In 1935, near the end of a long affectionate letter to his son George in America, James Joyce wrote: “Here I conclude. My eyes are tired. For over half a century they have gazed into nullity, where they have found a lovely nothing.”
It is not a characteristic utterance. Joyce was little given to making large statements about the nature of existence. As Dr. Johnson said of Dryden, he knew how to complain, but his articulate grievances were not usually of a metaphysical kind. They referred to particular circumstances of practical life, chiefly the lets and hindrances to his work; at least in his later years, such resentment as he expressed was less in response to what he suffered as a person than to the impediments that were put in his way as an artist.
And actually we cannot be certain that Joyce did indeed mean to complain when he wrote to George of his long gaze into “nulla”—his letters to his children were always in Italian—or that he was yielding to a metaphysical self-pity when he said he had found in it “un bellissimo niente.” The adjective may well have been intended not ironically but literally and Joyce can be understood to say that human existence is nullity right enough, yet if it is looked into with a vision such as his, the nothing that can be perceived really is lovely, though the maintenance of the vision is fatiguing work.
To read the passage in this way is in accord with our readiness nowadays to see Joyce as preeminently a “positive” writer, to be aware of the resistance he offered to nullity through his great acts of creation. From the famous climactic epiphany of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which life “calls” in all imaginable erotic beauty and is answered in ecstasy, he went on to celebrate human existence even in the pain, defeat, and humiliation that make up so large a part of its substance. He consciously intended Molly Bloom’s ultimate “Yes” as a doctrinal statement, a judgment in life’s favor made after all the adverse evidence was in. He contrived a rich poetry out of the humble and sordid, the sad repeated round of the commonplace, laying a significant emphasis on the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love—it is much to the point that Joyce as a young man could speak of Wordsworth in superlative praise, with particular reference to The Excursion, for much of the power of his own work derives from the Wordsworthian purpose of discovering a transcendence by which life, in confrontation with nullity, is affirmed.
But this does not tell the whole story of the relation in which Joyce stood to nullity. He was not only resistant to it but also partisan with it. He loved it and sought to make it prevail. The transcendent affirmation of hypostasized life went along with a profound indifference, even a hostility, to a great many of the particularities in which the energies of life embody themselves. He could speak in thrilling archaic phrase of “the fair courts of life” yet the elaborations of developed society were for the most part of no account to him, and to much of the redundancy of culture as it proliferates in objects and practices that are meant to be pleasing he was chiefly apathetic. His alienation from so many of the modes and conditions of human existence is sometimes chilling.
Among life’s processes, that of entropy makes an especial appeal to Joyce. The “paralysis” which is represented in Dubliners as the pathology of a nation at a particular moment of its history was also known to him as a general condition of life itself, and if he found it frightening, he also found it tempting. Dubliners does indeed have the import of social criticism that its auther often said it was meant to have. This “chapter in the moral history” of his nation levels an accusation to which the conscience of his race, when at last it will have been forged in the smithy of his soul, must be sensitive. But if the devolution of energy to the point of “paralysis” is, in a moral and social view, a condition to be deplored and reversed, it is also for Joyce a sacred and powerful state of existence. The attraction it had for him is nearly overt in the first story of Dubliners, “The Sisters,” and in the last, “The Dead.” “The special odor of corruption which, I hope, floats over my stories” is the true scent by which life is to be tracked to its last authenticity. It is not without reason that Samuel Beckett is often said to have represented Joyce in the Hamm of Endgame, the terrible blind storyteller who presides over the quietus of Nature, himself on the verge of extinction but grimly cherishing and ordering what little life remains, setting against the ever-encroaching void, which he himself has helped bring about, an indomitable egoism that is itself an emptiness.
The power of Joyce’s work derives, we must see, not only from the impulse to resist nullity but also, and equally, from the impulse to make nullity prevail. Something of the destructive force was remarked by T. S. Eliot when, taking tea with Virginia Woolf and trying to convince his hostess that Ulysses was not to be dismissed as the work of one or another kind of “underbred” person, he characterized the author’s achievement and the magnitude of his power by saying that he had “killed the 19th century.” Eliot meant that Joyce by his radical innovations of style had made obsolete the styles of the earlier time, and also that, as a result of or in concomitance with the obsolescence that Joyce had effected, the concerns and sentiments to which the old styles were appropriate had lost their interest and authority. In 1922 the 19th century was not in high repute and one might suppose that the report of its having been killed would make an occasion for hope: with the old concerns and sentiments out of the way, those of the new day might be expected to flourish. But Eliot expressed no such expectation. Although he took it to be part of the great achievement of Ulysses that it had shown up “the futility of all the English styles,” he went on to say that Joyce had destroyed his own future, for now there was nothing left for him to write about. Nor for anyone else: Eliot later said that with Ulysses Joyce had brought to an end the genre of the novel.
If there is truth in Eliot’s observation, a phrase of Walter Pater’s helps us understand what concerns and sentiments of the 19th century Joyce may be said to have killed. In a famous paragraph of the Conclusion to The Renaissance, Pater spoke of “success in life.” It doesn’t matter that he was saying that success in life was the ability to burn with a hard gemlike flame, to make all experience into an object of aesthetic contemplation. The point is that, at the high moment of his exposition of a doctrine directed against crass practicality, Pater could use a phrase that to us now can seem only vulgar, a form of words which scarcely even stockbrokers, headmasters, and philistine parents would venture to use. In the 19th century a mind as exquisite and detached as Pater’s could take it for granted that upon the life of an individual person a judgment of success or failure might be passed. And the 19th-century novel was in nothing so much a product of its time as in its assiduity in passing this judgment.
It was of course moral or spiritual success that the novel was concerned with, and this “true” success often—though not always—implied failure as the world knows it. But a characteristic assumption of the novel was that the true success brought as much gratification as conventional opinion attributed to worldly success, that it was just as real and nearly as tangible. The conception of moral or spiritual achievement was, we may say, sustained and controlled by the society from whose conventions the triumph was wrested. The houses, servants, carriages, plate, china, linen, cash, credit, position, honor, power that were the goods of the conventional world served to validate the goods of the moral or spiritual life. At the heart of the novel is the idea that the world, the worldly world, Henry James’s “great round world itself,” might have to be given up in the interests of integrity or even simple decency. What made this idea momentous was the assumption that the surrender is of something entirely real, and in some way, in the forcible way of common sense, much to be desired. Upon the valuation of what is given up depends much of the valuation of what is gotten in exchange. Poor Julien Sorel! Poor Pip! Poor Phineas Finn! It was a dull-spirited reader indeed who did not feel what a pity it was that the young man could not make a go of Things As They Are and at the same time possess his soul in honor and peace. But since the soul was one of the possible possessions, it was of course to be preferred to all others, the more because the price paid for it was thought real and high. In the degree that the novel gave credence to the world while withholding its assent, it established the reality of the moral or spiritual success that is defined by the rejection of the world’s values.
