James Joyce: Quotations (4) - Joyce’s Comments on Works

File 4

For digital copies of the complete works of James Joyce, see RICORSO, “Library” > Classic Irish Texts > James Joyce, &c. - password required [infra].

Extracts - Works [II]

File 4: Joyce on sundry topics
J. Millington Synge
Puritanism, hypocrisy, &c.
Irish national culture
Romantic Ireland
The first realist?
Irish tradition
Anglo-Irish writers
England & Ireland
English novelists
English language
Jesus Christ
Catholicism v. Protestantism
Wakese [language of FW]
Harsh on Dublin
Sinn Féin
Irish sexuality (public)
Irish sexuality (private)
‘Problem of my race’
Irish as Medieval
European influence
Book of Kells
Ulysses fit to read?
Understanding FW
Singing school
John Stanislaus Joyce
May Joyce
A jeu d’esprit (Joyce in class)
Keeping the professors busy ...

Joyce on sundry topics ...
(Letter to Stanislaus, 8 Feb. 1903): ‘I am feeling very intellectual these times and up to my eyes in Aristotle’s Psychology. If the editor of the Speaker puts in my review of Catilina you will see some of the fruits thereof.’ (Selected Letters, 1975, p.13; see further from this letter under George Russell, infra.) Also [on Synge’s Riders to the Sea: ‘it is tragic about men that are drowned in the island: but thanks be to God Synge isn’t an Aristotelian. I told him part of my esthetic [sic]: he says I have a mind like Spinosa [sic for Spinoza].’ (Letter of 9 March 1903; Selected Letters, 1975, p.17.) And later, in a letter to his mother (20 March 1903): ‘I read every day in the Bibliothèque Nationale and every night in the Bibliotheque Sainte-Geneviève. I often go to vespers at Notre Dame or at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. I never go to the theatre - as I have no money. [...] Synge was over here selling out and gave me his play to read - a play which is to be produced by the Irish Literary Theatre. I criticised it. Synge says I have a mind like Spinosa! (Spinoza [sic] was a great Hebrew philosopher): I am at present up to the neck in Aristotle’s Metaphysics and read only him and Ben Jonson (a writer of songs and plays).’ (Selected Letters, 1975, p.19.) [See further under Notes > “Literary Figures” - infra.

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On J. M. Synge (Playboy Riots, 1907): ‘this whole affair has upset me,‘ he wrote to Stanislaus. ‘I feel like a man in a house who hears a row in the street and voices he knows shouting but can’t get up to see what the hell is going on. It has put me off the story I was going to write - to wit, “The Dead”.’

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Puritanism, hypocrisy , &c. (Letter of 13 Nov 1906): ‘[...] if he put down a bucket into my own soul’s well, sexual department, I draw on Griffith’s and Ibsen’s and Skeffington’s and Bernard Vaughan’s and St Aloysius and Shelley’s and Renan’s water along with my own’-adding, ’I am going to do that in my novel (inter alia) and plank the bucket down before the shades and substances above mentioned and see how they like it: if they don’t like it I can’t help them. I am nauseated by their lying drivel about pure men and pure women and spiritual love and love forever: blatant lying in the face of truth. I don’t know much about the “saince” of the subject but I presume there are very few mortals in Europe who are not in danger of waking some morning and finding themselves syphilitic. The Irish consider England a sink: but if cleanliness be important in this matter, what is Ireland? Perhaps my view of life is too cynical, but it seems ot me that a lot of this talk about love is nonsense. A woman’s love is always maternal and egoistic. A man, on the contrary, side by side with his exraordinary cerebral sexualism and bodily fervour (from which [129] women are normally free) possesses a fund of genuine affection for the “beloved” or “once beloved” object. I am no friend of tyranny, as you know, but if many husbands are brutal the atmosphere in which they live (vide “Counterparts”) is brutal and few wives and homes can satisfy the desire for happiness.’ (Selected Letters, 1975, pp.129-30.)

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Socialism, &c.: In a letter to Stanislaus, Joyce called himself a ‘socialist artist’ (postmarked 3 Dec. 1906; Selected Letters, p.137 - but by [?] March 1907 he was writing: ‘The interest I took in socialist and the rest has left me’ (ibid., p.151), and ‘[...] I have certain ideas I would like to give form to: not as a doctrine but as the continuation of the expression of myself which I now see I began in Chamber Music. These ideas or instincts or intuitions or impulses may be purely personal. I have no [151] wish to codify myself as anarchist or socialist or reactionary.’ ([?] March 1907; ibid., pp.151-52.)

