Sylvia Beach meets James Joyce in her Parisian English language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in 1922 — this was the year she published 'Ulysses.' It began to be serialised in the US from 1918, resulting in a ban that was lifted in 1933.
Last year a friend invited me to a performance of a revival of Tom Stoppard’s (b. 1937) brilliant 1974 play, 'Travesties,' at the Appolo Theatre in London. The drama is set in Zurich in 1917, and it brings together James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, the poet and founder of Dada — the nihilistic, anti-art movement — and, Vladimir Lenin.
The play is narrated by an elderly Henry Carr, who had been a clerk at the British Consulate in Zurich during the First World War. His memory is a bit flaky and he believes that he had been the consul in 1917, and the real consul had been his butler. In real life, Carr had a legal dispute with James Joyce about the cost of a pair of trousers worn by Carr in Joyce's amateur production in the city of Oscar Wilde’s 'The Importance of Being Earnest.'
A week later I was in Zurich, having a pint of Guinness at the James Joyce Pub in the financial district — the pub’s interior came from the Jury's Hotel Antique Bar, dating from the early 1870s when the hotel had been rebuilt on Dublin's Dame Street. The fixtures and fittings had been auctioned after the demolition of the hotel in 1973, to make way for the Central Bank headquarters (1975-2017). Union Bank of Switzerland won the bid.
Excerpt from 'Ulysses':
“His eyes passed lightly over Mr Power’s goodlooking face. Greyish over the ears. Madame : smiling. I smiled back. A smile does a long way. Only politeness perhaps. Nice fellow. Who knows is that true about the woman he keeps? Not pleasant for the wife. Yet they say, who was it told me, there is no carnal. You would imagine that would get played out pretty quick. Yes, it was Crofton met him one evening bringing her a pound of rumpsteak.
What is this she was? Barmaid in Jury’s. Or the Moira, was it?
They passed under the huge cloaked Liberator’s form.”
James Joyce was the first Irish writer in English from the Gaelic tradition who won wide international renown for his work. Brian Merriman (1749-1805) the author of 'Cúirt an Mheán Oíche' (The Midnight Court), which according to the late scholar of Irish literature, Prof Seán Ó Tuama, was "undoubtedly one of the greatest comic works of literature and certainly the greatest comic poem ever written in Ireland." There was also the prolific writer George Moore (1852-1933) who was a native of Mayo and had lived in Ireland, France, and England.
Three of Joyce’s contemporaries from the Anglo-Irish tradition won Nobel Prizes: William Butler Yeats (1923); George Bernard Shaw (1925) and Samuel Beckett (1969). Joyce’s experimental writing was possibly too much for the conservative Swedish Academy.
How Joyce reinvented the novel in the 20th century with a focus on the everyday life of the common people
Why should you read James Joyce's 'Ulysses'? — Sam Slote, Trinity College, Dublin
Joyce’s mother May died in 1903 at the age of 44 and he first met Nora Barnacle on June 16, 1904 — the date he later chose for the events in 'Ulysses.' The couple left Ireland later in 1904 and James would never return after 1912. James and Nora were married in a civil ceremony in London in 1931 and six months later his alcoholic father died in Dublin. While he didn’t go to the funeral, he acknowledged that his father had been the source of much of his knowledge about Dublin.
The character Stephen Dedalus in 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' says:
“When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
Joyce wanted to escape the Victorian social conservatism, colonial and local politics, and the moralising of the powerful Catholic Church.
James Joyce and Nora Barnacle arrived in Trieste (united with Italy in 1918) on October 20, 1904; James got a language teaching job at the Austrian naval base of Pula (in modern Croatia, located south of Trieste on the east Adriatic coast); the Irish couple returned to Trieste in mid-1905 — in July 1905 Joyce’s son Giorgio was born; in October Joyce was joined by his brother Stanislaus, who also began teaching at the Berlitz language school. In June 1906 Joyce moved to Rome, where he worked as a clerk in the Nast-Kolb & Schumacher Bank until March of 1907 when he again returned to Trieste. In May 'Chamber Music' was published and he fell seriously ill with what was assumed to be ‘rheumatic fever,’ while in July 1907 Joyce's daughter Lucia was born.
