James Joyce: 1902-1904

On completion of his studies Joyce ignored the option of employment (a clerkship at Guinness was suggested) and followed several of his college friends into medicine, chosing St. Cecilia Medical School, Dublin, as his alma mater, registering there four days before his BA Honours examinations at the Royal University. At this period his father commuted his meagre pension for a capital sum to buy 7, St. Peter’s Terrace, in Cabra, a modest house which would remain the family home until 1905 when he was obliged to sell it. Joyce’s adherence to the Dublin medical college was short, however, and on 18 November 1902 he embarked a more adventurous scheme by making an application to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris. Joyce borrowed from friends and acquaintances including Lady Gregory to whom he wrote in his own praise that he ‘found no man yet with a faith like mine’. On her recommendation he was given book-reviewing by E. V. Longworth, editor of the Dublin Daily Express. His notices on Irish books (inter alia) printed in that paper during the ensuing six months were each to be uncompromising assertions of his own literary standards, as when he passed judgement on the nationalist journalist and poet William Rooney with sentence: ‘And yet he may have written well if he had not suffered from one of those big words which make us so unhappy.’ Arthur Griffith, copyng the review with white-faced indignation in United Irishman - an organ started by Rooney and himself - inserted the single word patriotism after ‘those big words’ and passed no other comment. More captiously still, Joyce appraised Lady Gregory’s Poets and Dreamers as a work in which the author ‘has truly set forth the old age of her country [...] a land almost fabulous in its sorrow and senility’. It falls to Buck Mulligan in Ulysses to voice the obvious objection: ‘She gets you a job on the paper and then you go and slate her drivel to Jaysus. Why can’t you do the Yeats touch?’

Joyce reached Gare St. Lazaire in Paris on 3 December and took a room at Grand Hôtel Corneille on the Rive Gauche. Here John Millington Synge also stayed in Paris, leading to an encounter 8 March 1903 when Joyce read Riders to the Sea in manuscript and condemned it for its failure to observe the Aristotelian unities. It did not take him long to find out that he was himself lacked the necessary qualifications for the Faculty of Medicine, though he did briefly attend first-year lectures at the University of Paris in the first days of December 1902. He also explored the English-teaching opportunities and found that the Berlitz would pay a decent monthly stipend but chose to teach one Joseph Douce privately at a pound an hour instead to preserve his independence. While in Paris he wrote some epiphanies and amassed the continental experiences to which Stephen Dedalus’s mind recurs in the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses, notably a more than faintly anti-Semitic cameo of the Jewish traders at the Bourse and a visit to Kevin Casey, one of the Clerkenwell dynamitards of 1867 (then working as a typesetter to the New York Tribune’s Paris edition). Joyce’s father found the price of a ticket home for his stranded son in time for Christmas 1902 by raising a further mortgage. Once in Dublin, Joyce discovered that his chief friendships had been damaged by the scatological postcard he had sent to Cosgrave and the poetical effusion that he inscribed on an otherwise identical missive to Byrne - thus raising the question as to which was the closer confidant. A fortuitous meeting with Oliver St. John Gogarty at the counter in the National Library promised to fill the deficit and, later on, to provide Joyce with an archetypal example of the ‘gay betrayer’ whom he immortalised as Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. Having failed to secure a correspondent’s brief from The Irish Times, Joyce departed for Paris on 17 January in the new year, stopping in London for long enough to talk himself out of a reviewing job with C. Lewis Hind, editor of the Academy and to test the sexual waters of the city through the good offices of one Eve Leslie, working in Kennington where he stayed. On reaching Paris he secured a reader’s ticket for the Bibliothèque Nationale and by means of his Daily Express journalist’s pass managed to see a Sarah Bernhardt première on 8 February. Joyce made trips to Nogent, and Tour, as well as to the nearer destinations of Clamart, Charenton and Chartres - the last-named with a Siamese fellow-reader whom he met when he moved his patronage to the smaller library of Bibliothèque Ste. Génèvieve. There he applied himself to Aristotle’s De Anima in J. Barthelemy Sainte-Hilaire’s translation (Psychologie d’Aristote, Traite de l’Ame) which he Englished for purposes of a spare but focused record of hylomorphic sentences which would serve to anchor his own aesthetic and epistemological syllogisms in the so-called ‘Paris Notebook’ before assigning them to his autobiographical character Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses: ‘Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms.’ Bouts of hunger and begging letters home were part of Joyce’s life in Paris until the telegram arrived with the fateful words: ‘MOTHER DYING COME HOME FATHER’. He borrowed 375 francs from Douce on 11 April 1903 and left for Ireland by the Calais train.

