James Joyce died on January 13, 1941. A few months later two books on him appeared, Herbert Gorman’s James Joyce: A Definitive Biography and Harry Levin’s James Joyce: A Critical Introduction. These books served different purposes. Gorman’s was written under Joyce’s supervision: it was the latest of several books in which Joyce’s disciples took up the duties he assigned to them, to explain the structure of his interests and procedures, to provide a context of expressive grandeur in which his work would be appreciated, and meanwhile to present a glowing image of Joyce himself. When Gorman’s book appeared, Stuart Gilbert complained in his journal that Joyce could not bring himself to give Gorman a free hand or let him show “the real Joyce.”
Gorman had been preceded in that advertising exercise by Gilbert, Samuel Beckett, Thomas McGreevy, John Rodker, Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, William Carlos Williams, and other acolytes to the number of twelve who wrote An Exagmination round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (1929) to explain and recommend Joyce’s new style long before it culminated in Finnegans Wake. Gilbert’s James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (1930) and Frank Budgen’s James Joyce and the Making of ‘Ulysses’ (1934) were similar acts of piety toward a book many people had heard of but not read. The ban on the publication of Ulysses in the US was not lifted until December 6, 1933, but meanwhile Gilbert’s book kept people informed about it. Gilbert, Budgen, and Gorman were Joyce’s main cheerleaders.
Harry Levin’s book was a different matter, an entirely independent critical study of Joyce’s work. No master supervised it. Levin acted upon his own intelligence and learning, he did not take part in the making of a legend. His book released readers from the lore of Joyce’s salon and showed them how Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and (with luck) Finnegans Wake might be read with Aristotle, Aquinas, and modern European literature in mind. Levin brought the books from gossip to criticism. Many scholar-critics followed where he led. The phase of criticism he defined culminated in Hugh Kenner’s Dublin’s Joyce (1956), a work that might have set the course in the criticism of Joyce if it had been a little easier to read. The scholars found it hard going. Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce (1959; revised edition, 1982) soon made things much easier by inserting Joyce’s writings in a biographically ascertained life.
Ellmann’s book is commonly regarded as a triumph of biography and the book to read on Joyce if time allows but one. Ellmann had an unusually fluent style, gracious, rapid, a style made for ease of reference, quiet irony, and narrative flow. He knew Joyce’s work as well as anyone of his generation, and there were still enough survivors from Joyce’s Paris whom he could interview and, in Dublin, enough citizens to fill his mind with lore if not with truth. So he was well qualified to write a grand-scale biography. His book has been immensely influential.
But in one respect its influence has been unfortunate. Ellmann had a habit of citing fiction to establish a fact. He regularly quoted passages from Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as if they amounted to evidence of the experience of real people and their lives. Joyce’s father is described as if he were indistinguishable from Simon Dedalus, a character in Ulysses. Joseph Casey, one of Joyce’s acquaintances in Paris, is evoked on the evidence of Stephen Dedalus’s relation to Kevin Egan in Ulysses. Near the end of the biography Ellmann says that Stephen Hero, “like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is both autobiographical and fictional.” He adds, “While some details of Joyce’s life are stylized or otherwise changed, many are kept intact.” But those “some” and “many” could be distinguished only if there were independent evidence for them. That they turn up in works of fiction proves nothing.
I mention the point because Ellmann gave his authority to this bad habit. He made it respectable for lesser biographers to assume that Joyce had no power of invention; if something is in the novels, it must have happened, Joyce could only have transcribed it. Even when Ellmann didn’t cite fiction to make a fact, his successors acted upon his precedent and got over his occasional scruple. Take for instance an episode of some biographical importance which Ellmann treats with complete propriety, never going beyond the evidence, Joyce’s first date with Nora Barnacle, on June 16, 1904. Ellmann reports that they walked out to Ringsend, “and then arranged to meet again”:
On June 16, as he would afterwards realize, he entered into relation with the world around him and left behind him the loneliness he had felt since his mother’s death. He would tell her later, “You made me a man.”1
The quoted sentence comes from Joyce’s letter of August 7, 1909, to Nora Barnacle:
O, Nora! Nora! Nora! I am speaking now to the girl I loved, who had red-brown hair and sauntered over to me and took me so easily into her arms and made me a man.2
No lover is on oath in such an avowal. Joyce probably didn’t tell Nora that he had already been with prostitutes, so her making him a man may refer to a loftier achievement than masturbation. However, scholars have usually taken the sentence to mean that at Ringsend on June 16 Nora Barnacle masturbated Joyce. In The Consciousness of Joyce Ellmann merely says that they “touched each other’s bodies,” a mild conjecture.3 But in Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom Brenda Maddox pretends that she was at Ringsend that night and witnessed the following:
To Joyce’s grateful astonishment, she unbuttoned his trousers, slipped in her hand, pushed his shirt aside, and, acting with some skill (according to his later letter) made him a man.4
As if that were not enough, Maddox claims to disclose “their own private feelings that first night at Ringsend” by quoting from the third chapter of Ulysses the passage in which Stephen Dedalus on Sandymount Strand recalls “the virgin at Hodges Figgis’ window on Monday” and says to himself:
Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.5
All this to eke out the sole fragment of evidence, five words, “You made me a man.”
