Critical Reception & Select Bibliography

Critical Reception Select Bibliography

Back to Index

Critical Reception
In view of the uniquely complex development of James Joyce’s literary texts in notebooks, manuscripts and typescripts, along with the author’s practice of composing extensively on the printers’ galleys, the study and appreciation his art calls for an exacting examination of the written and printed materials involved at every stage. Voluminous materials of this kind have been dispersed throughout libraries and collections in Ireland, Britain and America. Many of Joyce’s papers are now held at the Lockwood Memorial Library of New York State University at Buffalo, together with the Joyce family portraits. Among these is the manuscript of Stephen Hero, which was edited and introduced by Theodore Spencer in 1944 and revised by John J. Slocum and Herbert Cahoon to incorporate some additional pages supplied by Stanislaus Joyce in 1956. The fair-copy manuscript of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was presented to the National Library of Ireland by Sylvia Beach, while a definitive edition of the novel based on it was published in America in 1964 (1968 in the United Kingdom). The Ulysses manuscript which Joyce sold to John Quinn after a triplicate typescript had been produced from it remains intact at the Rosenbach Institute in Philadelphia. After her offer to permit the repatriation of her husband’s body was turned down by the Irish government, Nora Joyce ensured that Miss Weaver would donate the manuscript of Finnegans Wake to the British Museum rather than to the National Library of Ireland. In order to make the sum of such materials available to scholars, notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts and corrected galleys for all of Joyce’s work have been published in black-and-white facsimile by Garland Press as The James Joyce Archive (1977-79). A colour facsimile edition of the “Finnegans Wake Notebooks” at Buffalo is now in progress. (ed. V. Deane, D. Ferrer & G. Lernout, 2002- ).

Joyce’s essays, lectures, extant notebooks and reviews were edited by Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann as The Critical Writings in 1957. The poetry collections with sundry shorter writings including the 1904 ‘Portrait Essay’ were collected by Ellmann as Poems and Shorter Writings in 1990, a further critical compilation being issued by Kevin Barry as Occasional, Critical and Political Writings in 2000. A volume of Joyce’s letters was edited by Stuart Gilbert in 1957 with two further volumes and a Selected Letters appearing under the hand of Richard Ellmann in respectively in 1966 and 1975. (Joyce’s so-called ‘black letters’ to Nora of 1909 are printed in the latter only.) In 1984 the Garland Publishing Co. (NY) issued a controversial ‘A Critical and Synoptic Edition’ of Ulysses, edited by Hans Walter Gabler on the basis of a hypothetical ‘genetic text’ comprising every variant in working manuscripts, typescripts, complete editions and serial publications whether within the direct line of textual transmission or not. The validity of this method and the authenticity (or even accuracy) of the result has been widely disputed and conservative readers still adhere to the corrected Odyssey Edition and its successors as bearing the imprimatur of the author. Finnegans Wake was has never been reset though Joyce’s corrections (which Maria Jolas carried out of wartime France) were applied to the Viking Press and Faber editions in the 1950s. (In both instances the pagination and font are identical with those in the 1939 editions and each other.) In March 2000 a ‘lost’ typescript of the “Circe” episode of Ulysses was purchased by the National Library of Ireland for $1.5m dollars at auction in New York. The papers rescued from the Joyces’ flat in Paris in Autumn of 1941 were lodged in the National Library of Ireland, as agreed, and became available for inspection by scholars fifty years later. A further body of papers in the possession of Paul Léon (including the lost ‘Paris Notebook’ of 1904) was acquired by the Irish government in 2001. Since the beginning, Dublin has inevitably been the major place of pilgrimage for Joycean scholars and in 1967 the first Annual James Joyce International Symposium was there. A James Joyce Centre was established at 35 North George’s Street, Dublin, adjacent to Belvedere College, in the 1990s. Plaques set in the pavement mark the major points in Joyce’s Ulyssean hero’s itinerary on Bloomsday in the modern city and Joyce himself has featured on an Irish banknote in an image by Robert Ballagh.

James Joyce’s standing as a major writer in world literature was established in his lifetime, and following the Second World War his promise to ‘keep the professors busy’ was widely realised in American and British universities. The ‘guide’ to Ulysses that Joyce had himself provided through the books of Frank Budgen and Stuart Gilbert made that novel less off-putting than it might otherwise have been for many educated readers. Thus heralded, Ulysses could be treated either as a modernist and experimental text offering a new vision of society and a new method of literary representation, or as a classical affirmation of the humanist principles deemed to underlie all great literature. Hence, those among the first generation of ‘Joyceans’ who devoted themselves to the arcana of the texts-symbol and motif, structure and significance, mythic parallels, and psychoanalytical hypotheses sat comfortably with those who exalted Leopold Bloom as the modern Ulysses, ‘an all-round man’ and ‘a keyless competent citizen’.

