Friday, December 06, 2019

James Joyce on Irish diversity, migration and Europe

According to Trieste's Museo Joyciano, "When Joyce and Nora (Barnacle) arrived in Trieste on October 20, 1904, he left Nora in the gardens outside the train station to find an accommodation for the night. Once in Piazza Grande (today Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia) he was caught up in a brawl with drunken English sailors in a bar and was arrested by the police. He was released a few hours later thanks to the English consul and he finally rejoined Nora in the square outside the station."

In April 1907 James Joyce, the Irish writer, gave a lecture on Ireland in Trieste, the North Adriatic port city. The lecture was titled 'Irlanda, Isola dei Santi e dei Savi' and in English, 'Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages.'

The self-exiled writer said:

"What race, or what language (if we except the few whom a playful will seems to have preserved in ice, like the people of Iceland) can boast of being pure today? And no race has less right to utter such a boast than the race now living in Ireland.... Recently, when an Irish member of parliament was making a speech to the voters on the night before an election, he boasted that he was one of the ancient race and rebuked his opponent for being the descendant of a Cromwellian settler. His rebuke provoked a general laugh in the press, for, to tell the truth, to exclude from the present nation all who are descended from foreign families would be impossible, and to deny the name of patriot to all those who are not of Irish stock would be to deny it to almost all the heroes of the modern movement — Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy, leaders of the uprising of 1798, Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, leaders of the Young Ireland movement, Isaac Butt, Joseph Biggar, the inventor of parliamentary obstructionism, many of the anticlerical Fenians, and, finally, Charles Stewart Parnell, who was perhaps the most formidable man that ever led the Irish, but in whose veins there was not even a drop of Celtic blood."

Trieste was a multicultural city and it had been part of Austria since 1382 (which became the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867). Following two centuries of wars with the powerful southern neighbour, the Republic of Venice, the Trieste city leaders had petitioned Leopold III von Habsburg, Duke of Austria, to become part of his kingdom.

Trieste was multilingual and Joyce became fluent in the triestine dialect.

Through his teaching at the Berlitz language school in Trieste, Joyce met Leopold Popper, a Jewish businessman, who had been born in Bohemia and had a business named, Adolf Blum & Popper. It's believed that he inspired the name of the protagonist in 'Ulysses,' Leopold Bloom who had a Hungarian Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother. Joyce also became a friend of Aron Ettore Schmitz (1861-1928), a Trieste native, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo. He was a businessman who had self-published two novels and was a Roman Catholic, but also of Jewish origin.

In 1923 a year after 'Ulysses' was published in Paris, Joyce helped to get Svevo's later acclaimed novel 'Zeno's Conscience' (Italian: La coscienza di Zeno) published.

Stanislaus Joyce (1884-1955), one of James's younger brothers, who also was a teacher at the Berlitz school, in the early 1950’s assisted Richard Ellmann (1918-1987), whose 1959 biography of James Joyce became the definitive work on the Irish novelist. Ellman who was American had obtained a Bachelor of Letters degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1947.

The statue of James Joyce is the work of the Trieste-born sculptor Nino Spagnoli and it was positioned on the Ponte Rosso (red bridge) in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joyce’s arrival in Trieste. Beyond is Canal Grande di Trieste. Joyce and family left for neutral Zurich in 1915 and returned in late 1919 to Trieste — now under the control of the Italian government after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Joyces left for Paris in 1920 as the postwar situation in the city was chaotic. Image:

Stanislaus Joyce began writing his own memoir of his brother in the 1950s, which would be published posthumously as 'My Brother’s Keeper' in 1958. He recounted how Italo Svevo once asked him, "Tell me some secrets about Irishmen. You know your brother has been asking me so many questions about Jews that I want to get even with him."

Leopold Bloom ordering a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich with Italian olives and a glass of Burgundy wine, at lunchtime June 16, 1904, at Davy Byrnes' pub on Duke Street in central Dublin, may seem a bit far fetched. However, more importantly, Cormac Ó Gráda, emeritus professor of economics at University College Dublin and a noted Irish economic historian, asked in 2004 if Bloom was "a Dublinized Middle European Jew?"