And now we have Peter Costello’s version of the evening at Ringsend:
Nora made the first approach and he was left in little doubt about her feelings for him. There was no intercourse—that would have been unthinkable—but Nora was knowledgeable enough to manipulate her partner to a climax.
Like so many of Joyce’s experiences, this event also made its way into Ulysses transferred to the memory of Molly Bloom: …how did we finish it off yes O yes I pulled him off into my handkerchief pretending not to be excited but I opened my legs and I wouldn’t let him touch me inside my petticoat I had a skirt opening up the side I tortured the life out of him first tickling him…he was shy all the same I liked him like that morning he I made him blush a little when I got over him that way when I unbuttoned him and took his out and drew back the skin…
So Nora Barnacle is supposed to have performed for Joyce at Ringsend the service here quoted, inaccurately too, from Molly Bloom’s account of an episode with Lt. Harry Mulvey in Gibraltar. Costello doesn’t know how to stop. He has more innuendo to offer. Incest is a strong motif in Finnegans Wake. Joyce can’t have invented it. So Joyce’s father must have committed incest with his daughters:
Those who have detected a theme of incest in Finnegans Wake need look no further than the household of John Stanislaus Joyce in the winter of 1903.
There is not a word of evidence for this slur, it is pure and impure speculation.
Perhaps I should mention Costello’s earlier dealings with Joyce. In 1980 he wrote a short book for beginners. In 1981 he published Leopold Bloom: A Biography, a piece of whimsy in which he extends the lives of the Blooms beyond June 16, 1904. For what it’s worth, Costello’s book has Molly Bloom die of cancer on April 24, 1910. On June 1, 1911, her daughter Milly marries Jeremiah McCarthy. Leopold lives through the Civil War, makes a trip to Gibraltar in 1927, and is killed in a car accident in 1937. These fancies are conveyed for no visible reason, unless Costello thinks that readers of Joyce might find them contiguous to Ulysses and therefore intriguing. The likelihood need not be pursued. In the new book Costello takes a different line. He maintains that we can understand Joyce only by studying his remote genetic origins. To support this notion, he quotes Dr. Halliday Sutherland:
Biologically an individual has no parents, but four grandparents and sixteen great-great-grandparents. This means that a child inherits through its parents the qualities of its grandparents, and through its great-grandparents the qualities of its great-great-grandparents.
Costello apparently found this stimulating enough to send him delving into family records of the O’Connells and the Murrays to a count of six generations. His interim report is not buoyant:
James Joyce thus inherited his genetic characteristics from James A. Joyce (fecklessness); Ellen O’Connell (nervous disposition); John Murray (drink/sexuality); Margaret Flynn (musical taste). From an earlier generation came his will and determination, characteristic of George Joyce, Charles O’Connell, and Patrick Flynn. But with eight great-great-grandparents unknown, the full picture is not clear. The double input of genes from the McCann family (clearly connected with each other and with his godfather Philip McCann) also require further investigation.
Costello intends to pursue the lost great-great-grandparents and to write a book called Joyce’s Families.
James Joyce: The Years of Growth is an account of Joyce and his family, predicated upon ostensibly genetic axioms, up to June 30, 1915, when Joyce, Nora Barnacle, and their children Giorgio and Lucia arrived in Zurich from Trieste. Technically, the book is such a mess that I must assume no editor’s or proofreader’s eyes lingered upon its pages. One bizarre instance from a large supply: Stephen’s “Thought is the thought of thought” in the second chapter of Ulysses where he is brooding on Aristotle’s Metaphysics comes out as “Thought is the thought of port.” The merit of the book is that Costello has added a few family details to Ellmann’s account of the Joyces and their slide from comfort to indigence, a condition reached in 1893. The most interesting chapter is one in which Costello, acting upon a note by one of Joyce’s student friends, Constantine P. Curran, makes a good argument that the model for Emma Clery in Stephen Hero and “E—C—“ in the Portrait was not Mary Sheehy, as Joyce’s brother Stanislaus thought, but Mary Elizabeth Cleary. Not that it matters much. Costello acknowledges that Emma Clery is a composite of several girls, including Eileen Vance and “one of the daughters of Mat Dillon.” I wish he would go an inch further and concede that Joyce did not need to do such mosaic-work and was capable of inventing “E—C—.”
