Bruce Stewart, ‘Another Bash in the Tunnel: James Joyce and the Envoy (April 1951)’


[Source: The article originated as a contribution to the Denis Donoghue festschrift conference at Queen's University, Belfast, in 2005 and duly appeared as ‘Another Bash in the Tunnel: James Joyce, the Envoy, and the Irish Reception’, in Ireland and Transatlantic Poetics: Essays in Honour of Denis Donoghue, ed. in Brian Caraher & Robert Mahony (Delaware: Newark UP 2007), pp.58-76. The present version appeared in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 93, No. 370 (Summer 2004), pp.133-46).]

Navigation Tip: Please return from footnote references at the end-of-page by using the "back" button on your browser, or else by using the ALT+< key combination.


IN THE SUMMER OF 2004 - the centenary of Bloomsday - the James Joyce International Symposium will once again convene in Dublin, the city of the writer’s birth and the scene of all his fiction. In this article I want to consider the Irish response to the first such meeting back in 1967. A telling measure of that response was the tone and substance of a volume entitled A Bash in the Tunnel: James Joyce by the Irish (1970), edited by the literary publican John Ryan and incorporating articles which Flann O’Brien (properly Brian O’Nolan), Patrick Kavanagh, Denis Johnston and others had contributed to a “James Joyce” Special Issue of Envoy which Ryan had earlier published in April 1951. Thrown together in a frankly derisory manner by O’Brien in his capacity as guest-editor, that issue had consisted of seven pieces starting with an openly contemptuous ‘Editorial Note’ which was directly followed by Kavanagh’s well-known squib “Who Killed James Joyce?”: ‘I, said the commentator, / I killed James Joyce […] The weapon that was used / Was a Harvard thesis.’[1] For the rest, the issue gathered essays by John Garvin (“Andrew Cass”) and Niall Montgomery together with a memoir by Joseph Hone and a note on the classical sources of Ulysses by W. B. Stanford before closing with Kavanagh’s fugitive thoughts about the novelist in a little “Diary” - though hardly that very thing itself. In 1970 (four years after O’Brian’s death), the number was greatly augmented by additions from Eoin O’Mahony, Monk Gibbon, Benedict Kiely, John Jordan, Aidan Higgins, Bernard Share, Francis Harvey, Ulick O’Connor, J. B. Lyons, Patrick Boyle, Edna O’Brien and John Montague (a poem) as well as reprinted passages from writings on Joyce by Samuel Beckett, Thomas McGreevy, Stanislaus Joyce, Arthur Power and J. F. Byrne along with a selection of obituary notices.

 The pervasive temper of the “Special Issue” is exemplified by Denis Johnston’s  ‘Short View of the progress of Joyceanity’ which centrally takes the form of a defence of Oliver St. John Gogarty’s notorious tirades against Joyce in 1939 and 1941.[2] In it Johnston draws upon his own period of academic bondage to pour scorn on ‘[t]he intensity with which Joyce’s work is being studied in the United States’ before launching into an account of the earlier fracas: ‘Gogarty [struck] an assassin’s blow at an important industry […]. Need I say that the reaction was catastrophic! It was as if [he] had deliberately belched at Mass.’[3] While Johnston was the son of a Presbyterian judge and Gogarty a Catholic both were upper-middle and there is more than a trace of complicity in the former’s defence of what Edna O’Brien has recently called the ‘loathsome revenge’ of the model for Buck Mulligan in Ulysses.[4] Not stopping there, Johnston advances a full-blown critique of Joyce himself - ‘an early hanger-on’ whom Gogarty ‘had never  liked anyway’ - arguing that ‘[t]here is actually no reason why the legacy of Dedalism to the world should be of very great weight once it has been discovered’ since ‘it is only a coincidence when those who have the supreme gift of self-expression in any of the arts have got anything startling to express.’[5] Moreover, ‘Joyce says little or nothing about himself, and seems to have directed all his contemporary biographers away from the real facts of his life to a lot of dreary rows with Maunsell & Co. He even goes so far as to delete the chapter headings from his work, so as to make us find them out for ourselves.’[6] A low trick.

 Johnston is ultimately less concerned with the character of Joyce’s writings than with the fact that American students are being led to regard him as a literary evangel: ‘They are being told that Mr. Bloom is a Scapegoat, bearing on his shoulders the sins of the human race, and they are well out now on a limb of the Golden Bough, looking for anything else that can be found with whiskers and horns.’[7] He is equally scornful of symbolic discoveries associated with Finnegans Wake, to wit that ‘Liffey is female, while Howth Head is definitely male’ and ‘that in the world of dreams, all time happens at once’.[8] Brushing aside the ‘forced parallels from history or mythology’ that formed the staple of Joyce’s art as the world understood it in the 1950s, he finally identifies his ‘greatest sin’ as ‘an unabashed confusion of the subjective with the objective that makes it impossible to distinguish between the author’s observation of his hero, the hero’s observation of his past, or the reader’s observation of any of them.’[9] This comes oddly from the author of The Old Lady Says “No!”, a play founded on precisely such a confusion - a sort of lower-case Walpurgisnacht in the pattern of Joyce’s “Nighttown”. There is a discernible air of disappointment   at the antics of Protestant America in his final objection to the exalted place that Ulysses has assumed in the post-war Anglo-American canon: ‘there is an air of unreality about all the explanations that reminds me irresistibly of a commentary on the liturgy, and not of literary criticism at all.’[10]