Irish national culture: ‘The Irish nation’s insistence on developing its own culture by itself is not so much the demand of a young nation that wants to make good in the European concert as the demand of a very old nation to renew under forms the glories of a past civilisation.’ (Critical Writings, 1966, p.157; cited in Robert O’Driscoll, ed., The Celtic Consciousness [papers of 1978 symposium at Toronto] Dublin: Dolmen Press; Edinburgh: Canongate Publ. 1982, cp.8.)

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Romantic Ireland: ‘Like William Buckley, the Irish novelist, who writes in Sinn Féin, [George Gissing] makes “nature” very tiresome. A reviewer in Sinn Féin said that S[eamus] O’K[elly]’s story “The Land of Loneliness” was worthy of Tourgénieff. The stories I have read [133] were about beautiful, pure faithful, Connacht girls and lithe, broad-shouldered open-faced young Connacht men, and I read them without blinking, patiently trying to see whether the writer was trying to express something he had understood. I always conclude by saying to myself without anger something like this “Well, there’s no doubt they are very romantic young people: at first they come as a relief, then they tire. Maybe, begod, people like that are to be found by the Stream of Kilmeen only none of them has come under my observation, as the deceased gent in Norway remarked.’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 20 Nov. 1906; Richard Ellmann, ed., Letters of James Joyce, Viking 1966, Vol. 2, p.186; also Selected Letters, Faber 1975, pp.133-34.)

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The first realist?: ‘There is a publisher in London, name of Sisley, Ltd. He publishes “daring” work. I saw a review of a book by E. Temple Thurston, called The Realist. It was very daring and unpleasant, D.M. says, but showed unmistakeable talent. I have ordered it from England: it is a book of stories. Do you think I did right? I was going to read [Thomas] Hardy through but have changed over to [Octave] Mirabeau instead.’ (7 Dec. 1906; Selected Letters, p.138.) Note, “D.M.” poss. D. P. Moran.

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Irish tradition? - 1: ‘You are Irishmen and you must write in your own tradition. Borrowed styles are no good. You must write what is in your blood and not what is in your brain.’ On Arthur Power objecting that he wanted to write on model of French satirists and international writers: ‘They were national first, and it was the intensity of their own nationalism which made them international in the end, as in the case of Turgenev. You remember his Sportman’s Notebook, how local it was - and yet out of that germ he became a great international writer. For myself, I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.’ (Quoted in Ellmann, James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.520, citing interview with Arthur Power, Dec. 1953, and Power, ‘James Joyce - the Irishman’, in The Irish Times, 30 Dec. 1944; also quoted in Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett, 1978, p.130, and Bair, ‘No-Man’s-Land, Hellespont or Vacuum, Samuel Beckett’s Irishness’, in Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1982, p.105; also in Mary Junker, Beckett: The Irish Dimension , Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1995 [q.p.], citing Bair.)

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Anglo-Irish writers: ‘[A]mong the Irish writers who adopted the English language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and almost forgot their native land, are found the names of Berkeley, the idealist philosopher, Oliver Goldsmith, author of the Vicar of Wakefield, two famous playwrights, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and William Congreve, whose comic masterpieces are admired even today on the sterile stages of modern England, Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, which shares with Rabelais the place of the best satire in world literature, and Edmund Burke, whom the English themselves called the modern Demosthenes and considered the most profound orator who had ever spoken in the House of Commons.’ (“Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages”, in Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellmann, eds., Critical Writings, 1959 [1966], p.170.)

England & Ireland (1): ‘Ireland is what she is and therefore I am what I am because of the relations that have existed between England and Ireland. Tell me why you think I ought wish to change the conditions that gave Ireland and me a shape and a destiny?’ (Joyce to Frank Budgen; quoted in Davies, op. cit., 1975, p.p.245-46.) According to Ellmann, Joyce ‘had written to his brother from Rome that, compared to the English, all other people are puppets.’ ((James Joyce [1959] 1965 Edn., p.330, ftn.)

England & Ireland (2): ‘To me an Irish safety pin is more important than an English epic.’ (Remark to Claud Sykes; quoted in Ellmann, James Joyce, 1965 Edn. p.436.)

