A. Walton Litz, James Joyce (Boston: Twayne Publ. 1966).

Begins by quoting T. S. Eliot [see note], and remarks: ‘It is difficult to believe that greater knowledge about the private life of Shakespeare could much modify our judgment [...]’, before going on:

Joyce obviously belongs with Goethe in this grouping of writers, but we will do well to remember that, even in the most [16] straightforward autobiography, personal experience has been transformed by conventions and circumstance: the act of writing itself is an experience that changes the author’s personality. And if this is true of the simplest attempts at self-examination, how much more relevant it is to Joyce’s complex works, in which we are confronted with infinitely more subtle transformations. The autobiographical figures in Joyce’s fiction - from the Stephen of Stephen Hero to Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake - must be taken as personae: as masks through which the author speaks, masks which often conceal more than they reveal. Even in the early Stephen Hero the conventions of the novel have worked changes on Joyce’s personality, and by the time we reach Finnegans Wake we are faced with a grotesque autobiographical figure who can best be viewed as an embodiment of the sterile qualities in Joyce’s life; Shem is really a burlesque of the earlier personae.

As if the theoretical problems raised by Joyce’s use of biographical materials were not enough, the facts of his life have long been obscured by the “unfacts” of rumor, legend, and deliberate distortion. Joyce’s authorized biographer of the 1930’s, Herbert Gorman, actually wrote a biography of Stephen Dedalus; Gorman mingled biographical facts with fictional attitudes, and Joyce - who carefully aided and hindered Gorman - was an active party to this distortion [James Joyce, 1939]. At one point in Finnegans Wake the medieval Irish Martyrology of O’Gorman is rendered as “the Martyrology of Gorman” (349.24), and this is a fair description of Gorman’s study. Joyce seems to have deliberately made the “authorized” biography a part of the artistic process which simultaneously revealed and concealed his inner life.’ (p.16-17.)

Further: ‘[I]t would be a mistake to take Joyce’s fiction as a guide and to think of him as a sullen rebel against parental authority. Although he was often embarrassed by his father, whose main interest lay in “jollification”, Joyce was genuinely fond of him and shared his interest in the complex public life of Dublin.’ (p.19.)

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‘When a lady once asked Joyce if he had found a satisfactory substitute for Catholicism, Joyce replied: “Madam, I have lost my faith, I have not lost my mind.” (Quoted in Kevin Sullivan, Joyce Among the Jesuits, NY 1958, p.225.) The Catholic world-view provides the rational framework for all of Joyce’s art. / Although Joyce perverted and transformed the rites of the Church, they remained for him the most effective expression of life’s mysteries; and his mature conception of the artist’s role was conditioned by his early admiration for the priesthood. Joyce saw the artist as a surrogate priest, whose office depends upon his ability to understand and reveal spiritual realities. [... T]he heart of Joyce’s esthetic theory is his notion of the “epiphany,” the moment when spiritual reality is manifested in artistic form, just as the incarnate Word was revealed to the Wise Men. For Joyce the artistic process was “eucharistic,” a transformation of spirit into matter; when, on his fiftieth birthday, he was presented with a cake topped by a candy replica of Ulysses, Joyce paused before cutting it and said: “Hic est enim corpus meum [This is my body].” (Eugene Jolas, “James Joyce”, in Two Decades of Criticism, ed. Seon Givens, NY 1948, p.8.) The metaphor is both blasphemous and exact. Although Joyce modeled his youthful persona after the examples of Parnell and Ibsen, the strength to maintain it - and ultimately to surmount it - came from a different source. Stanislaus Joyce, whose rejection of the Church was much more violent than his brother’s, has said the last word on this subject: “I confess I have no better explanation to offer of [my brother’s] triumphant struggle to preserve his rectitude as an artist in the midst of illness and disappointment, in abject poverty and disillusionment, than this, that he who has loved God intensely in his youth will never love anything less. The definition may change, the service abides.” (Kevin Sullivan, op. cit., p.59; Litz, p.30; end Chap. 1.) See also My Brother’s Keeper, NY 1958: ‘the definition may change but the sense of service due to something outside himself sub specie aeternitatis abides’ [quoted here in ftn., p.121.]