Ó Gráda quotes the Irish writer Pádraig Colum (1881-1972), a friend of James Joyce, "It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin."

Ó Gráda wrote:

"The reason for the small size of the Jewish community was not (as the bigoted Garrett Deasy proclaimed in Ulysses that Ireland had 'never let them in'; it was Irish economic backwardness. Ireland had long been a place of emigration, not immigration. Within a few years, however, the earliest representatives of an in flow that would define Irish Jewry for a century settled in Dublin. Thanks to these immigrants from a cluster of small towns and villages in northwestern Lithuania, Dublinʼs Jewish population exceeded two thousand by 1900, and it was nearly three thousand by 1914...Leopold Bloom, the son of a Hungarian-Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother, married a Catholic. What stretches credibility, even more, is that Bloom could have blended into the immigrant Litvak (Lithuanian) community [in Dublin]. Joyce paints a vivid and credible picture of the petty racist jibes inflicted on Bloom by the 'Citizen' and others. But had Bloom stepped from the written page into the real-life Little Jerusalem of Joyceʼs day, his mixed parentage and his marrying out would almost certainly have ensured him a rather cold welcome from that quarter also."

In 1904 a demagogic Catholic priest in the city of Limerick had organised a boycott of Jewish businesses in the city of Limerick; Arthur Griffith (1871-1922), editor of the 'United Irishman' newspaper, founder of the Sinn Féin political party in 1905 and founding father of the Irish Free State in 1921/1922, wrote in April 1904, "The Jew in Ireland is in every respect an economic evil."

Oliver St. John Gogarty (1878-1957), surgeon and writer who was Joyce's friend until they shared lodgings at the Martello Tower, Sandycove, Co. Dublin in September 1904 ["Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead..." is the opening line in 'Ulysses' and Mulligan is Gogarty — the events in the novel are moved back three months to Thursday June 16, 1904 when Joyce and Nora Barnacle had a romantic date. This was six days after Joyce first exchanged greetings with Nora on Nassau Street, near where she worked as a hotel chamber maid], was anti-Semitic and Griffith published Gogarty's articles. In 1937 Gogarty lost a libel case that had been taken by the Jewish owner of an antique shop on Nassau Street. Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), the Irish writer returned to Dublin from Paris to testify on behalf of his deceased uncle and he had the honour of being called “that bawd and blasphemer from Paris” by Gogarty's ignorant barrister.

The 'Irish Press,' the propaganda newspaper for the ruling Fianna Fáil party, called Beckett who was a Protestant, “that wretched creature.”

There was as much respect for writers in the New Ireland as there was for Jews. Despite news on a Holocaust in Germany, the Irish Government said in 1945, "It is the policy of the Department of Justice to restrict the immigration of Jews."

However, Ireland gave refuge to several Nazi war criminals.

James Joyce reading an excerpt from the Aeolus episode of 'Ulysses'. Recorded in 1924.
On the 50th anniversary of Leopold Bloom's odyssey in Dublin, the first Bloomsday took place on June 16, 1954 in Dublin. It was organised by a group of Irish literary and cultural figures including Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O'Brien (pseudonym of Brian Ó Nuallain), John Ryan and Anthony Cronin. They all seem to have been plastered, in particular Flann O'Brien (1911-1966), civil servant and novelist, who had been the Myles na gCopaleen columnist for the Irish Times newspaper for 26 years.

In 1935, Jacques Mercanton (1910-1996), a distinguished Swiss writer and critic, asked James Joyce (1882-1941) at a meeting in Paris why his main character in the novel 'Ulysses' was Jewish. Joyce responded, "Bloom Jewish? Yes because only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners at that time in Dublin. There was no hostility toward them, but contempt, yes the contempt people always show for the unknown."

In September 1940, when Joyce and his family sought refuge in Zurich for a second time during a war in Europe, as they had British passports, the Swiss authorities rejected the application as they assumed that the Joyces were Jewish.