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England & Ireland (3): ‘It is to be safe from the rabid and soul-destroying political atmosphere in Ireland that I live here[,] for in such an atmosphere it is very difficult to create good work, while in the atmosphere which “Father Murphy” creates it is impossible. At a very early stage I came to the conclusion that to stay in Ireland would be to rot, and I never had any intention of rotting, or at least if I had to, I intended to rot in my own way, and I think most people will agree that I have done that.’ (Joyce to Arthur Power; quoted in Stan Gébler Davies, James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist, Davis-Poynter 1975, p.245.)

English novelist (1): ‘I have read Gissing’s Demos: A Story of English Socialism [1886]. Why are English novels so terribly boring? I think G. has little merit. The socialist in this is first a worker, and then inherits a fortune, jilts his first girl, marries a l[a]dy, becomes a big employer and takes to drink. You know the kind of story. There is a clergyman in it with searching [123] eyes and a deep voice who makes all the socialists wince under his firm gaze. I am going to read another book of his. Then I will try Arthur Morrison and Hardy: and finally Thackeray. Without boasting I think I have nothing to learn from the English novelists. / I have written to A[unt] J[osephine] asking her to send me By the Stream of Kilmeen [sic for Killmeen, 1906) a book of stories by Seamas O’Kelly - you remember him. I also asked her to try to lay hands on any old editions of Kickham, Griffin, Carleton, H. J. Smyth, &c., Banim and to send me an Xmas present made up of tram-trickets, advts, handbills, posters, papers, programmes &c. I would like to have a map of Dublin in my wall. [...]’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, in 6 Nov. 1906; Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann, 19975, p.124.) Also, [comparing Dubliners with Hardy’s stories in Life’s Little Ironies]: ‘What is wrong with these English writers is that they always keeping beating about the bush.’ (Letter to Stanislaus, Dec. 1906; Selected Letters, 1975, p.137; also quoted in Intro., p.xv.) And cf., ref Hardy, ‘laisse ce soin aux critiques de son pays.’ (Ibid., p.329.)

English Language: ‘Je suis au bout de l’anglais.’ (Remark to August Suter, quoted from interview in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.559; interview of 1956.)

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Jesus: - Frank Budgen writes, ‘He [Joyce] did not consider Christ a perfect man. / “He was a bachelor,” Joyce said, “and he never lived with a woman. Surely living with a woman is one of the most difficult things a man has to do, and he never did it.”’ (James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses [1934], OUP 1972, p.191; see also Budgen’s remarks, infra).

Jesus (in Stephen Hero [1944])- Stephen reflect on Jesus: ‘An ugly little man who has taken into his body the sins of the world. Something between Socrates and a Gnostic Christ ... That’s what his mission of redemption has got for him: a crooked ugly body for which neither God nor man have pity.’ (p.107.) See also under Epiphanies and Ernest Renan, in Notes, infra.

Jesus: Note also the apotheosis of ordinary characters in Ulysses: ‘Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, Bloom Christ, Kitty Christ, its up to you to sense that cosmic force ... You can rub shoulders with a Jesus, a Gautama, an Ingersoll. Are you all in this vibration? I say you are.’ (Bodley Head Edn., 1961, p.625.)

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Catholicism v. Protestantism (I) - Stephen Hero [1944]: ‘his enfranchisement from the discipline of the Church seemed to be coincident with an instinctive return to the Founder thereof and this impulse would have led him to a consideration of the merits of Protestantism had not another natural impulse inclined him to bring even the self-contradictory and absurd into order.’ (Stephen Hero [1944, ed. Theodore Spencer]; new edn. with adds., London: Triad Books [Collins], 1977, p.103.) Further: ‘He could not accept wholeheartedly the offers of Protestant belief: he knew that the liberty it boasted of was often only the liberty to be slovenly in thought and amorphous in ritual.’ (p.183.)

Catholicism v. Protestantism (II): ‘The God of the Roman catholics could do that now [strike him dead], Stephen said. I fear more than than the chemical action which would be set up in my soul by a false homage to a symbol behind which are massed twenty centuries of authority and veneration’. (Ibid., p.247.) ‘Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant? / - I said I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost self-respect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?’ (A Portrait, p.248; Cape 1924, p.277; Viking 1947, p.514; and see also Joyce’s reiteration of this idea in conversation with Frank Budgen, as infra.)