Joyce’s mother did not pass away until 13 August 1903; in the interim there were more than the usual distresses. Not only had the family to witness her agony from cancer of the liver but also the outbursts of their father who once shouted, ‘if you can’t get well, die [...] and be damned to you!’ Her eldest son refused to yield to her pious pleadings that he take the sacraments and later refused even to kneel at her deathbed. May Joyce appears in Ulysses as a ghoul terrorising her son from beyond the grave and elicting from him the cry ‘Non Serviam’ in which the strengths and weaknesses of the imaginative young man are simultaneously illustrated. In A Portrait, where she expresses the hope that he will learn ‘what the heart is and what it feels’, she is more like her living self and the personality expressed in her letters to him in Paris. Her wry scepticism about masculine opinions and her unfailing pride in and concern for her brilliant but wilful son combined in him to produce the only confession of faith he ever made when he wrote later in a letter that the only things he believed in were ‘men’s lies and a mother’s love’. Joyce was greatly affected by his mother’s death but remained unsentimental. He did not indulge in his brother’s loathing of his father as the ultimate cause; his curiosity about his parents relationship was literary and clinical: he burnt their love-letters with a summary remark in answer to Stanislaus’s question about their contents: ‘Nothing’. Following the funeral, at which his father surpassed himself in self-commiseration, Joyce embarked on a serious of half-baked plans intended to support a career in literature. These included a brief return to St. Cecilia’s, some law lectures, a projected newspaper with Skeffington to be funded by an Irish-American philanthropist called Thomas Kelly who had been successfully tapped by Padraic Colum - Joyce walked 14 miles to Celbridge to make a personal application but Maecenas was away from home and later wrote to say he did not have £2,000 on hand at present - before settling for the role of prep-school teacher at Clifton School, lately established in Dalkey by Francis Irwin, an Ulster Scot (Mr. Deasy in Ulysses) in the summer of 1904.

The experiences of December 1903 to June 1904 make up the immediate background of Ulysses. By this time Joyce’s assocation with Gogarty had blossomed into an intensely barbed relationship based on their mutal assumption of superiority. Gogarty, who was much less susceptible to alcohol than the other, helped him deepen his familiarity with the ‘kips’ and together they refined the arts of bawdy poetry. Cosgrave drank with him also, earning the name ‘Lynch’ for standing by when Joyce was beaten about the face in a drunken fight. Hoping to launch into a singing career, Joyce equipped himself with a respected voice-teacher, a first-floor room at Shelbourne Road and a grand piano for which he made a down-payment with borrowed money but no more. He was only debarred from first prize at the annual Feis Ceol held in the Antient Concert Rooms on 16 May 1904 by his unwillingness to sing sight-unseen (because he was unable) and the award when to John McCormack instead. On his return to Dublin, Joyce had met little with the literati of Dublin and what contact he had had was unamiable: he crashed Lady Gregory’s literary gathering and was written off by George Moore as a ‘beggar’ whose poetry he summarised in the single word ‘Symons’. Although chastened by his abortive excursion to Paris and exposed to some ridicule on the score of his pretensions, Joyce was far from abandoning writing. On 7 January 1904 he composed in one day an Ur-text of the Portrait of the Artist, intended as a contribution to John Eglinton’s new journal Dana and refused by the editor as unintelligible to him.

The “1904 Portrait” essay is meaningless in any other context than that of Joyce’s artistic and imaginative development and even in that context it is febrile and obscure. At the outset he speaks of the human personality as ‘a ‘fluid succession of moments’ and suggests that this debars literary portraiture of the kind that retails ‘beard and inches’; he promises a better way of conveying identity ‘through some art, by some proces of mind as yet untabulated, to liberate from the personalised lumps of matter that which is their individuating rhythm, the first or formal relation of their parts.’ The importance of this declaration is that it links his Aristotelian interests with his search for a literary form that would chart the reality of psychological life, which he here describes as ‘the curve of an emotion’ - a phrase he discovered in An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, where it describes the life of woman. It would be many years before he began to approach the point when, in a bold revision of his interminable autobiographical novel (the remnant of which appeared posthumously as Stephen Hero in 1944), he adopted the method of character-specific style, moulding the narration to the mentality, age and emotional state of his central character. In 1904, however, the nascent autobiographical alter ego was hardly more than an explosion of literary and psychic self-importance who ends by proclaiming: ‘Man and woman, out of you comes the nation that is to come, the lightning of your masses in travail; the competitive order is employed against itself, the aristocracies are supplanted; and amid the general paralysis of an insane society, the confederate will issues in action.’ There is a clear implication that James Joyce himself would ‘give the word’ to ‘the multitudes, not as yet in the wombs of humanity but surely engenderable there’, serving Ireland as Jesus of Nazareth had served the Christian world.