In December 1940 Jacques Mercanton made a deposition in Zurich declaring that James Joyce was not a Jew.

Joyce met Jacques Mercanton in Lausanne and a positive review of 'Finnegans Wake' which had been published in 'L’Osservatore Romano,' the Vatican newspaper, surprised the Irish writer.

On January 13, 1941, Joyce died in Zurich.


In his 1907 lecture in Trieste, Joyce spoke of the "economic effects of the appearance of a rival island near England, a bilingual, republican, self-centred. and enterprising island with its own commercial fleet, and its own consuls in every port of the world. And the moral effects of the appearance in old Europe of the Irish artist and thinker... But in anticipation of such a revival, I confess that I do not see what good it does to fulminate against the English tyranny while the Roman tyranny occupies the palace of the soul."

The tolerant and inclusive republic that Joyce aspired to came late in most of the island of Ireland but better late than never. Membership of the European Economic Community/ European Union from 1973 was an important catalyst.

In Joyce's first novel, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,' Stephen Dedalus (Joyce) thinks of the character MacCann who was modelled on Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (1878-1916), a contemporary of Joyce's at University College Dublin. Skeffington was a pacifist, feminist and idealist, and was murdered by a British army officer on Easter Week 1916.

"I’m a democrat and I’ll work and act for social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future," Dedalus imagines MacCann saying.

The book, 'The United States of Europe on the Eve of the Parliament of Peace,' by William Thomas Stead (1849-1912: he died on the Titanic) had been published in 1899.

On the morning of June 16, 1904, Leopold Bloom who was an advertising agent, meets a Mr Nannetti, the print foreman of the 'Freeman's Journal' newspaper. The Irish-Italian had an Irish mother like Bloom.

Bloom thinks, "Strange he never saw his real country."

In the real world, J.P. (John Patrick) Nannetti was the Member of Parliament for the College Green area in central Dublin and on June 16, 1904 he had tabled a question in the House of Commons on why Gaelic games were banned from the Nine Acres in Phoenix Park when polo and cricket were allowed. Hansard, the House of Commons record has the question and answer here.

Nannetti represented a trade union group and it's not strange that he would continue working at the newspaper as MPs were neither paid salary or expenses until 1911.

Joyce told his audience in Trieste in 1907 that an Italian was then Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Nannetti is so assimilated that Joyce has him recite some of the last words of patriot Robert Emmet's (1778-1803) speech from the dock in 1803.

In 'Ulysses,' in Barney Kiernan's pub on Little Britain Street, John Wyse Nolan asks Bloom, "What is [a nation]?"

"A nation?" says Bloom. "A nation is the same people living in the same place" and when asked to give his nation, Bloom confidently replies, "Ireland. I was born here."

Dublin in the early years of the 20th century was a place of extremes. The 1911 census showed that 21.8% of dwellings were large homes and 36% were one-room tenements. The Joyces were middle class and James was the eldest of 12 children, 2 of whom later died of typhoid. James' father John Stanislaus Joyce (1849-1931) was an alcoholic and on a small pension from 1892. According to Ellman, by 1902, “the house was in disrepair, the bannister broken, the furniture mostly pawned or sold.” The last straw for James was when the father sold the family piano, and he moved out. James' mother Mary Jane Murray Joyce (1859-1903) died a year later.

Having left parochial Dublin in 1904, Joyce returned 3 times and never after 1912.

The Brexit debacle in Britain partly reflects a notion of identity-based on past history while ignoring the many benefits of limited shared sovereignty within the European Union.

Joyce rejected the narrow nationalism in Ireland in his time which also had a backwards-looking focus.

Brexit has boosted support in Ireland for Europe as in the recent past there has been a mainly transactional aspect to it with the economic and social impact of the main so-called Anglo-Saxon countries still strong.


James Joyce— my 2018 post on the Irish writer

Project Gutenberg's reproduction of 'Ulysses'

Project Gutenberg's reproduction of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'