Credence given, assent withheld: for a time this position of the novel vis-à-vis the world was of extraordinary interest. At a certain point in the novel’s relatively short history, in the first quarter of this century, there burst upon our consciousness a realization of how great had been its accomplishment, how important its function. It was on all sides seen to be what Henry James in effect said it was, what D. H. Lawrence explicitly called it, “the book of life.”
Yet no sooner had the novel come to this glory than it was said, not by Eliot alone, to have died. In all likelihood the report is true. The question of the viability of the novel today is probably to be answered in the spirit of the man who, when asked if he believed in baptism, replied that of course he did, he had seen it performed many times. Novels are still ceaselessly written, published, reviewed, and on occasion hailed, but the old sense of their spiritual efficacy is ever harder to come by. One thing is certain: to whatever purposes the novel now addresses itself, it has outgrown the activity which, in the 19th century and in the early days of the 20th, was characteristic of the genre, virtually definitive of it, the setting of the values of the moral and spiritual life over against the values of the world. This is a confrontation that no longer engages our interest. Which is by no means to say that getting and spending are not of great moment, or that moral and spiritual sensibility have declined. As to the latter, indeed, it flourishes in a way that is perhaps unprecedented—it may well be that never before have so many people undertaken to live enlightened lives, to see through the illusions that society imposes, doing this quite easily, without strain or struggle, having been led to the perception of righteousness by what literature has told them of the social life. Whatever we may do as persons in the world, however we behave as getters and spenders, in our other capacity, as readers, as persons of moral sensibility, we know that the values of the world do not deserve our interest. We know it: we do not discover it, as readers once did, with the pleasing excitement that the novel generated as it led toward understanding. It is a thing taken for granted. That the world is a cheat, its social arrangements a sham, its rewards a sell, was patent to us from our moral infancy, whose first spoken words were, “Take away that bauble.”
So entirely, and, as it were, so naturally do we withhold our assent from the world that we give it scarcely any credence. As getters and spenders we take it to be actual and there; as readers our imagination repels it, or at most accepts it as an absurdity. What in the first instance is a moral judgment on the world intensifies and establishes itself as a habit of thought to the point where it transcends its moral origin and becomes a metaphysical judgment.
More and more the contemporary reader requires of literature that it have a metaphysical rather than a moral aspect. Having come to take nullity for granted, he wants to be enlightened and entertained by statements about the nature of nothing, what its size is, how it is furnished, what services the management provides, what sort of conversation and amusements can go on in it. The novel in some of its experimental and theoretical developments can gratify the new taste, but this is more easily accomplished by the theater, which on frequent occasions in its long tradition has shown its natural affinity for ultimate and metaphysical considerations. By means of the irony which it generates merely through turning a conscious eye on its traditional devices of illusion, the theater easily escapes from its servitude to morality into free and radical play with the nature of existence as morality assumes it to be. That life is a dream, that all the world’s a stage, that right you are if you think you are—such propositions can be forcibly demonstrated by the theater, which, defined by its function of inducing us to accept appearance as reality, delights in discovering in itself the power of showing that reality is but appearance, in effect nothing.
At least at one point in his life Joyce rated drama above all literary forms and made what he called the “dramatic emotion” the type of the “aesthetic emotion” in general. With the metaphysical potentialities of drama he was not concerned in an immediate way, but his famous account of the “dramatic emotion” has an obvious bearing upon the theater’s ability to control, even to extirpate, the credence given to the worldly reality. Dedalus explains to Lynch that this emotion is “static,” that it is brought into being by the “arrest” of the mind. “The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire and loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The aesthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”
Nothing, of course, could be further from the aesthetic of the novel in its classic phase. The novel was exactly, in Joyce’s sense of the words, both pornographical and didactic, having the intention to generate desire and loathing, to urge the possession of the good, the abandonment of the bad. Assuming the prepotency of the will, the novel sought to educate and direct it by discriminating among the objects to which it might address itself. But Joyce characteristically represents the will in entropy, in its movement through ambiguity and paralysis to extinction. In Ulysses, for example, the objects of desire or intention of virtually all the characters are either of no great moment as the world judges, or they exist in unrealizable fantasy, or in the past.
There is one exception. The will of one person is represented as being, although momentarily in abeyance, on the point of becoming prepotent, and its object is represented as both capable of attainment and worth attaining: Stephen Dedalus means to become a great writer and we know, of course, that he does. The will of the artist is accepted in all its legendary power and authority, fully licensed. And the worldly traits of the particular artist Stephen Dedalus are entirely acknowledged—his bitter intention of fame, his pride, his vanity, his claim to unique personal superiority, touched with class feeling, his need to be ascendant in every situation. Yet the world to which these traits refer, that world to which Yeats—the admirer of Balzac!—gave so lively a recognition, in which the artist wins his prizes, has no existence in Ulysses. On the evidence that the book provides, there is nothing that can signalize the artist’s achievement of success in life. There is no person, let alone a social agency, competent and empowered to judge his work and tell him that he has triumphed with it, that he has imposed his will upon the world and is now to be feared and loved. The honor he deserves cannot be accorded him, since the traditional signs of honor are wanting—there is no fine house to inhabit, no comfort or elegance that can gratify his heroic spirit after strenuous days, no acclaim or deference appropriate to his genius. His prepotent will lifts him above the primitive life, the everlasting round of birth, copulation, and death, making him peerless: his only possible peers are a certain few of the preeminent dead, among whom God is one, on the whole the most congenial of the small company. It is chiefly in emulation of the work of this particular colleague that Joyce undertakes his own creation, intending that his book shall be read as men formerly “read” the “book of the universe.” In his eyes a thousand years are as but a day, or the other way around, and the fall of the sparrow does not go unnoticed. The round of birth, copulation, and death receives his sanction under the aspect of eternity and in the awful silence of the infinite spaces, and his inscrutable but on the whole affectionate irony is directed upon all that men contrive in their cities for their survival, with a somewhat wryer glance toward what they contrive for their delight. Who that responds to the subtle power of his work can ever again, as a reader, give serious thought to the appointments of the house, the ribbon in the buttonhole, the cash in the bank and the stocks in the portfolio, the seemliness of the ordered life, the claims of disinterested action (except as they refer to certain small dealings between one person and another, especially between father and child), the fate of the nation, the hope of the future? And however else we read Finnegans Wake, we cannot fail to understand that it is a contra-Philosophie der Geschichte, that its transcendent genial silliness is a spoof on those segments of the solemn 19th-century imagination—History, and World Historical Figures, and that wonderful Will of theirs which, Hegel tells us, keeps the world in its right course toward the developing epiphany of Geist.