By comparison with Costello’s swashbuckling book, Morris Beja’s is a work of monastic rectitude. Beja knows Joyce’s writings far better than Costello does and he has a just sense of the relation between the sundry imperfections of the life and the work. The significance of the title, James Joyce: A Literary Life, is, I assume, that it marks Beja’s understanding that Joyce is from start to finish a writer, and that we are interested in him for that reason. Beja does not encourage us to regard as comparably significant such attendant facts as these: that Joyce was an Irishman, a Dubliner, a lapsed or apostate Catholic, a heavy drinker, a spendthrift, a fancy dresser, an epicure, a pretty good tenor, a lover of Italian opera, a woebegone father, and a devoted but sometimes exasperating husband.
In Beja’s book, the experiences that count are those that pointed Joyce toward his vocation as a writer or diverted him from it. It is more telling that Joyce at the age of eighteen revered Ibsen and managed to publish in the Fortnightly Review an essay on When We Dead Awaken than that at the same time he was squandering his substance in drink. Beja understands that Joyce’s domestic life provoked his work but didn’t write 2 word of it: nothing that happened gave him his styles, phrases, and cadences. Even the trip to Cork with his father did not give him the words for it in the extraordinary second chapter of the Portrait. As a writer, Joyce’s origins are in the literature, lore, and song available to him in several languages. By temper he was an aesthete, a dandy, intellectually exquisite. He found in fin-de-siècle literature and aestheticism, to begin with, the models he needed. He developed further by turning aside from those models, notably when he read Ibsen, but he never renounced them.
It is a further merit of Beja’s book that it cools the flush of narrative when the theme is Joyce’s supposed exile from Ireland. Commenting on Joyce’s assertion, in 1907, that “no one who has any self-respect stays in Ireland,” Beja says:
In the official Joycean view, his own exile was an escape—indeed a “hegira,” the word used by Herbert Gorman in his authorised biography of Joyce to describe the “flight from Dublin” (76). Even before he left for Paris in 1902, Joyce wrote to Lady Gregory of having “been driven out of my country” (Letters I, 53). Yet in looking at the situation from the outside, one might well view him as “self exiled in upon his own ego” (Finnegans Wake, 184.6–7). Joyce too, in his mellower moods, could refer to himself as “a voluntary exile” (Letters II, 84). After all it is the unusual outcast who can carry, as Joyce did in 1902, a letter of recommendation to whom it may concern from the Lord Mayor of his native city expressing “very great hopes” that the bearer of the letter will have “the same brilliant success that he has had at home” (Letters II, 18). So in 1906 Joyce had to be “content to recognise myself an exile: and, prophetically, a repudiated one” (Letters II, 187).
I can’t follow the logic of the final sentence, but the tone of the passage is well judged. Joyce’s “exile” does not call for the heroic note. As a young writer in Dublin he was generously treated by his seniors, especially by Yeats, Lady Gregory, and George Russell. Yeats gave him a letter of introduction to Maud Gonne and put him in touch with Arthur Symons and later with Ezra Pound, who set him upon his career as an international writer. I don’t even think that Oliver St. John Gogarty thwarted Joyce. George Moore snubbed him, but Moore was always ready to deride his friends, mock Yeats for his high tone, libel Lady Gregory, and choose his companions by caprice. A snub from Moore could be construed as a compliment. Meanwhile in 1904 the plain people of Ireland had no reason to know who James Joyce was. My own view is that Joyce left Dublin because he had no prospects there; he was ready to run off with Nora Barnacle, and he wanted to identify himself with the Europe of Ibsen, Wagner, and D’Annunzio. Besides, so long as he stayed in Dublin he had to live under Yeats’s shadow and to keep on jeering at the Irish Literary Revival as pap for the rabble.
