyce’s unpublished writing—the short, handwritten prose-poem entitled Giacomo Joyce. This poetic fragment—epiphanies of mood, a fusion of images, observations, and abstract implications—celebrates a moment of romantic grace in the life of the writer while he was living and teaching in Trieste during the years preceding the First World War. It is, in the new expressive linguistic form he was to perfect in Ulysses, his ironic evocation of the attraction he felt toward a young lady student of his—an attraction just as definitely rejected by the lady in question, who is the subject of Giacomo Joyce.
Who is the lady in question? This, for those who have a taste for such matters, is the heart of the literary puzzle concerning the new Joyce work, for her identity remains mysterious despite the fact that Richard Ellmann, the most eminent and prolific of the Joycean scholars, definitely identified the enigmatic lady in his 1959 biography of Joyce with Amalia Popper of Trieste. Professor Ellmann’s James Joyce is enormous, painstaking, erudite, and a pleasure to read—and has, therefore, inexorably become what is known as a definitive work. There is everything in this biography; every fact in Joyce’s life has been tracked down, every person connected with the writer has been approached and tapped. The list of acknowledgements alone makes up some 330 names divided geographically by thirteen countries. Decades-old remarks of cab-drivers, hotel porters, and landladies were somehow preserved fresh in people’s memories, waiting for Ellmann to call them forth and fit them into the mosaic of Joyce’s life. Ellmann did not stint time or labor on his work; as he states in his Preface, he began thinking of a Joyce biography in 1947, started working on it steadily in 1952, and went to Europe three different times between 1953 and 1956 “to see Joyce’s relatives and friends, and to gather records.”
In the light of the very magnificence of the results of his work it is hard, if not impossible, to explain his unsupported assertion that Amalia Popper is the heroine of Giacomo Joyce, for most of the evidence he offers in Chapter 21 of the biography, which deals with Joyce’s private pupils in the Trieste period of 1913-1914 and the composition of Giacomo Joyce (fixed by Ellmann in July or August of 1914), is disputable.
As has now been established by Professor Michele Risolo of Florence, who was married to Amalia Popper from 1914 until her death in 1967, Ellmann was in possession of new elements of information concerning Amalia Popper’s relationship with Joyce that could not but alter his concept of her as the young lady depicted in Giacomo Joyce.
In the 1959 biography Ellmann’s establishment of Amalia Popper as the Giacomo Joyce heroine is unequivocal; in January, 1968, however, when the first edition of Giacomo Joyce was brought out in New York by Viking, Ellmann is strangely silent on the identity he so confidently stated previously. He refrains, in his Introduction, from assigning any identity to the female figure in Giacomo Joyce, and so it can be concluded that from the appearance of James Joyce in 1959 to the publication of Giacomo in 1968, Ellmann has come into possession of new information that has insurmountably altered his original thesis.
The new source of information is very likely Signor Risolo himself, the husband of Amalia Popper. It is not at all unlikely, if we consider the immediate historical and family interest he would have in it, that he is also that shadowy “collector who prefers to remain anonymous,” who, Ellmann tells us in his Introduction, is the present owner of the manuscript notebook of Giacomo Joyce and the one who released it for publication. Signor Risolo might easily have acquired the notebook from James Joyce’s brother Stanislaus who was in possession of it, who lived in Trieste until his death there in 1955 (with the interval of 1941-1946 in Florence), and who was well acquainted with the Risolos.
Certainly Ellmann’s former silence and now the growing reverberations from Signor Risolo have caused not a few literary men not a little embarrassment. John Updike, reviewing Giacomo Joyce in The New Yorker, was puzzled by Ellmann’s new reticence and refers to his biography to inform us that Amalia Popper was designated there as the Triestine student evoked in the new bit of Joyce’s writing. Before that, Matthew Hodgart, in The New York Review, also noted the discrepancy, noting, too, that it is not quite correct for the Viking edition to be hailed as the first publication of a recently discovered work since almost all the text had already been quoted in the biography.
But having been brought to reappraisal of former conclusions, Ellmann, rather than retreat into ambiguous silence, would have done better to have aired the new facts, and the proper place, of course, was precisely in his Introduction to Giacomo Joyce. For that much hailed publishing event was followed by a splurge of other articles—including a pictorial spread in Life entitled “The Mystery Lady of Giacomo Joyce“—which all faithfully followed Ellmann’s original Amalia Popper line. Ellmann is taken as revelation not only by American and English reviewers, but also by others in Europe, and the Amalia Popper story was undeviatingly reproduced by French and Italian critics, until finally Signor Risolo, with some delay, as he explained because of his absence from Florence, responded publicly in the Italian weekly L’Espresso to a review which had appeared there and had, once again, reiterated the Ellmann identification of Joyce’s heroine in Giacomo Joyce with his one-time pupil Amalia Popper.
