Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959, & Edns. [1965 &c.]; rev. edn. 1892) - some extracts.

Bibliographical note: The extracts given here have been chiefly taken from the 1965 impression of the 1959 edn. and otherwise copied from secondary critical sources in which key statements from this edition and the later revised edition of 1982 (in which the pagination has been altered by additional material. Other than the introduction, the quotations are grouped under headings which have been inserted here for convenience and are not found in the text itself.
See also longer extract on the Joyce/Yeats meeting of October 1902 [as attached], and an extract on the 1904 “Portrait Essay” [infra].

[...] We are still learning to be Joyce’s contemporaries (1965, p.1)

Unimpressive as Bloom may seem in so many ways, unworthy to catch marlin or countesses with Hemingway’s characters, or to sup up guilt with Faulkner’s, or to sit on committees with C. P. Snow’s, Bloom is a humble vessel elected to bear and transmit unimpeached the best qualities of the mind. Joyce’s discovery, so humanistic that he would have been embarrassed to disclose it out of context, was that the ordinary is extraordinary. /
 To come to this conclusion Joyce had to see joined what others had held separate: the point of view that life is unspeakable and to be [3] exposed, and the point of view that is ineffable and to be distilled. [...] To read Joyce is to see reality rendered without the simplifications of conventional divisions. (1965, p.3.)

What other hero in the novel has, like Stephen Dedalus, lice? Yet the lice are Baudelairean lice, clinging to the soul’s as well as the body’s integument. What other hero defecates and masturbates like Bloom before our eyes? Joyce will not make it easy for us either to condemn or adore. If we go on thinking he may be the apostle of brotherhood, he shows us brothers in violent quarrel. If we go tofind him a defender of the family, he presents his central hero as a cuckold. [...]

Joyce is the porcupine of authors [...] He requires that we adapt ourselves in form as well as in content to his point of view (p.4.)

Though Joyce, prophetically enough, called the biographer a “biografiend”, he also supplied the precedent for seeing his subject in all postures in order to know him. His passion for truth, however unpalatable, is a contagion which he would have his readers and his admirers share. (1965, p.5.)

[Joyce’s] greatness not as an effulgence but as a burrowing that occasionally reaches the surface of speech or action. [...]

To be narrowing, peculiar, and irresponsible, and at the same time all-encompassing, relentless, and grand, is Joyce’s style of greatness, a style as difficult, but ultimately as rewarding, as that of Finnegans Wake.’ (1965, p.5.)

[Joyce as autodidact]
‘In those days, Joyce’s literary education was largely self-adminstered. He could hope for nothing of value from his university teachers, and he only learned indirectly from his contemporaries. The air of independence is evident throughout his career. (1967, p.27.)

[Joyce & nation]
The demands of his country for national feeling he was prepared to meet, but in his own way. Following Ibsen’s example, he detested the grosser forms of nationalism. Yet it would be a mistake to see Joyce as already buying a ticket for Paris; he probably still expected he could live in Ireland. His later depiction of himself makes him more à cheval on his principles than he had yet become. For the moment his most basic decision was in favor of art’s precedence over every other human activity. The nation might profit or not from his experiment, as it chose. In the creedless church he had found for himself, older than St. Peter’s and more immortal, he would be stubborn and daring. It was not long before he found a splendid quarrel in which to display both traits at their best [i.e., Countess Cathleen controversy]. (1965, p.67.)

Whenever his relations with his native land were in danger of improving, he was to find a new incident to solidify his intransigence and to reaffirm the rightness of his voluntary absence. In later life he even showed some grand resentment at the possibility of Irish independence on the grounds that it would change the relationship he had so carefully established between [113] himself and his country. (1965, p.114.)