In May 1907 Joyce published his first book, a collection of thirty-six lyrics, Chamber Music. Symons helped him to place the short book with the publisher Elkin Matthews. Joyce wrote two kinds of poetry: doggerel satire, as in “The Holy Office,” where Katharsis rhymes with arses; and frail, neo-Yeatsian love-songs like the villanelle that Stephen writes for “E—C—“ in the Portrait. Joyce referred to Chamber Music as “a suite of songs,” and its origins are in Elizabethan music, especially Campion, Dowland, and Byrd. There is also a whisper of Symons’s poems in a few of them:
Gentle lady do not sing
Sad songs about the end of love;
Lay aside sadness and sing
How love that passes is enough.
Sing about the long deep sleep
Of lovers that are dead, and how
In the grave all love shall sleep:
Love is aweary now.
Yeats liked the poems, and was tactful enough not to mention that one of them, “I Hear an Army Charging upon the Land,” imitates his own “He Bids His Beloved be at Peace.” Pound, too, admired Chamber Music, mainly because it was a book of words for music, like his own early books. He wrote of Chamber Music that “in nearly every poem, the mood is so slight that the poem scarcely exists until one thinks of it as set to music.”
In February 1909 the composer Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer sent Joyce settings of five of the poems, with piano accompaniment. Joyce liked the music and encouraged Palmer to do some more. The settings were never published, despite Joyce’s efforts on their behalf. Over the years, many composers set a few of the songs, including Samuel Barber, Frank Bridge, E.J. Moeran, Arthur Bliss, and my own music teacher in Dublin, Brian Boydell. Of the settings that Joyce heard, Palmer’s were his favorite. They are very good, in a tradition more French than German, as if Palmer had been listening to Fauré’s La Bonne chanson rather than to Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. The manuscripts of the settings were missing for many years and have now turned up in the archives of the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. Palmer set thirty-two of the thirty-six poems and there is a fine recording of them by Robert White, with piano accompaniment by Samuel Sanders. It is good that music and words are at last together in James Joyce’s Chamber Music with an extended analytic essay by Myra Teicher Russel and appreciations by Harry Levin and Robert White.
Music was Joyce’s favorite art, especially the music of voice, bel canto, opera, parlor songs, Irish ballads, music-hall songs, minstrel shows, spirituals, and American popular songs. Cheryl Herr has shown, in her Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture (1986), that Joyce found most of his material in popular culture, newspaper, music halls, old songs, much-loved arias. The musical subject has attracted many scholars. In 1959 Matthew J.C. Hodgart and Mabel Worthington published Song in the Works of James Joyce. Zack Bowen followed in 1974 with Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce. In 1982 Ruth Bauerle published The James Joyce Songbook. Picking Up Airs is the latest gathering of essays on the subject. In the first essay, Zack Bowen presents Ulysses as musical comedy, especially in the “Sirens” chapter, and reads the “Circe” chapter as a Christmas pantomime. Henriette Lazaridis Power studies pantomime songs in Ulysses, starting with “Invisibility,” the song Stephen Dedalus’s mother heard in Turko the Terrible, sung by Edward Royce. Ulrich Schneider looks at some of the music hall routines that turn up in Dubliners and Ulysses; notably in “Boarding House,” where Polly Mooney flirts with the lodgers through the “naughty girl” role, singing
I’m a…naughty girl
You needn’t sham
You know I am.
Timothy Martin examines the provenance of Wagner’s Ring in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Exiles, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. Ruth Bauerle studies Joyce’s use of American popular songs in Finnegans Wake, many of them culled from Sigmund Spaeth’s Read ‘Em and Weep: The Songs You Forgot to Remember (1927). Professor Bauerle lists the songs she has heard in the Wake; most frequently, by my count, “Tea for Two.”
Between July 1902 and September 1907 Joyce wrote the stories that he published, after much disappointment and exacerbation, as Dubliners, on June 15, 1914. Most of the modern texts of the book are based on Robert E. Scholes’s Viking edition, published in 1967. Hans Walter Gabler’s new text is based on Joyce’s autograph copy where it exists and, where it doesn’t, on the 1910 typesetting for the Maunsel publication that was planned but never issued. Gabler has made substantive changes, including a new sentence about Gabriel in “The Dead”—“The irony of his mood soured into sarcasm.” In this text, Gabriel has “words” with Molly Ivors, not “a row.”