Language teaching helped to provide some income in the early years but it was a spartan existence. James had studied Italian in school and at university in Ireland. Trieste was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and from 1914 it was at war with Germany, against Britain. The Joyce/Barnacle family had to leave as they were British subjects. They arrived in Switzerland in 1915 and while the family's home language was Italian, Giorgio (1905) and Lucia (1907) were enrolled in German-speaking schools in Zurich, then back to Trieste in 1919, and in June 1920 to Paris, where there would be stability, but another language to learn.
Joyce had persistent problems with his left eye in particular and in the 1930s he was almost blind.
On a day in May 1922, in Paris, a well-known ophthalmologist sent his medical student to attend to Joyce who with his family was living in 2-room apartment, in a residential hotel. The apartment looked as if a bomb had hit it, and James had to work amidst this chaos.
James Joyce had an impressive tenor voice and Giorgio decided to become a professional opera singer but alcoholism got the better of him as it had with his paternal grandfather (James could be categorised in Irish terms as a "heavy drinker"). Lucia was put in an asylum at the age of 28 and was never again allowed to be free in society, for the remaining 47 years of her life.
Joyce believed that his daughter was a genius like himself and wasn't "mad." Both Joyce and his wife disapproved of her interest in dance while Nora Joyce had very poor relations with her daughter in the 1930s and cut off all contact. In 1951, the year of Nora's death, Harriet Weaver, Joyce's literary executor, had Lucia moved from France to an asylum in England."
Lucia died in 1982 and a New York Times review noted in 2003: "Occasionally, she would be visited by family friends, or by Joyce's biographer, and she would write down or say things about herself, sad messages like: 'My father was crying once with the pain he had in his eyes but I was awkward and could not console him''; or 'My love was Samuel Beckett. I wasn't able to marry him.'''
Giorgio's only child, Stephen James Joyce, who was born in 1932, and had worked at the Paris-based OECD, a think-tank for mainly rich country governments, took over as the Joyce literary executor in the mid-1980s and until the 70-year copyright expired in 2011, battled with Joycean scholars on use of materials. Stephen has said that he had burnt some of Lucia's letters and he told The New Yorker magazine that the Joyces’ private life was “no one’s fucking business.” When the copyright expired, @ubuweb on Twitter rejoyced!
On January 13, 1941, just a month after leaving France, James Joyce (1882-1941) died in Zurich due to a perforated duodenal ulcer. It was 3 weeks before his 59th birthday.
Constantine Curran, who had been a lifelong friend of Joyce’s since university, wrote in an obituary in The Irish Times issue of January 14, 1941:
“I once asked Joyce when he was coming back to Dublin. ‘Why should I?’ he said. ‘Have I ever left it?’”…He shattered the categories of time and space and sought by the incantation of sound and otherwise, enormously to extend the sensitiveness of our apprehension….Joyce lived much of his life in desperate and tragic suffering. We have had in Ireland many generous artists who have not hesitated to mix in public affairs. To preserve his independence for the sake of his art, with him was a passion…He followed his inflexible purpose in poverty, in exile, in good and ill, and even in the manner of his literary expression with a heroism not easy to understand, and certainly not common. The integrity and independence of the artist may be vilified by a catchword. It was the essence of Joyce.”
Éamon de Valera, taoiseach/prime minister, asked the head of the Department of External Affairs to get information on Joyce from the embassy in Bern, the Swiss capital. “Please wire details about Joyce’s death. If possible find out if he died a Catholic?” was in the message sent from Dublin.
In 'Ulysses,' Mr. Deasy asks Stephen Dedalus if he knows why Ireland has “the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews”? He then answers his own question: “Because she never let them in.” Likewise, Ireland never banned Joyce's books because most of them were intercepted by the customs.
There was no Irish diplomatic representation at the funeral on January 15, 1941. However, as the Joyces had British passports from pre-independence times, the British ambassador was there and spoke at the ceremony.
Harriet Weaver, the long-term editor of Joyce's output, wealthy English benefactor of Joyce and editor of the 'Egoist' literary magazine, wired money to Nora Joyce to pay for the funeral, even though James Joyce had got an advance on sale of the American rights of 'Ulysses' less than a decade before, that would be worth $852,650 in July 2018 dollars.