[Joyce as reviewer]
Two books seem to have affected him more deeply than the others. One was J. Lewis McIntyre’s Giordano Bruno, which revived his old admiration for the philosopher who, disregarding tradition, marched heretically “from heroic enthusiasm to enthusiasm” towards God. The other was Marcelle Tinayre’s The House of Sin, the story of a young man named Augustine who, after a strict Jansenist upbringing, is swayed slowly away from the spirit to the flesh. He has by inheritance what Joyce calls a "double temperament. “Little by little,” Joyce writes, “the defences of the spiritual life are weakened, and he is made aware of human love as a subtle, insinuating fire”. Though Augustine comes at last to a tragic end, the author’s sympathies are not with “the horrible image of the Jansenist Christ” that looms over him, but with “the fair [144] shows of the world”. Joyce must have seen the parallel to his own rearing by the “mirthless” Jesuits, and his escape from them to “life”. He admired also the way Tinayre’s prose seemed to fall in with the pathology of the hero: a lessening of the young man’s vitality was subtly suggested by pauses, and in the end the prose seemed to expire along with Augustine’s soul. The House of Sin was one of the many odd spots where Joyce found a useful idea.

[Joyce meets Yeats]

[For full text of Ellmann’s account of Joyce and Yeats’s meeting in 1902, see separate file, infra.]

When Yeats died on January 28, 1939, Joyce was much moved. He sent a wreath to the funeral, and conceded to a friend that Yeats was a greater writer than he, a tribute he paid to no other contemporary. It was Yeat’s imagination which always dazzled him: 'No surrealist can equal it’, he said. One day he was reading Wuthering Heights when Eugene Jolas came in, and Joyce said to his',This woman had pure imagination; Kipling had it too, and certainly Yeats.’ [Jolas',My Friend James Joyce’, in Seon Givens, ed., James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism, p.14.]. [...] Joyce often recited Yeats’s poems from memory, and seemed to wonder if his own work was imaginative enough. (1965, p.673, n.)

In discussing Wyndham Lewis [see infra], Ellmann writes that ‘Joyce takes the occasion to refer to another attack upon him [Joyce], a more refined one, by Yeats in the first edition of A Vision, which (though dated 1925) appeared at the beginning of 1926. Yeats treated Joyce, along with Eliot, Pound, and Pirandello, as examples of the disintegration of the unified consciousness of earlier artists. In them, he said, “There is hatred of the abstract. [...] The intellect turns upon itself”. He had in mind Joyce’s hatred of generalizations, as expressed to him in 1902. Then, he went on, they “either eliminate from metaphor the poet’s phantasy and substitute a strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or ... break up the logical processes of thought by flooding them with associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance; or ... set side by side as in Henry IV, The Waste Land, Ulysses ... a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing behind the gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged through 700 pages - and ... delirium, the Fisher King, Ulysses’ wandering. It is as though myth and fact, united until the exhaustion of the Renaissance, have now fallen so far apart that man understands for the first time the rigidity of fact, and calls up, by that very recognition, Myth”.’ (A Vision, 1925, pp.211-12; quoted more fully in R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: The Apprentice Mage, OUP 1997, as given in Joyce, Quotations, supra.)

[Ellmann continues:] ‘It is curious that Joyce’s comment on A Vision, as recorded by Eugene Jolas, bears out part of Yeats’s picture of him and recalls their old argument. Jolas says, “He was deeply absorbed by the colossal conception”, only regretting that “Yeats did not put all this into a creative work”. To Joyce, Yeats was still a man of letters, theorising when he should have been creating. To Yeats, Joyce was too concerned with the commonplace, and unable to effect an adequate union between new material and a heroic, mythical background. / As John V. Kelleher points out, the diagram Shaun uses in Finnegans Wake (p.293) is one of the many places where Joyce is parodying Yeats’s A Vision. (ellmann, op. cit, p.608n.)

[Note that the reference to Joyce, et al., as supra, do not appear in the account of Phase 23 in the revised edition, Vision B, 1937 - and that Ellmann revised the above footnote - adding a "not" with the effect of retracting the assertion that Joyce had known about the publication of A Vision in 1926 and, more particularly, his place in it. For more information, see under Yeats > Commentary > Joyce, and Joyce > Commentary > Yeats in RICORSO AZ-Authors, supra.)