The Garland book contains the text of the stories as Gabler has emended them, notes to show how he arrived at each wording, a list of variants in accidentals, historical collation against the versions of 1910 and 1914, fragments of a story called “Christmas Eve,” two versions of “A Painful Incident,” two of “The Sisters,” two of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and Joyce’s open letter to the British and Irish press on the obstacles he met in trying to publish Dubliners. Garland does not include the versions of “The Sisters,” “Eveline,” and “After the Race” that were published in The Irish Homestead in August, September, and December 1904, but the substantive variants in each case are given in the footnotes. The Vintage book gives the Irish Homestead stories intact, Gabler’s emended texts, and a splendid afterword by John S. Kelly. There are no explanatory notes in Garland or Vintage. Readers of “Eveline” must go elsewhere for explanation of the mother’s cry, “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!” A few years ago, Tomas de Bhaldraithe, professor of Irish at University College, Dublin, told me that the words are a phonetic rendering of the Irish “deire amhain, serain,” meaning that the one end (for all of us) is worms.
Some readers may be upset by a feature of Gabler’s editing in his texts of Dubliners and the Portrait:
In the printing, end-of-line hyphenation occurs in two modes. The sign ‘=’ marks a division for mere typographical reasons. Words so printed should always be cited as one undivided word. The regular hyphen indicates an authentic Joycean hyphen.
Joyce didn’t like hyphens; he used them mainly to show that the hyphenated word was sung rather than spoken; as in Ulysses, “Co-ome thou lost one.” Even for that purpose he preferred to multiply the vowels. When Molly Bloom, in bed, breaks wind to the accompaniment of “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” the words are given as “looooves old…” and “sweet sooooooooooong.” Joyce avoided heavy punctuation and he especially disliked “perverted commas.” He excluded hyphens from such compound words as winedark, scrotumtightening, sleuthhounds, gilt-bordered, and snotgreen. Gabler’s plethora of ‘=’ signs is hard on the optic nerve. Words so printed may be cited as one undivided word, but they can’t be seen on Gabler’s pages as one. It takes getting used to, that Crofton in “Grace” is “a damned decent Or=angeman too” and that in “The Dead” Bartell D’Arcy is “a dark-com=plexioned young man.” Here the hyphen is Joyce’s rare work, the ‘=’ sign Gabler’s assent to typographic necessity. Gabler might have eased the strain by following ordinary procedure, using the hyphen for typographic necessity and the ‘=’ sign for the very few occasions on which Joyce indicated a hyphen.
One of the oddities of Joyce’s work is that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and its early, discarded version Stephen Hero differ so much in style from Dubliners, which he wrote at much the same time. Gabler argues that Joyce started work on Stephen Hero some months before his mother died in August 1903. Stephen Hero faltered by June 1905, and Joyce went back to the apparent objectivity of Dubliners and its style of “scrupulous meanness,” as he described his intention to Grant Richards. In September 1907 he tried Stephen Hero again, working some of its material to better purpose and in different styles. It was as if he had read Shelley, Newman, and Pater over a weekend and changed his tone on Monday morning. With many lapses, he finished the Portrait early in 1914. Pound took it up and arranged to have it issued serially in The Egoist, starting on Joyce’s thirty-second birthday, February 2, 1914. It was published as a book in New York on December 29, 1916. There were about four hundred errors in the printing.
In 1964 Chester G. Anderson published his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, an edition of the Portrait based on Joyce’s fair copy holograph, a handwritten text, which is now in the National Library of Ireland. Subsequent printings of the Portrait have adhered to Anderson’s text. The recent Penguin edition, with an introduction by Seamus Deane, does so, though Deane claims to have silently corrected “some obvious errors” in Anderson. The only correction I have found is not an error at all—“The soft beauty of the Latin word” in Chapter 5, Deane changes to “words” without any textual authority or need. Gabler and Anderson agree on “word.” It is embarrassing to Penguin that Anderson has now brought out a revised text of the Portrait—it is in Kershner’s book—replacing the 1964 version that Penguin’s Deane has adopted. In a light-hearted note Anderson recalls that in 1964 Ellmann wouldn’t allow him to make further textual corrections he thought necessary and that even as late as 1972 he persisted in the refusal. Anderson doesn’t explain how Ellmann came to have this power.