The Joyce Martello Tower — the British began building these defensive towers on the Irish coast from 1804, to prepare for a possible invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France. The city state of the Republic of Genoa began building these towers on its island of Corsica in the 16th century to protect against pirates. In 1794 at Cape Mortella in Corsica (mortella is the common myrtle plant, native to the Mediterranean region), the British were impressed that it took 2 warships two days of continuous cannon fire to capture one. The original name 'Mortella' changed to 'Martello' over time. On the Dublin coastline, 28 towers were built — 16 on the southside and 12 on the northside.
Chapter 1 of 'Ulysses' begins with the line "STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."
Buck Mulligan (a medical student), Stephen Dedalus (teacher) and Haines (an English Oxford graduate) are in the Martello Tower, in Sandycove, on the South Dublin coast.
Their real-life counterparts – Oliver St John Gogarty, James Joyce and Samuel Chenevix Trench, had stayed in the Tower for a week in September 1904. Joyce left early on the morning of September 15 following an overnight incident. He decided to end his friendship with Gogarty and leave for freedom in Europe.
Frank Budgen (1882-1971), the English painter and writer, who had become a friend of Joyce in Zurich in the First World War Years, wrote in his book 'James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses’
“Stephen [Dedalus] is entirely without means. He stands in boots and clothes that were given to him by Mulligan. He has a job as a teacher at Mr. Deasy’s school but his salary is barely sufficient for drinks. He owes bits of money all round the town. Let an individualist artist deny religion as vehemently as he will, economics is something he cannot deny. [. . .] Some misguided people have at times affirmed that the stimulus of poverty is useful to the artist and it may be darkly hinted that one day one of these misguided individuals will come to any untimely end. Poverty was never any good to anybody.”
The 85-year old Sylvia Beach, who coined the term 'Bloomsday' for the anniversary of June 16, 1904, officially opened the Tower as a museum in honour of James Joyce, on June 16, 1962.
Sylvia Beach's Irish interview on James Joyce, German occupation of Paris and Shakespeare & Company (1962)
When Random House bought the US rights for 'Ulysses' Joyce got an advance of $45,000 ($852,650 in July 2018 dollars) in early 1934. Joyce didn't share the information with Sylvia Beach or give her a penny, even though she had gone out on a limb both financially and legally in first publishing ‘Ulysses’ for him in 1922.
Constantine Curran's gallant words in The Irish Times obituary on his friend's passion for the "independence and integrity of the artist" must be tempered by the history of Joyce cadging money from friends and benefactors. When Joyce had money to spare, he mainly spent it. He did have the costs for his daughter's medical treatment to cover in the 1930s.
By 1923 when William Butler Yeats received £7,500 with his Nobel Prize, Harriet Weaver had given Joyce £21,000 from an aunt's inheritance. It would be £1,207,219 in 2017 pounds according to the Bank of England.
When Joyce went begging for money in 1927 to finance a trip to London, Sylvia Beach's frustrations boiled over in a letter:
"I'm afraid I and my little shop will not be able to stand the struggle to keep you and your family going from now until June, and to finance the trip of Mrs Joyce and yourself to London 'with money jingling in your pocket'...I have already many expenses for you that you do not dream of, and everything I have I give you freely...When you are absent, every word I receive from you is an order. The reward for my unceasing labour on your behalf is to see you tie yourself into a bowknot and hear you complain (I am poor and tired too)".
Beach never sent the letter.
In response to a prospectus on 'Ulysses' sent by Sylvia Beach to George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) in 1922, his response is in the British Library.
"It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon-round Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that fouled mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity. To you, possibly, it may appeal as art: you are probably (you see I don’t know you) a young barbarian – beglamoured by the-excitements and enthusiasms that art stirs up in passionate material; but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard-and taken part in those conversations..."
Shaw conceded that Joyce had ‘literary genius’, and later in 1939, the playwright defended 'Ulysses' as a masterpiece.
Shaw concludes: "that I am an elderly Irish gentleman and that you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for a book, you little know my countrymen."
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), the American-English poet, wrote that Joyce's use of classical myth as a method of ordering modern experience had "the importance of a scientific discovery."
Joyce had spent 8 years writing and editing 'Ulysses,' and 15 years on 'Finnegans Wake.'