Richard Ellmann, “1904”, in James Joyce (1959; & edns.) [Chap. X].

[Source: Richard Ellmann, “1904”, James Joyce (Oxford University Press 1959; & edns.) [being Chap. X], pp.148ff.; see also various other extracts [attached], and an extract on the Joyce/Yeats meeting of October 1902 [attached].

Epigraph: Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub, my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her month.

- Ulysses

To keep one’s equilibrium in 7 St. Peter’s Terrace required all possible dexterity. The disarray that had marked the Joyce household since their move from Blackrock to Dublin a dozen years before, changed to near chaos after May Joyce’s death. The house was in disrepair, the banister broken, the furniture mostly pawned or sold; a few scrawny chickens scrabbled at the back for food. John Joyce took out another mortgage for £65 on November 3, 1903, and knew that this would be the last, and that nothing was left of the nine hundred pounds he had obtained a year before by commuting his pension. The house was to drop away from him in 1905. When the new mortgage money moved from his hands to those of the Dublin publicans, he sold the piano [see 1], a desperate act for a musical man and one which roused James to fury when he came home to discover it.

Since May Joyce’s death in August, Margaret (Toppie), now twenty yours old, had taken charge of the house; Aunt Josephine hovered near to mother and advise her and her sisters and brothers, including James. Margaret became fairly adept at wheedling shillings from her father to support the family, which still included the three sons James, Stanislaus, and Charles, and five daughters besides herself: May, Florence, Eileen, Eva, and Mabel. But sometimes there was nothing to eat. Gogarty met Joyce one day and asked, ‘Where have you been for two days? Were you ill?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What were you suffering from?’ ‘Inanation’, Joyce answered without hesitation.’ His hunger fed his pride.

John Joyce, still mourning his wife and dislocated by her death, was exasperated by both sons and daughters. James’s idleness he might condone, but Charles was volatile, and drank so heavily that he became [148] known at the police station, and Stanislaus; was ostentatiously sober and surly. To make matters worse, Stanislaus quit his clerkship at Apothecaries’ Hall on January 30, 1904 and joined James in sensitive inactivity, trying to decide what to do next. John Joyce felt put upon. After drinking heavily at the Ormonde bar he would return home, tongue-lash his sons and perhaps whip any small daughter who happened to be within reach. ‘An insolent pack of little bitches since year poor mother died’, he would say, and rebuke them for fancied ingratitude, ‘Wouldn’t care if I was stretched out stiff.’ He anticipated their response to his death, ‘He’s dead. The man upstairs is dead.’ He threatened to go back to Cork, ‘I’ll leave you all where Jesus left the jews.’ [Ftn.: His daughters confirm the evidence of Ulysses, that John Joyce made these remarks.] This family life weighed so heavily on Margaret that it gave her a distaste for life in the world, and impelled her, a few years later, to become a nun.

James Joyce withdrew too, but in his own way. The very incongruity of ambition in such a setting helped to sustain it in him. In the gloomy, rancorous house, he prepared to become great. At the beginning of 1904 he learned that Eglinton and another writer he knew, Fred Ryan, were preparing to edit a new intellectual journal named Dana after the Irish earth-goddess. On January 7 he wrote off in one day, and with scarcely any hesitation, an autobiographical story that mixed admiration for himself with irony. At the suggestion of Stanislaus, he called it “A Portrait of the Artist,” and sent it to the editors. This was the extraordinary beginning of Joyce’s mature work. It was to he remolded into Stephen Hero, a very long work, and then shortened to a middle length to form A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But this process took ten years.

In “A Portrait of the Artist,” for the first time since writing A Brilliant Career, Joyce was willing to attempt an extended work, to give up the purity of lyrics and epiphanies. He was resolved to gather the stages of his spiritual experience together in a connected pattern. It is difficult to say whether what he wrote was essay or story, for it has elements of both, the essay strained by apostrophe and dramatic exhortation, the narrative presented for the most part discursively. At the age of twenty-one Joyce had found he could become an artist by writing about the process of becoming an artist, his life legitimizing his portrait by supplying the sitter, while the portrait vindicated the sitter by its evident admiration for him. That admiration was already a little complicated by the attitude which, in the later book A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, has led some readers to suppose that Joyce could not bear [149] his own hero. But in both portraits, as well as in the intermediate Stephen Hero, there is no lack of sympathy on the author’s part; he recognizes, however, that earlier stages of the hero’s life were unnecessarily callow, and makes the callowness clear in order to establish the progression towards the mature man.