[Joyce & motherhood]
‘Joyce seems to have thought with equal affection of the roles of mother and child. He said once to Stanislaus about the bond between the two, “There are only two forms of love in the world, the love of a mother for a child and the love of a man for lies”. In later life, as Maria Jolas remarked, “Joyce talked about fatherhood as if it were motherhood”. he seemed to have longed to establish in himself all aspects of the bond of mother and child. He was attracted, particularly, by the image of himself as a weak child cherished by a strong woman, which seems closely connected wit the images of himself as victim, whether as a deer pursued by hunters, as a passive man surrounded by burly extroverts, as a Parnell or a Jesus among traitors. His favourite characters are those who in one way or another retreat before masculinity, yet are loved regardless by motherly women. (James Joyce, 1965 Edn. p.303.)

[Joyce in 1912]
[I]n a letter to Nora in Galway, asking her to join him in Dublin during Horse Show week: “The Abbey Theatre 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”. And in the same letter he vowed, “If only my book is published then I will plunge into my novel and finish it” [Letter of Aug. 1912]. Goaded by the slurs of Kettle and Dixon, he felt firmly in command now of the ending of his novel, in which he used some of the same phrasing: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”. Even if Dublin rejected Dubliners, he would still be able to conquer Ireland, in the artist’s traditional way, by setting up the criteria by which it must judge and be judged.’ (James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.344.)

[On Dubliners]
‘He mystified Curran by informing him, ‘I am writing a series of epicleti - ten - for a paper. I have written one. I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city.’ The word epiclesis (Latin) or epicleseis (Greek), referred to an invocation still found in the mass of the Eastern church, but dropped from the Roman ritual, in which the Holy Ghost is besought to transform the host into the body and blood of Christ. What Joyce meant by the term, adapted like epiphany and eucharistic moment from ritual, he suggested to his brother Stanislaus: ‘Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I man that I am trying [...] to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own ... for their mental, moral, and spiritual uplift.’ [... &c.]. (James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.169.)

[On A Portrait of the Artist]
‘Joyce did not take up such metaphors lightly. His brother records that in the first draft of A Portrait, Joyce thought of a man’s character as developing ‘from an embryo’ with constant traits. Joyce acted upon this theory with his characteristic thoroughness, and his subsequent interest in the process of gestation, as conveyed to Stanislaus during Nora’s first pregnancy, expressed a concern that was literary as well as anatomical. His decision to rewrite Stephen Hero as A Portrait in five chapters occurred appropriately just after Lucia’s birth. For A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is in fact the gestation of a soul, and in the metaphor Joyce found his new principle of order. The book begins with Stephen’s father and, just before the ending, it depicts the hero’s severance from his mother. From the start the soul is surrounded by liquids, urine, slime, seawater, amniotic tides, ‘drops of water’ (as Joyce says at the end of the first chapter) ‘failing softly in the brimming bowl.’ The atmosphere of biological struggle is necessarily dark and melancholy until the light of life is glimpsed. In the first chapter the foetal soul is for a few pages only slightly individualised, the organism responds only to the most primitive sensory impressions, then the heart forms and musters its affections, the being struggles toward some unspecified, uncomprehended culmination, it is flooded in ways it cannot understand or control, it gropes wordlessly toward sexual differentiation. In the third chapter shame floods Stephen’s whole body as conscience develops; the lower bestial nature is put by. Then at the end of the fourth chapter the soul discovers the goal towards which it has been mysteriously proceeding - the goal of life. It must swim no more but emerge into air, the new metaphor being flight. The final chapter shows the soul, already fully developed, fattening itself for its journey until at last it is ready to leave. In the last few pages of the book. Stephen’s diary, the soul is released from its confinement, its individuality is complete, and the style shifts with savage abruptness.