Gabler, too, has started over, gone back independently to Joyc holograph and emended it in the light of the surviving Egoist galleys, the Egoist serialization (1914–1915), the editions of 1916, 1918, and 1924, and corrections noted in correspondence by Joyce and by Harriet Shaw Weaver. The resultant text, as Gabler says, doesn’t “drastically differ” from Anderson’s of 1964. It differs even less from Anderson’s of 1993. Both of them have the child Stephen garbling his song on the first page as “O, the geen wothe botheth” while Deane is stuck with Anderson’s “green” of 1964. There are a few substantive changes. In the fifth chapter Gabler has Cranly seizing Stephen’s arm and steering him round “so as to lead him back towards Leeson Park.” Anderson and Deane have him steering Stephen round “so as to head back towards Leeson Park.” Sometimes a change of punctuation makes a difference worth thinking about. In the same episode with Cranly, Stephen scorns the idea of enjoying “an eternity of bliss in the company of the dean of studies.” Remember, Cranly says, that the dean would be glorified. Anderson and Deane have the next sentence in this form:
—Ay, Stephen said someat bitterly, bright, agile, impassable and above all, subtle.
In that form it’s hard to know what the four adjectives are doing: they seem to be an external narrative comment on Stephen. But not according to Gabler’s punctuation:
—Ay, Stephen said somewhat bitterly. Bright, agile, impassible and, above all, subtle.
In this form, which Gabler arrived at by emending a dash in the fair copy holograph to a period, the four adjectives could be interpreted as spoken aloud by Stephen, reminding Cranly that the four transcendent qualities that will distinguish the bodies of the saints are—I quote Deane’s note here—that “They shall shine like the sun (bright), they shall have the power of unimpeded movement (agile), they shall be beyond the reach of pain or inconvenience (impassible) and their bodies will be subject wholly to the dominion of the soul (subtlety).” The Vintage Portrait includes Gabler’s text but not his textual apparatus, and an informative afterword by Richard Brown. There are no explanatory notes. The Penguin Portrait has Anderson’s text of 1964, a good introduction and useful notes by Deane.
Kershner’s book has the 1993 text by Anderson, lightly annotated, and five essays designed to show different theories of interepretation and their approaches to the Portrait. The five are: psychoanalytic criticism (Sheldon Brivic), reader-response criticism (Norman N. Holland), feminist criticism (Suzette Henke), Deconstruction (Cheryl Herr), and New Historicism (R.B. Kershner.)
Brivic treats Stephen Dedalus as if he were one of Freud’s patients suffering from “compulsive alternation of submission and assertion” and “mother fixation.” Norman N. Holland might have done well to exempt himself from writing about the Portrait, since he has never liked the book, but that, too, I suppose, is reader-response of a curmudgeonly kind and part of the “discourse,” as we are encouraged to say, attending Joyce:
I resist his baby talk, the students’ banter, and the final romantic shout. Instead, I choose what to admire, and I choose the sermons, knowing I can and do limit them. I’m in control. I can admire his vision of the crane-girl, and I can share it, but I can also attack Joyce for his failure to see women whole and for his masculinist bias. I share his logomachia: Will society’s words control me, or will I and my words escape?
This begs so many questions that I must leave them begged. Feminist criticism of the Portrait is psychoanalysis a second time round. Suzette Henke writes:
Through Portrait, Stephen manifests a psychological horror of woman as a figure of immanence, a symbol of unsettling sexual difference, and a perpetual reminder of bodily abjection. At the conclusion of chapter five, he prepares to flee from all the women who have served as catalysts in his own adolescent development. His journey into exile will release him from what he perceives as a cloying matriarchal authority.
What I learn from Cheryl Herr’s essay in Deconstruction is that Stephen Dedalus has not read Derrida’s De la grammatologie; he has assimilated “the logocentrism associated with Greek and Roman tradition,” reinvented the wheel of Western epistemology, and wasted his powers “on naive, self-deceptive bridging of the gap between words and things.” Fortunately and surprisingly, an unruly penis “becomes Stephen’s lever for upsetting the power of phallogocentrism.”
What I learn from Kershner is that if you read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and think of his meditations on modern forms of surveillance, you will be alerted to Stephen Dedalus’s sense that he is beset by “a faceless ‘They’ whose identities, motivations, and sources of authority are finally irrelevant.” There must be more to New Historicism than that. After reading these essays, I find myself murmuring that Stephen Dedalus is a character in a novel, not a patient in a clinic, a prisoner in a panopticon, or an applicant for a post in Critical Theory at an American university. Many years ago L.C. Knights asked a mock-question—“How many children had Lady Macbeth?”—that seems to me just as worthwhile as most of the matters raised in Kershner’s book.
