Arthur Power

1891-1985; b. Guernsey, of Irish family with French origins [Per crucem ad Coronam]; brought up at Bellevue, a country house adjac. to River Suir, in Co. Waterford, formerly Georgian but rendered French by a maternal grandmother, raised in France; ed. at Catholic School in Hampstead; and influenced there by the arrival of a French school-teacher; first travelled to France with his mother, Christmas 1905; his work appeared at the inaugural Irish International Exhibition, 1907; winner of the Taylor Prize in 1908; joins the Army in World War I; meets Jo Davidson, sculptor, at Dan Rider’s bookshop in London; gassed in trenches; invalided (‘innumerable medical boards’) at end of war; travelled to Italy (Pisa, Florence, Rome);
settled in Paris, to become a writer; lodges at Hôtel Moderne on Place de la Sorbonne; re-frequents Café du Dôme and La Rotonde; befriended by [Ossip] Zadkine in café, who rents his studio on rue de Sèvres to him; encounters Davidson again and through him writes “Round the Studios” column for Paris Edn. of New York Herald; meets Modigliani through Sola; first meets James Joyce at Ball Bullier, where the Joyce party is celebrating publication of Ulysses; appreciated by Nora as not being a drinking friend; inherited family home, 1930; returned to Ireland, and farmed in Waterford; sold Bellevue to Land Commission and settling in Dublin, 1939; set up an art gallery in Balfe St., Dublin;
acted as Art Critic for The Irish Times; also as art critic for The Irish Tatler and Sketch; contrib. criticism to NY Herald; exhibited his work at the Living Art and Oireachtas exhibitions; issued From the Old Waterford House (1940), an autobiography with a preface by Paul Henry; issued Conversations with James Joyce (1974), written from contemporary notes; lived in a Georgian villa on Park Ave., Sandymount; d. in British Military Hosp., Foxrock. DIB

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  • ‘James Joyce - The Irishman’, in The Irish Times, Dec. 30 1944 [extract].
  • From the Old Waterford House, foreword by Paul Henry (Waterford: Carthage 1940), 180pp.; Do. [Mellifont Library] (London: Mellifont Press [1949]), 96pp.; and Do. as Recollections of a Soldier and Artist [rep. edn.], foreword by Roderick Power [his son] (Co Waterford: Ballylough Books 2003), 165pp.;
  • Conversations with James Joyce, foreword by Clive Hart (London: millington ltd.; Dublin: [Cahill & Co., printer] 1974), 111pp. [see extracts]; Do. [another edn.] (Chicago UP 1982), and Do. [corrected rep. of 1st edn.], with a [new] foreword by David Norris (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1999), 128pp. [retains forward by Clive Hart] - see also French translation, infra.

See also Memoir of Joyce [‘Arthur Power’] in Ulick O’Connor, ed., The Joyce We Knew (Cork: Mercier Press 1967), pp.95-123 [infra]. See also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 30.

In translation
  • Anne Villelaur, trans., Entretiens avec James Joyce [par] Arthur Power, Suivis de Souvenirs de James Joyce par Philippe Soupault [Entretiens Ser.] (Paris: Pierre Belfond [1979]), 222pp., v. [23 cm].
Note: The Drapier’s Letters and Her Ladyship - The Poet, and the Dog: Two One-Act Plays (Dublin: Talbot Ltd. 1927) [presentation copy ‘To James Joyce with affectionate admiration from Arthur Power 25.12.1927’; See The Personal Library of James Joyce; ed. Thomas E. Connolly (Buffalo UL 1953), p.32.

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James Joyce - The Irishman’, in The Irish Times (30 Dec. 1944): Joyce told Arthur Power, ‘You are an Irishman and you must write in your own tradition. Borrowed styles are no good. You must write what is in your blood and not what is in your brain. [...] For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.’

(Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, OUP [1959], 1965 Edn., p.520; also in Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett, 1978, p.130 and Bair, ‘No-Man’s-Land, Hellespont or Vacuum, Samuel Beckett’s Irishness’, in Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1982, p.105; also in Mary Junker, Beckett: The Irish Dimension, Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1995 [q.p.], citing Bair.) [Note an additional citation for this quotation as coming in From an Old Waterford House London [1940], p.63-64, suggesting that the Irish Times article is an extract from the earlier published autobiographical work. The last-named citation is not given in Ellmann.]