 What incensed the Envoy writers as a class was Joyce’s success in gulling the commentators in regard to his own alter ego in the novels as an escapee from the ‘spiritual paralysis’ of life in Ireland. Clearly he had sold Herbert Gorman a pup in priming him for the first biography of 1944.[11] Richard Ellmann’s far more circumspect study would not appear for almost a decade after the date when ‘the Irish’ made their retaliatory strike; yet, though it effectively demolished the excesses of biographical credulity and symbol-hunting, the anti-nationalist convictions attributed to the novelist remained essentially the same.[12] The peculiar irony was that Ellmann’s biography had been maliciously infected by distortions arising from a practical joke that the Dublin clique had played on Maria Jolas shortly before the appearance of the Envoy’s Special Issue. This took the form of a spurious interview with John Stanislaus Joyce that O’Brien had magicked into the “Joyce Papers” which she published in the Joyce Yearbook for 1949, later boasting to John Kelleher that he himself was the author of such sentences as: ‘The Turkish bath came into my mind and there I went after having any God’s quantity of champagne. Oh dear, dear God, those were great times.’[13]

 In 1983 Hugh Kenner placed a chapter of caveats in front of A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers, observing that the interview is cited in four footnotes to Ellmann’s ‘standard biography’ of Joyce.[14] More pertinently perhaps, he himself had substantially reproduced the phoney monologue in an appendix to his own groundbreaking Dublin’s Joyce (1955), where he called it ‘the stenographic report of an unidentified interviewer’, citing Jolas’s Yearbook as his immediate source.[15] No wonder that he calls O’Brien ‘the greatest virtuoso of the Irish Fact’, in support of which he quoted an interview with Time Magazine for August 1943 where O’Brien professes to have made a quick visit to Germany in 1933, married the violin-playing daughter of a basket-weaver who died shortly afterwards - the daughter, that is - before immersing himself in ‘matters of state’ back in Éire - since when he never talks about his tragic loss (except in colloquy with the Time reporter).

 The Time Magazine interview coincided with the period in his life when O’Brien was reeling from the blow struck to his literary pride by the rejection of The Third Policeman. By the date of the interview he had adopted the subterfuge of pretending the manuscript had got lost on a train. Clearly he was more than usually disposed to pull the legs of visiting Joyceans - albeit in 1939 he had displayed a form of pathetic self-abasement in his correspondence with the American writer William Saroyan, who had passed some time in Dublin: ‘I guess it [At Swim-Two-Birds] is a bum book anyhow. I am writing a very funny book now about bicycles and policemen and I think it will be perhaps good and early a little money quietly.’[16] The plot-summary he supplies for the American - a possible promoter - hardly suggests a mind in possession of serviceable amounts of self-esteem:

The only good thing about it is the plot and I have been wondering whether I could make a crazy Saroyan play out of it. When you get to the end of this book you realise my hero or main character (he’s a heel and a killer) has been dead throughout the book and that all the queer ghastly things which have been happening to him are happening in a sort of hell which he has earned for the killing. Towards the end of the book (before you know he’s dead) he manages to get back to his own house where he used to live with another man who helped in the original murder. (Letter of 14 Feb. 1940; quoted in Anthony Cronin, No Laughing Matter, 1989.)

This is notably spiritless writing, as if O'Brien really believes Saroyan to be a successful American author whose best efforts are indistinguishable from the efforts of a High-School student whose juvenile manner Flann seemingly emulates in order to make himself agreeable - a misjudgement of some magnitude respecting a writer rated by many alongside Steinbeck and even Faulkner today. The ensuing remarks are even less prepossessing:

It is supposed to be very funny but I don’t know about that either […] . I envy you the way you write […] I can never seen to get anything just right […] Nevertheless, I think the idea of a man being dead all the time is pretty new. When you are writing about the world of the dead - and the damned - where none of the rules and laws (not even the Law of Gravity) holds good, there is any amount of scope for back chat and funny cracks. (Idem.) [Note: the last two references added in revision - 17.08.2015.]

While this is illuminating in respect of the imaginative framework of the novel, it clearly belongs in the category of trouble literary confessions which Seamus Deane has identified (in an essay on Yeats and Joyce) with the pathology of Anglo-Irish literature.