Finnegans Wake was a more daunting challenge, but the work of early exegetes made it clear that, for all its complexity, it shared the same world of literary and popular consciousness as its readers. Archetypal readings dominated the early reception of the book yet, like Ulysses, it seems to require an immense amount of local knowledge also (albeit the stage was as wide in other respects as all of European culture and world history). To glean sufficient Irish background became a badge of honour for the rapidly-growing tribe of Joyceans. There was a distinct element of cultural tourism in all of this since the establishment which embraced Joyce was, predominantly, Protestant and Anglo-American. Joyce’s agnosticism was, of course, a help. That his mind was ‘Irish’, ‘Catholic’, and even ‘medieval’, thus seemed less important than the fact that he conceived of the world of culture as a huge jigsaw of interlocking pieces in which no one narrative, still less one national tradition or one religious dispensation, easily prevailed. In this way he came to represent a syncretic view of human culture that began to dominate the increasingly liberal and sceptical orthodoxy of Western democracies in the second half of the twentieth century (Ireland remaining, for most of this period, confessional state in its political constitution and social mores).

By the 1960s Joyce’s reputation stood at the apex of a pyramid of international renown with modernism, humanism and psychoanalysis at its intellectual foundations. With only the Soviet realists standing out against him, he was hailed as an intrinsically democratic writer and hence served as a propaganda asset in the climate of Cold War cultural politics even though the actual contents of his works (and, to a great extent their manner), were at odds with prevailing ethos of Western society at many material points. Thus Joyce posthumously managed to become both the epitome and the antithesis of cultural conformism though all the while a writer centrally respected for the magnitude of his talent and the scale of his achievement.

In 1926 Mary Colum had told Joyce that Anna Livia Plurabelle was ‘outside of literature’, to which he had replied, ‘it may be outside literature now, but its future is inside literature.’ That he proved right illustrates the coincidence between his idiosyncratic form of innovation and an anti-conventional impulse at the heart of much critical thought in the late-twentieth century culture. From the 1960s onwards the ‘deconstruction’ of bourgeois certainties in ethics and belief increasingly characterised intellectual life first in Europe and then in America. Joyce’s affinity with the ‘Revolution of the Word’ made him an ideal literary talisman and it was as the battering-ram of post-structuralism that he first figures in the writings of Jacques Derrida and others who discovered in ‘la jouissance de Joyce’ an image of their own rebellion against the fixity of language and meaning which allows the bourgeois world its claim to epistemological authority, and underwrites its self-image as a historical society at the apogee of human progress.

For anti-authoritarian movements with more explicitly political agendas such as feminist and gay studies, the connection between the wish-list and the texts themselves was intrinsically unstable. If écriture feminine was the very definition of Joyce’s way of writing from ‘Penelope’ onwards, Molly Bloom was nevertheless the creation of a writer who did not seem to accord intellectual dignity to women, whatever grandeur he attached to their sensual vitality and however highly he prize their amenity to mythopoeic elevation in the quasi-divine capacity of domestic Gea-Tellus. Certainly Joyce believed that women’s liberation was the central revolution of the twentieth-century (as he told Arthur Power), but if he valued their subjectivity and regarded union with them as a necessary measure for the creative imagination, it did not mean that he endowed them with a plenitude of artistic power in their own persons. While gay studies finds in Joyce’s exploration of gender-difference and altereity an effective argument, there are no homosexuals in Joyce’s writings other than the perverted figure at the centre of the early story ‘An Encounter’. In certain obvious ways, the love-affair between Joycean criticism and liberationist schools of thought was always destined to be short-term.