So it is a relief to come to Ulysses without commentaries left and right. I am not sure what Oxford University Press had in mind when they decided to reprint the first edition of 1922 with its thousands of typographical errors. It is, as Jeri Johnson says, “a historically significant document in its own right,” and it is “still the text closest to Joyce in time.” “Finally, though botched and faulty, it remains Joyce’s published Ulysses, his own ‘usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles.’ ” Perhaps these are sufficient reasons. If Joyce hadn’t been so superstitiously keen to have the book published on his fortieth birthday, February 2, 1922, he might have seen an accurate typescript through the press. But he went ahead and chose to put up with inevitable printing errors. On October 29, 1921, be declared the text complete, but he continued tinkering with proofs as they arrived from Dijon until the end of January 1922. He hoped that the errors would be corrected in later editions, but legal problems intervened, and only partial lists of errata got written up. Besides, he began to lose interest in the printings of Ulysses as soon as he started working on Work in Progress, his “book of the night” to round out Ulysses, his book of the day.
There are thousands of errors in the first edition of Ulysses. Some of them are obvious. On page 692 of the new printing, “like that one deuying it up to my face” is easily spotted as a mistake for “denying it up to my face.” But on page 712 “when I blew out the old bag the biscuits were finrom Benady Bros and exploded it Lord what a bang” is harder to correct to “when I blew out the old bag the biscuits were in from Benady Bros and exploded it Lord what a bang.” The new printing has mostly historical and antiquarian interest, though the editor Jeri Johnson has labored to make the book a good buy. A map of Joyce’s Dublin is given, preparatory to anything else, followed by a lively introduction, an account of the publication history of the book, a select bibliography, a chronology, and then the text in all its glory and corruption as published by Shakespeare and Company, 12, Rue de l’Odéon, Paris, 1922. The only part of this I could cheerfully do without is Johnson’s refereeing the fight between Hans Walter Gabler and John Kidd over the text of Ulysses; especially as a single page of Johnson’s adjudication calls Jason Epstein Jacob and Gabler Gable and the next page refers to the Third Annual Miami J’yce Conference.
After the text we have 250 pages including an incomplete list of errata (e.g., “136.32: for senned read seemed“) and explanatory notes chapter by chapter (“28.32: ‘Amor matris: subjective and objective genitive’: Latin: ‘mother love’; meaning either ‘mother’s love for [another]’ (subjective) or [another’s] love for mother’ (objective).” These annotations are useful; but most of them are already available in Don Gifford’s ‘Ulysses’ Annotated and elsewhere. In the end, this Oxford Ulysses is worth having, but I don’t think many will read it in this form; the print is so small that the book should carry warning that reading it is likely to damage one’s eyes.
On Joyce’s years after Ulysses Stuart Gilbert’s journal is lively, but it must be read in a critical spirit. Gilbert was an English civil servant who worked for several years in Burma and retired to Paris with his wife in 1927. He got in touch with Sylvia Beach and Joyce to tell them that the French translation of Ulysses by Auguste Morel, on the evidence of the few pages on show at Shakespeare and Company, was defective. He offered to correct it, and it appeared in February 1929 with credits carefully divided between Morel, Gilbert, and Valery Larbaud. The journal runs from January 1, 1929, to March 26, 1934. In 1930 Gilbert helped Joyce with the part of Work in Progress in which Earwicker builds Dublin. Joyce’s method is described:
Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns, New York, Vienna, Budapest, and Mrs. Fleischman has read out the articles on some of these. I “finish” Vienna and read Christiania and Bucharest. Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.) I pause. Joyce thinks. If he can Anglicise the word, i.e. make a pun on it, Mrs. F. records the name or its deformation in the notebook…. He is curled on his sofa, while I struggle with Danish or Rumanian names, pondering puns. With foreign words it’s too easy. The provincial Dubliner. Foreign is funny.
In 1930 Gilbert did what he could to correct the Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses that was published in December.
Joyce was in continuous trouble during those years, though it didn’t prevent him from living high and carousing. He had to undergo an operation to save his eyes. Lucia’s behavior was erratic and eventually she had to be recognized as mentally ill. Nora threatened to leave Joyce because of his drinking and profligacy. The apostles who wrote the Exagmination continued to sustain his literary activities, but Gilbert was not alone in thinking the method of Work in Progress a waste of energy and spirit. Joyce’s defense was simple. “One great part of every human existence,” he said, “is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.”6 But he could not persuade his peers that the procedure was worth more than a few mellifluous pages, as in Anna Livia Plurabelle. The stories he was using for Work in Progress, notably “Tristan and Isolde,” didn’t seem to sustain the narrative as the Odyssey sustained Ulysses. Eliot did not offer to review the new book as a work comparable in significance to Einstein’s theory of relativity in physics.