 Hugh Kenner’s “Warning” against the falsity of Irish witness-bearing raised critical hackles to a considerable height in Ireland, arriving as it did at a moment when the intellectual climate had undergone a sea-change since his last significant intervention. This was due to the operation of several factors of historical moment: the advent of television, the inauguration of the Economic Development Programme of 1958, membership of the European Union and the arrival of the Northern Ireland Crisis - all tending to raise consciousness in different if related ways. The world from which the Envoy Special Issue sprang now seemed very remote from contemporary Irish experience (remoter, too, more its America after-image) and the ambiguous homage that Kenner had earlier lavished on the Irish mind was even less acceptable than before:

The crucial place of Ireland in the recent history of Western literary art is accounted for in the historical fact that Ireland escaped the humanist dogma. Consequently the great Irish nihilists (for so they appear in a humanist perspective) have been the persistent reformers of the fictional imagination.[17]

 The sternest rebuke to all of this came from Seamus Deane in his Field Day pamphlet of 1984:

A recent book, like Hugh Kenner’s A Colder Eye [sic], exploits the whimsical Irishness of the writers in a particularly inane and offensive manner. The point is not simply that the Irish are different. It is that they are absurdly different because of the disabling, if fascinating, separation between their notion of reality and that of everybody else.[18]

 That is, indeed, what Kenner argued in several places, and also what the Envoy contributors had implied when they had asserted that they alone were capable of understanding Joyce. At the same time, the majority of their essays are clearly inspired by unease at the long shadow that he had cast over the cultural landscape they inhabited. In addition there was the anxiety of influence that Seamus Deane has justly discerned in Flann O’Brien’s relation to the older writer, calling it ‘one of the most astonishing examples’ of the syndrome originally identified by Harold Bloom.[19] If, on one occasion, this took shape in The Dalkey Archive (1964) where Joyce appears as a publican’s curate, on another it took the form of the remark with which O’Brien shocked Samuel Beckett: ‘What was Joyce but a refurbisher of skivvies stories?’[20] It was Niall Montgomery, according to Anthony Cronin, who worked out the solution to the Joyce-problem which O’Brien adopted. Montgomery, Cronin tells us, was a ‘quick-eyed and quick-witted architectural student who[se] attitude to Joyce was obsessive but ambiguous’ in as much as he ‘regarded Joyce’s works as an intellectual playground: esoteric, cabbalistic, logomachic’ while leaving out ‘in so far as it can be left out, the human content and the compassionate purpose.’[21] It followed that ‘Joyce and his challenge’ could be ‘defused by making him a mere logomachic wordsmith, a great but demented genius who finally went mad in his ivory tower.’[22]

 In his ‘Editorial Note’ to the Envoy Special Issue, O’Brien attempted a serious critique of Joyce in a few sentences only, sadly without arriving at anything worthy of the subject:

Humour, the handmaid of sorrow and fear, creeps out endlessly in all Joyce’s works. He uses the thing, in the same way as Shakespeare does but less formally, to attenuate the fear of those who have belief and who genuinely think that they will be in hell or in heaven shortly, and possibly very shortly. With laughs he palliates the sense of doom that is the heritage of the Irish Catholic. True humour needs this background urgency, Rabelais is funny, but his stuff cloys. His stuff lacks tragedy.[123]

 The rest of his contribution is given over to ‘a bash in the tunnel’ - of which more in just a moment. In “An Cruiskeen Lawn” he returned to the offensive with a characteristic piece of pseudo-philological derision: ‘James Joyce was illiterate […] his every foreign language quotation was incorrect’ while his ‘few sallies at Greek are wrong, and his few attempts at a Gaelic phrase absolutely monstrous.’[24] Nowhere, in fact, did he praise Joyce: hence it is the novel At Swim-Two-Birds that constitutes the only tribute of its pseudonymic author to the older writer unless his whole literary persona be counted in the same light.

 Looking back at the Envoy Special Issue in 1970, John Ryan recounts the reason why he appointed O’Brien guest editor with an unavoidable comparison that requires some wriggling out of in view of O’Brien’s sensitivity in exactly this matter: ‘His own genius closely matched, without in any way resembling or attempting to counterfeit, Joyce’s.’[25] Having negotiated that whirlpool, Ryan is able to describe the kind of continuity that he sees subsisting between the two writers: ‘if the mantle (or should we say the waistcoat?) were ever to be passed on, nobody would be half so deserving of it as the man who, under his other guises as Flan [sic] O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen, proved himself intestably [sic] to be the most creative writer and mordant wit that Ireland has given us since Shem the Penman himself.’[26] In augmenting the Envoy with ‘commissioned’ and reprinted pieces, Ryan takes his title from the specimen of literary guff that O’Brien had proffered as prefatory remarks to the Special Issue. Therein he tells of a man, the son of a catering-supplier to Coras Iompair Éireann (as it then was) who locks himself in a dining-car that gets shunted into a tunnel adjacent to Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station where obscurity and the lack of a wristwatch causes him to lose track of time with dire consequences for the state of  his liver. O’Brien asks us to consider: ‘Funny? But surely there you have the Irish artist? Sitting fully dressed, innerly locked in the toilet of a locked coach […] drinking somebody else’s whiskey, being whisked hither and thither by anonymous shunters, keeping fastidiously the while on the outer face of his door the simple word ENGAGED!’ And he concludes: ‘I think the image fits Joyce, but particularly in his manifestation of a most Irish characteristic - the transgressor’s resentment of the nongressor.’[27] This seems to mean that the Irish did nothing to deserve the vengeance that James Joyce lavished on them. Aside from that note of righteous animosity, the most that can be said for the preface is that its author is unsure whether to play the part of ringmaster or clown. One oddly typical detail may be noted also: in elaborating his ‘bash in the tunnel’, O’Brien may have been taking a lexical cue from Denis Johnston’s allusion to the ‘unabashed confusion of the subjective with the objective’ which he takes to be Joyce’s chief failing, as we have already seen. Whether this is a legitimate inspiration or the literary counterpart of delirium tremens is a matter for conjecture.