The tone of this first draft is belligerent. Joyce begins by insisting on the psychological theory that ‘the features of infancy’ belong to a portrait as much as the features of adolescence. The past has no ‘iron memorial aspect’, but implies ‘a fluid succession of presents.’ What we are to look for is not a fixed character but an ‘individuating rhythm’ not ‘an identificative paper but rather the curve of an emotion.’ This conception of personality as river rather than statue is premonitory of Joyce’s later view of consciousness.

The development of the unnamed hero is already stylized, though the stages are less clearly marked than in the final Portrait they became. The hero first enters upon a period of religious zeal: ‘He ran through his measure like a spendthrift saint, astonishing many by ejaculatory fervors, offending many by airs of the cloister. One day in a wood near Malahide a labourer had marvelled to see a boy of fifteen praying in son ecstasy of oriental posture’ This zeal steadily diminishes and ends after be enters the university. It is followed by his creation of ‘the enigma of a manner to protect from intrusion ‘that ineradicable egoism which he was afterwards to call redeemer.’ While the writing exhibits both candor and presumption, presumption has the better of it:

Is the mind of boyhood medieval that it is so divining of intrigue? For this fantastic idealist, eluding the grunting booted apparition with a bound, the mimic hunt was no less ludicrous than unequal in a ground chosen to his disadvantage. But behind the rapidly indurating shield the sensitive answered. Let the pack of enmities come tumbling and sniffing to the highlands after their game. There was his ground and be flung them disdain from flashing antlers.

What is astonishing about this passage, however, is something else: the prose has been infected by the hero’s mind. With symbolist reticence hooter and deer [see 2] are not named, but their attendant metaphors, ‘the grunting booted apparition’ and ‘flashing antlers’, are weighted with the hero’s attitude toward them. The resultant bias colors phrases which might otherwise seem derogatory, ‘this fantastic idealist’ and ‘the sensitive.’ The prose works through emotional image rather than [150] through idea, and, without admitting sympathy for the hero, implies it by allowing him, as it were, to describe himself. Though the technique is not impeccable - the facile heroics of ‘flashing antlers’, for example - Joyce’s discovery of it made possible A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In Ulysses and Finnegan Wake he carried the discovery further; there the language reflects not only the main characters, as when the river is described in words which sound like rivers or when the style tumesces with Gerry MacDowell’s sexual excitement, but also the time of day or night, as when, late in the evening at 7 Eccles Street, the English language is as worn-out as the day and can produce only clichés, or when, early in the morning at the end of Earwicker’s dream, the style dies away with the night. Joyce even learned to make language reflect aspects of the setting, as when, in a butcher shop, Blooms mind unconsciously borrows metaphors from meat even when he is thinking of quite other things. This magnetization of style and vocabulary by the context of person, place, and time, has its humble origin in the few pages Joyce wrote for Dana.

Joyce’s hero chooses his ground ‘to his disadvantage’ because he wishes to be hunted so as to defy his pursuers; he seeks not loyalty but betrayal. He is sharply differentiated from silly fellow-students and from worldly Jesuit masters; against both groups Joyce poses the artist’s holy office, which the young man accepts in two stages. In the first he searches for ‘an arduous good’, and his mind, like that of Yeats’s alchemical heroes, is ‘ever trembling towards its ecstasy.’ Over his soul ‘the image of beauty had fallen as a mantle’, and he leaves the church through the gates of Assisi to find in art an unworldly bliss.
Searching for sanctions he studies not St. Francis but the heresiarchs Joachim Abbas, Bruno, and Michael Sendivogius. He seeks with their help to ‘reunite the children of the spirit, jealous and long-divided, to reunite them against fraud and principality. A thousand eternities were to be reaffirmed, divine knowledge was to be reestablished! The plan has Yeats, the Theosophists, and Blake behind it, but Joyce plunges away: ‘Alas for fatuity! as easily might he have summoned a regiment of the winds: The treasons of the heretics were too ‘venial.’ The disconsolate young man meditates on the strand like Stephen Dedalus after him, and gradually loses interest in ‘an absolute satisfaction’ to become instead ‘conscious of the beauty of mortal conditions.’