Cf., ‘It is a curious thing, do you know, Cranly said dispassionately, how your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve.’ (A Portrait [... &c.], ed. R. Ellmann [Def. Edition] London: Cape, 1968, 1991, p.244.)

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Catholicism v. Protestantism (IV) - in 1907 Joyce wrote: ‘In time, perhaps there will be a gradual reawakening of the Irish conscience, and perhaps four or five centuries after the Diet of Worms, we will see an Irish monk throw away his frock, run off with some nun, and proclaim in a loud voice the end of the coherent absurdity that was Catholicism and the beginning of the incoherent absurdity that is Protestantism.’ (“Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages”, in Critical Writings, NY: Viking Press 1967, p.169.)

Note that Joyce writes to Nora in 1912: ‘[...] The Abbey Theatre will be open and they will give plays of Yeats and Synge. You have right to be there because you are my bride: and I am one of the writers of this generation who are perhaps creating at last a conscience in the soul of this wretched race.’ (Joyce to Nora, letter of 22 Aug. 1912, in Selected Letters, 1975, p.204.)

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Catholicism v. Protestantism (III): Frank Budgen writes: ‘If the Protestant-Roman Catholic split in Christendom was mentioned he would usually observe that a coherent absurdity is preferable to an incoherent one. Quite rightly, philosophically, no doubt, but religions are also secular institutions, and from this angle their relative absurdity is less important than the question of the good or harm they do. He did not consider Christ a perfect man. / “He was a bachelor,” Joyce said, “and he never lived with a woman. Surely living with a woman is one of the most difficult things a man has to do, and he never did it.”’ (James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses [1934], OUP 1972, p.191).

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Psychoanalysis: ‘Why all this fuss and bother about the mystery of the unconscious? What about the mystery of the conscious? What do they know about that?’ (Joyce to Frank Budgen; quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, [1959] 1965 Edn., p.450; also quoted in Michael Begnal, Dreamscheme: Narrative and Voice in Finnegans Wake, Syracuse UP 1988, pp.2-3, citing Budgen, Further Recollections [1955], p.8.) Cf., Finnegans Wake (1939): ‘Get yourself psychoanolised!’ and artist answers, ‘I can psoakoonaloose myself any time I want’ (p.522).

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Dipsomaniac?: ‘I suppose I now have the reputation of being an inscrutable dipsomaniac. One woman here originated the rumour that I am extremely lazy and will never do or finish anything. (I calculate that I must have spent nearly 20,000 hours in writing Ulysses.) A batch of people in Zurich persuaded themselves that I was gradually going mad and actually endeavoured to induce me to enter a sanatorium where a certain Doctor Jung (the Swiss Tweedledum who is not to be confused with the Viennese Tweedledee, Dr. Freud) amuses himself at the expense (in every sense of the word) of ladies and gentlemen who are troubled with bees in their bonnets.’ ( Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 24 June 1921.)

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Wakese [the language of Finnegans Wake]: ‘He spoke of the language he had used in order to give to vocabulary the elasticity of sleep, multiplying the meaning of words, playing with glisterings, and making of the sentence a rainbow where each drop is a prism assuming a thousand colours. The language cost him infinite pains.’ (Louis Gillet, ‘The Living Joyce’, in Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, ed. Willard Potts, Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1979, p.178.)

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Harsh on Dublin: ‘Sometimes thinking of Ireland it seems to me that I have been unnecessarily harsh. I have reproduced (in [109] Dubliners at least) none of the attractions of the city for I have never felt at my ease in any city since I left it except in Paris. I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and its hospitality. The latter “virtue” so far as I can see does not exist elsewhere in Europe. I have not been just to its beauty: for it is more beautiful naturally in my opinoni than what I have seen of England, Switzerland, France, Austria or Italy. Yet I know how useless these reflection are. For if I were to rewrite the book [...] I am sure I should find again what you call the Holy Ghost sitting in the ink-bottle and the perverse devil of my literary conscience sitting on the hump of my pen.’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 25 Sept. 1906; Letters, Vol. II, ed. Richard Ellmann, 1966, p.166; Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann, 1975, pp.109-10.)