But if Joyce did indeed kill the 19th century, he was the better able to do so because the concerns and sentiments he destroyed made so considerable a part of the fabric of his being. To read his letters as we now have them is to be confirmed in our sense of his denial of the world, but it is also to become aware that what is denied was once affirmed with an extraordinary intensity. It is to understand how entirely Joyce was a man of the century in which he was born, how thoroughgoing was his commitment to its concerns and sentiments, how deeply rooted he was in its ethos and its mythos, its beliefs and its fantasies, its greedy desires, its dream of entering into the fair courts of life.
In 1957 Stuart Gilbert brought out a volume called Letters of James Joyce1 which gave us most, though not all, of the letters that were available at the time. Taken as a whole, the collection proved disappointing. It included relatively few letters of the early years, always likely to be the most interesting period of a writer’s correspondence; by far the greater number date from the years of maturity, beginning at a time when, although not yet famous, Joyce was already a figure, and of these a great many are devoted to business in the unremitting and often trifling detail in which Joyce carried it on. Nothing that bears upon Joyce’s life can fail to command attention, but there is not much in Mr. Gilbert’s collection that goes beyond the well-known public aspects of the career to make the appeal of intimacy.
It is true that some reviewers remarked on a quality of warmth and gaiety that they found in the letters and on how much more “human” this showed Joyce to be than had hitherto been supposed. By his middle years Joyce had developed a talent, if not for friendship, then at least for friendliness; whatever else his friends may have been to him, they were his aides, adjutants, and ambassadors, and in the letters in which he did business with them and through them there sounds a note of geniality, often of a whimsical kind, which, as the reviewers noted, is at variance with what is often reported of his forbidding reserve. But it is possible to feel that the genial air is rather voulu, even contrived,2 and at least one reviewer put the matter of the “humanness” in a qualified way—Philip Toynbee said no more than that the letters “reveal a far less inhuman man than the myth had led us to believe.” They may be thought to reveal a man who, out of his sense of what is seemly, or perhaps for reasons of policy, wished to conceal the full extent of his “in-humanness,” of his detachment from the affections. On the evidence of the first published letters only one event of his middle age seems ever actually to have reached Joyce, his daughter’s extreme mental illness. Even here the apatheia is to some degree in force, in part through the self-deception as to the true state of affairs that Joyce practiced, although we are in no doubt about the bitterness of his grief.3 For the rest, the personal life seems to have been burned out, calcined. The difficulties of the once obsessing marriage appear to have been settled one way or another and no new erotic interests are to be discerned. The dialectic of temperament has come to an end-there are scarcely any indications of an interplay between the self and the life around it, the existence of which is recognized only as the world rejects or accepts Joyce’s art.
Immediately after the appearance of Mr. Gilbert’s collection there came to light a great trove of Joyce’s letters, preserved through many vicissitudes. They were available to Richard Ellmann in the research for his definitive life of Joyce and Professor Ellmann has edited them with the erudition and intelligence that make his biography the superlative work it is. The two collections have been conjoined to make a new Letters of James Joyce in three volumes,4 of which Mr. Gilbert’s is now Volume I, Professor Ellmann’s Volumes II and III. The arrangement is anomalous and of course awkward, since the collections cover the same span of time although in different degrees of completeness. But the practical nuisance should not be exaggerated. The Joyce scholars are inured to worse difficulties than those to which the arrangement subjects them. And the general reader will inevitably conclude that Volumes II and III make the corpus of the Letters to which Volume I serves as a supplement. His conclusion will be based not merely on the greater scope of the later volumes but on the extent of their interest, which is beyond comparison with that of their predecessor.
The letters of the mature years that are given in Professor Ellmann’s collection do not change in any decisive way the impression made by those of Volume I, although they do modify it in some respects. It turns out not to be true, for example, that there are no moments of crisis in the marriage after the removal to Paris. In 1922 Nora Joyce went off to Ireland with the children, threatening that she would not return. Joyce writes in desperate appeal to “my darling, my love, my queen,” telling her that the check for her fur is on the way, that he will live anywhere with her so long as he can be “alone with her dear self without family and without friends. Either this must occur or we must part for ever, though it will break my heart.” He goes on to report in detail his “fainting fit in Miss Beach’s shop,” and concludes: “O my dearest, if you would only turn to me even now and read that terrible book which has now broken the heart in my breast5 and take me to yourself alone to do with me what you will!”
The substance of the marital correspondence at forty is not different from that of the twenties: the same belief in the importance of gifts, especially of fur; the extravagant demand for devotion made through the avowal of infantile weakness; the plea to be dealt with ruthlessly in his total and pathic dependence. But as compared with the earlier letters of similar import that we now have, the energy of this one seems but dutiful, almost perfunctory. It appears early in Volume III and is the last expression not only of erotic feeling but of strong personal emotion of any kind.
From here on, the new letters of the later years are at one with those of the 1957 collection in suggesting that, however powerful Joyce’s creative will continued to be, his affective will had been outlived. “Only disconnect !.” had long been an avowed principle of his life, but not until now had it been put fully in force. It is true that the paternal tenderness and solicitude do not abate, that the form of courteous geniality is maintained, that an enterprise of helpfulness is not precluded, such as involved Joyce with the career of the tenor Sullivan, and we must suppose that some other magnetism in addition to that of his genius drew many people to his service. But nothing in the ordinary way of “humanness” contradicts our sense that the letters of the years of fame were written by a being who had departed this life as it is generally known and had become such a ghost as Henry James and Yeats imagined, a sentient soul that has passed from temporal existence into nullity yet still has a burden of energy to discharge, a destiny still to be worked out.
We are tempted to deal with the uncanny condition by bringing it into the comfortable circle of morality. Joyce’s disconnection from the world, we may want to say, is the ground of his indomitable courage, before which we stand in awed admiration. The man who had ventured and won so much with Ulysses now pushes on with Finnegans Wake under the encroaching shadow of blindness and to the disapproval of his patron and virtually all his supporters: how else save by a disconnection amounting to “inhumanness” can he pursue the enterprise? Or our moralizing takes the adversary tack and notes the occasions when the disconnection issues in an ugly coarseness of behavior in regard to others. Joyce, who concerned himself with every detail of the promotion of his own books and enlisted everyone he could in the enterprise, when asked to support one of the posthumous novels of Italo Svevo, whose work he admired, not only refuses the request but sneers at the very idea of literary publicity. When his daughter-in-law, Giorgio’s first wife, suffers an extreme mental collapse, he writes of the disaster in anger and describes the deranged conduct with contemptuous bitterness.