In writing out the conviction that ‘life is such as I conceive it’ across the two hundred thousand words which Joyce assured Ezra Pound he had written before grinding to a halt in 1907, a panoply of Christological images were made to serve as pointers to the messianic credentials of the artist: dovelike girls doubling as divine accessories at a Jordanian baptismal scene and even the choice of venue for the ‘first’ epiphany: Eccles Street, Dublin - as previously suggested. Possibly, too, the ‘Hero’ in the title - a point often debated by Joyce commentators - owed something of his origin to the ‘Hero as Man of Letters’ in Thomas Carlyle’s famous lectures; for, like Carlyle’s hero, he was the ‘the intense centre of the life of his age to which he stands in a relation than which none can be more vital’, as Stephen holds of the true poet, and of himself in that character. The exant portions (part of Chapter XV to Chapter XXV) roughly correspond to the fifth and final chapter of A Portrait dealing with Stephen’s days at the University College, Dublin and are full of opinions about his educators and his peers not included in the later version. Anti-clericism reaches an extraordinary pitch in the passage where he compares the priesthood of Ireland to ‘black tyrannous lice’ who imposed ‘[c]ontempt of human nature, weakness, nervous tremblings, fear of day and joy, distrust of man and life, hemiplegia of the will’ on the people in their power. In contrast to his supine contemporaries at college whom he correspondingly describes as ‘terrorized boys, banded together in a complicity of diffidence’, he would ‘live his own life according to what he recognised as the voice of a new humanity, active, unafraid and unashamed.’ It is not an effective writing: in addition to the obtunding effect of so much rhetorical declamation, the novel suffers from a radical instability of tone. It is impossible to know what the author understands - or expects his reader to understand - by the account that he gives of his literary manner at the date of the events recounted: ‘Stephen’s style of writing, though it was over affectionate towards the antique and even the obsolete and too easily rhetorical, was remarkable for a certain crude originality of expression.’ The trouble is that the style of Stephen Hero is entirely of a piece with it.

By way of relief from such an arduous task, Joyce assembled a collection of ‘Elizabethan’ poems which he called Chamber Music on a scatological hint from Gogarty when they were jointly in earshot of a micturating prostitute. He was later to remark that he wrote them ‘as a protest against myself’ - though escape from the self-professed egoism of Stephen Hero might be a more accurate description. Arthur Symons placed one such poem (‘Silently, she is combing’) in the Saturday Review on 8 April 1904 - thus bearing out George Moore estimate of Joyce’s poetical character. During the summer of 1904 he began a set of ‘epicleti’ for The Irish Homestead, a newpaper of the Irish Co-operative Movement fostered by Horace Plunkett and “Æ” (George Russell), which would eventually comprise the stories of Dubliners (1914). If Russell wanted something ‘simple, rural, live-making [with] pathos’, what he got was a subtle, damning exposé of the network of hypocrisy and deception, tyranny and abuse, moral cowardice and self-contempt which Joyce regarded as the symptoms of ‘spiritual paralysis’ in Ireland, Dublin being ‘the centre of paralysis’ in his moral geography of the island. This was a term which he explicated in Stephen Hero, where it stands in the first instance for ‘general paralysis of the insane’ - though properly pareisis - that is, syphilitic infection. (It was, in fact, Thomas Carlyle who had coined the phrase ‘spiritual paralysis’ in his Lectures on Heroes-not in connection with sexual corruption but in connection with the ‘mechanical’ spirit of the eighteenth century which dampened the genius of Samuel Johnson.) Joyce’s stories “The Sisters”, “Eveline” and “After the Race” appeared over the pseudonym ‘Stephen Daedalus’ in issues of journal for 13 August, 10 September and 17 December 1904 before the editor H. F. Norman rumbled the writer’s subversive bent and terminated the agreement. Joyce’s sense of exclusion led him to write “The Holy Office”, a verse pamplet in which he maximised his distance from the Protestant-led literary revival and the Catholic-nationalist purists of the period, styling himself ‘Katharsis-Purgative’ in jejunely Aristotelian terms: ‘Thus I relieve their timid arses / Perform my office of Katharsis’.

[ close ]
[ top ]
[ next ]