Memoir of Joyce [“Arthur Power”], in The Joyce We Knew, ed. Ulick O’Connor (Cork: Mercier Press 1967): ‘It was the Medieval and the Medievalists which attracted him most. I remember one day walking with him down the Boulevard St Michel. On our left rose the spire of the Sainte Chapelle with that flat angel poised on its summit which always seems just to have alighted; while further down was the ancient Monastery of the Cluny, and those huge and sinister hulks of masonry the remain[s] of the original wall of Paris. “It is the true spirit of Europe”, he said, “think of the magnificient civilisation we would have had if we had remained in that tradition” - He looked on the Renaissance and its return to classicism as a return to intellectual boyhood. “Compare”, he continued, “a medieval building with a classical one, Notre Dame with La Madelaine, for instance; Notre Dame with plane countering plane, roof against roof, its flying buttresses, and erupting gargoyles.” He maintained that the present age was gradually returning to medievalism, remarking finally, with some bitterness, that if he had lived in the 14th or 15th century he would have been much more appreciated. / Also the Ireland he had known, in his opinion, was still medieval, and Dublin a medieval city in which the sacred and the obscene jostled shoulders. [...]’ (p.105.) [Cont.]

Memoir of Joyce (in The Joyce We Knew, ed. Ulick O’Connor, 1967): Power speaks of Joyce recommending the study of the Book of Kells, quoting: “You can compare much of my work to the intricate design of its illuminations, and I have bored over its workmanship for hours at a time in Dublin, in Trieste, in Rome, in Geneva - wherever I have been, and I have always got inspiration from it.’ (p.106.) See also his narrative about the painter Tuohy and Joyce (“Don't worry about my soul, but get my tie straight”; p.112.) Note, rep. in O’Connor, ed., The Joyce We Knew (Dingle: Brandon Press 2004), pp.85-111), with inside front & back cover col. prints of a cubist port. of Joyce by Power.

Conversations with James Joyce (London: Millington 1974): ‘[...] one of his marked characteristics was his avoidance of giving a direct opinion about anyone or about anything, and I attributed some of his reticence to his early life in the provincial atmosphere of Dublin, where everything said was echoed back and forth with considerable distortion among [49] one’s associates, until in the end it could assume the fantastic proportions of a Celtic myth, so that one was inclined to disbelieve all one heard. He so rarely expressed his opinion that his fundamental beliefs were very hard to gauge. In fact his mind appeared to be occupied to the exclusion of everthing else with two main problems - that of human behaviour and that of human environment - and then only as related to Dublin. The surrounding French life with all its brilliance and attraction seemed to pass him over, and fed his talent only so far as he appreciated its intellectual freedom and its “convenience”, as he termed it. All he would say about Paris, when any one assked his opinion about it, was that “it is a very convenient city”, though what he meant by this phrase I was never able to discover.’ (pp.49-50.) Further, ‘I realised that there was much of the Fenian about him - his dark suiting, his wide hat, his light carriage, and his intense expression - a literary conspirator, who was determined to destroy the oppressive and respectable cultural structures under which we had been reared, and which were then crumbling.’ (p.69.)[For extensive quotations from Joyce’s conversation, see infra.]

Note: Joyce told Power, ‘Realism smashes romanticism to pulp.’ (Quoted by Luke Gibbons at James Joyce Conference, Dublin 2012; also in Jeri Johnson, Introduction to Dubliners, Oxford Classics, OUP 2000: ‘In realism you are down to the facts on which the world is based: that sudden reality which smashes romanticism into a pulp. What makes most people’s lives unhappy is some disappointed romanticism, some unrealizable or misconceived idea. In fact you may say that idealism is the ruin of man.’ (Power, Chicago 1982, p.36; Johnson p.xiii.)

Extracts from Conversations with James Joyce [1974] (Chicago 1984).