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Sinn Féin (1): ‘In my opinion Griffith’s speech at the meeting in the National Council justifies the existence of his paper [Sinn Féin]. He, probably, has to lease out his columns to scribblers like Gogarty and Colm, and virgin martyrs like his sub-editor. But, as far as my knowledge of Irish affairs goes, he was the first person in Ireland to revive the separatists idea on modern lines nine years ago. He wants the creation of an Irish consular sevice abroad, and of an Irish bank at home. What I don’t understand is that while apparently he does the talking and the thinking two or three fatheads like [Edward] Martyn and [John] Sweetman don’t begin either of the schemes. [110] He said in one of his articles that it cost a Danish merchant less to send butter to Christiania and then by sea to London than it costs an Irish merchant to send his from Mullingar to Dublin. A great deal of his programme perhaps is absurd but at least it tries to inaugurate some commercial life for Ireland and to tell you the truth once or twice [punct. sic] in Trieste I felt myself humiliated when I heard the little Galatti girl sneering at my impoverished country. [...] what I object to most of all in his paper is that it is educating the people of Ireland on the old pap of racial hatred whereas anyone can see that if the Irish question exists, it exists for the Irish proletariat chiefly.’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 25 Sept. 1906; Letters, Vol. 2, Viking 1966, pp.164-68, p.167; Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann, Faber 1975, pp.110-11.)

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Sinn Féin (2): You ask me what I should substitute for parliamentary agitation in [124] Ireland. I think the Sinn Féin [sic] policy would be more effective. Of course I see that its success would be to substitute Irish for English capital but no-one, I suppose, denies that capitalism is a stage of progress. The Irish proletariat has yet to be created. A feudal peasantry exists, scraping the soil but this would with a national revival or with a definite preponderance of England surely disappear. I quite agree with you that Griffith is afraid of the priests - and he has every reason to be so. But, possibly, they are also a little afraid of him too. After all, he is holding out some secular liberty to the people and the Church doesn’t approve of that. I quite see, of course, that the Church is still, as it was in the time of Adrian IV, the enemy of Ireland: but, I think, her time is almost up. For either Sinn Féin or Imperialism will conquer the present Ireland. If the Irish programme did not insist on the Irish language I suppose I could call myself a nationalist. As it is, I am content to recognise myself an exile: and, prophetically, a repudiated one. [...] Of course you find my socialism thin. It is so and unsteady and ill-informed.’ (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 6 Nov. 1906; in Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann, Faber 1975, p.125.)

Note: Joyce goes on to discuss the relationship between intellectuals and socialists in particular regard to Labriola and Ferri, as well as questions of sociology and psychiatry.

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Irish sexuality (public): ‘[...] By the way, they are still at the “venereal excess” cry in Sinn Féin? Why does nobody compile statistics of “venereal excess” from Dublin hospitals. What is “venereal excess”? Perhaps Mr Skeffington Sheehy could write something on the subject, being, as J.J.B. [John Byrne] puts it “a pure man”. “Infant Jesus, meek and mild, Pity me a little child. Make me humble as thou art, And with Thy love inflame my heart”. Anyway my humble opinion is that if I put down a bucket into my own soul’s well, sexual department, I draw up Griffith’s and Ibsen’s and Skeffington’s and Bernard Vaughan’s and St. Aloysius’ and Shelley’s and Renan’s water along with my own. And I am going to do that in my novel (inter alia) and plank the bucket down before the shades and substances above mentioned to see how they like it: and if they don’t like it I can’t help them. I am nauseated by their lying drivel about pure men and pure women and spiritual love and love for ever: blatant lying in the face of the truth. I don’t know much about the “saince” of the subject but I presume there are very few mortals in Europe who are not in danger of waking some morning and finding themselves syphilitic. The Irish consider England a sink: but, if cleanliness be important in this matter, what is Ireland? Perhaps my view of life is too cynical but it seems to me that a lot of this talk about love is nonsense. A woman’s love is always maternal and egoistic. A man, on the contrary, side by side with his extraordinary cerebral sexualism and bodily fervour (from which [129] women are normally free) possesses a fund of genuine affection for the “beloved” or “once beloved” object. I am no friend of tyranny, as you know, but if many husbands are brutal the atmosphere in which they live (vide “Counterparts”) is brutal and few wives and homes can satisfy the desire for happiness. In fact, it is useless to talk about this any further. I am going to lunch.’ (Letter to Stanislaus, 13 Nov. 1906; Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann, Faber 1975 pp.129-30.)

