Niall Montgomery

1915-[?]; Irish architect and literary critic, with writings on Joyce and Beckett, who was a personal friend; corresponded with Flann O’Brien during the Dalkey Archive period; he worked on Dublin Airport with Desmond Fitzgerald and is sometimes accredited with the Modernism of the design; contrib. a list of variants on the letters HCE and ALP in Finnegans Wake to New Mexico Quarterly in 1953; issued ‘No symbols where none intended’, in Fifth Mentor Selection (1954), basing the title on a letter from Beckett [as infra]; wrote on Proust in The Dubliner (July 1962); also presented free paper at 1st International James Joyce Symposium (1967), and contrib. same to The Celtic Master (1969), arguing that one must know Ireland from the inside to understand Joyce.

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‘The Perviglium Phoenicis’, in New Mexico Quarterly, XXIII, 4 (Winter 1953), [cp.451]; ‘Proust and Joyce’ (The Dubliner, July-Aug. 1962, pp.11-22) [see extract]; ‘A Context for Mr. Joyce’s Work’, in The Celtic Master, ed. Maurice Harmon [1st James Joyce Symposium in Dublin] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1969), pp.9-15 [see extract].

See also ‘No symbols where none intended’, in Fifth Mentor Selection (NY: New American Library 1954), 337pp. [with work by Samuel Beckett, Niall Montgomery and Maurice Meldon].

Note also that Kenner also cites Montgomery on Joyce in The Irish Times, 2 April 1966: ‘O’Brien is an “aristophanic sorcerer” conscribing the extraordinary into the bedraggled realms [ranks?] of the banal.’ [See further references under O’Brien, Commentary - infra.

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Anthony Cronin, No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien (London: Grafton 1989; rep. Paladin 1990): ‘Niall Montgomery was a quick-eyed and quick-witted architectural student who was to play an important role in Brian O’Nolan’s [Flann O’Brien] life, not only as a collaborator in some of his journalistic enterprises, but as a sort of intellectual mentor. His attitude to Joyce was obsessive but ambiguous … [he] regarded Joyce’s works as an intellectual playground: esoteric, cabbalistic, logomachic. He left out, in so far as it can be left out, the human content and the compassionate purpose.’ (p.55.)

Note: a compliementary account of Montgomery’s person and delivery at the First James Joyce INternational Symposium in Dublin, 1967, is given in Austin Briggs, ‘The First International James Joyce Symposium: A Personal Account’, in Joyce Studies Annual, Summer 2002, pp.5-31, espec. p.22 - 'speaks without notes [...] all utterly brilliantly, deserving warm reeption it receives, but cannot keep it all in my head'.

Clair Wills, ‘Anti-Writer’, in London Review of Books, 41, 7 (4 April 2019) - review of Maebh Long, ed., The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien: ‘[...] The longest and most revealing correspondence is with Niall Montgomery, a close friend from university and later a collaborator on his newspaper column, with whom O’Nolan liked to share in-jokes, but on whom he could turn like a terrier, as in this 1964 letter accusing him of plagiarism: “You are known to far more than me as the pedlar of the second-hand, the inadequate, the ununderstood. Heretofore this has been disguised by a massive ‘gentleman’ charlatanry and why this has now been cast aside is a total mystery to me.” [...] Many of the letters to Montgomery also deal with business affairs, as Montgomery (an architect “distinguished by inane imitation of the work of others”) was pressed into the thankless tasks of commissioning a headstone for O’Nolan’s father’s grave, or organising the repairs to his home, or arranging for a typist to produce a clean copy of The Dalkey Archive.’ (Available online; accessed 22.07.2021.)