So finally, in November 1968, Signor Risolo openly protests and marshals his facts: his wife, as Signorina Popper, was Joyce’s private pupil in three different periods between October 1908 and November 1909; after 1910 she was no longer residing in Trieste but was in Florence attending the University there. It was in Florence that she met Michele Risolo and she married him there in August 1914. This throws out completely the whole sequence in his biography where Ellmann has Signorina Popper as Joyce’s pupil in 1913-1914, the period corresponding to the events alluded to in Giacomo Joyce. In fact, Signor Risolo adds, his wife had often spoken to him of how Joyce came to the Popper home with his little son Giorgio in tow—a child of between three and four years old, not a schoolboy of eight or nine as he would have been if Amalia Popper had been Joyce’s pupil in 1913-1914. All the further corroboration of dates, places, names, and information that Signor Risolo gives to establish Amalia Popper’s residence in Florence and not in Trieste during the period when Giacomo Joyce was formulated is the main rebuttal to Ellmann’s erroneous sequence of events, but he adds other interesting items as well:
- Signorina Popper had perfect vision and never wore eyeglasses which figure so prominently as part of the character of the heroine of Giacomo Joyce.
- Signorina Popper never was operated on for appendicitis as is the young lady in Giacomo. But Ellmann, in the biography, wrote “One day he [Joyce] called to give her a lesson only to be informed by the maid that his beloved had been removed to the hospital for an operation. He walked away, as he said, feeling he was about to cry. ‘Operated. The surgeon’s knife has probed in her entrails and withdrawn, leaving the raw jagged gash of its passage in her belly. I see her full dark suffering eyes, beautiful as the eyes of an antelope. O Cruel wound! Libidinous God!’ …But Signorina Popper survived the removal of her appendix and soon was taking English lessons again.” Here Ellmann is not only quoting directly from Giacomo Joyce but has transposed part of it into a semblance of reality—a reality he, however, invented.
- Leopoldo Popper, father of Amalia, was not the white-whiskered old man that Ellmann reports him (basing himself literally on the text of Giacomo Joyce), but a handsome, dark-haired, moustached man of forty-eight when Joyce knew him.
Thus far Signor Risolo’s rebuttal in L’Espresso. But there are other points to be resolved, too. There is the most intriguing question of all: in those three material-gathering trips to Europe why was it that Ellmann didn’t go to Florence to interview personally this most important connection with Joyce while the lady was alive and in a position to clarify his chronology and attributions? Signora Amalia Risolo died only two years ago; her whereabouts could be no mystery to Joycean scholars for in 1933, as Signora Risolo, she had written to Joyce reminding him of her former connection with him as pupil and requesting permission to translate Dubliners into Italian. But the mystery is increased by the fact that, despite her evident interest in Joyce, and the predisposition one would assume that she would have to follow his writings and any publications about him (and, in particular, Ellmann’s biography), the lady herself never protested the role in which Ellmann cast her and which her husband sustains, and proves, she never had.
p class=”initial”>The strange truth of the matter, according to Signor Risolo, is that his wife never saw the Ellmann biography, not even when it came out in the Italian edition in 1964, for by that time she was stricken with her fatal illness. In fact, this former “best pupil” of Joyce had read only Dubliners—and in a copy which she borrowed from her sister. In 1932, preparing herself to take a competitive exam for the position of English teacher in the public schools, Signora Risolo bought a copy of Portrait but, says her husband, got only as far as page 10 and no farther. (This fact, too, stands in clear opposition to the young lady in Giacomo Joyce to whom the manuscript of Portrait was given to read: “She says that, had A Portrait of the Artist been frank only for frankness’ sake, she would have asked why I had given it to her to read.”) And Ulysses she never laid eyes on at all. It was only through her son who was living in Trieste and was in contact with people interested in Joyce, that this former Joyce pupil came to know what Ellmann had written of her in his biography. But, says Signor Risolo, neither his wife nor he had the time or disposition to dispute the so-called facts that pertained to her.
Signora Risolo died early in 1967 and it was only in June of that year, as Signor Risolo has written me, that he received (through the good offices of Ellmann) and read the Italian translation of Ellmann’s James Joyce. From there on begins the correspondence of Signor Risolo with Ellmann to correct the latter’s errors, and the growing impetus of Risolo’s ever more heated interest in a matter which had left him and his wife cold in her lifetime—i.e., the implied role or influence she occupied in Joyce’s works.
Intrigued by this literary puzzle when it first broke in L’Espresso, I had gotten in touch with Signor Risolo who proved ready and willing to discuss the disputed points concerning his wife and Joyce. What I learned was interesting but not final—more unraveling can still be done on the question of the mystery lady of Giacomo Joyce. It is not, however, that the information is inaccessible—to Ellmann or anyone else.