 Next up was Patrick Kavanagh with his spiteful poem. particularly witty are the sectarian remarks about W. R. Rodgers, poet and BBC-man whose baptism certificate evidently disqualifies him from uttering the nunc dimittis: ‘Who said the burial prayers? - / Please do not hurt me - / Joyce was no Protestant, / Surely not Bertie?’ Kavanagh’s earnest opinion of Joyce is inscribed more largely in his “Diary” at the end of the issue - the  two pieces acting like book-ends suggesting an editorial consistency that O’Brien’s introduction notably fails to convey on its own account. Kavanagh first establishes his credentials (or the lack of them) as a Joyce-reader:

I find it difficult to form any particular opinion about Joyce. I have one advantage over certain others: I was never an original admirer of Joyce and so I have not had the normal reaction, that readjusting of one’s values which is common in regard to one’s enthusiasms. [...] I read Ulysses for the first time about seven years ago. Since then, it has been my second favourite bedside book.

 The remainder of his essay - barely more than jottings - combines antipathy to transatlantic critics (‘There is nothing wrong with Joyce … it is his commentators who are mad’)[28] with an attempt to recruit Joyce to his own banner of literary ‘parochialism’. This leads to an eccentric estimate of Joyce’s changing art: ‘Ulysses […]  is almost entirely a transcription of life. Joyce added nothing - except possibly Stephen, and he gave us Stephen completely in the Portrait.  […]. The portrait of the Artist is Joyce’s testament.’[29] In this scheme of things, Finnegans Wake represents the reductio ad absurdum of its author’s always-limited talent: ‘What I am trying to say is that Joyce has little, or none, of that ethereal commodity known as inspiration. He is the very clever cynical man who has found a formula. […] Finnegans Wake is the delirium of a man with no more to say. He has melted down the matrix.’[30]

 There being nothing more to add by way of literary acumen, Kavanagh now turns to a more material aspect of the case: ‘I am constantly reminded of the number of writers who achieve the depths of hell’s despair simply because they happened to get a woman without spondulecs. If Joyce had had a thousand a year would he have written Ulysses as he did?’ (The fact is that he did have a thousand a year during much of the composition of Ulysses.) Kavanagh’s review of the question of Catholic influence is remarkable for its counter-reformational ardour: ‘Almost the most outstanding quality in Joyce is his Catholicism or rather his anti-Protestantism. Joyce, through Stephen, in the Portrait, must have done more damage to Protestantism than any modern apologist.’[31] The argument is not, of course, without its problems since Joyce abandoned Catholic orthodoxy as as everybody knows - yet, if ‘reason made him a bad Catholic […] whatever the defects of Catholicism, he saw that Protestantism was a compendium of all those defects’, Kavanagh informs us. It is probable that what he meant by these remarks was little more than a snub to the predominantly protestant critical consensus that embraced James Joyce as a literary modernist: the cultural and political elite of Anglo-America being, emphatically, still protestant at that time.

 At the centre of the Envoy Special Issue in point of scholarly weight stands a pseudonymic essay entitled ‘Childe Horrid’s Pigrimace’ by John Garvin, the Wexford-born Dublin City Commissioner who had earlier established a reputation for expertise in matters Joycean with an article concerning which Hugh Kenner had this to say in the acknowledgements to his own Dublin’s Joyce (1955): ‘The material on De Valera in Finnegans Wake owes its inception to the work of Mr. Andrew Cass who staked a modest claim on this lode in The Irish Times for April 26, 1947.’[32] The view of A Portrait of the Artist offered here only differs from that of contemporary reviewers in the Irish press by virtue of the popular psychology with which Garvin colours his disapprobation:

Accordingly, unless it can be treated as a study from which the writer had achieved an inhuman and almost schizoid detachment, it must be ascribed to the pathetic desire of a middle-aged man to dramatise his own lost youth and to exaggerate its intellectual capacity and promise. Such a petty pursuit is reminiscent of the father who writes his boy’s prize essays or of the mentally-retarded person whose conversation impulsively recurs to “when I was in College 20 years ago”.[33]

 A verdict follows: ‘As Joyce himself said, all this stuff was boiling inside him and he had to get it out of his system, but it is a pity that he did not rid himself of it quickly’.[34]  About Ulysses Garvin has no better opinion: ‘[…] its interminable trimmings and its stuffed Odysseus promoted from a short story to balance the pretentious epic of Telemachus, enabled Joyce to get off his chest a great deal of juvenile resentments and self-pity.’[35] Harsh things are likewise said about the formal technique of “Penelope”: ‘The omission of punctuation marks is a mere trick designed to hide the fact that a great deal of the alleged run-on thinking is in fact nothing more than a characteristic piece of pungent Joyce prose.’[36] Like Patrick Kavanagh and Gogarty before him, Garvin is not one to be gulled by the experimentalism of Finnegans Wake, for which he finds this explanation: ‘Ulysses demonstrated the author’s inability to give forthright expression to his own mature personality.  […]  He, therefore, wanted a medium of expression in which he could give vent to his Irish memories, [by] obliquely autobiographical [methods] and at the same time epitomise himself as the all-wisest Stagyrite [Aristotle].’[37]

