“A Little Knowledge of Joyce”
The Saturday Review, April 29, 1950
Oliver Gogarty, whose article “They Think They Know Joyce” recently appeared in these pages [SRL Mar. 18], was for a couple of student years in Dublin acquainted with James Joyce in the flesh. But as he left Ireland for the Continent when he was twenty-two, and as Oliver Gogarty saw him only once afterwards on one of his temporary visits to Dublin, he had no means of knowing the mature Joyce. Not only was the man who wrote , , and , unknown to him, but he had at no time any conception of the creator who was James Joyce. The man Oliver Gogarty did know was the youthful author of a book of poems, , and something of the man who wrote . On the assumption on the part of his readers that Oliver Gogarty knew far more than this, he has succeeded in placing all over the country in strategic positions attacks and misinformations about Joyce, his family, his friends, his readers, and his work. Whereas some of the misinformation in They Think They Know Joyce — such as the reference to Mrs. Carola Gideon Welcker as Mr. Giedion Welcker and the turning of the verb in Joyce’s well-known line about himself “Steeled in the school of old Aquinas” into the inept “trained”— may be of no particular consequence, yet these inaccuracies indicate the confusion and misinformation that permeate the article. It is true, of course, as Oliver Gogarty says, that floods of nonsense have been poured out about James Joyce, but the greatest compiler of nonsense has been Oliver Gogarty himself. I shall take this opportunity of correcting some of it. In his article Oliver Gogarty undertakes to explain what caused Joyce to produce Ulysses, attributing it all to Joyce’s frustration over the canceled publication of Dubliners. This he places on a Dublin firm, Messrs. Maunsell; but the publisher who originally refused publication after giving a contract was Grant Richards, who, after years of postponement from 1906 on finally published the book in 1914. The printers had objected to the contents of Dubliners and refused to set it up; they objected to whole stories, to passages in others, and to the use of the word “bloody.” It was a genteel age and printers were very refined. When the Egoist Press in London wanted to publish Portrait of the Artist different firms of printers went on the same sort of rampage, either demanding deletions or point-blank refusing to set up the book.
Oliver Gogarty’s account of the dispute with the Dublin publisher Maunsell is also very twisted. Maunsell’s manager, he says, “claimed that ‘Dubliners’ contained an offensive reference to the King, which was unlikely, seeing that Joyce received a grant from the King’s Privy Purse long before he established a place for himself in literature.” First of all, the reference to King Edward as well as to his mother, Queen Victoria, is in Dubliners in a well-known story called Ivy Day in the Committee Room. The reason Maunsells gave for not bringing out the book after having set it up was that they had received legal advice that they would run the risk of action for libel on account of real names being used. Here again the printers enter into the picture: they took it on themselves to destroy the plates. And, of course, Joyce did not receive a grant from the King’s Privy Purse “long before he established a place for himself in literature,” as Oliver Gogarty maintains: he received the grant of a hundred pounds when he was living in Switzerland as a refugee during the First World War through the good offices of W. B. Yeats, George Moore, Ezra Pound, and others. Joyce was a well-known personage when the grant was made to him; he had published Chamber Music and Dubliners; Portrait of the Artist was appearing in the magazine The Egoist; both the Portrait and Dubliners were published in New York in 1916. Ireland, it should be remarked, was then part of the United Kingdom and had a fiscal unity with Britain so that the King’s Privy Purse was common to both countries.
Out of his frustration over the non-publication of Dubliners James Joyce, so Oliver Gogarty informs us, took up Rimbaud in a serious way. “Rimbaud’s revolution against established canons made him a god to Joyce.” There is some Rimbaud influence in Joyce but not nearly as much as there is of other French writers — Flaubert in Dubliners, Mallarmé in Finnegans Wake, and, in general, the influence of the Polish-French critic and editor Wyzewa. Oliver Gogarty seems to have no knowledge of Rimbaud at all: Rimbaud did not withdraw from the world; he became an adventurer and trader in Africa, a gun-runner in Abyssinia, and lived, as he always had a hectic and wandering life until he died of cancer of the bone at the age of thirty-seven. He did give up writing poetry, as everyone knows, but if he had lived beyond his thirty-seven years he might have come back to it when he returned to settle down in France with the money he had carefully saved in Africa. As for the photograph of Joyce “dressed to resemble Arthur Rimbaud,” which Oliver Gogarty is in the habit of mentioning in his attacks on Joyce, there is no existing photograph of Rimbaud that resembles any photograph of Joyce. Moreover, Rimbaud, before he left to become a trader in Africa, had been for years a tramp in various European countries and his sartorial get-up was anything he could lay hands on.
ABOUT the lady who subsidized Joyce, Oliver Gogarty has made various curious statements: in the SRL article he refers to her as “Miss Wearing” and puts her down as an American. She is neither “Miss Wearing” nor an American; she is the well-known Miss Harriet Weaver of the Egoist Press in London. And as for the suggestion that Gertrude Stein imitated Ulysses, this is sheer nonsense; her writing comes out of a different conception altogether. Gertrude Stein not only did not imitate Ulysses but she did not care about Joyce’s work; in fact, her opinion of it was not so remote from Oliver Gogarty’s own. Joyce’s work was distinctively Irish: the remolding of language which he practises in Finnegans Wake has its correspondences with the designs in the “Book of Kells,” reproductions of whose pages Joyce had always before him. A comment on the “Book of Kells” by the French critic Focillon could apply to Finnegans Wake: “A transitory but endlessly renewed meditation on a chaotic universe that deep within itself clasps and conceals the debris or the seeds of humankind.”
The trouble with the author of They Think They Know Joyce is that he seems to have read nothing of Joyce except Chamber Music. He confuses Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; he has no sense of the structure of Ulysses nor of the design of Finnegans Wake. Some of the most beautiful and moving writing in modern literature is in these works.
There is, of course, no reason why any reader should not acknowledge it if these books do not appeal to him. They are difficult. But it is possible for most intelligent readers to understand much of what they are about. This is more true of Ulysses than it is of Finnegans Wake. Ulysses in the main is written in a straightforward style. Doubtless it needs some preliminary explanation for those who are familiar only with the older classics, and it is that comparatively new thing in literature, a book influenced not so much by previous literary works as it is by modern psychology, philosophy, and conceptions of history.
AN accomplished critic could make many adverse comments but he could never belittle it. It has a wonderful virtuosity and, informing it all, what Yeats spoke of as “its lonely intensity.” Joyce gives each personage his or her own characteristic language: not only have the personages their own utterance, but everything that environs them is in their idiom. There is the superb barroom scene in the language of bar-frequenters, there is the scene in the National Library written in the language of intellectuals, there is the opening chapter in which the characters are so memorably projected, and where there is the heartbreaking account of the death of Stephen Daedalus’s mother, with Stephen singing to her verses of Yeats as she lay dying. No, no one can belittle Ulysses.
As for the tapeworm quotation that Oliver Gogarty reproduces from Dr. C. G. Jung, I am under the disadvantage that my intellect cannot perceive what the connection is. However, without taking too seriously the excursions into literary criticism of Dr. Jung or any other doctor, I should like to say that there is in the New York Public Library a copy of a very complimentary letter by Dr. Jung to Joyce about Ulysses, in which he speaks about its wonderful psychological effects, particularly those in Mrs. Bloom’s monologue: “I think the devil’s grandmother knows as much about the psychology of a woman; I don’t. It is a string of psychological peaches.” Very Teutonic English but the meaning is clear. There are other statements in Oliver Gogarty’s article that could be traversed but I think enough has been said to show how misleading the article is.