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Irish sexuality (private) - Letter to Nora (1909): ‘I am your child as I told you and you must be severe with me, my little mother. Punish me as much as you like. I would be delighted to feel my flesh tingling under your hand[...] I wish you would smack me or flog me even.’ (In Richard Ellmann, ed., Selected Letters, London: Faber & Faber, 1975, p.188.)

Problem of my race: ‘La problème de ma race est tellement compliqué qu’on a besoin de tous les moyens d’un art elastique pour l’esquisser - sans le resoudre. Je suis de l’avis qu’une pronounciation personelle n’est plus permise. Je suis contraint à la faire moyennant les scènes et les personnages de ma pauvre invention. [The problem of my race is so complicated that one needs all the resources of an elastic art in order to convey it without simplification. Therefore I feel constrained to attempting it by means of the scenes and characters of my poor invention.]’ (Letter to [prob.] Mme Guillermet, 5 Aug. 1918; in Letters, Vol. I, NY: Viking Press 1957, 1966, p.118.)

Note: Joyce followed this with another in English (5 Sept. 1918) incorporating a response to a novel sent by Mme Guillermet and offering this criticism [inter al.]: ‘I do not like the epistolary form in which you have written it. It is seductive but has the inevitable drawback that one can see only from one angle. The inclusion also in some of the letters of literal transcripts from “l’autre” is a device, necessary no doubt, which dissatisfies. [...]’ (Letters, Vol. I, p.119.) Guillermet - a journalist on the Journal de Genève [newspaper], had criticised Joyce’s ‘manque de goût [lack of taste].’ (See note in idem.)

Further: ‘[... I envy anyone who writes in French not so much because [of] the resources of the language (whose function I find to be []a standard of moderation and criticism rather than one of innovation) but on account of the public to which one can appeal.’ (Letter to Fanny Guillermet, 5 Sept. 1918, in Letters, Vol. I (New York: Viking Press 1957; 1966, pp.19-20.)

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Irish = Medieval: ‘One of the most interesting things about Ireland is that we are still fundamentally a medieval people.’ (Quoted in Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, NY: Harper & Row 1974, p.92; and note further comments including remarks on aesthetics of the medieval church at Les Halles.)

European influence: ‘A nation which had never advanced so far as a miracle play affords no literary model to the artist, and he must look abroad.’ (Quoted in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn., p.245.)]

Book of Kells: ‘In all the places I have been to, Rome, Zurich, Trieste, I have taken it about with me, and have pored over its workmanship for hours. It is the most purely Irish thing we have, and some of the big initial letters which swing right across the page [558] have the essential quality of a chapter of Ulysses. Indeed, you can compare much of my work to the intricate illuminations. I would like it to be possible to pick up any page of my book and know at once what book it is.’ (Quoted by Arthur Power, in From an Old Waterford House, 1940, p.67; quoted in Ellmann, Jame Joyce, 1965 Edn. pp.558-59.)

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Ulysses fit to read? ‘If Ulysses is not fit to read, life is not fit to live.’ (Joyce to Kathleen Murray, on hearing of her mother’s estimate of the novel; interview with Kathleen Murray;quoted in Patricia Hutchins, James Joyce’s World, p.139; cited in Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959; 1965 Edn., p.551.)

Understanding FW: ‘We must begin before it is too late. For the moment there’s still one person in the world, myself, who can understand what I have written. I can’t guarantee that in two or three years that I will be able to.’ (Quoted by Nino Frank, ‘The Shadow that Had Lost its Man’ [memoir], in Willard Potts, Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, Wolfhound Press 1979, p.96.)

Singing school: ‘I have always insisted that I know little about literature, less about music, nothing about painting and less than nothing about sculpture; but I do know something about singing, I think.’ (advocating John O’Sullivan in letter to HSW, 18 March 1930 [dictated]; Selected Letters, 1975, p.351.)