Eventually, however, we come to feel that no moral judgment can really be to the point of Joyce’s state of being in his latter years. And psychology seems as limited in its pertinence as morality. It is inevitable that psychological speculation will be attracted to the often strange and extreme emotional phenomena that the new letters record, especially to what the early ones tell us of the extravagant energy of affective will that was to devolve into the disconnection from the world, the existence in nullity. Neither Joyce’s representation of himself as Dedalus, nor Professor Ellmann’s detailed account of his youthful temperament, nor yet the two taken together quite prepare us for the intimacy and violence of Joyce’s early relation to the world, the urgency with which he sought to requisition the world’s goods. And certainly the devolution (if that is the word) from this early egotism of the world to the later egotism of nullity is a biographical event that asks for explanation. But however brilliant and even true may be the insights into the disposition of the internal forces that brought it about, they will fail to do justice to its significance, which is finally not personal but cultural. The process recorded by the letters proposes itself as a paradigm of the 19th-century will in extremis. It leads us to reflect less on what transpired in the life of James Joyce than on what could formerly happen and cannot happen again—never in our time will a young man focus this much power of love and hate into so sustained a rage of effectual intention as Joyce was capable of, so ferocious an ambition, so nearly absolute a commitment of himself to himself.
Joyce was of course not exceptional in being a continuator of the titanism of the 19th-century artistic personality. The literary culture of the first quarter of the 20th century is differentiated from that of our own time by nothing so much as the grandiosity, both in purpose and in achievement, of its preeminent figures. In this respect their sense of life is alien from ours and is not uncommonly felt to alienate them from us. In one point of temperament, in the unremitting energy of their inner-direction, they have a closer affinity with their 19th-century predecessors than with their successors. But as compared with Joyce, none of the great modern chieftains of art put himself so directly and, as one might say, so naively, in the line of the powerful personalities of the age before his own. None so cherished the purpose of imposing himself upon the world, of being a king and riding in triumph through Persepolis.
If Joyce did indeed derive the impetus to his achievement from his acceptance of the ethos and mythos of the 19th century, a first salient example is his response to an idea that we take to be characteristic of the ideology of the period, the idea of the nation. One of the best-known things about Joyce is his ambivalence toward Ireland, of which the hatred was as relentless as the love was unfailing. With this passionate relationship his lust for preeminence and fame is bound up, and the more so because his erotic life is intricately involved with it. He is twenty-seven and on his first visit to Dublin after his exile and he is writing to Nora, telling her of the part she plays in his inspiration. “My darling,” he says, “tonight I was in the Gresham Hotel and was introduced to about twenty people and to all of them the same story was told: that I was going to be the great writer of the future in my country. All the noise and flattery around me hardly moved me. I thought I heard my country calling to me or her eyes were turned toward me expectantly.” He goes on to tell Nora that she is more important to him than the world and that everything comes from her. But in his thought of fame he cannot separate her from the nation, the “race”: “O take me into your soul of souls and then I will indeed become the poet of my race.” And among the things he has loved in her—“the image of the beauty of the world, the mystery and beauty of life itself . . . the images of spiritual purity and pity which I believed in as a boy”—there are “the beauty and doom of the race of whom I am a child.” He calls her “my love, my life, my star, my little strange-eyed Ireland!”
And yet, of course, “I loathe Ireland and the Irish. They themselves stare at me in the street though I was born among them. Perhaps they read my hatred in my eyes.” The hatred was of the essence of his ambition quite as much as the love. Three years later he is again in Dublin and he writes: “The Abbey Theater will be open and they will give plays of Yeats and Synge. You have a 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.”
Some considerable part of Joyce’s ambition consisted of what the 19th century called aspiration and conceived to be a mode of feeling peculiarly appropriate to generous minds, artists perhaps especially but also soldiers, statesmen, engineers, industrialists. Aspiration was the desire for fame through notable and arduous achievement. The end in view which defined it was the realization of one’s own powers. That in order to reach this end one might be involved in competition with others, seeking to surpass and overcome them, was a frequent but accidental circumstance of aspiration which was not thought to qualify its noble disinterestedness. That this is a reasonable way of looking at the matter is suggested by the astonishing letter the nineteen-year-old Joyce addressed to Ibsen. He makes a full and grandiose communication of his admiration and then goes on to say to the sick old man, “Your work on earth draws to a close and you are near the silence. It is growing dark for you.” But there is a comfort that he can offer, the assurance that One—an unnamed but unmistakable One—comes after to carry on the great work. It is in all conscience a crueller letter than the young writer chose to know, yet the competition with the Father, the Old King, is sanctioned not only by tradition but by the very nature of life, and Joyce invests it with an absurd but genuine nobility by which the Master Builder, after a wince or two, might well have been grimly pleased.
But Joyce’s competitiveness, which was extreme, was not always, not characteristically, in the grand style; as it showed itself in his relations with his age-mates it was often vindictive and coarse. Through all the early years in Trieste and Rome, Joyce lived in bitter jealous hatred of his former friends and companions in Dublin. He cannot mention them and their little successes without an expression of disgust: “Their writings and their lives nauseate [me] to the point of vomiting.” The new letters make clear to how great an extent Joyce in his youth conceived of his art as a weapon to be used in personal antagonism, especially in vengeance. “Give me for Christ’ sake a pen and an ink-bottle and some peace of mind and then, by the crucified Jaysus, if I don’t sharpen that little pen and dip it into fermented ink and write tiny little sentences about the people who betrayed me send me to hell.” The chief object of his bitterness, of course, was Gogarty, from whom, after the quarrel, he would accept no tender of reconciliation. It was his belief that the man who had so terribly offended him sought to make peace out of fear of how he would be delineated—the belief finds expression in the first chapter of Ulysses: “He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his. Cold steelpen.”—and as early as 1905 it was assumed by Joyce’s Dublin friends that a great revenge was in train; the form it would take was already known. “[Elwood] says,” writes Stanislaus Joyce, “he would not like to be Gogarty when you come to the Tower episode. Thanks be to God he never kicked your arse or anything.” Gogarty himself had every expectation that revenge would be duly taken, and Joyce coolly confirmed him in this; he reports that in refusing Gogarty’s attempt to renew the friendship, he had said: “I bear you no ill will. I believe you have some points of good nature. You and I of 6 years ago are both dead. But I must write as I have felt!” To which Gogarty replied, “I don’t care a damn what you say of me so long as it is literature.”6
The unremitting bitterness with which Joyce remembered and commemorated his relation with Gogarty serves to remind us of the great authority that the ideal of male friendship formerly had. In this, as in so many other respects, the 19th century maintained its connection with the courtly cultures of earlier epochs. Out of the dream of the true friend arose the possibility of the false friend, and it is an element of the Heldenleben, as the 19th century understood the genre, that the hero is beset by treacherous comrades envious of his powers and eager to subvert them. Had these dwarfish natures been lacking in the actuality of his life, Joyce would have been quick to supply the want. His genius throve upon his paranoia, which was capable of anything—it is quite in his style to say in an early letter to Lady Gregory that the college authorities were determined that he should not study medicine, “wishing I dare say to prevent me from securing any position of ease from which I might speak out my heart.” A belief in a hostile environment, in persecution and personal betrayal, was necessary to his mission. But in point of fact the false friends and the malice of their envy were real enough; they were fostered by Dublin life before they were cherished by Joyce as a condition of his art and the testimony of his being a dedicated spirit, singled out. Long before Joyce had anything like a career his promise of genius was taken for granted by those who knew him and Stanislaus’s diary records the envy with which he was regarded by his contemporaries. In his early days of exile, when his thoughts turned homeward, it was to inquire what these lesser impotent beings said of his courage, his freedom, his unconventional marriage, and, as time passed, his approach to success. Their mischievous impulses in relation to him came fully to light in the strange episode of his friend Cosgrove telling him, falsely and seemingly out of the gratuitous impulse to play Iago to this Othello, that before the elopement Nora had been unfaithful to him, a communication that for a time had all its intended effect of making chaos come again.