The rise of post-colonial studies in the 1990s provided a more rewarding means of analysing Joyce’s subversive attitude towards the dominant form of Anglophonic culture - an attitude readily ascribed to him by Anglo-Saxon contemporaries whether inside or beyond the avant-garde movement. The point was epitomised by H. G. Wells when he wrote to Joyce: ‘While you were brought up under the delusion of political suppression I was brought up under the delusion of political responsibility.’ The difference indicated here is, of course, a national one. Turning to the question of style, Wells admitted his desire to keep ‘language and statement as simple and clear as possible’, hence implying that Joyce to the contrary was inspired by Fenian malice towards the well of English undefiled. Joyce offers some support for this by means of a counter-reformational thrust in Finnegans Wake where he appears to describe the linguistic outcome of the book as ‘[o]ne sovereign punned to petery pence’. In fact the differences instanced by Wells are very real. Where his ideal is ‘a big unifying and concentrating process’ resulting in a kind of ‘progress not inevitable but interesting and possible’, Joyce dismisses progress as the self-aggrandising fantasy of Shaun-types who exercise power through the abuse of language. It is clear today that Wells’s talk of ‘increase of power and range by economy and concentration of effort’ is the stuff of textbook imperialism (as his History of the World, for all its liberality, reveals on every page). From this standpoint, the difference in their outlooks is actually that between the coloniser and the colonised no less than that between between enlightenment and modernist epistemologies, or that between Protestant and Catholic, as Wells openly concedes.

Joycean criticism began - like Joycean biography - in the hands of American scholars whose arrival in Ireland to investigate his formative conditions had something of the character of an anthropological expedition. Richard Ellmann’s biography treated the actualities of Irish literary life within the larger body of Western literary values as can be seen in the way that he glosses Joyce’s great discovery in Ulysses in terms of the word ‘love’ in all its human ramifications. It is a view which sets Leopold Bloom - sceptical, kindly, ordinary, imaginative, human against the nationalist ‘citizen’ of the ‘Cyclops’ chapter - an embodiment of prejudice, bitterness, and hatred of the Anglo-Saxon. Ellmann goes so far as to cites the Irish nationalists who fought for independence as examplars of those traits in the Irish national character least like the liberal secularism that Bloom (and, by implication, Joyce himself) embodies. In this way teams are formed with Joyce and Anglo-America on one side and Irish separatists on the other.

Not surprisingly, recent Irish criticism has been much concerned with repudiating Joyce’s Bloomian pacificism (if it is such) while emphasizing the the ‘fenian’ sympathies of the novelist in his incidental writings. This allies them with post-colonial critics everywhere who argue that colonial peoples can attain authentic self-representation only when they shed the chains of imperial hegemony and, if possible, the language which sustains it; it does not, unfortunately, consolidate their bond with James Joyce, the chief writer to emerge from Catholic-nationalist Ireland at any time in its history. While the idea of Joyce as an eccentric Irishman or, at least, a writer of genius at a tangent to the main line of national development (if not actually the colonial remainder) has obvious attractions, it is also possible to accord him a great measure of ethical sense and political precedence in the context of the European union. In any case, some further thinking about the underlying issues of colonial, anti-colonial and post-colonial thinking is in order before the convincing repatriation of James Joyce can be completed.

It is clear that, in spite of the desires of Irish separatists at any period, post-colonial cultures are generally forced to acknowledge their own hybridity thereby ending up more like Bloom than Michael Cusack. Equally, in modern Irish society, Bloom stands nearer to the consensual view than the fenians of Ulysses. Joyce undoubtedly offered a difficult thistle for Irish nationalists to grasp in urging that the half-Jewish and half-Irish advertising agent with a foothold in at least three religious camps is the best kind of modern Irishman. More than that: he clearly meant to antagonise those whom he had accused of circulating ‘the pap of racial hatred’. In this sense, Ulysses bears the stamp of his own subtly rebarbative personality and his own inveterate resistance to the encroachments of religion, nationality and language - and also, in a germane sense, of family. (Here we must bear in mind that Joyce’s personal resistance to the dictation of Irish familism so intense that his biographer Richard Ellmann, writing the first sentence of the Introduction to his own James Joyce in 1959, inadvertantly substituted ‘family’ for ‘language’ in the list of those three ‘nets’ that Stephen Dedalus promises to elude in A Portrait of the Artist.)

Post-colonialism, properly conceived, suggests an open approach to Joyce that allows for the best response to the facts of text and context. Yet -isms are only limited guides to works as complex as this author and the worlds that he inhabited in structure and significance. There is much in Joyce that both eludes liberal humanist and post-structuralist ways of thinking while supplying much to one or the other kind of reading. Joyce’s ‘medievalism’, which critics have often put aside as an unfortunate relic of his Irish Catholic (and, more specifically, Jesuit) education, is a case in point. This consisted in the incessant effort to make the intensely relative facts of reality and consciousness correspond in some large symbolic way to a unified image of reality. In view of an evident lack of engagement with this impulse, it is arguable that truly ‘Joycean’ criticism has never yet been attempted, though that may seem trivial in comparison with what has been achieved. Certainly, if truly Joycean criticism is to be written, it must be primarily grounded in the context of Irish literary history and the Irish cultural experience.