 The sense of the souls development as like that of an embryo not only helped Joyce to the booles imagery, but also encouraged him to work and rework the original elements in the process of gestation. Stephen’s growth proceeds in waves, in accretions of flesh, in particularisation of needs and desires, around and around but always ultimately forward. The episodic framework of Stephen Hero was renounced in favour of a group of sccenes radiating backwards and forwards.’ (James Joyce, 1965 Edn., p.307.)

[On Ulysses]
The theme of Ulysses, Joyce intimates, is reconciliation with the father. Of course, the father, whom Joyce depicts in Bloom is in almost every way the opposite of his own father, and is much closer to himself. Insofar as the movement of the book is to bring Stephen, the young Joyce, into rapport with Bloom, the mature Joyce, the author becomes, it may be said, his own father. Stephen is aware enough of the potential ironies of this process to ponder all the paradoies of the father as his own son in the Trinity, and of Shakespeare as both King Hamlet and prince Hamlet. Yet the book is not without its strong woman; Bloom is appropriately under the influence of his wife, whome he dissastisfies (to some extent intentionally), and wishes to bring Stephen under her influence too.’ (James Joyce, [1959], 1965 Edn. p.309.) Cf., ‘The central action of Ulysses is to bring together Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom by displaying their underlying agreement on political views which the author thereby underwrites.’ (Consciousness of James Joyce, q.p.; quoted in Vincent Cheng, Joyce, Race and Empire, Cambridge UP 1995.)

[Bloom’s androgyny]
A pet theory, borrowed from Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character, was that Jews are by nature womanly men - a phrase which, incidentally, is applied to Bloom in Ulysses. Weininger held that woman (like womanly man) is negation, a nothing, is non-existent, illogical, passive. ‘Her instability and untruthfulness are only negative deductions from the premise of non-existence.’ ‘She is the sin of man’, he insisted. Joyce largely agreed with this view, and was always labouring to isolate female characteristics, from an incapacity for philosophy to a dislike of soup. He supplemented Weininger’s contention with his own, that putting books in the bookcase upside down was a feminine trait [...]. In Ulysses Joyce attributed the same trait to Bloom, several of whose books are upside down.’ / Carrying out the same idea he decided to give Bloom the middle name of a woman, Paula [... &c.]’ (1965, p.477.)

[On “Penelope”]
It is the only episode to which Joyce assigns no specific hour - the time is no o’clock, or as he said in one schema, it is the time indicated mathematically by the slightly disproportioned figure ∞ or leeminiscate lying on its side - the number of eternity and infinity. It might be more exact to say that the ruins of time and space and [the] mansions of eternity coexists, at least until the very end.’ (Consciousness of James Joyce, 1972, p.163.) Further, ‘Essentially Molly is right about herself - she is not the wholly sexual being that to Boylan she must appear to be. She hopes that he is pleased with her, but she is not really pleased with him.’ (Ibid., 1972, p.166.) ‘The Ithaca episode had offered a heliocentric view of Bloom, Molly offers a geocentric one, the two forming the angle of parallax.’ (1972, pp.167; the foregoing quoted in Erika Anne Flesher, ‘I am Getting on Nicely in the Dark’, in Vincent J. Cheng, et al., , eds., Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces, Delaware UP 1998, p.201, n.12.)

‘She [Molly] seems to burst the confines of her present situation, and fly from her kingly bed to a time which is beyond present time and a place beyond present place. In fact, she bursts through them to “that other world” mentioned by Martha Clifford, which is not death but an imaginative recreation. ([q. edn.,] p.172.)

‘Joyce said that his episode had no art, but his book is consummated by the principle that art is nature itself. Molly, like Gerty MacDowell, like Bloom, like Stephen, has a touch of the artist about her, but that is because art is a natural process, which begins and ends with impure substance, and bids the dead to rise.’ (Ibid., p.173; the foregoing quoted in Mami Irimagawa, UG Essay, UU 2004.)