This is the second stage, and in it he develops a great interest in sexual freedom and a concomitant spiritual freedom. There follows a lyrical apostrophe of an unidentified female figure, his secular correlative of the Virgin Mary. It is she, presumably the girl that Joyce bad seen at the sea’s edge in iS98, who has led his soul to exfoliation. Like [151] Sudermann’s Magda, she has taughthim that he must sin if he wishes to grow, and enabled him through sin to discover his self. ‘Thou were sacramental’, he tells her, ‘imprinting thine indelible work of very visible grace. A litany must honour thee. Lady of Apple Trees, Kind Widom, Sweet Flower of Dusk.’ In imagined intercourse with her, in actual intercourse with prostitutes, he establishes that he must go forward ‘to the measurable world and the broad expanse of activity.’ He bursts with new life and endeavor. He will change the world, not by violence, but by subtlety, by ‘urbanity’. His audience will not be those already born; they, like Yeats, are too old for him to help; it will be those ‘surely engenderable’. In a stirring peroration, compounded of Zarathustra, a dash of Marx, and Joyce, he calls to these: ‘Man and woman, out of oyu comes the nation that is to come, the lightening [sic] of your masses in travail. The competitive order is employed against itself, the aristrocracies are supplanted; and amid the general paralysis of an insane society, the confederate will issues in action.’

The essay narrative was duly submitted to Eglinton and Ryan, and by them duly rejected. Eglinton told Joyce, ‘I can’t print what I can’t understand,’ [Eglinton, Irish Literary Portraits, 1936, p.136.] and objected to the hero’s sexual exploits, whether with the dream lady of his litany or with the real prostitutes. Joyce took this rejection as a challenge to make the fictional history of his own life the call to arms of a new age. Stanislaus, in his diary for February 2, -1904, shows James’s response most intimately:

2nd February: 1904: Tuesday. Jim’s birthday. He is twenty-two [to]day. He was up late and did not stir out all day, having a bad cold. He has decided to turn his paper into a novel, and having come to that decision is just as glad, he says, that it was rejected. The paper […] was rejected by the editors, Fred Ryan and W. Magee ('John Eglinton’) because of the sexual experiences narrated in it. Jim thinks that they rejected it because it is all about himself, though they professed great admiration for the style of the paper. They always admire his style. Magee has an antipathy for Jim’s char­ acter, I think. Magee is a dwarfish, brown-clad fellow, with red-brown eyes like a ferret, who walks with his hands in his jacket pockets and as stiffly as if his knees were roped up with sugauns. He is sub-librarian in Kildare Street, and I think his mission in Ireland is to prove to his Protestant grand­aunts that unbelievers can be very moral and admire the Bible. He is interested in great thoughts and philosophy, whenever he can understand it. Jim is beginning his novel, as he usually begins things, half in anger, to show that in writing about himself he has a subject of more interest than their aimless discussion. I suggested the title of the paper “A Portrait of the Artist”, and this evening, sitting in the kitchen, Jim told me his idea for the novel. It is to be almost autobiographical, and naturally as it comes from Jim, [152] satirical. He is putting a large number of his acquaintances into it, and those Jesuits whom he has known. I don’t think they will like themselves in it. He has not decided on a title, and again I made most of the suggestions. Finally a title of mine was accepted: “Stephen Hero,” from Jim’s own name in the book “Stephen Dedalus.” The title, like the book, is satirical. Between us we rechristened the characters, calling them by names which seemed to suit their tempers or which suggested the part of the country from which they come. Afterwards I parodied many of the names: Jim, ‘Stuck-up Stephen’; Pappie, ‘Sighing Simon’; myself, ‘Morose Maurice’; the sister, ‘Imbecile Isobel’; Aunt Josephine (Aunt Bridget), ‘Blundering Biddy’; Uncle Willie, ‘Jealous Jim.’

  Pappie came in very drunk, and - an unusual thing for him - went straight up to bed. Today we have had a grand dinner and tea. It rained heavily after dark. We spent the evening playing cards - in honour of the occasion - Jim and Charlie smoking. Jim wanted to ask Pappie to come down but it was thought better to let him sleep.