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John Stanislaus Joyce: ‘My father had an extraordinary affection for me. He was the silliest man I ever knew and yet cruelly shrewd. he thought and talked of me up to his last breath. I was very fond of him always, being a sinner myself, and even liked his faults. hundreds of pages and scores of characters in my books came from him his dry (or rather wet) wit and his expression of face convulsed me often with laughter [...] I got from him his portraits, a waistcoat, a good tenor voice, and an extravagant licentious disposition. (out of which, however, the greater part of any talent I may have springs) but, apar from these, something else I cannot define. But if an observer thought of my father and myself and my son too physically, though we are all different, he could perhaps define it. It is a great consolation to me to have such a good son. His grandfather was very fond of him and kept his photograph beside mine on the mantelpiece. I knew he was old, but I thought he would live longer. It is not his death that crushed me so much as self-accusation.’ (JAJ, Letters, Vol. 1, p.312; cited in James Joyce, 1959, 1965 Edn., p.657 and elsewhere.)

Cf., Stanislaus: ‘For the second half of his life my father belonged to the class of the deserving poor, that is to say the class of people who richly deserve to be poor.’ (Quoted in Stan Gèbler Davies, James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist, London: David Poynter 1975, p.9.)

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May Joyce (1) - letter to her son: ‘My dear Jim[,] if you are disappointed in my letter and if as usual I fail to understand what you would wish to explain, believe me it is not from any want of a longing desire to do so and speak the words you want but as you so often said I am stupid and cannot grasp the great thoughts which are yours much as I desire to do so.’ (Richard Ellmann, ed., Letters of James Joyce, Faber 1966, Vol. 2, p.6; quoted in Catherine J. Hemphill, UG Diss., UUC, 2003.)

May Joyce (1): ‘My home was simply a middle-class affair, ruined by spendthrift habits which I have inherited. My mother was slowly killed, I think, by my father’s ill-treatment, by years of trouble, and by my cynical frankness of conduct. When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin - a face grey and wasted with cancer - I understood that I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which had made her a victim.’ (JAJ, letter to Nora; Letters, Vol. 2, 1966, p.67; quoted in Hemphill, op. cit..)

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Jeu d’esprit (1): ‘Ireland is a great country. It is called the Emerald Isle. The metropolitan government, after centuries of strangling it, has laid it waste. It’s now an untilled field. / Proverbially and by nature our peasants walk in their sleep, closely resembling fakirs in their froglike and renunciatory sterility. I think they are the one people who, when they are hungry, eat symbolically. Do you not know what it means to eat symbolically? I’ll clear it up for you in no time: the peasant family, a big roomful of them, sit round a rustic table as if it were an altar. In the middle of the table, suspended on a string from the ceiling, is a herring which could feed the lot of them. The headman arms himself with a potato. Then with it he makes the sign of the cross (my Tuscan friends say, “He makes the big cross”) high up on the back of the fish instead of just rubbing it as any hypocrite would do. This is the signal, and after him, hieratically, each member of the family performs the same trick so that at the end the members, that is to say the diners, find themselves left contemplating a potato in their hands, and the herring, if it doesn’t get eaten by the eat, or rot, is destined to be mummified for posterity. This dish is called the indicated herring. The peasants are gluttons for it, and stuff their bellies full. / Dubliners, strictly speaking, are my fellow-countrymen, but I don’t care to speak of our “dear, dirty Dublin” as they do. Dubliners are the most hopeless, useless, and inconsistent race of charlatans I have ever come across, on the island or the continent. This is why the English Parliament is full of the greatest windbags in the world. The Dubliner passes his time gabbing and making the rounds in bars or taverns or cathouses, without ever getting “fed up” with the double doses of whisky and Home Rule, and at night, when he can hold no more and is swollen up with poison like a toad, he staggers from the side-door and, guided by an instinctive desire for stability along the straight line of the houses, he goes slithering his backside against all the walls and corners. He goes “arsing along” as we say in English. There’s the Dubliner for you. / And in spite of everything, Ireland remains the brain of the United Kingdom. The English, judiciously practical and ponderous, furnish the over-stuffed stomach of humanity with a perfect gadget - the water closet. The Irish, condemned to express themselves in a language not their own, have stamped on it the mark of their own genius and compete for glory with the civilised nations. This is then called English literature ...’ (Joyce’s teaching spiel, as reported by Francini-Bruni in Joyce Intimo spogliato in piazza [‘Joyce stripped naked in the piazza’], Trieste 1922 [lect. & pamph.]; quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce [1959] 1965, p.225-26; also in Willard Potts, Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, Wolfhound Press 1979, pp.27-28 [a somewhat variant translation - viz.: ‘Ireland is a great country. They call it the Emerald Isle. ...’].