Signor Risolo told me that already in the summer and fall of 1967, following his reading of the biography, he had had a lively correspondence with Ellmann, the result of which was to bring Ellmann to the conclusion that he would revise his original treatment of Amalia Popper in a projected reissue of his biography. Probably in consequence of that exchange of letters with Risolo, Ellmann left out all mention of Amalia Popper in his Introduction to the Viking edition of Giacomo Joyce and, in the Italian edition, modified his former position considerably, making the identification of the volume’s heroine with Amalia Popper more vague. But not entirely vague—and this is the hard nut to crack; for in the Introduction to the Italian edition, Ellmann says: “Giacomo Joyce depicts the erotic suggestion brought to bear on the protagonist by a young pupil of his to whom he gives English lessons; Joyce had many pupils in Trieste, but it seems that he associates the story with one in particular, Amalia Popper, who lived in via San Michele.” This indication could still be weighty proof in establishing Amalia Popper’s identity with the mystery lady, for via San Michele is definitely mentioned in Giacomo Joyce:
A gentle creature. At midnight, after music, all the way up the via San Michele, these words were spoken softly. Easy now, Jamesy! Did you never walk the streets of Dublin at night sobbing another name?
And indeed, if Amalia Popper had lived in via San Michele the case might be closed. But the fact is she never did!
p class=”initial”>I first began to wonder about Ellmann’s certainty that Amalia Popper resided in via San Michele in Trieste when, in a curious volume, part recollection and part photo album, called Epiphanies & Phadographs: Joyce e Trieste [Milan, 1967] by Stelio Crise (to whom Ellmann proffers thanks for help in the biography’s mighty list of acknowledgments), I found a photo reproduction of James Joyce’s address book. Part of the entries for the letter “P” were reproduced and there, plainly written by the hand that penned Giacomo Joyce, is “Popper, Amalia, Via Alice 16.” (And, six lines down, in what must have been a very new entry, for their first communication was only in December 1907, is the London address for Pound, Ezra.)
In any case, the irrefutable address book exists; it is now the property of Mrs. Nelly Joyce, widow of James’s brother Stanislaus. So, which was correct—Ellmann’s persistence in the via San Michele address for Amalia Popper or Joyce’s own entry? Signor Risolo resolved the dilemma: “The Popper family never resided in via San Michele; Villa Popper was, and still is, located at the corner of via Alice (now called via Don Minzoni) and via Bellosguardo.”
Where, then, did Ellmann get via San Michele?—an element so important to him that even in his partial retraction of his having identified Amalia Popper as the heroine of Giacomo Joyce he still hangs on to that spurious address as the main support to his argument that Amalia Popper can still be considered the chief influence of Giacomo Joyce. Signor Risolo suggests, rightly I think, that Ellmann let himself be influenced by the fantasy of Giacomo Joyce itself which he first saw when it was in Stanislaus’s possession; all the elements he saw written there—the via San Michele address, the description of the student’s father as an old white-whiskered man, the account of the girl’s operation, her having read Portrait etc. he simply transferred to the person of Amalia Popper.
Unfortunately, the Italian professor who reviewed Giacomo Joyce in L’Espresso (and finally aroused Signor Risolo’s ire concerning Ellmann’s depiction of his wife and Joyce—an interest that is still going full-blast with, as its latest contribution to Joyceana, a recent Risolo contribution to Corriere Della Sera advancing the fascinating implication that it was Amalia’s Florentine governess whom Joyce was really interested in during his visits to Villa Popper)—that professor, checking back with Ellmann, was to repeat exactly the half-hearted retraction with, however, the same insistence that the via San Michele allusion in Giacomo still proved Amalia Popper as the most likely model for the prose fragment’s subject.
Actually, as far as I could determine—and I am no Ellmann staking out Joyce as a life’s work—Joyce’s association with via San Michele came in his nightly excursions with some of his young men pupils from the Berlitz School. One of these former pupils, the late Dario de Tuoni (who was still living, however, when Ellmann was researching his biography and is duly named and thanked in the acknowledgments), wrote a short recollection of Joyce in Trieste in which he described evenings of calling upon Joyce at home when the writer was living in via Donato Bramante, waiting for Nora to finish serving James his supper, and then their going out together in slow perambulations through the dark streets of Trieste. The itinerary never varied—as de Tuoni puts it “si faceva e rifaceva il percorso“: via Donato Bramante, via San Giusto, via San Michele, via della Cereria. Can it be wondered that the name of via San Michele remained impressed on Joyce’s mind and that he re-evoked it in fantasy in Giacomo Joyce? Here, then, in the constant nocturnal wanderings, with frequent stops at some osteria or other to drink that deceptively light white wine called Opollo which Joyce was also to recall, and filled with the most varied discussion, recitations, and conjecturings, lies the clue to that via San Michele which Ellmann would like, instead, to associate with Amalia Popper.