The social life of late 19th-century Dublin as Joyce’s class situation permitted him to know it was obviously in most respects quite elementary, but it was certainly not wanting in concern with social status, in judging who was “better” and stood higher than whom, and to such questions the young Joyce gave the most solemn attention. It was surely an important circumstance of the last interview with Gogarty that it took place in Gogarty’s elaborate house and that the former friend, now set up in medical practice, well-to-do and well married, should have invited Joyce to come with him in his motorcar to have lunch in his country home. The social advantages that Gogarty had previously enjoyed, perhaps especially his having gone to Oxford, were of the greatest moment to Joyce, who was at constant pains to enforce the idea that, when it came to social establishment, Stephen Dedalus, if the truth were seen, was the superior of anyone.7 Joyce was in nothing so much a man of the 19th century as in the sensitivity of his class feelings. No less than Dickens he was concerned to be a gentleman and he was as little shy as Dickens about using the word, the Victorian force of which maintained itself for at least two of the Joyces in the face of the family’s rapid downward mobility. In the midst of an expression of disgust with his situation at Rome James remarks to Stanislaus, “I feel somehow that I am what Pappie said I wasn’t [,] a gentleman.”8 He was at the time working in a bank as a correspondence clerk; he lived with his wife and infant son in a single small room; often his wages did not meet his weekly expenses and the letters of the period are chiefly to Stanislaus in Trieste, their whole burden being that money must be sent at once. The conversation of his fellow clerks, as he describes it, is simian; he has no ordinarily decent social intercourse with anyone, yet he finds it in his heart to describe his circumstances not as unfit for a human being but as unfit for a gentleman.
His feeling for the social forms could be strict, often in a genteel, lower-middle-class way. Although in 1910 black-edged writing paper was still used by proper people in a period of mourning, the faintly barbaric custom was not universally observed, but Joyce, at the death of his uncle John Murray, thought it necessary to his sense of how things should be done.9 When he was virtually starving during his first sojourn in Paris, he regretted that he could not attend the Irish Ball because he had no dress suit. He is still working as a Berlitz teacher in Trieste and the family in Dublin is on the verge of destitution, but he directs his father to arrange to sit for his portrait. The family crest was his treasured possession.
At the present time feelings about class in their old form are in at least literary abeyance and it is hard to remember the force they once had and the extent to which they defined the character and aspirations of the artist.10 In an age when the middle classes seemed to be imposing their stamp upon the world, a young writer was led to set store by what he imagined to be the aristocratic qualities of grace, freedom, and indifference to public opinion, and the aristocratic mode of life seemed the model for what all men’s lives should be. It was the rare writer who did not think himself to be “well born” in some sense of the phrase, and if he had any reason to think that he was actually of distinguished blood, he was pretty sure to find the circumstance of value. George Moore said no more than the simple truth when he remarked that “Yeats’s belief in his lineal descent from the great Duke of Ormonde was part of his poetic equipment.” Writing in admiration of Tolstoy, Joyce associates his genius with his class position and his ability to remember “the Christian name of his great-great-grandfather.” And the young man who felt himself excluded from the patrician literary circle of Dublin and expressed his resentment in rude mockery of its members shared Yeats’s dream of the culture—the word is Joyce’s own—of the great houses and the ancient families. Writing to Nora, who had been a chambermaid in a Dublin hotel when he had first met her and whose lack of grammar he was not above mocking to his brother, he explains to her the inspiration of Chamber Music: “You were not in a sense the girl for whom I had dreamed and written the verses you now find so enchanting. She was perhaps (as I saw her in my imagination) a girl fashioned into a curious grave beauty by the culture of generations before her, the woman for whom I wrote poems like ‘Gentle Lady’ or ‘Thou leanest to the shell of night.’” He goes on, surely in entire sincerity: “But then I saw that the beauty of your soul outshone that of my verses. There was something in you higher than anything I had put into them. And so for this reason the book of verses is for you. It holds the desire of my youth, and you, darling, were the fulfillment of that desire.” Yet the discrepancy between the robust, barely literate chambermaid who had to be told not to copy her love-letters out of a letter-book and the girl fashioned into a curious grave beauty by her lineage was often a pain to Joyce, and much as he needed Nora’s earthy strength, he flinched at the rudeness—so he called it—that went with it. It was certain that he was a gentleman, but whatever else Nora was, she was, alas, no lady.
That Joyce’s preoccupation with his social status should go along with an avowed interest in subverting the society in which he held his valued rank does not make a contradiction. It was quite common in the 19th century for gifted men to find sanction for their subversive intentions toward society in such aristocracy or gentility as they could claim.11 But that Joyce should ever have been political at all will for most of his readers make an occasion for surprise. For a few years of his young manhood, between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five, Joyce called himself a socialist. Again and again in his letters to Stanislaus he insists on the importance to the artist of a radical political position: “I believe that Ibsen and Hauptmann separate from the herd of writers because of their political aptitude—eh?” “It is a mistake for you to imagine that my political opinions are those of a universal lover: but they are those of a socialistic artist.” He scolds Stanislaus for not sharing his “detestation of the stupid, dishonest, tyrannical and cowardly burgher class.” He explains the opposition of the Church to “the quite unheretical theory of socialism” as being an expression of the belief that a socialist government would expropriate ecclesiastical “landed estates . . . and invested moneys.” His cogent objection to the Irish nationalist movement is that it takes no account of economic realities and is not aware that “if the Irish question exists, it exists for the Irish proletariat chiefly.” And it is a further black mark against Gogarty that his political views exclude economic considerations. “Gogarty would jump into the Liffey to save a man’s life but he seems to have little hesitation in condemning generations to servitude.”12
Joyce never committed himself to political action or association, and although he had a knowledgeable interest in the Italian radical parties, he seems never to have put himself to the study of socialist theory; the only reference to Karl Marx occurs in the course of an excited and rather confused account of the apocalyptic Jewish imagination derived from Ferrero’s Young Europe. By 1907 his socialism had evaporated, leaving as its only trace the sweet disposition of Leopold Bloom’s mind to imagine the possibility of rational and benevolent social behavior and the brotherhood of man. This, however, is a residue of some importance in the history of literature: it makes Ulysses unique among modern classics for its sympathy with progressive social ideas.
