James Joyce: 1898-1901

Having spent a year on the matriculation course of the Royal University during 1898-99, Joyce entered University College, Dublin [UCD], at 86, St. Stephen’s Green - previously the premises of the Catholic University of Ireland over which Cardinal Newman had presided in 1854-58 - as an undergraduate in October 1899. It is probable that his fees were paid by a provision in the will of his godfather Philip McCann, a successful ships’ chandler who had died in January 1898. (In Stephen Hero Mr. Fulham of Mullingar, identified as Stephen’s godfather, performs the same office.) For the ensuing three years, Joyce followed a course in Modern Languages with Latin and Logic as additional subjects, respectively in the first and last year. The reserved but self-possessed young man who walked from Fairview each morning to attend lectures was acknowledge to be exceptional both in temperament and intellect by his peers. Many of the most prominent in student life came to notice later as leaders of their professions in the new Ireland - those, at least, who survived the revolutionary period; and these, with others, broadly formed a new cohort of Catholic intellectuals in whom adherence to the religious faithh of their fathers was mixed with a new cosmopolitanism and an instinctive sense of ownership in relation to the country they inhabited. Yet Joyce never assimilated entirely to the cadre formed by the majority of his fellow-students at University College, Dublin. His independence of mind was shown on 8 May 1899 when he attended the première of W. B. Yeats’s play The Countess Cathleen in Antient Concert Rooms and clapped vigorously at Florence Farr’s rendering of the lyric “Who Goes with Fergus?” while a band of students from his university protested vocally against what they called the ‘type of our people [as] a loathesome brood of apostates’ in their letter to the Freeman’s Journal on the morrow. Like the Playboy rioters after them, they are easily seen as narrowly obsessed with identitarian politics. Joyce’s literary sensibility was more highly developed by comparison; his were literary standards in the first instance and no thought of irredentist propaganda entered into them - if anything the contrary since he Joyce’s was self-consciously European and regarded Ireland bitterly as ‘an afterthought of Europe’ whose tardiness was not to be applauded. Joyce was certainly the best-read student in his year, perhaps the only well-read student in the university as regards contemporary European literature; yet his exam results were invariably undistinguished and he emerged in 1902 with an ordinary Pass in place of the BA Honours degree for which he had presented himself at examinations. In reality he had decided that the college syllabus was far too narrow for his purposes and set about educating himself with the help of the National Library and Dublin book-barrows.

Joyce was still a member of the Sodality of Mary in early college days and took part in the Sodality’s Literary Conference which regularly convened to discuss such works as the conservative Catholic fiction of Canon Sheehan. He also joined in sessions of the Thomas Aquinas Society and does not appear to have left off Easter duties until his brother George died lingeringly from peritonitis at the age of 14 on 3 May 1902. Up to this point his agnosticism was more a tendency of mind than an intellectual conviction or an artistic premise. He was wary and increasingly disdainful of the Jesuit authorities in the College but responded warmly to individual teachers such Fr. Thomas Arnold and later Fr. George O’Neill who lectured in English, Fr. Charles Ghezzi who taught Italian, and the layman Edouard Cadic who taught French. The celebrated account of an exchange on the theme of ‘beauty’ conducted with the Dean of Studies in A Portrait reveals a strategy that was by then second-nature to him: the use of ‘one or two ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas’ to frame philsophical intuitions which were very far in meaning from the scholastic syllogisms that he adapted to their expression. How much of this was conscious subterfuge and how much the effect of religious education is a moot point. Clearly Joyce shared to some extent in the preference of his mentors for a form of philosophising that by-passed the tradition of British empiricism and, even if his brand of literary realism seems to reflect an empirical outlook, it is never less than synoptic the total scheme of its intentions and effects. (In each of Joyce’s work, a summa is in progress.) Stephen Dedalus’s aesthetic theory, enunciated in A Portrait, is in the main of the same character: ‘slender phrases’ from St. Thomas, as Stephen Dedalus describes his creator’s skimpy and fundamentally specious borrowings from the Summa, to which he was exposed in an anthologised form - are used to advance a theory of cognition that would ultimately reduce the authorial voice of English fiction to a brilliantly relativised order of contending ideolects and interior monologues. Stephen’s colloquy with the Dean of Studies, certainly modelled on a real encounter, also depicts young Joyce’s growing unease with the condition of received language, those ‘heaps of dead language’ which Stephen seems to walk through in the city. Finally, the episode encapsulates an awareness of linguistic difference (what is now called cultural hegemony) that finds expression in the Hiberno-English term ‘tundish’ which he uses where the English Jesuit says ‘funnel’, leading to a moment of mutual incomprehension. Stephen’s often-quoted conclusion has since come to serve as the cornerstone of Irish post-colonial criticism: ‘His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.’ But the young Irishman’s attitude is not entirely abject and, in a reprise at the end of the novel, he notes: ‘That tundish has been on my mind for a long time. I looked it up and find it English and good old blunt English too. Damn the dean of studies and his funnel. What did he come here for to teach us his own language or to learn it from us. Damn him one way or the other!’ Doubtless his research was conducted in the pages of Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary which Joyce purported - again in Stephen Hero, the copiously informative autobiographical manuscript - to have ‘read by the hour’.