As for Ellmann’s not getting in touch with Signora Risolo herself (and in the list of acknowledgments her name doesn’t figure), Signor Risolo says there was only a telephone conversation between them many years ago in which his wife only affirmed having once been a pupil of Joyce’s. There seems not only reluctance on Ellmann’s part to give up his idea of Amalia Popper as inspiration of Giacomo Joyce, but a strange reluctance to meet her in person when she was still living. In the biography she is mentioned with her married name only in a rather caustic footnote on page 359, in which, alluding to the ending of Giacomo Joyce, Ellmann says, “Signorina Popper, with shy needle-thrusts from her velvet iris, carried her umbrella slowly out of his life,” and adds, “In 1933 Signorina Popper, now Signora Risolo, asked and received permission to translate Dubliners; but in the end she did not do Joyce this favor either.” (That weighted “either” must, I suppose, be interpreted as her not having first favored Joyce’s amorous approaches to her in their teacher-pupil relationship, let alone translating him later.)
Signor Risolo’s version of why his wife didn’t “do Joyce this favor either” is cast with less aspersion. “She translated the whole volume,” Risolo wrote me, “encouraged by Stanislaus, from whom she was taking lessons in English literature to prepare her for the teaching exams, but it wasn’t easy to find a publisher; Stanislaus, therefore, after hearing James on the matter, chose the five stories from Dubliners which were published in Italian under the title Araby.”
Ellmann obviously never saw this work. It is a curious little book with a garish, stylized, Thirties-modern cover and typography and a biographical introduction by Signora Risolo completely based on the typed notes sent her by Joyce who was then living in Paris. This slight Biografia essenziale is significant for the document it provides of how Joyce wanted to appear publicly, so to speak. And, I should think, precious information for a biographer. Joyce patently wanted to be presented as a serious, correct, regularly married, highly thought of, first-of-the-class genius—nor does Signora Risolo relieve the cut and dried tone with any attempt at personal recollection of the punning, merry, bizarre, singing Irishman she knew in Trieste. It’s as if she never knew Joyce.
But the matter will still not fall completely in place. As was made clear in the exchange of letters which L’Espresso printed between Signor Risolo and the Italian reviewer of Giacomo Joyce, Ellmann proposes to review the role he had assigned Amalia Popper up to now. And, one wonders, in exchange for this neat reversal, or reappraisal, was Ellmann permitted to publish with his Introduction the Giacomo Joyce notebook whose “present owner wishes to remain anonymous”? John Updike speculated that perhaps Signora Risolo’s death “somehow released Giacomo Joyce to posterity.” And I must admit, too, to feeling the strong possibility of this speculation.
But surely, after the lively and clarifying correspondence with Signor Risolo over the summer and fall of 1967, Professor Ellmann should have broken that sepulchral silence on the Amalia Popper matter which he seems determined to maintain until republication of his biography—if not for public enlightenment, at least, then, to spare his followers from being caught off guard.
For there is an absolute adherence to Ellmann on the part of other Joyce biographers. While Signora Risolo was still alive, a marvelously illustrated and otherwise unimpeachable book called James Joyce and His World by Chester G. Anderson came out with the express intention of showing how all the biographical details of Joyce’s life were related to his writing. Yet, even though treating the Giacomo Joyce episode and tracking down Joycean people and sources all over Europe, Professor Anderson does not seek out Signora Risolo in Florence. A new Italian biography of Joyce by Francesca Romana Paci makes an even worse showing, for it, too, follows the Ellmann biography instead of making an effort to substantiate facts on its own. One would have thought that an Italian biographer would have no difficulty in contacting in Florence the Italian person to whom is attributed not only the personage in Giacomo Joyce, but bits of Molly Bloom, Beatrice Justice in Exiles, and the girl in the last chapter of Portrait.
Another matter for pause is the deliberately vague treatment accorded Giacomo Joyce in the Ellmann biography. For in that volume, where every fact, every reference is documented and bolstered by proof or explanation, what can be made of a bald sentence like this, dealing with Joyce’s presumed infatuation with Amalia Popper: “But Joyce also wrote an account of the affair in his best calligraphy under the ironic title of Giacomo Joyce.” The only reference to this in the chapter notes is that it concerns an unpublished notebook. But where and when did Ellmann see it and what did he learn about why it was never published? For whom was this best calligraphic copy made? And why the ambiguousness about the title—was it a title Joyce gave, even if not written in his own hand? By whom was it actually inscribed?
And how explain Signor Risolo’s release of pictures for the Life feature on his wife? Alluding to the Life feature which is slanted to support the thesis that she, in fact, is the mystery lady of Giacomo Joyce, Signor Risolo draws the curious conclusion that it served to cast doubt on his wife’s complete identification with the mysterious young lady student whereas, to all intents and purposes, the article not only reinforces the supposition of Amalia Popper as the heroine, but for the first time gives popular diffusion to Ellmann’s original proposition in an ironic mistake of timing. For by the time the Life article appeared Ellmann had reviewed his position. He must have had an uncomfortable moment when he saw Life, basing itself on his authority, diffusing a theory which was no longer water-tight for him.