In one of his early poems Yeats speaks of the places where men meet “to talk of love and politics.” To us at our remove in time the conjunction of the two topics of conversation seems quaint, for of course by love Yeats did not mean the rather touching interfusion of eros and agape that young people have lately come to use as a ground of social and political dissidence: he meant a love much more personal and egotistic, that ultimate relation between a man and a woman the conception of which had descended from courtly love, the “gay science” of the late Middle Ages, to become one of the powerful myths of the 19th century. Its old force has greatly diminished, perhaps to the point of extinction. No matter how gravely and idealistically we may use our contemporary names for the relation between a man and a woman, “sex” and “marriage,” and even the phrase that is a vestige of the old name, “in love with,” do not suggest, as “love” did for an age in whose sensibility Tristan and Isolde occupied a central position, the idea of life realized and transfigured by the erotic connection, fulfilled by its beauty, sustained by the energy and fidelity that constituted its ethos.13 In the 19th century, politics was a new activity of free spirits and it naturally found affinity with a conception of love that made large promises of perceptivity, liberty, and happiness. Love was understood to be art’s true source and best subject, and those who lived for love and art did harm to no one, lived the right life of humanity: so Tosca in a passion that reaches B-flat informs the tyrant Scarpia. The operatic example is much in point, for opera was the genre in which love and political virtue joined hands to make a lyric affirmation of life. The contemptuous indifference in which opera is held by our intellectual culture is not qualified by recognition of its political tendency. For Joyce, as everyone knows, opera was a passion. With a most engaging simplicity he gave the genre the response it asked for; he found it, as people used to say, ravishing. He would have been astonished and dismayed by the contemporary snootiness to Puccini; he held Madame Butterfly to be a work of transcendent beauty and power, most especially the aria “Un bel di” which at one period seems to have woven itself into the very fabric of his emotional life; when Butterfly sang the “romance of her hope” of what would come to her over the sea, his soul (as he wrote bitterly to Nora, who was not similarly moved) “sway[ed] with languor and longing”: in the face of the harshness of circumstance, life is affirmed in erotic ecstasy, as when, in A Portrait of the Artist, Stephen has sight of the girl on the strand, gazing out to sea. For Joyce, as still for many men of the time in which he was young, human existence was justified by the rapture—lost archaic word!—of love.
Perhaps nothing in Joyce’s life is more poignant and more indicative of the extent to which his imagination was shaped by the mythos of his time than the episode, on the threshold of his middle age, in which the famous vision of the lovely girl standing with high-kilted skirts at the water’s edge, the most grandiose of the epiphanies, seemed to have presented itself as an attainable actuality. Martha Fleischmann was a young woman, seemingly Jewish, though not so in fact, beautiful, provocative but apparently not disposed to go beyond elaborate flirtation, whom Joyce came to know in Zurich in the autumn of 1918. As Martha recalled their meeting nearly a quarter of a century later, the scene stands all ready for the librettist. She was coming home “one evening at dusk” when a passerby stopped and looked at her “with an expression of such wonder on his face that she hesitated for just a moment before entering the house.” The stranger spoke, explaining his astonishment by saying that she reminded him of a girl he had once seen “standing on the beach of his home country.”14 Martha’s erotic temperament was ambiguous to a degree. She had a devoted “guardian,” as she called him, and he expressed jealousy of her relation with Joyce, but there is some question as to whether her connection with this man was sexual in any ordinary sense of the word. On one occasion Joyce addressed her as “Nausikaa,” signing himself “Odysseus,”15 and it would seem that the Gerty MacDowell of the “Nausikaa” episode of Ulysses commemorates her genteel narcissism and sentimentality. Joyce’s own erotic disposition at this time was scarcely of a more direct kind. His lust, like Mr. Bloom’s, was chiefly of the eye and the mind. What seems to have been the climactic assignation of these two fantasts of love took place in Frank Budgen’s studio on February 2, which was Joyce’s birthday and the feast of Candlemas, and Joyce borrowed from a Jewish friend a menorah so that he might gaze on Martha’s beauty by candlelight, perhaps the sole intention of the meeting.16 With the passage of years the exquisite virgin, La Princesse lointaine, came to be represented in the great “Nausikaa” episode as nothing more than the sad, silly figment of ladies’ magazines, and the dream of love-and-beauty as an occasion of masturbation. But at the time his feelings for Martha seemed to Joyce to challenge comparison with Dante’s for Beatrice and Shakespeare’s for the Dark Lady; at least he meant them to. “And through the night of the bitterness of my soul,” he wrote in the last of his letters to Martha, “the kisses of your lips fell on my heart, soft as rosepetals gentle as dew,” and concludes, “O rosa mistica [sic], ora pro me.”
One of the four letters is mutilated—we are told that Martha “tore off the lower right-hand edge of the second sheet . . . because it contained what she considered an indelicate expression.” The judgment on the offending word or phrase cannot be set aside out of hand as one of Martha’s neurotic gentilities. The chances are that Joyce did actually write an indelicacy, even an obscenity, for his concern that the erotic object and situation be of an extreme refinement and beauty went together with a no less exigent desire for all that is commonly thought to sully, besmirch, and degrade the erotic activity, and he derived a special pleasure from expressing this desire in writing.
The dialectic between the essential innocence and the essential shamefulness of the sexual act has in our time lost much of its old force, at least overtly. If nowadays we obey the command of Blake’s Los to “Consider Sexual Organization,” it does not seem naturally to follow, as the demiurge thought it would, that we “hide . . . in the dust” for shame. Crazy Jane’s observation that love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement is received as an interesting reminder of the actual state of affairs rather than as the expression of a distressing (or exciting) thought in the forefront of consciousness. The words of Yeats’s poem echo those of another divine utterance in Jerusalem: “For I will make their places of love and joy ex-crementitious,” but the circumstance as Yeats refers to it is not conceived to be a curse: we understand Yeats to be remarking on an anomaly that makes human existence more complex and difficult than his long celebration of the Rosa Mystica would suggest, or more “ironic,” or more “tragic,” but for that reason more substantive and the more interesting. His sense of the shameful arrangements of the erotic life stands midway between the neutralizing view of them that our contemporary educated consciousness seems determined to take and the eager response to them made by Joyce, for whom shame was a chief condition of sexual fulfilment.