 Yet, after all these damning judgements have been made, Garvin is still intent on demonstrating that ‘Ireland is the real “Joyce country”, the primary scene and source of inspiration for Finnegans Wake, and no other work in the English language has the Irish accent ever been so authentically reproduced.’[38]

In dealing with his spiritual mother, Anna Liffey, he shows his affection for the accents and the story of Ireland, her woods and mountains and plains and her rivers as symbols of eternal nature in their unceasing flow by bogs and bends and green hills and dark pools [....&c.][39]

That lyrical outburst, with its unintentional resemblance to the Citizen’s effusions in the “Cyclops” chapter of Ulysses, is indicative of an implacable desire to reduce the Joycean text to the conventional order of nationalist enthusiasm: pro patria and possibly pro deo. From such a standpoint the inspiration of Joyce’s mature writings is plain: ‘He could play with the idea of an alternative life’s history for himself had he stayed at home in 1904 and participated in the developments which by the time Ulysses was published had crystallised in a new Ireland and a new concept of national identity.’[40] If crystal-gazing is still in vogue, one might suggest that over-activity of the patriotic thyroid is responsible for that counterfactual assertion.

 There is much unconscious comedy in A Bash in the Tunnel such as, for instance, Bernard Share’s insistence that it would be ‘useless for the tourist boys to hope to interest the visiting Joyceman in the current beauties of the capital, the concrete boxes, the O’Connell Street ice-cream parlours, the parking meters. They have no need to look at Dublin: They know it from Dubliners and Ulysses, and they know that nothing can possibly change it.’[41] Other contributors include Monk Gibbon who has angry things to say on behalf of an unnamed collectivity: ‘[Joyce] excites in some of us a fundamental antipathy, like that of a man who cannot stop telling us about the dog-dirt on his boots.’[42] The reason for this reaction is not hard to find: idealism was a state of mind peculiarly close to Gibbon’s heart. Elsewhere he complained: ‘We have passed onto an age when only “the primal urge” is acceptable as a valid explanation of even the most sublimated personal attachment’ - this from The Pupil: A Memoir of  Love, in which he confesses to a life-long attachment to a girl he taught at school which his wife tolerated on the platonic alibi but which, to other eyes, always looked more questionable).[43]

 There is something fitting in that fact that Irish writers responding to Joyce set the skeletons their own closet rattling so audibly in the Envoy. Had not Joyce claimed to bring up their dirty water along with his own when he put down his bucket in his own soul’s well? But there are good things here also, notably Benedict Kiely’s warm-hearted celebration of Joyce as a ‘national treasure’[44] and Edna O’Brien’s rhapsodic answer to the spiritual call of his art: ‘Towards the end of his life there came a thaw, a burstingness. He was famous then. […] He had achieved monumence both in his work and in his being [...] It is hard not to want to believe in immortality, considering the death of Mr. Joyce.’[45] And there is John Montague’s poem.

 What might be said of the Envoy Special Issue of 1951 and its 1970 sequel is that, excepting isolated enthusiasms such as those above, they represent a moment when the expropriation of Joyce’s Dublin to the empire of Anglo-American letters by his admirers triggered apoplectic irritation on the part of its living literary denizens. In 1951 it might have seemed sufficient to inveigh against gullible foreigners, but in 1970 the position had been transformed by the comprehensive verdict on moral life in Ireland that Richard Ellmann’s great biography had bestowed on Joyce studies in 1959. In The Consciousness of James Joyce (1977) he revisited that verdict:

If British tyranny was brutally materialistic, so was Irish fanaticism. Persecution, by Church or State, whether of Jews or of artists, went with other forms of materialism, such as cruelty and lovelessness. On the other side was an etherealism which included the diseased ideals of religion and patriotism, ideals without body and essences without form, antisexualism or love cheapened by sentimentality.[46]

 While neither Ryan nor any other contributor to A Bash in the Tunnel attempted to defend Irish tradition as so described in any systematic way, none saw fit to desist from critic-bashing in the belligerent style of the Envoy writers either. To call this a lost opportunity is to underestimate the predicament facing the contemporary Irish writers. Lacking a credible idiom with which to challenge the ‘liberal-humanist’ discourse - as later Irish critics have so successfully done with the aid of postcolonial theory - they simply carped. It remains a pity that they did seek in Joyce’s works an explanation for their own confusions at the same time as they berated transatlantic Joyceans for their inevitable failings.