The few facts I have gathered were not at all difficult to find and I have put them together not for the mere polemics of refuting Ellmann on his connection of Amalia Popper with Giacomo Joyce, but rather, to ask why he hasn’t brought forth his new uncertainties. I was, to begin with, only puzzled by the discrepancies and seeking my own clarification. Then as I proceeded, I found myself in the grip of a proper literary puzzle which still has to be pieced together—will the present owner of Giacomo Joyce please stand up and be heard from? (Although for my money it’s Signor Risolo and he’s being heard from plenty, though not, perhaps, in the most clear manner.)
Most of all, however, I was fascinated that in so thorough and documented a piece of research as Ellmann’s work on Joyce, such unverified fabrication as the Amalia Popper hypothesis could not only exist but persist through the uncritical acceptance of other critics following a blind lead. Naturally one cannot set out to substantiate every fact set forth in a biography: one takes a scholar’s work on faith—the same faith with which one takes a geographer’s. But in this case the warning signals were clear—there was no documentation in the chapter notes for the Amalia Popper-Giacomo Joyce episode and this should have instigated someone to closer investigation and elucidation from Signora Risolo while she was still living. In the vast sea of Joycean material where everything is documented and ticked off, this reserved and unassuming lady was inexplicably overlooked. It is absurd that Italian critics, especially, took Ellmann’s unverified exposition of this singular, Italian-inspired work—the only one in the Joyce canon not thoroughly imbued with Dublin—as the whole truth when other recollections of Joyce, in Italian, existed to cast doubt on his presentation.
And now we look forward to the reissue of Professor Ellmann’s James Joyce.
Mrs. Barolini has discovered that I am not infallible. Globe-reeling as this conclusion is, she has not reached it without my help. In correspondence attempting to verify the background of Giacomo Joyce, I have freely granted the possibility of previous error, and, as she knows, several interested Italian critics have published the admission. Perhaps I should add that the various printings of my biography of Joyce, as of my edition of Giacomo Joyce, bear the marks of correction.
Total accuracy is an aspiration rather than a possibility, and Mrs. Barolini is herself scarcely a model in this regard. She rebukes me for not having interviewed in Florence Mrs. Amalia Popper Risolo, the putative model for Giacomo Joyce’s pupil, but the difficulties of seeing Mrs. Risolo were, as will become apparent, insuperable; on the other hand, Mrs. Barolini, whose article is more irate than accurate, would have encountered no such difficulties if, during her stay in New York, she had troubled to communicate with me. I might have helped her with a number of momentous things, such as her description of Opollo wine as white when it is really the deepest of red.
If there is any point of interest in this squabble, it may be its illumination of a dark matter: the difficulty of ascertaining the facts about an access of unfulfilled sexual desire which overtook an Irishman in Trieste almost sixty years ago. I first came upon the name Popper in Herbert Gorman’s biography of Joyce, where it leads a list of eight Triestine pupils. When in 1953 I met Stanislaus Joyce, I asked him about these pupils and learned that Amalia Popper, whose married name was Mrs. Michele Risolo, was living in Florence. He gave me her address and I wrote to her, but she did not answer. Then I asked my friend, Professor Jean Hagstrum of Northwestern University, who was spending the academic year 1953-1954 in Florence, to try to see her for me. He made the attempt, but was diverted by Mr. Risolo, who said that instead he would himself write Mr. Hagstrum on this subject. Mr. Hagstrum felt, it seems naturally, that some effort was being made to head him off. When Mr. Risolo’s letter arrived, Mr. Hagstrum sent it to me on May 20, 1954 with a note saying, “He has confirmed my suspicions that he doesn’t want people to be in direct contact with Mrs. R. Why I don’t know. I shall try to find out.” Mr. Risolo’s letter, translated here from Italian, read as follows:
Here is the brief account that I am in a position to give you about the years spent by J. Joyce in Trieste.
He came there—presumably in 1907, from Paris—as one of the teachers of English at the Berlitz School; but the pay was very small, and he augmented it with private lessons, which quickly became numerous. He used to go from house to house. On account of the precariousness of his finances, he was obliged to contract in advance for a certain number of lessons, before actually giving them. In 1908, or 1909, he decided to try his luck in Rome, in a cinematic venture; he therefore had his brother Stanislaus come to Trieste to take over his lessons. The Roman cinematic venture ended in failure—he was not a man cut out for business—and so he went back to Trieste. To Trieste, meanwhile, the two brothers had summoned two sisters, one of whom got married, while the other returned to Ireland and entered a convent. From Trieste Joyce went to Zurich, where he remained for the duration of the war and even longer, and where, thanks to the patronage of a lady admirer, he began to lay the foundation of his fame. He never went back to Trieste. The most important fact of Joyce’s years in Trieste was the friendship he struck up with Italo Svevo (Ettore Schmitz). He was a constant visitor at the house of this unknown and later famous writer, and enjoyed with him relations of affectionate intimacy. He doubtless knew the things Italo Svevo was writing, just as Svevo knew about the as yet unpublished writings (stories and poems), or writings still in process of development (Ulysses) by his young friend. Many hours were spent in discussion and in reciprocal confidences which led to a mutual influence in some respects crucial.