In the course of the two visits he made to Ireland in 1909, Joyce in his letters to Nora ran through the whole gamut of his erotic emotions and in full voice. Within a week of his first arrival in Dublin, Cosgrove imparted the news of Nora’s double dealing in the betrothal time, and although the false friend spoke only of kisses, Joyce of course imagined more and questioned whether Nora had actually come to him a virgin—“I remember that there was very little blood that night. . . .”—and whether Giorgio is in truth his son. He is shattered by the dreadful revelation—“I shall cry for days”—but a fortnight has not passed before he can report blandly that everything has been cleared up by Byrne’s having said that Cosgrove’s tale is “all’ a ‘blasted lie’”; and after having called himself a “worthless fellow,” he vows to be “Worthy of your love, dearest,” and goes on to speak of a shipment of cocoa he has sent, that same cocoa that he later urges Nora to drink a good deal of so that she will increase the size of “certain parts” of her body, pleasing him by becoming more truly womanly. His marital resentments are bitter and explicit: Nora, whose great fault is her rudeness, had called him an imbecile, had disagreed with his expressed opinion that priests are disgusting, had been indifferent to “Un bel di”; his apologies, when his recriminations have proved offensive, are abject. He is much given to expressions of tender and poetic regard and is engagingly proud of the courtly ingenuity of a gift of jewelry he has designed and had executed, a necklace of gold links, five cubes of old ivory and an ivory plaque bearing in ancient lettering words from one of his poems, which is to symbolize the lovers’ years together and their sadness and suffering when they are divided; his Christmas present is Chamber Music copied out in his own hand on parchment, bound with his family crest, on the cover the lovers’ interlaced initials. But his lively imagination of the elegances of love goes along with fantasies and solicitations that, as he says, make him the object of his own disgust and, he insists on supposing, of Nora’s.
Professor Ellmann has not found it possible to carry out his intention of publishing in its entirety the group of obscene love-letters from Dublin preserved in the Cornell Library. What he is able to publish does indeed, as he says, suggest the tenor of these extraordinary documents (the adjective is Joyce’s) but not the force and the strange dignity that they seemed to me to have when I read them at Cornell some years ago. It may be, of course, that my memory plays me false, but I recall the letters read in the completeness of the holograph as making the effect of having been written under a more driving compulsion, a more exigent possession, than appears in the curtailed printed version. Perhaps it was the holograph itself that contributed to the impressiveness, enforcing the situation in something like the awesomeness that Joyce himself felt it to have: the man who may well be the greatest literary genius of his age submits to the necessity of taking in hand his sacred cold steel pen and with it to sully sheet after virgin sheet of paper with the filthy words that express all that he feels in the way of delight at the dirtiness of his exalted nature. The words themselves have for him a terrifying potency. One of his letters has induced Nora in her reply to use what he can refer to in no other way than as “a certain word.” The sight of it, he says, excites him terribly—“There is something obscene and lecherous in the very look of the letters. The sound of it too is like the act itself, brief, brutal, irresistible and devilish.”
His longed-for perversities and depravities—we had best call them that without permissive apologies, since he thought of them so and we ought not deny the ground of his pleasure—were not of an especially esoteric kind. He expresses the wish to be flogged and not merely in show but fiercely, to the end of his feeling real pain; he blames himself for writing “filth” and instructs Nora, if she is insulted by it, to bring him to his senses “with the lash, as you have done before.” Nora is an “angel” and a “saint” who guides him to his great destiny, and he longs to “nestle” in her womb, and he seeks to “degrade” and “deprave” her, he wants her to be insolent and cruel and obscene. Perhaps the controlling and to him most puzzling and most significant component of his polymorphous perversity is his delight in the excrementitiousness of the places of love and joy, what he called his “wild beast-like craving . . . for every secret and shameful part” of his wife’s body, “for every odor and act of it.” “Are you offended because I said I loved to look at the brown stain that comes behind on your girlish white drawers? I suppose you think me a filthy wretch.”
No one, I think, will be so armored in objectivity as not to be taken aback by the letters. But their shocking interest fades as we become habituated to them, or to the idea of them. In the way of all drastic personal facts, especially in our time, they cease to be dismaying or amazing soon after they are brought into the light of common day and permitted to assume their institutional status—one might say their prestige—as biographical data. What does not fade, however, is the interest of the literary use to which Joyce put the erotic tendencies that the letters disclose and indulge.
To a reader of Ulysses nothing in the substance of the letters comes as a surprise. All the fantasies are familiar to us through our having made acquaintance with them in the mind of Leopold Bloom. But what exists in the mind of Mr. Bloom is of a quite different import from the apparently identical thing as it exists in the mind of James Joyce or might exist in the mind of his surrogate Stephen Dedalus. The reader of the letters will not fail to conclude that it required a considerable courage for Joyce to write them. His doing so went against the grain of a decisive and cherished part of his nature, his austere, almost priestly propriety. “As you know, dearest,” he writes in one of the letters, “I never use obscene phrases in speaking. You have never heard me, have you, utter an unfit word before others. When men tell in my presence here filthy or lecherous stories I hardly smile.” Yet he put on paper and sent through the mail what was not to be countenanced and, although he urged Nora to be watchful in guarding the secrecy of the letters, since he did not destroy them when he might have done so, he must be thought to have wished that they be preserved. One thing, however, he would not—could not—do: attribute the fantasies of the letters to the mind of Stephen Dedalus.
By assigning them to Mr. Bloom, he of course quite changes their character. As elements of Mr. Bloom’s psyche, they become comic, which is to say morally neutral. Our laughter, which is gentle, cognizant, forgiving, affectionate, has the effect of firmly distancing them and at the same time of bringing them within the circle of innocence and acceptability. We understand that nothing very terrible is here, nothing awesome, or devilish, or wild-beast-like—only what we call, with a relishing, domesticating chuckle, human. And the chuckle comes the more easily because we recognize in Mr. Bloom, as we are intended to, the essential innocence of the child; his polymorphous perversity is appropriate to his infantile state. This innocence, it would appear, is part of Joyce’s conception of Jews in general, who, he seems to have felt, through some natural grace were exempt from the complexities of the moral life as it was sustained by Christians. Writing to Stanislaus of his son having been born early, with nothing prepared, he says, “However, our landlady is a Jewess and gave us everything we wanted.” The implication is that a Christian might or might not have provided the necessary things; Christian kindness would result from the making of a choice between doing the good deed and not doing it, and would therefore, by the Aristotelian definition, be moral; but a Jewish good deed was a matter of instinct, natural rather than moral. It is in natural goodness rather than in morality that Mr. Bloom has his being, and in the ambience of his mind the perverse fantasies have nothing of the fearsome significance they had for Joyce when he entertained them.