 Several other publications did of course address the question of Joyce’s Irishness between 1950 and 1970, among them James Liddy’s pamphet-homage and Maurice Harmon’s edited collection of essays, each from the Dolmen Press, respectively in 1962 and 1969.[47] Also of interest is Niall Montgomery’s idiosyncratic lecture on ‘Joyce and Proust’ given at the Building Centre during “Bloomsday” week in 1962 and printed in the Dubliner on the basis of tape-recorder transcription with noticeably odd effects on that account.48] Montgomery had also contributed to the Envoy’s Joyce issue and was freely spoken of as a ‘Joyce expert’ in contemporary Dublin. His attitude towards Joyceans at large is best illustrated by the impish anachronism that leads him to speak of his American confrères as ‘colonial critics’ in the Envoy Special Issue.[49] In Harmon’s collection Montgomery joins Donagh MacDonagh (throwing light on the place of “The Lass of Aughrim” in “The Dead”) as an Irish leaven among the predominantly transatlantic participants at the 1967 International Symposium convened by Thomas Staley - whose bearing towards the Irish literati seems to have aggravated the problem. The ballast of Harmon’s compilation is supplied by such colonials as Margaret C. Solomon (treating of ‘the father phallus’ in Finnegans Wake); Norman Silverman (discussing page proofs of the “Circe” episode in Ulysses) and Stanley Sultan enlarging on the theme of betrayal in The Playboy of the Western World in the light of Joyce’s share in literary Parnellism). In their marked differences of national style, the pieces in this little collection amply illustrate the critical condition of two modern cultures radically divided by a common literature.

 In his introduction Harmon tentatively adverts to the peculiarity of the Irish moment: ‘It is significant […] that the two Irish contributors to this collection of essays take Joyce seriously, concerned as scholars everywhere are with the literary achievement, its modes, relationships and sources [my italics].’[50] It is not certain that Montgomery is quite serious when the tells us that the author of Finnegans Wake should be regarded as ‘the cool cat of cybernetics’ - hip and futuristic as it sounds, yet his more conventional praise strikes a distinctly new note for Irish critics of the period: ‘[Joyce] made the Irish Literary Revival look like old rope. His was the exposition, the true expression of the life of the Irish in the early twentieth century and his work is very much part of our cultural heritage, very much part of the our richness and our treasures.’[51] If that was the systole of his assessment; here is the diastole: ‘it is perhaps more correct, in view of his passport and other affiliations, to see Mr. Joyce as a British writer. […W]e cannot see his work in the context of Anglo-Irish literature. That is his achievement.’[52]

 Montgomery identifies dualism as the essential impulse in Joyce, calling it a legacy of our colonial history - a point that other Irish critics would enlarge on in a more militant spirit in future decades. An incidental virtue of his essay is the pains he takes to indicate why ‘we Irish’ have been so habitually concerned ‘not the resemblances but the differences’ between Joyce’s vision and ‘our lower middle-class life’[53] in the nation that emerged after 1922. His further thoughts upon this matter take the form of a diatribe against the modern Irish governing class: ‘In 1922 we had reached a nadir in our political and cultural life, and, in that year, a partial form of liberation from England was achieved for some of us, by a portion of our nation, which came from the class of artisans, clerks and school teachers.’[54] Like Joyce himself, Montgomery takes the view that the effect of England upon Ireland was to vitiate the Irish spirit and, more specifically, to abstract ‘from the Celt his fiery spirit and to substitute therefore [sic] the low Gothic, nonconformist conscience, so that when we emerged into partial liberty in 1922, what emerged was nation of zombies, predominantly male, with some few males arbitrarily labelled female.’[55] Excepting the final sally, this might almost be taken as a caricature of the literary clique gathered around the Envoy although Montgomery probably had the Civil War parties and the clerical establishment primarily in mind.

 A further repercussion of the 1967 International Symposium was the founding of the James Joyce Institute which regularly met at Newman House under the leadership of John Garvin, Gerald O’Flaherty and others. In the late 1970s this minuscule grouping formed the setting for weekly sessions in Wakean exegesis led by Roland McHugh, the  entomologist-author of The Sigla of Finnegans Wake (1976) and the Annotations to Finnegans Wake (1980, rev. 1991).[56] Another regular attender was Geert Lernout, while Thomas Kinsella came as an invited speaker on one occasion. At a period of deseutitude in the 1980s, the lapsed Institute was revived by Augustine Martin of University College, Dublin, emerging from its chrysalis in 1989 as the James Joyce Summer School, which still continues today. In editing the papers given at the first annual session, Professor Martin took it as his brief to ‘redress a little the trend of recent post-structuralist Joyce criticism with its tendency to remove Joyce from the world of the ordinary reader’.[57] As a result James Joyce: The Artist and the Labyrinth (1990) may be regarded as a mirror-image of the Bash in the Tunnel even if the critical skills displayed in it are of a higher order than the former, consistent with the inclusion of a professional ‘Faculty’ that included Denis Donoghue, Clive Hart and Maud Ellmann along with an entirely Derrida-proof cohort represented by Brendan Kennelly, Ulick O’Connor and Benedict Kiely and others drafted in from Irish academia and journalism.

 Professor Martin’s strategy of pushing back post-structuralism by ignoring it cannot be deemed wholly successful, while no other contributor makes the least allusion to the already-familiar term - with the effect that the resultant compilation (which incidentally lacks an index) looks more like a final outing for the naturalistic school of Irish criticism previously showcased in his Genius of Irish Prose (1984) than the foundation-stone of a specifically-Irish postcolonialism. It is particularly anomalous that Seamus Deane should have been omitted since he, by that date, had better title to ownership of the Irish Joyce than any other participant, besides being a departmental colleague of the editor.[58] It was Deane’s distinction to bring to Joycean studies a charged awareness of the colonial condition and its relation to the literary history of modern Ireland and, in so doing, he inaugurated a critique that is primarily concerned with the psycho-linguistic ramifications of that condition while offering a profound challenge to a Yeatsocentric tendency that had dominated the interpretation of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama since its formal inception with the founding of a department of that name at UCD in 1967 - that axial year again.