I send you my cordial greetings,
The details of Joyce’s life are confused in this letter, but what is important is not what Mr. Risolo says but what he fails to say, namely, that his wife was Joyce’s pupil and that she and her family were, as much as the Svevos, on terms of “affectionate intimacy” with the Joyce family. I may add here that Mr. Risolo is now an elderly man, that he proved himself a most loyal friend to Joyce’s brother, and that we ourselves have had a long and amicable correspondence in recent years. I mention this correspondence now only because it connects with later published statements by him.
Contrary to Mrs. Barolini, I did not see the manuscript of Giacomo Joyce in 1953 but in 1956, the year after Stanislaus Joyce’s death. It seemed circumstantial enough to indicate that there was a particular model. My interest in Amalia Popper had been roused by Mr. Risolo’s mystifying response; I had learned that her father’s name, like Bloom’s, was Leopold (Leopoldo), and had noticed the Popper name in Finnegans Wake. Among Joyce’s papers I also came across a letter from her asking for permission to translate some stories of Dubliners. Then a Triestine friend of mine, who had known the Popper family, assured me that the pupil was like her, and added the confirmatory detail (mistakenly, as it later developed) that the Poppers had lived on the via San Michele. (The mistake was less serious than it has been represented, since Giacomo Joyce does not say that his pupil lived on this street, only that he went up it thinking about her. The Poppers actually lived on the via Alice, a point that I, like Mrs. Barolini, have learned just recently from the reproduction of a page in Joyce’s address book, contained in Stelio Crise’s Epiphanies & Phadographs: Joyce e Trieste [Milan, 1967]. From the via Alice, which is a short street up on the hill called Colle di San Vito, the route from and to town is by the via San Michele.) Granted that the evidence was not susceptible of absolute proof, Amalia Popper, alone among Joyce’s pupils, seemed the converging point of many telling details.
After my biography was published I spent a year in Italy. While in Trieste I renewed acquaintance with Dr. Stelio Crise, mentioned above. When he told me he knew the Risolos, I said I was not altogether certain of my identification of her as Giacomo’s pupil. Dr. Crise told me he had brought the matter up with Mr. Risolo, who, on hearing what my biography said, had commented, “The professor has been indiscreet.” The remark appeared confirmatory, and was so understood by Dr. Crise, though it is possible that Mr. Risolo did not mean it to be so. Dr. Crise encouraged me to make another effort to see Mrs. Risolo, and in February 1961, being in Florence, I telephoned her for an appointment. This time she answered the telephone herself; she said she was ill and could not see me. “Non vuole vedermi?” I said, persisting, and she replied, “Non posso.” A few days later I received in Rome the following letter (in Italian) dated 17 February:
I write to apologize for my wife, Amalia Risolo, who was unable to meet with you for a talk about James Joyce. The reason is that my wife, who is going on seventy, is in very poor health, and when she returns from the school where she teaches, she is simply done in.
Moreover, we no longer have, unfortunately, any papers connected with Joyce: neither the letter with which he authorized the translation of some stories of Dubliners (and himself indicated which he preferred), nor the outline of the “essential biography” which was prefixed, in 1934, to the five stories translated, and published under the title Araby (by Moscheni, Trieste).
These six biographical pages were supplied almost entirely by Joyce himself, who then meticulously checked them (he was then in Paris), specifying the vicissitudes of his work and of his spiritual position as writer and poet. I remember this perfectly, because it was I who urged my wife to translate a group of stories and to secure from Joyce the basic biographical facts for a quick but dependable sketch of his character. He sent it to her by way of his brother Stanislaus, with whom we had then, and kept up until his death, constant friendly relations; but he wished to clarify in his own way some aspects of his work and of his art: and it was he who wished to embody these pages as an “essential biography” into which, I repeat, my wife—who knew only Dubliners—herself put almost nothing: she simply compiled the data furnished by James Joyce and his brother.
My wife is unable to say exactly in what years she was Joyce’s pupil: between 1904-05 and 1908-09, at any rate; he taught English to her and to her younger sister (who is dead), and in short all the Joyces (including his sister, who had come to Trieste too) became friends of the Popper household (Popper is the maiden name of my wife).