The chief of Joyce’s friends and associates at University College who modelled for characters in that novel were Vincent Cosgrave, perceptive but coarse of mind (‘Lynch’ in A Portrait and Ulysses); John Francis (“Jeff”) Byrne, thoughtful but capable of conventional disapproval (‘Cranly’ in A Portrait, also mentioned - but not met - in Ulysses); George Clancy, a naïve exponent of ‘Irish-Ireland’ ethnic and culturalpurismo who was later assassinated by the Black and Tans while Mayor of Limerick in 1921 (‘Davin’ in A Portrait); Francis Skeffington, pacificist-feminist-vegetarian and sporter of knickerbockers, who was likewise murdered while in custody by British soldiers after he quixotically attempted to prevent looting in the 1916 Rising (McCann in A Portrait); and finally Constantine Curran, later a judge and expert on Georgian Dublin architecture who, though less close to Joyce than either either Byrne or Cosgrave, produced the most complete memoir of the period - excepting only Stanislaus Joyce’s highly partisan account of the inner life of his brother’s inner life (though Stanislaus was afterwards a bitter critic of Jim’s exploitative personality and literary experiments). The chief forum for intellectual debate on St. Stephen’s Green was the Literary and Historical Society (or L & H, as it is always known), where Joyce himself first spoke in January 1899. Once having joined in, he was quickly co-opted to the Executive Committee, though never as a senior office-holder. In March 1899 and May 1900 he narrowly lost elections for the posts of Treasure and Auditor to Louis J. Walsh and Hugh Kennedy, both of whom had distinguished careers afterwards. Joyce was not, however, in training for public and professional life as the others were: his immediate purpose was to be become a recognised writer and to that end he composed a review-article on the painting “Ecce Homo” by Michael Munkacsy, then showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy, in which his neo-Hegelian reading in the National Library is glaringly evident (chiefly Bosanquet but also, more conveniently to hand, the article on “Drama” in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica): ‘By drama I understand the the interplay of passions; drama is strife, evolution, movement, in whatever way unfolded.’ In his appraisal of the painting, Joyce was moved by what he called the ‘demoniac carnival’ of brutal faces compared with that of the ‘wholesouled, wonderfully passionate man’. His admiration for Jesus at this stage was humanist more than religious and hence he writes (a little sniffily as an erstwhile Catholic): ‘Belief in the divinity of Christ is not a salient feature of secular Christendom [b]ut occasional sympathy with the eternal conflict of truth and error, of right and wrong, as exemplified in the drama at Golgotha is not beyond its approval.’ The essay, which remained unpublished, reveals how important a dialectical conception of life and art had already become for him by this time.

On 20 January 1900, Joyce’s delivered the first of two papers to the L & H under the title “Drama and Life”. In it he repeating key sentences from his earlier essay appraising drama as an intellectual necessity and an instinctual component of mental life. At the same time he castigated a mistaken insistence on the religious, moral and idealising tendencies of Art as well as the ‘boyish instinct to dive under the blankets at the mention of the bogey of realism’. In an obvious thrust at the Celtic Twilight, he exhorted his audience: ‘Life we must accept as we see it before our eyes, men and women as we meet them in the real world, not as we apprehend them in the world of faery’; and he ended by echoing Lona in Ibsen’s play The Pillars of Society: ‘I will let in fresh air’. This clarion call, which the majority of those present rejected in point of sense, was ‘very seriously intended to define his own position for himself’, as Joyce wrote in Stephen Hero, where he called the lecture by the larger name of “Art and Life”. Its delivery coincided closely with publication of his article on “Ibsen’s New Drama” in Fortnightly Review, 1 April 1900, after an initial refusal by the editor W. L. Courtney which reached Joyce the day before his L. & H. lecture and which appears to have added to his steely tone on that occasion. A fee of twelve guineas enabled him to travel to London with his father and make literary calls on Courtney and on William Archer, Ibsen’s English translator. He was to hear from Archer a month later that the Norwegian playwright had written a note of earnest goodwill (‘velvellig’) when he read the article. Joyce immediately set about learning Dano-Norwegian so that he could write to Ibsen on his own account, which he did in time for the old man’s birthday in March 1901. A second visit alone to London permitted a renewal of acquaintance with Archer (who had forgotten him already) and a visit to the opera to hear Eleanora Duse singing in La Gioconda and La Città Morta. The summers of 1900 and 1901 were both spent in Mullingar, again in the company of his father who had been employed to sort out the electoral lists: sojourns that provide material not only for the Mullingar chapter of Stephen Hero but also - more incidentally - for Ulysses. On the second of those visits Joyce appears to have acquired his favourite ash-plant cane, bringing with it bardic associations from the Hill of Uisneach at Lough Ell, traditionally known as the centre of Ireland and the sacred place of the ancient druids: the young artist was equipping himself with imaginative talismans of a centrifugal universe.