 Seamus Deane’s Field Day pamphlet changed all that; yet one thing he shared with earlier Irish critics was an irritation at the tendency among American Joyceans to re-inscribe the stereotype of the stage Irishman on their readings of the Celtic Master. In such judgements, he writes, ‘we see the ghost of a rancid colonialism’ - though he does go on to make a large concession in averring with some force: ‘[I]t is important to recognise that this ghost haunts the works themselves.’[59]  At this point in the pamphlet, he goes on to discuss the Northern Crisis where I do not propose to follow him beyond citting his observation on another occasion that Joyce’s art, like that of James Clarence Mangan, was ‘caught in the toils of a political crisis from which it can never be freed until that crisis has been resolved.’[60] This is an ominous sentence which seems to speak of the ensuing victory of the anti-colonial struggle in Northern Ireland, and Deane made himself a apologist for the physical-force campaign in that province on more than one occasion - especially berating liberals whom he accused of the 'liberalism of indiffence', oddly charging Joyce himself with the same failing in the cultural relativism of Finnegans Wake.

 From this it might be inferred that there is a further step to be taken beyond identifying Joyce as a writer shaped by, and faithfully reflecting, the fragmentary nature of colonial conditions. To do so would be to identify him with the anti-colonial mentality of contemporary Irish nationalists such as Michael Cusack, the apparent but of his satiric contempt in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses. It had long been the accepted view that the thrust of that chapter was a remorseless critique of Irish nationalist enthusiasms and this was an interpretation which Emer Nolan - a protegee of Deane’s - has ably argued in James Joyce and Irish Nationalism (1995). In the opening sentences of her book, Nolan undertakes to challenge ‘[a]n image of Joyce as an Irishman unswayed by patriotism, who not merely refused to participate in a popular nationalist movement in his own country but rebuked and challenged it at every opportunity’.[61] To this end she first establishes that ‘the major trends in Joyce Criticism have occluded the particularity of Irish historical experience as it determines and is reflected in his fiction’, arguing that ‘[h]is commentators have instead insisted on both reading “Ireland” through Joyce and interpreting Joyce as “Irishman” (the latter being, of course, the alienating stereotype of Anglo-American condescension).[62] She next identifies the ideology formation which so successfully hegemonises the universities where Joyce is taught and read:

The American liberal tradition in Joyce studies, which now dominates the international James Joyce industry, is founded on a belief in the writer’s pacifism and tolerant pluralism. Recent accounts of the texts influenced by post-structuralism and French feminist theory have argued that Joyce’s writing dismantles those traditional ideologies which render us sexed and civil subjects, among them nationalism.[63]

 From this it is clear that the chief battle-ground is going to be those episodes of Ulysses where nationalism is plainly posited as the subject-matter - of which the “Cyclops” set in Barney Kiernan’s pub episode is the most prominent both in itself and in Joycean commentaries on the novel.

 Nolan believes that  ‘traditional accounts of “Cyclops” are in general rendered incoherent by their refusal to attach any positive qualities to the Citizen or the kind of language that he speaks, in spite of the fact that his voice is one of the most “interesting” in literary terms, and probably the funniest in the book.’[64] Believing this, she sets out to establish grounds in the Critical Writings for arguing that inside the literary Parnellite there was a physical-force Fenian trying to get out. While a valuable plea is made for the re-evaluation of Michael Cusack’s contribution to modern Irish society, the case that Joyce thought as highly of the founder of the Gaelic Athletics Association as the critic is not successfully carried in these pages. Some of her accusations are distinctly counterproductive as, for instance, the remarks on Joyce’s attachment to the Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell: ‘[T]he shade of parnellism - which haunts all of Joyce’s texts - is merely the measure of his inability to move with the political times, his commitment to a lost cause of history.’[65] Merely? She clearly feels the case requires restatement:

 Perhaps Parnell, who by 1912 functions for Joyce - however erroneously - as a symbol of the futility of constitutionalism, compromise and pragmatism, can alternatively be read as the image of a real past out of which a better future might have been built.[66]

 Now this conception is not without interest as a means of exculpating Joyce from the sin of not being an Irish republican but it is not, finally, a true portrait anymore than the disparagements offered by the Irish literary coterie gathered around John Ryan’s Envoy in 1951 offered a true reflection of the connection between the writer and the troubled colonial world that he - and, to a considerable extent, they - inhabited. What is missing, perhaps, is a more thorough-going sense of what postcolonial critics such as Homi Bhabha mean by the term ‘hybridity’ and how little likely that is to give countenance the kind of revolution on which Joyce turned his back in leaving Dublin in 1904. But Joyce was not a political activist or a political thinker and his preferences in such matters are of little consequence in the real world, however illuminating his representation of colonial dynamics on the cusp between Victorian and modern Ireland. Considered in that context, it is less important to reclaim him as a unhonoured prophet of Irish separatism in whatever form intended than to reflect on the local conditions which permitted the Anglo-American hegemony to steal him from us, if we did not simply throw him away ourselves.