Regretting that I cannot tell you more, I send you my best regards. Yours,
In replying to this letter I asked if Mrs. Risolo might not have studied with Joyce a little later. He answered on March 3, 1961, evidently after further consultation with her, “My wife had him as a teacher in 1907-08 and for a part of 1909. In 1910 she came to Florence to complete her secondary studies and then stayed on there—except for periods of school vacations—until 1915, for university work.” The fact that Amalia Popper was in Trieste for vacation periods is of some importance, since she could have run into Joyce then as an ex-pupil rather than as a pupil. Another notable fact is that Mr. Risolo does not always keep to the same dates for his wife’s study with Joyce. In an article in the Corriere della Sera of February 27, 1969, he firmly asserts that she took lessons from Joyce between October 1908 and November 1909, in three periods with long intervals between them. But this firmness is vitiated by his following remarks:
She took the last lessons a couple of months after Joyce moved to an apartment at via Barriere Vecchia 32 (a wretched-looking place, my wife told me: this section was then the squalidest in Trieste, and of ill repute too)….
This move to the Via Barriere Vecchia I remember precisely, because Joyce, who had already secured payment in advance for the twelve lessons of the month—launched into an amusing discourse to his pupil on the subject of chairs and chattels, concluding that in the new, rather good-sized apartment (with him, Nora, the two children Giorgio and Lucia, and his sister Eileen, recently arrived from Ireland), there weren’t chairs and chattels enough for all. The girl understood and told her father, who asked Joyce to pass by his office.
Two particular events noted in these lines demonstrate that the lessons went on longer than Mr. Risolo supposes. One is that Joyce’s sister Eileen did not come to Trieste until January 1910, the other that Joyce did not move to the via Barriere Vecchia until December 1910. A “couple of months” beyond that would mean that the lessons ended in 1911. If we accept Mrs. Risolo’s date of 1907 (in her husband’s letter of March 3, 1961) for the beginning of the lessons, and the date implied by her precise recollections (in her husband’s Corriere article) of 1911 for their ending, the length of this course of study is considerably increased.
To return to the question of university vacations, if the Joyce family was as friendly with the Popper family as Mr. Risolo has repeatedly affirmed, it seems likely that there would have been later meetings between teacher and ex-pupil during holiday times. Mr. Risolo has not mentioned these holidays since his letter to me of March 3, 1961, but in a letter to the editor published in L’Espresso on November 24, 1968, he states that he first met Amalia Popper in Florence on November 5, 1911, and that during the following year he was twice in Trieste as a guest of her family. Presumably she was there, too. His article in the Corriere della Sera of February 27, 1969 states that they became engaged in Trieste during the Easter holidays of 1913. These visits suggest that she was probably at home with her family during the Christmas holidays of 1911, when, as described in Giacomo Joyce, the pupil commented on the expulsion on December 16, 1911 of an antinationalist music critic from La Scala; and also of 1912, when the pupil attended one of Joyce’s lectures on Hamlet (a series of twelve lectures given between November 4, 1912 and February 10, 1913).
That Amalia Popper did not mention these matters to Mr. Risolo is not necessarily proof that they did not occur. She seems to have been little given to detailed reminiscence. In a letter to me of April 21, 1968 Mr. Risolo recalls that, after my biography had been published in Italian translation in 1964,
someone—I think our older son who lives and works (as a physician) in Trieste, told her that her father Leopoldo was mentioned in some places and that she herself was too; my wife confined herself to pointing out that her father had friendly feelings for Joyce (whom, however, he considered a madcap, although most intelligent) at the time that Joyce had given her English lessons; she added that all the Joyces had been friends of the Popper household, especially James (who often brought there his little “Giorgino”—then about three and a half) and his sister Eileen (who continued to visit the Popper home, being very fond of my mother-in-law, even after the 1915-1918 war)….
Mrs. Barolini offers the conjecture that Mr. Risolo is himself the owner of the manuscript of Giacomo Joyce. He is not, and in fact he has never seen it. The owner prefers to be anonymous not to create mystery, but to keep his privacy, to which he feels entitled because his possession of the manuscript is fortuitous and irrelevant to its content. The delay in publication was due to his stipulation that the manuscript appear in facsimile, which for a time publishers were unwilling to grant.
When the publication of Giacomo Joyce was at last arranged, I wrote to Mr. Risolo, who had said in a letter to the editor of the Corriere della Sera of December 13, 1966, that my biography was in error about his wife, and I asked him to point out my mistakes. He replied that he did not have a copy of the book, and I had the Italian translation sent to him. In the letters he wrote me before Giacomo Joyce was published, he never denied that his wife was the model for the pupil, but addressed himself instead to the question of dates. Only after the book appeared, in response to detailed questions from me, did he begin to marshal somewhat contradictory details. In one of his later letters, and in his article in the Corriere this year, Mr. Risolo supplies an additional fact which unintentionally emphasizes that the association between Joyce and Amalia Popper was, for Joyce at least, much more than perfunctory.