His reading of the works of Gabriel D’Annuncio at this time resulted in a play entitled A Brilliant Career dealing with the experience of a young doctor caught up in an epidemic in a midland town. In a title-page inscription on the manuscript Joyce called it ‘the first true work of my life’ and dedicated it to ‘To [His] Own Soul’, eliciting the exclamation ‘Holy Paul!’ from his father. Archer thought it immature and said so on in a letter of September 15 1900. Joyce then turned to the sterner stuff of Gerhart Hauptmann and produced stiff translations of Vor Sonnenaufgang and Michael Kramer during the following twelve months. (A taste for Hauptmann drama would later used as a literary token of Mr. Duffy’s emotionally-sterile outlook in the Dubliners story “A Painful Case”.) Archer was equally discouraging about Shine and Dark, Joyce’s first poetry collection which he sent to him in September 1901.

At about this date he wrote the first of his epiphanies, a form of short prose record around which a good deal of literary-critical commentary has amassed. Joyce defined the term as ‘a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself’, adding that ‘it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.’ The earliest example, preserved with others on the verso of Stanislaus’s commonplace book, concerns a butcher-boy observed making a commonplace gesture at Glengarriff Parade; others dealt with psychological moments in their author's life and tokens by which his middle-class associates and siblings revealed the ignobility of their minds. What was most most important about the technique was, perhaps, its absence of authorial voice: description was cut to a minimum and hiatus also used for unheard words. The effect was to carry Joyce away from poetry and drama towards a new of fiction-prose which entailed the suggestive power of the one and the actuality of the other. It also posed something of an epistemological riddle involving the question, how the writer comes to possess insight into the ‘soul of the object’. This was the very question that Joyce would soon address in the aesthetic disquisition of A Portrait (closely prefigured in the pages of Stephen Hero), and later still - more effectively, in fact - through his stylistic experiments as a novelist. In the meantime, the distinctly Christological pretensions of the term served as a warrant for the posture of latter-day, and strictly literary, kind of messianism that he had in mind. The epiphanies that Joyce actually composed between 1900 and 1904 were later tipped into his novels beginning with the autobiographical draft Stephen Hero and ending with Ulysses. The method was to be revived, though with some alteration in tone, for the manuscript record of a love affair in 1911-14 known as Giacomo Joyce. All of this begs the question: how important was the idea of the literary ‘epiphany’ to Joyce? In Stephen Hero there are numerous indications that, in setting the scene of the first epiphany (falsely, as it it happens), in Eccles Street, Dublin, he meant to indicate that he was founding his own literary and philosophical church. Eccles Street is named after an eighteenth-century Dublin developer and Lord Mayor who is buried in nearby Temple Hill Anglican Church - now a municipal playground and, out of hours, a haunt of local drug addicts; but Eccles also bore within itself the punning resonance of ecclesia which, for Joyce (and all Latinists) is the received word for Mother Church.

Ironically, the epiphany is probably the best-known of all Joyce's intellectual coinages although it only occurs in the rejected draft Stephen Hero, and not in A Portrait of the Artist. (This has to do with the early development of Joyce criticism in the 1940s when Stephen Hero was published and when Joyce went canonical in American colleges: here was a possible 'key' to the strange aesthetic intentions involved in the tonality and design of his later modernist works.) In Stephen Hero he made it the linch-pin in a set of philosophical predications about beauty and perception masquerading as a commentary on St. Thomas's tria requiruntur ad pulchritudinem (the ‘three things requisite for beauty’), and in the corresponding ‘aesthetic theory’ of A Portrait - where, significantly, the term ‘epiphany’ is itself either abandoned or else withheld from an otherwise closely comparable philosophical discourse. However, it was later to be resurrected in the striking epithet ‘panepiphanal world’ which serves in a crucial episode of Finnegans Wake to convey the pagan, polymorphic, multicultural, and generally relativistic cosmology of Balkelly the Archduid, Joyce’s pantheistic counterweight to the autocratic régime of the incoming master of the Irish mind, St. Patrick, the patron saint of Christian Ireland. Viewed in this retrospective arrangement, the essential line of Joyce's development takes us from the epistemological ego-centricism of Stephen Dedalus, who believes himself to be the ‘intense centre of the life of his age’ and ‘that centre of conscious, re-acting, particular life, the artist’ (both defining phrases from Stephen Hero) to the ‘decentred universe’ that is Finnegans Wake (in the illuminating structuralist terminology of Margot Norris).