Note: Ellmann further surmises that Bloom and Molly’s courtship was consummated on Howth Head on 16 June (Joyce, 1965, p.165) - this - being the date when Joyce first walked out with Nora and experienced ‘satisfaction [and] amazed joy’.

[On Wyndam Lewis]
At the end of his life Lewis spoke of Ulysses as ‘a splendid book’, but in Time and Western Man, while respectful, he was much less laudatory. It was, he said, a time-book, deriving from Bergson and Einstein who had substituted a flux for solid objects. Ulysses contained ‘a suffocating, noetic expanse of objects, all of them lifeless’, a remark which Joyce promptly echoed in Finnegans Wake by calling that book ‘a jetsam litterage of convolvuli of times lost or strayed, of lands derelict and of tongues laggin too’ [FW292]. He went on [607] to denounce Stephen Dedalus as a cliché, Bloom as a theatrical Jew through whose thin disguise one could easily make out the mature Joyce. Another criticism that deeply annoyed Joyce was Lewis’s attack upon the diction of A Portrait of the Artist. Lewis took up the sentence, “Every morning, therefore, Uncle Charles repaired to his outhouse, but not before he had greased and brushed scrupulously his back hair”, and said, “People repair to places in works of fiction of the humblest order”, and “brushed scrupulously is a conjunction that the fastidious eye would reject”.

Joyce acknowleded to Miss Weaver a little later that Lewis’s was by far the best hostile criticism that had appeared, but he said to Budgen, ‘Allowing that the whole of what Lewis says about my book is true, is it more than ten per cent of the truth?’ The instalments of Finnegans Wake in transition for February and March 1928 (there being no contributions from Joyce in the previous December or January numbers), suggest that he had drawn a long breath and begun a reply, couched in the jocular language of the book, but serious nevertheless. Shaun’s lecture in the February issue was in part a parody of Lewis ‘in his knowall profoundly impressive role’. But the main counter-argument was contained in the fable of the “Ondt and the Gracehoper”, in the March issue. While Stanislaus, as the saving ant, and others played a part in the ‘ondt’, the description of him as ‘chairman-looking’ suggests Lewis’s Prussian aspect, and the ending of the fable with the [608] gracehoper mocking the ondt as a space-man, was the fine ironic question:

Your genus its worldwide, your spacest sublime!
But, Holy Saltmartin, why can’t you beat time?
” [FW419]

Lewis might be a classicist and cling to space and sharp outlines, but he could not write a book which would live in its rhythm and conquer time, as Joyce had done. (1965, p.607-09.)

[On Finnegans Wake]
‘In retrospect, it seems clear that the “monster”, as Joyce several times called Finnegans Wake in these days, had to be written, and that he had to write it. Readers may still sigh because he did not approach them more directly, but it does appear that this alternative was not open to him. In Dubliners he had explored the waking consciousness from outside, in A Portrait and Ulysses from inside. he had begun to impinge, but gingerly, upon the mind asleep. There lay before him, as in 1922 he knew well, this almost totally unexplored expanse. That the great psychological discovery of his century was the night world he was, of course, aware, but he frowned on using that world as a means of therapy. Joyce’s purpose was not so didactic; he wished, unassumingly enough, to amuse men with it. / The night attracted him for another reason. [...] Sleep is the great democratiser: in their dreams people become one, and everything about them becomes one. Nationalities lose their borders, levels of discourse and society are no longer separable, time and space surrender their demarcations. All human activities fuse into other human activities [...] By day we attempt originality; by night plagiarism is forced upon us. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Joyce had demonstrated the repetitions of traits in the first twenty years of one person’s life; in Ulysses he had displayed this repetition in the day of two persons; in Finnegans Wake he displayed it in the lives of everyone.’ (James Joyce, 1959, 1965 Edn., p.729.)


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