Mrs. Risolo wrote in 1934 to Joyce asking authorization to translate some stories of Dubliners, and wondered if he would remember her. He replied that he certainly did, that she was his “pupil no. 2.” He was recalling a conversation they had had in Trieste when he had given her this rating, and she had asked, “Who’s no. I, then?” “His name is Schott.” “What’s he like?” “A horseface.” As Mr. Risolo makes clear, his wife had not forgotten this exchange either. Joyce reminded her in this same letter that he had once been her postman as well as her teacher, and Mr. Risolo explains that Amalia, being forbidden by her parents to communicate with an aunt whose husband they disapproved of, used to send messages to her by giving them to Joyce, who was the aunt’s teacher as well.
In the first edition of Giacomo Joyce, the publisher (the Viking Press) restrained me from mentioning Mrs. Risolo’s name because she might perhaps sue for invasion of privacy. Mrs. Barolini can hardly be unaware that Mr. Marshall A. Best of that press wrote letters acknowledging this responsibility to both The New York Review and the Times Literary Supplement. (Curiously, Mr. Risolo, in his correspondence with me before Giacomo Joyce appeared, never mentioned his wife’s death, which had occurred on February 19, 1967, and I learned of it only after the book was published.) In the second edition, published in May 1968, four months after the first, I did not maintain the “sepulchral silence” which Mrs. Barolini would attribute to me, but explained in the Introduction some of the difficulties of identification. It did not appear relevant to me, in an edition of a work by Joyce, to dilate upon changes I might later make in my biography. But at the risk of suggesting that Mrs. Barolini’s article discovers fewer problems than it repeats, I quote here the pertinent paragraph in my Introduction to Giacomo Joyce:
Giacomo Joyce displays its hero’s erotic commotion over a girl pupil to whom he was teaching English. Joyce had many such pupils in Trieste, but he seems to associate his subject with one in particular, Amalia Popper, who lived on the via San Michele. Her father, Leopoldo Popper, may have furnished the first name for Bloom in Ulysses. But if he stood as model for the pupil’s father, he was made to give up his imposing moustache and take on unaccustomed whiskers. Signorina Popper, afterwards the wife of Michele Risolo, died in 1967 in Florence. Her husband dates her lessons from Joyce in the years 1907 and 1908, and explains that, because she left Trieste to attend the universities of Vienna and Florence, she did not meet Joyce after 1909. If this recollection is accurate, then presumably Joyce either invented subsequent encounters or else transfused aspects of Signorina Popper into those of some successor among his pupils. The work makes clear, at any rate, that the incident—such as it was—ended before he left Trieste in 1915.
I could have included other discrepancies, such as Amalia Popper’s eyesight and health, both superior to the pupil’s, though some leeway may be allowed a novelist. It may be, as Mr. Risolo insists, that Amalia Popper never saw A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in print or manuscript, in which case, as indicated in my Introduction, Joyce may have slipped in the reaction of another woman, or simply (or not so simply!) invented the episode. (Some entries in Giacomo Joyce are patently dreams, others wobble on the border between dream and actuality.) But the likelihood that Amalia Popper contributed a large component to the character of the pupil remains strong, and Mr. Risolo’s disclosures, and the manner in which they were made, generally support it. (He himself seems half-aware of the fact; in one letter to me he suggested Amalia’s sister in her stead, and in his Corriere article, as Mrs. Barolini points out, he offers the Popper governess as a surrogate model. He himself, then, seeks the woman in the same house.)
If Giacomo Joyce is reprinted, I will amend the reference to the via San Michele, and explain the reasons for supposing that Amalia Popper’s tutelage by Joyce lasted from perhaps 1907 to perhaps 1911, according to various statements by Mr. Risolo himself. In the Corriere Mr. Risolo declares that Joyce always considered Amalia “his best girl pupil,” and the continued close association of her family and Joyce’s, as well as Joyce’s warm and detailed recollection, of her and of their lessons, twenty years later, will need to be mentioned. Should other information become available, I will of course include it.
But I don’t want to claim far-reaching consequences for this pursuit of real-life models. It seems clear that in Giacomo Joyce the entries are not scrappy or casual but make up a paced and formed work, an attempt to achieve in prose some effects usually associated with lyric verse, while retaining from prose a furtive wryness and self-mockery. That Giacomo’s pupil, though avowedly (since his own name and that of his wife are used) enmeshed in Joyce’s experience, cannot be totally equated even with the most probable model, is ultimately another proof—if more be required—of Joyce’s complex devising.
Mrs. Barolini at once resents plausible speculation and imperiously demands answers to new questions. As I have indicated in the Introduction to both editions, I do not know who wrote Giacomo Joyce on the notebook cover, exactly why it was written there, or whether Joyce himself necessarily chose this for his title. Finally, only God and Mr. Risolo can know why the latter gave the pictures of his wife to Life Magazine. Not that I criticize him. If the former had a wife, Life would no doubt get pictures of her too.
November 20, 1969