On November 15, 1926, Pound wrote to Joyce, after reading a batch of Work in Progress, that “nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.”7 Yeats thought that the Anna Livia Plurabelle section of Work in Progress embodied a new naturalism according to which the writer’s mind is helpless before its contents. H.G. Wells, Wyndham Lewis, Eliot, and Stanislaus Joyce, for different reasons, thought the experiment a failure. Even Joyce’s patron Miss Weaver suggested that he supply an annotated edition, else readers would sink.8
Stuart Gilbert stayed the course, though he disapproved of it. He used his journal mainly to vent feelings he had to suppress in polite or mildly bohemian society: denouncing the laboring class, “the gangster-president of U.S.A.,” “Japs,” “Krauts,” and the Irish—“Whiners & blusterers, the Irish all…,” Lucia Joyce—“Lucia, inspected by Dr. Fontaine, was ordered 12 days’ rest in bed instead of the smacking she rightly deserves,” saving occasional barbs for Stravinsky, Nicholas Nabokov, and Caresse Crosby. Gilbert also used the journal to express feelings he had to keep out of his book on Ulysses; mainly the jealousy of a disciple who sees other disciples closer to Joyce than he was, especially Eugene Jolas and Paul Leon. Gilbert resented the fact that Joyce was sluggish in helping him to finish the book on Ulysses; though he probably didn’t know that Joyce was already losing his respect for Gilbert’s efforts. Later, Joyce told Vladimir Nabokov that he had made “a terrible mistake” in collaborating with Gilbert: “an advertisement for the book: I regret it very much.”9 In November 1929 and for months thereafter Gilbert was appalled to see Joyce spending time and energy promoting the career of the Irish opera singer John Sullivan; lobbying Nancy Cunard, Lady Ottoline Morrell, George Antheil, and Thomas Beecham on his behalf, wire-pulling to get concerts for him. In March 1941 Gilbert described Joyce:
the real Joyce—a great man with a little mind; highly sensitive and quite ruthless; a natural intriguer, born litigant, slave-driver, and on occasion, the most charming companion; so self-centered that he took no interest in others except in their relations to himself or as possible material for the artist. Adolf Hitler and he had much in common, I should say. His charm was always calculated, his generosity intended to impress—when it was not an appeal for reciprocity. Thus resumed, it sounds [like] an ugly character; yet one could see Joyce for what he was, and still like him. As one likes a cat, not asking from him the qualities of a dog; there was much in him of the feminine.
Can this egotist be the man who wrote Ulysses, imagined Stephen helping the ink-stained Cyril Sargent with his sums, imagined Leopold Bloom at Paddy Dignam’s funeral? Yes: there is no discrepancy, unless we choose to enforce one. It is hopeless to read literature and require that a great writer also be a nice person, a good wife and mother, share one’s opinions, and vote Democrat. Eliot was right when he said that the more complete the artist, the more separate in him will be the man who suffered and the mind that created. And Yeats was right in saying that an artist is never the bundle of accident and heterogeneity that sits down to breakfast.
This makes a problem for biographers, who try to narrate a life that folds back into itself the works of apparent genius that are else a scandal, a transgression. Or they try to present a circumstantial and domestic scene, a context, from which those works emerge for a while only to return to it, tamed, in the end. No biographer, certainly not Ellmann, risks presenting works of art as irrevocably aberrant to the personal and domestic life they are held to document. There is no way out, except to speak of genius and put up with the consideration that the word is a scandal to ideologues. Biographers can describe the conditions in which a work of art was composed, but they can’t specify a correlation between the conditions and the work. Beja’s book is good because he knows this limitation and doesn’t claim to have transcended it. The nature of the work of art is the business of aesthetic criticism. Ulysses is a work of art, it was written not by Jim Sober or Jim Drunk but by James Joyce, an artist to the degree of genius.
October 21, 1993
Richard Ellmann, James Joyce: New and Revised Edition (Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 156. ↩
Letters of James Joyce: Volume II, edited by Richard Ellmann (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 233. ↩
Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), p. 23. ↩
Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), p. 27. ↩
James Joyce, Ulysses, edited by Hans Walter Gabler (Random House, 1986), p. 41. ↩
Quoted in Ellmann, revised edition, pp. 584–585. ↩
Quoted in Ellmann, revised edition, p. 584. ↩
Quoted in Ellmann, revised edition, p. 584. ↩
Quoted in Ellmann, revised edition, p. 616. ↩