Mary Colum


Life
1885-1957 [née Mary Catherine Gunning Maguire]; b. 13 June, Co.Sligo, dg. of Charles Maguire, Constable and later District Inspector of RIC, and Catherine Gunning, a descendent of the family that produced the celebrated eighteenth-century beauties Elizabeth and Maria Gunning); mother d., 1895; passed much of childhood with grandmother Catherine Gunning in Ballisodare, Co. Sligo; ed., St. Louis’ Convent, Monaghan (‘self-contained totalitarian state’ with standards of ‘unselfishness, magnanimity, and devotion to others I rarely found in the world afterwards’);
 
ed. Royal University (NUI); participated in the Twilight Literary Society; attended Abbey Theatre and grad. 1909; taught St. Ita’s, companion school to Patrick Pearse’s St. Enda’s; active with Thomas MacDonagh and others in national and cultural causes; co-fnd. The Irish Review (1911-14), with David Houston et al.; encouraged by Yeats to specialise in French literary criticism and to translate Claudel; object of peculiar marriage proposal by Thomas MacDonagh, which she refused to his consternation; m. Padraic Colum, 1912, moved with him to New York, 1914, living occasionally in London and Paris; lived at first in some hardship, taking in washing to make ends meet;
 
ultimately became established as a literary generalist in American journals, incl. Poetry, Scribner’s, The Nation, New Republic, Freeman, The New York Times Review of Books, The Saturday Review of Books, and The Tribune; associated with Joyce in Paris, and discouraged him from duping enquirers about the origins of the interior monologue in the example of Edouard Dujardin; accepts Lucia Joyce for a week in their Paris flat at the height of her ‘hebephrenic’ attack, while herself preparing for an operation, May 1932; served as Lit. Ed. of Forum, 1933-41, commenced teaching comparative literature with Padraic at Columbia, 1941;
 
rebutted Oliver St. John Gogarty’s intemperate remarks about Joyce in Saturday Review of Literature in 1941; issued Life and the Dream (1947), an autobiography ded. to her grandmother taking a generally romantic view of literary revival; also From these Roots (1938), essays; her work of reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959), assembled posthumously by Padraic Colum, sensitively recalls the writer; d. New York, 22 Oct. 1957, at her home, 415 Central Park West, while writing [aetat. 70]; her letters are held in Scribner’s Archive, Princeton University Library, while a collection of her papers is held at SUNY; a biography by Madeleine Humphreys is in preparation. DIW KUN DIL OCIL FDA

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Works
Criticism, Life and the Dream (London: Macmillan; Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1947), and Do. [rev. edn.] (Dublin 1966); From These Roots: The Ideas That Have Made Modern Literature (NY: Scribner’s 1937; London: Jonathan Cape 1941), 352pp. Memoir, Our Friend James Joyce (Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1958).

Reviews (selected), ‘John Synge’, in Irish Review [o.s.], 1, 1 (March 1911), pp.39-42; ‘Strindberg in Dublin’, in The Irish Review, April 1913, pp. 50-57; ‘ ’, in Freeman (19 July 1922), rep. in Robert Deming, James Joyce: The Critical Heritage, Vol. 1 (1970), p.232; ‘An American Critic: Van Wyck Brooks’, in Dial, Vol. LXXVI (1924), pp. 246-48; ‘On Thinking Critically’, in Forum (Feb. 1934), pp.75-80; ‘The Need for an Elite’, in Forum (Oct. 1933), pp. 209-15; ‘The Conqueror-Artist’, in Forum (Nov. 1938_, pp.223-25 [most of the above cited by Taura Napier, op. cit., 1993, infra].

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Criticism
  • William Rose Benet, ‘A Colum as Columnist,’ in The Saturday Review of Literature (28 Oct. 1933), pp.220-21;
  • J. Donald Adams, review of From these Roots, in NY Times Book Review (19 Dec. 1937), p.2;
  • Edmund Wilson, ‘The Memoirs of Mary Colum’ [review of Life and the Dream], in The New Yorker (22 March 1947), p.111;
  • Patricia A. Rimo, ‘Mollie Colum and Her Circle’, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1985), pp.27-28;
  • Patricia A. Rimo, ‘Mary Colum and the Ideals of Literary Expression, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 19, 1 (July 1993), ppp.54-66;
  • Taura Napier, ‘The Mosaic “I”: Mary Colum and Modern Irish Autobiography’, in Irish University Review, 28, 1 (Spring/Summer 1998), pp.37-55.
See obit., New York Times (23 Oct. 1957) [search online]; num. references in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (OUP 1959; & Edns.) Note: There is a limerick by Oliver St. John Gogarty [see infra].

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Commentary
Stan Gébler Davies, James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist (London: Davis-Poynter 1975), quotes an account of Joyce’s reading “Anna Livia Plurabelle”, given in Robert McAlmon’s Being Geniuses Together (1938): ‘[…] I listening, say only those grimly determined faces which would look intense and intent. Mary Colum now and then forced herself to acknowledge a comic touch with a smile, but her position as an intellectual also forced her to “understand”. […]’. Davies recounts that, when Mary Colum complained to Joyce, he said: ‘But you were the only one present who frankly said you did not understand it. I remember you laughed at passages that were humorous - that was more than any of the others did.’ (Davies, p.267; no refs.)

Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote Gogarty wrote occasional verse in the spirit of a “smutster or funster”, among them “To a Lady Reviewer”: ‘Maulie Colum / Won’t extol ’em / No matter what men may / Put into a volume […] She knows that she may maul / But she can never moll’ em’. (See Edna Longley, review of A. Norman Jeffares, The Poems and Plays of Oliver St John Gogarty, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2001, 861pp.)

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Quotations
From These Roots (1937), remarks on Joyce: ‘On the publication of Ulysses, it was considered by many that it was not possible in literature to carry the expression of the unconscious further and have it keep any intelligible pattern. However, Joyce’s new puzzling book, Work in Progress, is an attempt to carry the revelation of the unconscious life many stages further than in Ulysses and much further than any other writer has dreamed of bringing it. Proust said of the opening chapter of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, “I have tried to envelope my first chapter in the half-waking impressions of sleep.” But Joyce, in this latest work, tries to depict the whole night-life of the mind, and the result, I am afraid, will be intelligible to a very limited number of readers. In Work in Progress he is influenced by Novalis’s and Mallarmé’s theories of the sounds of words, and the work has, in its best known passage, reproduced so effectively, through the sonority of his words and sentences, the effects of falling night and fluttering riverwater that, without the words being even intelligible, the reader can know what the passage is about if it is read aloud and falls on the ear as music does. There are specific points in technique in which it is difficult to believe that any writer can go beyond Joyce. One is the skill with which he evokes a scene, an atmosphere, a personage, a group, without ever once describing them or giving a hint as to who they are or where the scene takes place. He is a master of the evocative method, and if the reader compares the opening of Ulysses with the opening of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, he will observe immediately and inevitably the difference between the two methods, the evocative and the descriptive. Joyce’s mastery of the interior monologue is the second point in his technique in which he is likely to remain unsurpassed, and for this mastery he undoubtedly owes a great deal to Freud.’ (pp.348-49; extract in Robert Deming, ed., James Joyce: The Critical Heritage, London; Routledge & Kegan Paul 1970 [Vol. 2], p.632.)

Joyce & women: When Joyce said, ‘I hate women who know anything’, Mary Colum replied, ‘No Joyce, you like them.’ (See Life and the Dream, p.395; cited in Tapier, op. cit., supra, 1998, p.40.) [See further examples of Mary Colum's commentary on Joyce under James Joyce > Commentary - as infra.]

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Life and the Dream (1947): ‘I was the only girl in this group, being some years younger than the men, I was well bossed and poatronised by them. They were determined to write the body of the magazine themselves - the poetry, the stories, the plays, the articles, and the editorial notes. But they decided to let me do some book reviewing in the back pages in small type. (p.137; cited in Taura S. Napier, ‘mary Colum’, in Alex Gonzalez, ed., Modern Irish Writers, Conn: Greenwood 1996, p.50.)

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Women & Revolution: ‘[N]ot the auxiliaries, nor the handmaidens, nor the camp followers of the volunteers, they were the allies and nothing was too high or too low for them to attempt in the struggle to free their country.’ (Quoted in Margaret Ward, ed., In Their Own Voice: Women and Irish Nationalism (Dublin: Attic Press 1995).

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George Yeats - review of A., N. Jeffares, Yeats: The Man and the Poet (1948): ‘The accounts of Yeats’s attempts to find himself a wife would be hilarious if it were really possible to laugh successfully at anything he did […] Mrs Yeats was a good helpmeet but her part in A Vision can be overestimated and has been fantastically so by the author of a recent book. She was a young Englishwoman about twenty-five years his junior whom [623] the poet married in his fifty-third year, and until her marriage she had never been in Ireland. He became infatuated with domesticity and with being a pater familias. His marriage, it should be realised, did not add to his economic burdens - quite the contrary - and his creature comforts were well looked after.’ (Quoted in Ann Saddlemyer, Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W. B. Yeats, Oxford: OUP 2002, pp.623-24.) Saddlemyer calls the passage ‘gratuitous’ and adds that Colum would later boasted ‘perhaps on her sister-in-law Eileen’s evidence - that one of her reviews had made George Yeats cry’ (idem.).

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References
British Library holds From These Roots, the ideas that have made modern literature (NY 1937); Life and the Dream, autobiog. (London 1947, printed USA).

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Notes
The rich are different?: When Hemingway remarked, ‘I am getting to know the rich’, Mary Colum who replied, ‘I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.’ (See Paul Ryan, review of Jeffrey Meyers, Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography, London: Macmillan 1994, in The Irish Times, 13 Aug. 1994.)

Hard times: Mary Colum was obliged to take in washing when she and Padraic first settled in New York, at which period she received an epistolary promise from her husband that the money he made from lectures in Chicago would obviate doing so in the next weeks. (See Nicholas Allen, ‘A Turn-up for the Book in New York’ [“A Scholar's Summer”], in The Irish Times, 8 Aug. 2009, Weekend, p.11 - an article primarly concerned with the discover of a letter to her from one Miss N. Harvey, thought to be from Nora Connolly, relating her father's wish that his family leave Ireland and live with friends abroad after his execution in 1916 [see under Connolly, infra].)

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