Abruptly within a month, for Joyce always moved very quickly when the matter was crucial, he recognized his theme, the portrait of the renegade Catholic artist as hero. He could draw upon two types of books he had read: the defecter from religion and the insurgent artist. He joined the two together. His own conflict with the Church, his plunge into callow sexuality, his proud recalcitrance in the name of individuality and then of art, his admiration for Parnell, for Byron, for Ibsen and Flaubert, his Parisian exile, all began to merge as parts of this central conception in which the young man gives up everything for art. But Stephen’s esthetic notions are not renunciant; he becomes an artist because art opens to him ‘the fair courts of life’ which priest and king were trying to keep locked.

Joyce finished the first chapter of his book by February 10, 1904, and by midsummer he had written already a large volume. The earliest chapters, now lost, were lyrical, according to C. P. Curran, the tone becoming more bitter and realistic as Joyce proceeded. But there was a limitation upon even his candor; as Stanislaus said shrewdly in his diary, ‘Jim is thought to be very frank about himself but his style is such that it might be contended that he confesses in a foreign language - an easier confession than in the vulgar tongue.’ [Stanislaus’s Diary] To suggest the Christian and pagan elements in his mind, even to the point of absurdity, Joyce called himself Stephen Daedalus (then, to make it a little less improbable, Stephen Dedalus) after Christianity’s first martyr and paganism’s greatest inventor. Stephen would be a saint of literature, [153] and like Dedalus would invent wings to soar beyond his compatriots, and a labyrinth, a mysterious art based on great cunning. The choice of the hero’s name determined the bird imagery of the book, though Joyce did not fully develop that in the chapters we have of Stephen Hero; it became more thematic in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where he was willing to parade his symbols with greater audacity. He had not yet decided that the book would end with his departure for the continent in 1902, and before long had carried it beyond that date. But the convergence of its plot upon alienation probably encouraged him, as he adjusted his life to art’s exigencies, to consider leaving Dublin again and for good.

In later life Joyce, in trying to explain to his friend Louis Gillet the special difficulties of the autobiographical novelist, said, ‘When your work and life make one, when they are interwoven in the same fabric …’ I and then hesitated as if overcome by the hardship of his ‘sedentary trade.’ The fact that he was turning his life to fiction at the same time that he was living it encouraged him to feel a certain detachment from what happened to him, for he knew he could reconsider and re-order it for the purposes of his book. At the same time, since he felt dependent for material upon actual events, he had an interest in bringing simmering pots to a strong boil, in making the events through which he lived take on as extreme a form as possible. The sense that they were characters in his drama annoyed some of his friends, especially Gogarty, who did not much care for the role of culprit in a court where Joyce was both judge and prosecuting attorney. Joyce did not keep his book to himself; he showed the manuscript to chosen friends, and, without perhaps saying so directly, threatened some of them with the punishments he would mete out for slights suffered at their hands. They became, as Gogarty said, ‘accessories before the fact.’ His art became a weapon which had an immediate effect upon his circle of acquaintances, and so altered the life it depicted. At first he allowed Stephen to have one loyal adherent, his brother Maurice, modeled on Stanislaus, but later he virtually obliterated him too, feeling that his hero must be entirely alone. He waited in trepidation for Cosgrave, Gogarty, and others to betray him as he imagined Byrne had done, and so to earn their places in the circles of his hell. He himself was a blend of celebrated victims (Christ and Parnell), light-bringing malefactors (Lucifer and Giordano Bruno), and exiles (Dante and Daedalus), while they were Intensities and Bullockships. [Ftn. ref. to Gilbert’s note in Letters [Vol. 1, p.54.]

The writing of Stephen Hero enabled Joyce, like the little boy in ‘Araby,’ to carry his chalice among a crowd of foes.



[ Notes given here are those that appear at the page bottom of Ellmann's text rather than the reference notes supplied at the end of the work. ]

1. Diary of Stanislaus Joyce.
2. The image of himself as a deer remained Joyce’s favorite self-portrayal. It appears more pretentiously in “The Holy Office” a few months later, and in the Proteus episode of Ulysses, Stephen says, ‘I just simply stood pale, silent, bayed about’ (46 [42]) see also p.452 [Bodley edn. p.56.]

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