Joyce attended all the productions of the fledgling Literary Theatre as a student and on 14 October 1901 he wrote a protest on learning that Douglas Hyde’s Casadh an tSugáin and the George Moore/W. B. Yeats collaboration Diarmuid and Grania were to be staged in flagrant contradiction with its professed policy of bringing the best of modern continental drama to the Irish capital. In the present circumstances he thought fit to warn Yeats and Lady Gregory that the artist joins in a popular movement at risk of catching from the multitude ‘its contagion, its fetishism and is deliberate self-deception’. He also pondered in a by-blow if Mr. Yeats ‘floating will’ did not preclude him from consideration as a genius. This sally went unnoticed by the Dublin literati to whom it was addressed though not by the circle of wags at University College who took up Joyce’s hint that the literary heir to Ibsen who ‘[e]ven now [...] may be standing at the door’ might be himself. Having been refused permission by Fr. Browne to place the broadside in the college journal, Joyce agreed to publish it with a piece on women’s rights by Francis Skeffington, and this resulted in a pamphlet of eighty-five copies being printed and circulated in November 1901. Joyce meanwhile witnessed John F. Taylor’s rhetorical defence of the Irish language at the Law Students’s Debating Society on 24 October 1901 and himself gave another paper at the L. & H. on 15 February 1902, this time on the Irish romantic poet James Clarence Mangan. In that paper he set out the difference between the classical and romantic tempers and portrayed that poet of the title as the figure in whom ‘a narrow and hysterical nationality receives its last justification’, being unable to break the bonds of colonial suffering in his own mind or that of his race. The essay clearly shows Joyce unwilling to countenance the idea that the re-birth of an Irish nation was a necessary condition of the ‘affirmation of the spirit’ in literature. To the contrary, what he chiefly laments in Mangan’s plight was the fact that he ‘wrote [...] for a public which cared for matters of the day, and for poetry only so far as it might illustrate these’. Joyce did not need to seek further than his own audience to meet the same inclination. Notwithstanding, his eloquent oration was printed in the issue of St. Stephen’s for May 1902.

Whatever else he had to say about nationalist Ireland he would reserved for Stephen Hero; for the present, he was involved in writing a verse play, Dream Stuff (now lost), and making contact with the leaders of the literary revival. On 18 August 1902 he walked to Rathgar to introduce himself to George Russell (“Æ”) who told him famously that he had not enough chaos in him to be a poet. A meeting with W. B. Yeats, whose story “The Table of the Law” he had recited verbatim to Russell at their meeting, resulted in the young man regretting that the poet was too old - a sentiment that he uttered to his face. On 4 November he kept an appointment with Lady Gregory at the Nassau Hotel. In all these dealings, Joyce made it abundantly clear that he did not intend to be subborned by the theosophically-minded literati gathered around Yeats and Russell any more than by the nationalist enthusiasts of his own class and creed. Joyce’s rapport with the leading literary figures of the day in Ireland may have been an encounter between defectors from Protestant Unionism on one side and a Catholic apostate on the other but it was not a meeting of common minds. Joyce was contemptuous of the mixture of antiquarianism and spiritualism at the core of the Celtic revivalists’ ideology but he did examine the hermetic writers whom they espoused, Col. Olcott’s Theosophical Studies and Tolstoy’s The Fruits of Enlightenment comprising some his reading in this line during the summer of 1901. Led on by Yeats’s stories, he also took the enterprising step of tracking down Joachim Abbas of Floris’s vaticinations in a sixteenth-century Italian imprint which he read in a ‘stagnant bay’ of Marsh’s Library on 22-23 October 1902. This was as much an unspoken homage to the older poet as an expression of his own fondness for heresiarchs, a fondness that had likewise inspired the opening sentence of his attack on the national theatre: ‘No man, said the Nolan, can be a lover of the true or the good unless he abhors the multitude’. The author of that obiter dicta was Giordano Bruno (d.1600) who - as Stephen Dedalus reminds Fr. Ghezzi in A Portrait - may have been a ‘terrible heretic’ but was ‘terribly burned’ also.

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