It has often said that the Joyce’s experimentalism placed him in the vanguard of anti-bourgeois thinking yet, if so, it also placed him in an anomalous yet fertile relation to contemporary Irish nationalism. Ironically, in the light of the divergent courses of James Joyce and the modern Irish nation, his art carries forward the cultural project of the revivalists vis-à-vis the English canon and the values that it supposedly embodies in a far more radical way than any of his Irish contemporaries in literature or in arms. Joyce effectively overcame that canon by ignoring it. He professed that he had ‘nothing to learn’ from the English novelists and made Flaubert and Ibsen his primary models. This did not signify an allegiance to one or other continental tradition so much as a commitment to what he called in 1904 ‘a process of mind as yet untabulated’, that is, an imaginative activity which disintegrates norms and standards in its attention to the sheer ‘whatness’ of experience and language.

The post-colonial concept of hybridity is the most accurate response to this as reflecting the essentially provisional methods of the writer, in this respect specially adapted to an intrinsically unstable reality in this respect perfectly adapted to a reality which is radically unstable which affords no easy foothold to the consensual style of the liberal conscience - hence Stephen Dedalus’s insistence on ‘the incertitude of the void’. Positioned on the periphery of a powerful cultural formation such as English national literature, Joyce was well placed to discover the endless fissuring of experience in its received versions and conventional forms. At the same time he disdained the concrete alternative of an essentially reactive ‘national’ ideal which preoccupied his Irish coevals as well as those who came after.

It was thus that Joyce differed from those Irish contemporaries who wrote the orthodoxy of the revival and especially its Irish-Ireland wing comprising the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. Hence the double-aspect of his literary character: on the one hand he stands as a conservative exponent of the idea of literary value in the face of national chauvinism; on the other, he is more radical than any nationalist in dismembering the cultural hegemony upon which the colonial state is founded. That Joyce saw so deeply into the social, psychological and linguistic nexus that constituted the worlds (greater and lesser) into which he had been born was the measure of his intellect. That he constructed a literary universe which admits of trespass and benefaction, abasement and transcendence, individuality and comity, is the measure of his humane art. That he conceived and executed an entirely new form of writing in which waking and dreaming minds throw up an integral vision of the world as word is the measure of his genius.

[ top ]