1. ‘A Short View of the Progress of Joyceanity’,  in Envoy (April 1951), p.12.
2. Ibid., pp.13-18, p.14.
3. Idem.
4. James Joyce (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1999), p.24.
5. Envoy (April 1951), p.16.
6. Ibid., p.17.
7. Ibid., p.15.
8. Idem.
9. Idem.
10. Idem.
11. James Joyce (NY: Farrar & Rhinehart 1939).
12. James Joyce (Oxford: OUP 1959; rev. 1983).
13. ‘Interview’, in Maria Jolas, ed., A James Joyce Yearbook (Paris 1949); quoted in Kenner, A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1983), p.22.
14. Kenner, ibid., p.23.
15. Dublin’s Joyce (London: Chatto & Windus 1955), pp.265-67.
16. Quoted in No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien (London: Grafton 1989; rep. Paladin 1990), p.111.
17. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study (London: John Calder 1961), p.69.
18. Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [1984] (Minneapolis 1985), p.57.
19. A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986), p.194.
20. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (London: HarperCollins 1996), p.158.
21. No Laughing Matter (1989), p.56.
22. Ibid., p.57.
23. ‘Editorial Note: A Bash the Tunnel’, in Envoy (April 1951), p.11.
24. ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, in The Irish Times (16 June 1954; quoted in Cronin, op. cit., 1989, p.111.)
25. ‘Introduction’, A Bash in the Tunnel (Brighton: Clifton Books 1970), p.[13].
26. Idem.
27. Envoy (April 1951), p.9.
28. ‘Diary’; rep. in John Ryan, ed., op. cit (1970), p.70.
29. Ibid., pp.70-72.
30. Ibid., p.72.
31. Ibid. p.71.
32. Dublin’s Joyce (London: Chatto & Windus 1955), p.vii. Garvin later published his Joycean findings at book-length in James Joyce’s Disunited Kingdom (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1976).
33. ‘Childe Horrid’s Pilgrimace’, in Envoy (April 1951), p.21.
34. Idem.
35. Ibid., p.22.
36. Ibid., p.23.
37. Ibid., p.24.
38. Ibid., p.26.
39. Ibid., p.27.
40. Idem.
41. ‘Downes’s Cakeshop and Williams’s Jam’, in Ryan, ed.,op. cit. (1970), p.191.
42. ‘The Unraised Hat’ in Ryan, ed., op. cit. (1970), p.212.
43. The Pupil: A Memory of Love (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1981), p.8. The girl died in young womanhood.
44. ‘The Artist on the Giant’s Grave’, ibid., p.236.
45. ‘Dear Mr. Joyce’, in ibid., p.47.
46. Ellmann, The Consciousness of James Joyce (London: Faber & Faber 1977), p.80.
47. James Liddy, Esau My Kingdom for A Drink: Homage to James Joyce on his LXXX Birthday (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1962); Maurice Harmon, ed., The Celtic Master: Contributions to the First James Joyce Symposium held in Dublin in 1967 (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1969).
48. ‘Joyce and Proust’, in The Dubliner (July-August 1962), pp.11-22.
49. ‘Joyeux Quicum Ulysses’, Envoy (April 1951), pp.31-43; p.38.
50. Maurice Harmon, ed., The Celtic Master (1969), p.[7].
51. Ibid., p.11.
52. Ibid., p.9.
53. Ibid., p.11.
54. Niall Montgomery, ‘A Context for Mr. Joyce’s Work’, in Harmon, op. cit. (1969), pp.9-15; p.11.
55. Ibid., p.13 [end]..
56. His account of his own researches and conclusions in The Finnegans Wake Experience (Blackrock: IAP 1981) is a fascinatingly free from any sense of ulterior motive or intellectual persuasion: the wake is simple ‘an experience unlike any other’. McHugh tells us, in one place, that he ‘comes from a fairly boring place in England’ whose interest in black magic led him to specialise first in spiders and then (doctorally) in grasshoppers before being bitten by the Finnegans Wake bug. (See p.24.) When I knew him he had pharmaceutical interests which included observations of the effect of lyseurgic acid on feline pets. No one has gone further to demonstrate that Finnegans Wake is not about something but rather that it is ‘that thing itself’, in Samuel Beckett’s famous formulation.
57. Augustine Martin, ed., James Joyce: The Artist and the Labyrinth (London: Ryan Publishing 1990), ‘Editor’s Introduction’, p.[9].
58. Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 4] (Derry: Field Day 1984). He had previously contributed ‘Joyce and Nationalism’ to Colin MacCabe, ed., James Joyce: New Perspectives (Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1982).
59. Idem.
60. Seamus Deane, ‘Joyce the Irishman’, in Derek Attridge, ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce (Cambridge UP 1990), pp.32-33.
61. Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (London: Routledge 1995), p.2.
62. Ibid., p.xii.
63. Ibid., p.xiii.
64. Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (1995), p.96.
65. Ibid., p.131.
66. Idem.
[ close ]
[ top ]
[ next ]