Jeu d’esprit (2): See another version, quoted in Marvin Magalaner & Richard Kain, James Joyce: The Man, The Works, the Reputation (London: Calder 1957): ‘The Emerald isle is a field of thorns, hunger, syphilis, superstition, alcoholism. Puritans, Jesuits and bigots have sprouted from it. The Dubliner is of the mountebank race the most useless and inconsistent. However Ireland is still the brain of the United Kingdom’ - along with with remarks on Francini-Bruni who ‘gave up his friendship with Joyce to discredit him in public lectures.’ (p.20.) See also notes on Joyce’s reaction to the lecture and those of Stanislaus, who was present, given in the introduction to the version printed in Potts, Portraits of the Artist in Exile (1979), p.6.

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Keeping the professors busy ...: Joyce to reputedly told Jacques Benoîst-Méchin of Ulysses: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.’ (Interview with Jacques Benoîst-Méchin, in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959 [1965 imp.], p.535; quoted [in part] in Vicki Mahaffey, Reauthorizing Joyce, Cambridge UP 1988, p.27, n.8, citing Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 1982 [rev. edn.], p.521, and also in Jeri Johnson [as supra], in her Introduction to the Ulysses [World Classics], OUP 1993, p.x]; also quoted in Anne Fogarty & Fran O'Rourke, eds., Voices on Joyce, UCD Press 2105, Intro., p.3, citing Ellmann, James Joyce [rev. edn.], p.521.)

[Cf. err. attribution: Joyce told Jacob Schwartz, prev. in Ricorso - citing Ellmann, James Joyce, rev. edn. 1982, p.521. For confirmation, see Intertextual Joyce / Centre for Regional Literature and Culture, Nottingham University - online; accessed 15.10.2016.]

Egoism in Joyce

Egoism is recognised to have been a key element in Joyce's 'start-up kit' as a writer as providing the necessary force to thrust himself 'beyond the region of re-attraction' (SH) formed by family and social bonds in Ireland. It was also a profound problem for the writer since the desire to assert his own superiority of mind and outlook was in contradiction with the principle of artistic ‘impersonality’ he learnt from Gustave Flaubert [as supra]. His initial solution was to divide his work between 'personal' biography and 'impersonal' stories. The ultimate solution involved espousing impersonality as the dominant mentality so that the text could become the stylistic counterpart of the thing described by means of formal and stylistic mimesis (a process rather than an ‘simulcra’). [BS 2014]


‘It was part of that ineradicable egoism that he was afterwards to call his redeemer that he conceiv-ed converging to him all the deeds and thoughts of the microcosm.’ [1944] (Stephen Hero, London: Jonathan Cape, 1956, &c., p.56.)

‘His family expected that he would at once follow the path of remunerative respectability and save the situation but he could not satisfy his family. He thanked their intention: it had first fulfilled him with egoism; and he rejoiced that his life had been so self-centred. He felt however that there were activities which it would be a peril to postpone.’ (Ibid., p.57.)
‘He acknowledged to himself in honest egoism that he could not take to heart the distress of a nation, the soul of which was antipathetic to his own, so bitterly as the indignity of a bad line of verse: but at the same time he was nothing in the world so little as an amateur artist.’ (Ibid., p.151.)

‘He was egoistically determined that [...] no favour or reverse of fortune, no bond of association or impulse or tradition should hinder him from working out the enigma of his position in his own way. He avoided his father sedulously because he now regarded his father’s presumptions as the most deadly part of a tyranny [...] He argued no further with his mother, persuaded that he could have no satisfactory commerce with her so long as she chose to set the shadow of a clergyman between her nature and his.’ (Ibid., p.214.)

Cf. his remarks on William Blake’s marriage:

‘Like many other men of great genius, Blake was not attracted to cultured and refined women. Either he preferred to drawing room graces and an easy and broad culture (if you will allow me to borrow a commonplace from theatrical jargon) the simple woman of hazy and sensual mentality, or, in his unlimited egoism, he wanted the soul of his beloved to be entirely of a slow and painful creation of his own, free and purifying daily under his eyes, the demon (as he says) hidden in the clouds. Whichever is true, the fact is that Mrs. Blake was neither very pretty nor very intelligent. She was, in fact, illiterate, and the poet took pains to teach her to read and write [...]’ (CW, 217.) [Cont.]

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