Select Bibliography
  • Samuel Beckett, et al., Our Exagmination round His Factification for an Incamination of Work in Progress (1929).
  • Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1930).
  • Frank Budgen, James Joyce & The Making of Ulysses (1934) and Further Recollections of James Joyce (1955).
  • Herbert Gorman, James Joyce (1939).
  • Harry Levin, James Joyce (1941).
  • Joseph Campbell and Henry Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944).
  • Richard M. Kain, Fabulous Voyager; James Joyce's Ulysses (1947).
  • Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce (1955) and Ulysses (1980).
  • Patricia Hutchins, James Joyce’s World (1957).
  • Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years (1958) and The Complete Dublin Diary (1971).
  • Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959.
  • rev. 1982), Ulysses on the Liffey (1972), and The Consciousness of Joyce (1977).
  • include James Atherton, The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusion in Finnegans Wake (1959).
  • S. L. Goldberg, The Classical Temper (1961).
  • Robert Martin Adams, Surface and Symbol: The Consistency of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1962).
  • Clive Hart, Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake (1962).
  • David Hayman, A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake (1963).
  • A. Walton Litz, The Art of James Joyce (1964).
  • Dounia Christiani, Scandinavian Elements in Finnegans Wake (1965).
  • Bernard Benstock, Joyce-again’s Wake (1965) and James Joyce: The Undiscovered Country (1977).
  • Arnold Goldman, The Joyce Paradox (1966).
  • Helmut Bonheim, A Lexicon of the German in Finnegans Wake (1967).
  • Brendan O’Hehir, A Gaelic Lexicon for Finnegans Wake (1967).
  • and O’Hehir with John Dillon, A Classical Lexicon for Finnegans Wake (1977).
  • Clive Hart, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1968).
  • C. P. Curran, James Joyce Remembered (1968).
  • Weldon Thornton, Allusions in Ulysses (1968).
  • William York Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake (1969).
  • Margaret Solomon, Eternal Geomater: The Sexual Universe of Finnegans Wake (1969).
  • Robert Deming, ed., James Joyce: The Critical Heritage, 2 vols. (1970).
  • Anthony Burgess, Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce (1973).
  • Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce (1974).
  • Michael Begnal & Fritz Senn, A Conceptual Guide to Finnegans Wake (1974).
  • Stan Gébler Davies, James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist (London: Davis-Poynter 1975).
  • Clive Hart and Leo Knuth, A Topographical Guide to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1975.
  • rev. 1986).
  • Zack Bowen, Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce (1975).
  • Helene Cixous, The Exile of James Joyce (1976).
  • Margot Norris, The Decentred Universe of Finnegans Wake (1976) and A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1998).
  • Roland McHugh, The Sigla of Finnegans Wake (1976) and McHugh, Annotations to Finnegans Wake (1980.
  • rev. edn., 1991).
  • Marilyn French, The Book as World (1976).
  • John Garvin, James Joyce’s Disunited Kingdom (1976).
  • C. H. Peake, James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist (1977).
  • Michael Groden, Ulysses in Progress (1977).
  • Adaline Glasheen, A Third Census of Finnegans Wake (1977).
  • Danis Rose, ed., James Joyce’s The Index Manuscript, Holography Workbook VI.B.46 (1978), and John O’Hanlon, Understanding Finnegans Wake (1982).
  • Willard Potts, ed., Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans (1979).
  • Colin MacCabe, James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (1979).
  • Michael Groden, gen. ed., The Joyce Archive, vols. 28-66 (1979).
  • Patrick McCarthy, The Riddle of Finnegans Wake (London: AUP 1980).
  • Sheldon Brivic, Joyce between Freud and Jung (1980) and Joyce’s Waking Women: An Introduction to Finnegans Wake (1995).
  • David Hayman, Ulysses: The Mechanics of Meaning (1982).
  • Brook Thomas, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1982).
  • Derek Attridge & Daniel Ferrier, eds., Post-structuralist Joyce (1984).
  • Suzette Henke, Joyce and Feminism (1984).
  • Bonnie Kime Scott, Joyce and Feminism (1984).
  • Bernard Benstock, James Joyce (1985).
  • John Bishop Joyce’s Book of the Dark (1986).
  • Richard Brown, James Joyce and Sexuality, (1985).
  • Bonnie Kime Scott, James Joyce (1987).
  • Karen Lawrence, The Odyssey of Style in Ulysses (1987).
  • Vicki Mahaffey, Reauthorising Joyce (1988).
  • Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated (1988).
  • Brenda Maddox, A Biography of Nora Joyce (1988).
  • Derek Attridge, Peculiar Language (1989) and ed., The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce (1990).
  • Suzette Henke, James Joyce and the Politics of Desire (1990).
  • Peter Myers, The Sounds of Finnegans Wake (1992).
  • Maurice Beja, James Joyce: A Literary Life (1992).
  • Peter Costello, James Joyce: The Years of Growth 1882-1915 (1992).
  • James Fairhall, James Joyce and the Question of History (1993).
  • Joseph Valante, James Joyce and the Problem of Justice: Negotiating Sexual and Colonial Difference (1994).
  • Thomas C. Hofheinz, Joyce and the Invention of Irish History: Finnegans Wake in Context (1995).
  • Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (1995).
  • Robert Spoo, James Joyce and the Language of History: Dedalus’ Nightmare (1995).
  • Vincent J. Cheng, Joyce, Race, and Empire (Cambridge UP 1995).
  • J. C. Hodgart & Ruth Bauerle, Joyce’s Grand Operoar: Opera in Finnegans Wake (1997).
  • Neil R. Davison, James Joyce: Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity (1998).
  • Edna O’Brien, James Joyce (1999).
  • Christine van Boheemen-Saaf, Joyce, Derrida, Lacan and the Trauma of History: Reading, Narrative and Postcolonialism (1999).
  • Marilyn Reizbaum, James Joyce’s Judaic Other (1999).
  • M. Keith Booker, Ulysses: Capitalism and Colonialism (Conn: Greenwood 2000).
  • Patrick McGee, Joyce Beyond Marx: History and Desire in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake (Florida UP 2001).
  • Jean-Michel Rabaté, James Joyce and the Politics of Egoism (Cambridge UP 2001).
  • Andrew Gibson, Joyce s Revenge: History, Politics, and Aesthetics in Ulysses /(Oxford: OUP 2002).
  • David Spurr, Joyce and the Scene of Modernity (Florida UP 2002).
  • Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Joyce in Art (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2004).
  • John Nash, James Joyce and the Act of Reception: Reading, Ireland, Modernism (Cambridge UP 2006).
  • Eric Bulson, Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce (Cambridge UP 2006).
  • Finn Fordham, Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake (Oxford: OUP 2007).

[ close ] [ top ] [next ]