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Beckett’s letter to Montgomery - following the Simpson/Swift production of Waiting for Godot:

November 2nd 1955

6 Rue des Favorites
Paris 15me            

Dear Niall
 It did my old pinking heart a power of good to have your warm and affectionate letter. They seem to have done a good job in the Pike, though Simpson writes that he is not pleased with his Estragon and confessing to having made minor improvements in the text. The reviews I have seen seem hardly less foolish if less venomous than usual. The whole affair is so simple, no symbols where none intended.
 I’m afraid I won’t be able to get over to see it and you all, you all and it.
 But perhaps next year, Con has his hooks in me for the Scholard’s Dinner, our last chance probably. If I do, and the family dying dead, it’s the quare times we’ll be having. I’m in toothless twyminds at the moment about proceeding to Broadway where it opens in January and this old hag invited expenses paid. Looking forward rather to assisting at a revival in a Rhineland penitentiary by a group of thieves, embezzlers, assassins and sexual aberrants, I’m told they had the gaolers in tears. I had a good week in Zurich with Giorgio Joyce seeing the ways the father went and where they ended. Laburnum tendrils how are you. No I have not yet meet [sic] the O’Briens, Desmond Ryan has great accounts of them and wants to arrange it, but I have a phobia about Irish officials. I’m glad Curran went and admitted there might be something, remember me warmly to him. John Beckett is here for a week, we are trying to do something together, tell you about it another time, I’ll be sorry to see him go. No news of Deirdre. Morris very prosperous at WHO, hardly ever see him now. I met Sheila Murphy at a party at Ryan’s, depressed at the thought of going home. Enclosed a letter might divert you, typical of many, tear it up and keep the stamps. I saw some of Mercier’s stuff, very gratifying I’ll be bound. What about your own play, don’t mind its going yellow, my first is mahogany, do another. Have a little book coming out here very soon, first and last gasps in French, 1945 and 1950, if I forget to send it write demanding, but I won’t. Very tired, stupid, dirty, old and willless, all systems capital S, and somewhere the vague wish I could mind.
 Affectionately to you all.
s/ Sam

Tante belle
cose to
Pinget seems to have got bogged in London, he’ll probably be over in Dublin later on.15

Given in George Craig, et. al., eds, The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941-1956 (Cambridge UP 2011); quoted in Gerry Smyth, ‘The Beckett Letters’ [review], in The Irish Times (17 Sept. 2011) - Weekend Review, p.7.

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Proust and Joyce’ (The Dubliner, July-Aug. 1962, pp.11-22): ‘[...] I recall that some years ago the dean of English literature made a wonderful regulation to the following effect: “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them; there is no third” [...] a Frenchman listing to that Rabelasian catalogue could not fail to be astonished by the inclusion of such a host of un-French names of men of genius, and even the ordinary man will be astonished by the exclusion of the famous team of Greek millionaires who wrot those horror comics, the Odyssey and the Iliad. An Irishman, hearing such an announcement, will bow his humble head and pondering again once again in the depths of his bitter heart on the intensity of the campaign against the brilliant pastor of Doneraile, Canon Sheehan.’ Liddy goes on to nominate Proust and Joyce as the proper writers ‘to divide the world between them’ and declares it patent that English regulations are susceptible of repeal.’ (p.11.) Sheridan is struck - and expects that his audience is also struck - by the sense that ‘these two men are people who are intent all the time on trying to percieve the reality under the shape of things’ (p.19.) Sub-heading: “Joyce, Proust and ‘Social Problems’”: ‘There are also certain formal comparisons to be made between the two people; there are certain negative comparisons to be made, for instance, people think of them, even as great a man as Mr. Edmund Wilson, whom I must mention again, talks about Joyce as though he were indignant about the social order and were anxious to reform it and anxious to unveil the injustices behind the social structure. I don’t think any of that applies to either of them. Joyce, on one occasion, swore to somebody that there was no vestige of morality in any of his books. There’s an odd contrast there too, the very moral bourgeois joyce and his books, and, possibly, the immoral Proust and the highly sanctified and holy books that he wrote, but another comparison that can be made between the two, on the negative side, is that they have been accused of being pornographic writers. Of course that is quite ridiculous, and, although I say quite ridiculous, I myself [20] must say that I find both of them very shocking. I find Night-town shocking each time I read it. I find the meditations of Molly Bloom quite horrifying. When I first heard the grunting of the Baron de Charlus in Proust I had to close the book. But then this business of shocking has nothing to do with pornography. When I open my post in the morning and I find my bank manager openly using the word overdraft, I find that horrifying too. In making comparisons, formal comparisons between Proust and Joyee, one is tempted to say, that each depicted the civilisation of which he was a product. Such a statement would, I’m sure, cause their ghosts to shriek with rage; and yet there’s an amusing way in which it’s true - Joyce as a representative of the narrow puritan civilisation of Ireland and Proust representative say of the full flowering of French civilisation.’ (pp.20-21.) Lecture given in Building Centre 22 June 1962, as part of “Joyce Week”. The essay, transcribed from a tape-recording, turns chiefly on the resemblance between Joyce’s theory of epiphanies and Proust’s temp retrouvé.’