‘As I say, repeated Joyce, you do not understand him [Ibsen]. The purpose of A Doll’s House, for instance, was the emancipation of women, which has caused the greatest revolution in our time in the most important relationship there is, that between men and women; the revolt of women the revolt of women against the idea that they are mere instruments of men. [...] the relationship between the two sexes is now on a different basis, but I do not know whether they are happier or unhappier than they were before; I suppose it depends on the individuals. But I know that Ibsen has been the greatest influence on the present generation; in fact you can say that he formed it to a great extent. His ideas have become part of our lives even though we may not be aware of it.’ (p.35.)

‘[...] there is also the intellectual outlook, which dissects life, and that is now what interests me most, to get down to the residuum of truth about life, instead of puffing it up with romanticism, which is a fundamentally false attitude. In Ulysses, I have tried to forge literature out of my own experience, and not out of a conceived idea, or a temporary emotion.’ (p.36.)

‘It [A Portrait] was the book of my youth [...] but Ulysses is the book of my maturity, and I prefer my maturity to my youth. [36] Ulysses is more satisfying and better resolved; for youth is a time of torment in which you can see nothing clearly. But in Ulysses I have tried to see life clearly, I think, and as a whole; for Ulysses was always my hero. Yes, even in my tormented youth, but it has taken me half a lifetime to reach the necessary equilibrium to express it, for my youth was exceptionally violent; painful and violent.’ (pp.36-37.)

‘As for the romantic classicism you admire so much, Ulysses has changed all that; for in it I have opened the new way, and you will find that it will be followed more and more. In fact, from it you may date a new orientation in literature - the new realism; for, though you criticise Ulysses, [53] yet the one thing you must admit that I have done is to liberate literature from its age-old shackles [...] the modern theme is the subterranean forces, those hidden tides which govern and run humanity counter to the apparent flood: those poisonous subtleties which envelop the soul, the ascending fumes of sex.’ (pp.53-54.)

‘[...] sentimentalism is never firm, nor can it be; it is a trend of warm comfortable fog.’ (p.57.)

‘When we are living a normal life we are living a conventional one, following a pattern which has been laid out by other people in another generation, an objective pattern imposed on us by church and state. But a writer must maintain a continual struggle against the objective: that is his function. The eternal qualities are the imagination and the sexual instinct, and the formal life tries to suppress both. Out of this present conflict arises the phenomena of modern life.’ (Ibid., p.74.) ‘Most lives are made up like the modern painter’s themes, of jugs, and pots and plates, back-streets and blowsy living-rooms inhabited by blowsy women, and of a thousand daily sordid incidents which seep into our minds no matter how we strive to keep them out. These are the furniture of our life, which you want to reject for some romantic and flimsy drop-scene.’ (p.75.)

‘Yes, it [mediaevalism] was the true spirit of western Europe, Joyce remarked, and if it had continued, think what a splendid civilization we might have had today. After all, the Renaissance was an intellectual return to boyhood. Compare a Gothic building with a Greek or Roman one: Notre Dame, for instance, with the Madeleine. I remember once standing in the gardens beside Notre Dame and looking up at its roofs, at their amazing complication-plane overlapping plane, angle countering angle, the numerous traversing gutters and runnels, flying buttresses and erupting gargoyles. In comparison, classical buildings always seem to me to be over-simple and lacking in mystery. Indeed one of the most interesting things about present-day thought in my opinion is its return to mediaevalism.’ (p.91.)

‘The old classical Europe which we knew in our youth is fast disappearing; the cycle has returned upon its tracks, and with it will come a new consciousness which will create new values returning to the mediaeval. There is an old church I know of down near Les Halles, a black foliated building with flying buttresses spread out like the legs of a spider, and as you walk past it you see the huge cobwebs hanging in its crevices, and more than anything else I know of it reminds me of my own writings, so that I feel that if I had lived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century I should have been much more appreciated. Men realised then that evil was a necessary complement to our lives and had its own spiritual value. I see that note constantly recurring among the younger poets today.’ p.92)