It is possible to say that the translation of the fantasies as they existed in the mind of James Joyce, and might have existed in the mind of Stephen Dedalus, into what they become in the mind of Leopold Bloom is a derogation of Joyce’s courage as an artist. A Stephen Dedalus whose rigorous moral being is assailed and torn by sinful desires is readily received as a heroic figure so long as the desires can be supposed sinful in a received way. But a polymorphous-perverse hero would make a difficulty, would be thought a contradiction in terms. For Joyce the Aristotelian categories of tragedy and comedy, the one showing men as “better,” i.e., more dignified, than they really are, the other showing men as “worse,” i.e., more ignoble, than they really are, had an authority that, at the time of Ulysses, was not to be controverted.
It is also possible to say that Joyce’s refusal to assign the perverse fantasies to Stephen is a derogation of personal courage. A polymorphous-perverse Leopold Bloom stands as testimony to his author’s astonishing powers of imagination, of sympathetic insight into the secret places of nature at the furthest remove from his own. But a polymorphous-perverse Stephen Dedalus must advertise the polymorphous perversity of the author whose fictive surrogate he is inevitably understood to be. To this personal disclosure Joyce could not consent.
His fictional disposition of the polymorphous perversity must make a salient question in any attempt to understand the mind of James Joyce. What I have called—with, I should make plain, no pejorative force—a derogation of courage is an answer that has a kind of provisional cogency. But a comment on the obscene letters made by Professor Ellmann in his Introduction seems to me to initiate an explanation that goes deeper. Professor Ellmann says of the letters that they have an “ulterior purpose,” that Joyce, in writing them, had an intention beyond immediate sexual gratification. One thing he intended was “to anatomize and reconstitute and crystallize the emotion of love.” And, Professor Ellmann says, “he goes further still; like Richard Rowan in Exiles, he wishes to possess his wife’s soul, and have her possess his, in nakedness. To know someone else in love and hate, beyond vanity and remorse, beyond human possibility almost [my italics], is his extravagant desire.”
If this is so, as I think it is, it brings the obscene letters into accord with what I have proposed as the controlling tendency of Joyce’s genius—to move through the fullest realization of the human, the all-too-human, to that which transcends and denies the human. It was a progress he was committed to make, yet he made it with some degree of reluctance. Had the obscene fantasies been assigned to Stephen Dedalus, they would have implied the import that Professor Ellmann supposes they had for Joyce himself. But Joyce, we may believe, did not want, not yet, so Hyperborean a hero as he then would have had. The ethos and mythos of the 19th century could still command from him some degree of assent. The merely human still engaged him, he was not wholly ready to go beyond it. The fair courts of life still beckoned invitation and seemed to await his entrance. He was to conclude that their walls and gates enclosed nothing. His genius is defined by his having concluded this rather than taking it for granted, as many of the generation that came after him have found it possible to do.
1 Viking, 440 pp., S10.00.
2 The letters to Frank Budgen are exceptional in suggesting Joyce's actual enjoyment of a relationship with another person.
3 Joyce's long refusal to recognize the seriousness of Lucia's condition was abetted by the doctors, who, whether out of ignorance or compunction, seem never to have offered a firm diagnosis.
4 Viking. Volume II, 472 pp.; Volume III, 584 pp. Banded, S25.00. Volumes I, II, III, boxed, $35.00.
5 Even two years later Nora had not yet consented to read Ulysses.
6 In the event this proved not to be true—Gogarty cared many a damn when Ulysses appeared. As well he might, if only because Joyce led all the world to believe forever that he and not Gogarty-Mulligan was the rightful tenant of the tower and that the famous key was his: any statement of the fact of the matter, that the opposite was the case, will always be received with surprise and incredulity and soon forgotten. Such is the power of the literary imagination in the service of self-justification. Partisans of simple justice—alas, there are virtually none of Gogarty—may find some encouragement in the display of the actual lease in the tower; that a signboard calls the tower James Joyce's should not dismay them: the rights of the ultimate possession are now absolute.
7 In the tower scene Mulligan tells Stephen, “You know, Dedalus, you have the real Oxford manner.” And he speculates that this is why Haines, the Englishman who is staying with them, can't make Stephen out. Haines is rich and himself an Oxford man and Mulligan twice remarks that he thinks Stephen isn't a gentleman.
8 The occasion of the judgment was John Joyce s reading Gas From a Burner. Stanislaus seems not to have shared the social feelings of his father and elder brother. Perhaps it was his puritanical rationalism that led him to adopt a rather plebeian stance The youngest surviving Joyce brother, Charles, apparently laid no continuing claim to being a gentleman; when last we hear of him he is a postal clerk in London. The idea of social status was part of the fabric of the Joyce family life—it is well known how preoccupied John Joyce was with the superiority of his own family to his wife's, which of course had some bearing on James's choice of a wife whose pretensions to breeding were notably less than his own.
9 Joyce took account in Ulysses of his response to the claims of funeral pomps. “He can't wear them,” Mulligan says when his offer of a pair of gray trousers has been refused by Dedalus because he is in mourning for his mother. “Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can't wear gray trousers.”
10 A few years ago I had occasion to remark in an essay that my students, no matter what their social origins, were not prevented by Yeats's snobbery from responding to his poetry. One reviewer took me sternly to task for obscuring the transcendent achievement of the great poet by speaking of him as a snob. What made especially interesting the view of life and letters implied by the rebuke was that the reviewer was Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James.
11 This was especially true of the anarchists in Russia, France, and Italy.
12 Joyce's disgust with Gogarty on political grounds was made the more intense by Gogarty's anti-Semitism.
13 For an account of what Tristan and Isolde meant to the epoch, see Elliot Zuckermann's admirable The First Hundred Years of Wagner's Tristan, Columbia University Press, 1964.
14 The quoted passages are from Professor Straumann's account of his interview with Martha when, in Zurich in 1941, she called to inquire about selling the four letters and the postcard that Joyce had written to her. Professor Straumann did not make the purchase on that occasion, but he did so at a later time, in 1943, when, Martha being ill, her affairs were in the charge of her sister—at least he bought the letters; the postcard had vanished. Professor Straumann's account of the relationship of Martha and Joyce appears as a preface to the letters as given in Volume II, pp. 426-436; it is less full and circumstantial than Professor Ellmann's earlier account in his biography.
15 The salutation and the subscription were, Professor Straumann says, the whole message of the lost postcard.
16 Candlemas commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple. “The blessing of candles is now the distinctive rite of this day. . . . Beeswax candles, which are blessed, distributed, and lit whilst the Nunc Dimittis is sung, are carried in a procession commemorating the entrance of Christ, the ‘True Light’ (cf. Jn. 1.9) into the Temple.”—The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. In his second letter to Martha, remarking on his impression that she was a Jewess, Joyce says, “If I am wrong, you must not be offended. Jesus Christ put on his human body: in the womb of a Jewish woman.”