James Atherton: ‘Niall Montgomery, a Dublin architect, has already pointed this out [i.e., ‘words are constructed so as [...] to allow the structure of the entire work to be deduced from any typical word’] in phraseology suited to his profession - when he prefaced some valuable lists he has compiled of the occurrences of the letters H.C.E. and A.L.P in the Wake by saying that they were intended “principly to show in what detail and with what fidelity the highly polished cladding reflects the structural details of Mr. Finnegan’s unique building.”’ (The Books at the Wake [1959] 1974 Edn., p.34.)

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On Flann O’Brien’s Dalkey Archive: ‘To my mind the satire would be that Joyce since his death spent the intervening nightmare years writing Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake, A First Draft Version of Finnegans Wake, A Census of Finnegans Wake, &c., and editing the periodical called A Wake Newsletter [] and founding the James Joyce Society dressed up as Paddy Colum.’ (See See Asbee, Flann O’Brien, Boston: Twayne Publ. 1991, 69; quoted in Ryan Fleming, MA Diss., UUC.)

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A Context for Mr. Joyce’s Work’, in The Celtic Master, ed. Maurice Harmon (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1969): ‘Among the admirers of Mr. Joyce’s work there will be those who consider it to be sui generis, and to them it would be both irrelevant and irreverent to attempt to consider that work in any context. Others will elect to see the work in the context of something called European literature, an abstraction which [...] seems to partake of some of the characteristics of Immanuel Kant’s great invention, the nounmenon - which is, beautifully, glossed as “an object of intellectual intuition, devoid of all phenomenal attributes’. / Other again, affecting to dismiss the work, will profess to see Mr. Joyce as a French writer of the school of Flaubert. [...] It is perhaps more correct, in view of his passport and other affiliations, to see Mr. Joyce as a British writer. It is a measure of his achievement - and I use achievement I use achievement in the sense of doing what y ou set out to do - that we cannot see Mr. Joyce in that context, we cannot see his work in the context of Anglo-Irish literature. This is achievement. [...] Nor can we see Mr. Joyce as a Catholic writer, although, if there is such a thing as a literature of Catholicism, and if thereform we substract Mr. Joyce’s work, that literature, if it exists, will appear rather gappy. [9] I imagine Mr. Joyce would see our perception of these ambivalences as a tribute to his protean personality. It is such a tribute certainly, but It may have other attributes. It one turns to Joyce’s great contemporary - his great analogue, I might say his cardinal analogue - Marchel Proust, we have no such difficulty. [...] I want to say that, for a man of my generation and my class, there is a truth in considering Joyce in a certain context, and that context, quite simply, is the context of Ireland. I want to say that Joyce’s work illuminates that context and the context illuminates it, and I want also to draw attention to certain analogies of form, certain affinities of pattern existing between the work and aspects of our history - political and cultural.’ [See longer extracts in RICORSO Library, “Criticism” / Major Authors > Joyce, infra.]

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Donor: Niall Montgomery donated to the TCD Library copies of The Double Dealer: A Comedy as written by Congreve, distinguishing also the variations of the theatre, as performed at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane, regulated from the prompt-book ... by Mr. Hopkins, prompter [Bell’s Edn.] (London: John Bell [... &c.] 1777), 82, [2]pp., pl., port, 12mo.; and Alcina: A New Comic Opera, to be performed at the City Theatre in Smock-Alley / The music intirely [sic] by Signor Gazaniga, and to be conducted by Messrs. San Giorgio and Carnevale (Dublin: printed by M. Mills [... &c] 1781), 4-40, [3]pp., 8°.

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