‘And in my opinion one of the most interesting things about Ireland is that we are still fundamentally a mediaeval people, and that Dublin is still a mediaeval city. I know that when I used to frequent the pubs around Christ Church I was always reminded of those mediaeval taverns in which the sacred and the obscene jostle shoulders, and one of the reasons is that we were never subjected to the Lex Romana as other nations were. I have always noticed, for instance, that if you show a [92] Renaissance work to an Irish peasant he will gape at it in a kind of cold wonder, for in a dim way he realises that it does not belong to his world. His symbolism is still mediaeval, and it is that which separates us from the Englishman, or the Frenchman, or the Italian, all of whom are Renaissance men. Take Yeats, for example, he is a true mediaevalist with his love of magic, his incantations and his belief in signs and symbols, and his later bawdiness. Ulysses also is Mediaeval but in a more realistic way, and so you will find that the whole trend of modern thought is going in that direction, for as it is I can see there is going to be another age of extremes, of ideologies, of persecutions, of excesses which will he political perhaps instead of religious, though the religious may reappear as part of the political, and in this new atmosphere you will find the old way of writing and thinking will disappear, is fast disappearing in fact, and Ulysses is one of the books which has hastened that change.’ (pp.92-93.)

‘[Y]ou must remember that Ireland was never a highly civilised nation in the sense that Italy and France were. We are too far removed from the main stream of European civilization to be really affected by it, and as a result the ordinary Irishman never seems intellectually to have got beyond religion and politics. As a result we have never produced a large body of art in the wide sense-painting, architecture, sculpture. What talent we have seems to have gone into literature, and in that you must admit we have not done badly, especially in drama. The best English plays have been written by Irishmen, while in prose we have Sterne, Wilde, Swift (if you can count him as an Irishman), and then there is George Moore, according to you, and a few others.’ p.94.)

[On Ulysses:] ‘Yes, that is my contribution, and in it I have tried to lift Irish prose to the level of the international masterpieces and to give a full representation of the Irish genius, and my hope is that it will rank among the important books of the world, for it was conceived and written in an original style. If we have a merit it is that we are uninhibited. An Irishman will seldom behave as convention demands; restraint is irksome to him. And so I have tried to write naturally, on an emotional basis as against an intellectual basis. Emotion has dictated the course and detail of my book, and in emotional writing one arrives at the unpredictable which can be of more value, since its sources are deeper, than the products of the intellectual method. In the intellectual method you plan everything beforehand. When you arrive at the description, say, of a house you try and remember that house exactly, which after all is journalism. But the emotionally creative writer refashions that house and creates a significant image. in the only significant world, the world of our emotions. The more we are tied to fact and try to give a correct impression, the further we are from what is significant. In writing one must create an endlessly changing surface, dictated by the mood and current impulse in contrast to the fixed mood of the classical style. This is “Work in Progress”. The important thing is not what we write, but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must, write dangerously: everything is inclined to flux and change nowadays and modern literature, to be valid, must express that flux. In Ulysses I tried to express the multiple variations which make up the social life of a city - its degradations and its exaltations. In other words what we want to avoid is the classical, with its rigid structure and its emotional limitations. The mediaeval, in my opinion, had greater emotional fecundity than classicism, which is the art of the gentleman, and is now as out-of-date as gentlemen are, classicism in which the scents are only sweet, he added, but I have preferred other smells. A book, in my opinion, should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality.’ [End Chap. XII.]

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W. B. Yeats: Arthur Power was the recipient of a letter of thanks - in response to a letter on his part - in which Yeats writes of the influence of his father [JBY] upon him [WBY]. (See Richard Ellmann, Yeats, the Man and the Masks, London: Faber 1948, p.14.)

More Joyce: In an interview with Richard Ellmann in 1953, Power told him that Joyce had said the way to test a work of art is to copy out a page of it, and gave Wells as an instance of the disastrous revelations such an exercise would provide. (See Ellmann, James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.622, n.)

Namesakes: Albert Power is an artist counted as the leading Irish nationalist sculptor at the time of his death in 1943. The Drapiers Letters and Her Ladyship - the poet - the dog, two one-act plays by Arthur B. Power (Dublin & Cork 1927) [copy in Nat. Lib. of Scotland].

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