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Chap. 4 [on A Portrait]: ‘T. S. Eliot has said that with Joyce, as with Shakespeare, the later work must be understood through the earlier [...] This statement is certainly true; the extraordinary interdependence of Joyce’s works is a major source of their appeal and a sign of their universality. But this interdependence also poses a difficult critical problem. To what extent are we to criticize each work as a self-sufficient creation, and to what extent should we allow our views to be qualified by surrounding works?

This problem is particularly acute in the case of Portrait, since the career of Stephen Dedalus is continued in Joyce’s next novel, Ulysses. Obviously we cannot suppress all knowledge of Ulysses when we examine the Portrait, and there is some justification for the theory that the opening chapters of Ulysses provide the inevitable conclusion to the structural rhythm begun in Portrait. However, I feel that our first duty is to criticize Portrait as an autonomous work, admitting information from Ulysses only when it supports the clear intention of Portrait. Early criticism of Portrait tended toward a romantic identification of Joyce with Stephen Dedalus, but in a proper reaction to this naive view many recent critics have, in my opinion, tended to overemphasize the separation of Joyce and his hero, introducing into Portrait the harsher ironies of Ulysses. The burden of this chapter is that Joyce’s attitude cannot be classified as romantic identification or aloof [61] criticism, but is a complex blending of the two. In Portrait, if not in Ulysses, Joyce’s view of Stephen resists any easy formulation. [...]. (pp.60-61; Litz undoubtedly refers to Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce, 1955, and sends the reader for ‘a cogent criticism of these extreme views’ to Robert Scholes, ‘Stephen Dedalus: Eiron and Alazon’, in Studies in Literature and Language, III, [Texas U.] Spring 1961, pp.8-15: Notes, p.124.)

[...]

[First quoting ‘Fabulous artificer, the hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back. Lapwing. Icarus. Pater, ait. Seabedrabbled, fallen, weltering. Lapwing you are. Lapwing he.’]: ‘The lapwing is notorious for its erratic flight, and the self-pitying Stephen of Ulysses can only see himslef as a petty Icarus. But this is simply one persona, one mask, replacing another: Joyce’s own view subsumes both extremes, and he is able in Portrait to give full value ot Stephen’s aspirations while at the same time exposing their limitations. We see Stephen as a sterile egoist, cut off from humanity by his lonely pride; yet we also appreciate his imaginative powers, and sympathize with his plight. The great triumph of Portrait is Joyce’s control of this double view, a control which is sustained through the rhythm of the novel’s action, the movement of its language, and the presiding myth of Daedalus-Icarus.’ (p.72; end chap. 4.)

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Chap. 6 [on Ulysses]: ‘[..] The Stephen of Ulysses is an extension of the Stephen who, at the end of Portrait, leaves Ireland to “forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race.” After a brief stay in Paris, he has returned to be at the bedside of his dying mother; and there he has refused her request that he kneel and pray for her. Having rejected family, church, and homeland, Stephen is haunted throughout Ulysses by the gnawing remorse of conscience. Although he no longer believes, he cannot escape the influence of his Irish-Catholic heritage. as his companion Buck Mulligan [78] says, Stephen has the “cursed jesuit strain” in him, “only it’s injected the wrong way” (Random House Edn., 1948; 10, 8.)

Throughout Ulysses the mature Joyce preserves a considerable measure of detachment in describing Stephen, the image of his younger self. The irony is heavier than in Portrait, the criticism more biting. In his symbolic role Stephen is the type of the introverted artist, separated from society and yet able to judge society by reason of his separation. However, when Joyce deals with Stephen as an individual it is with full realization of his pride and arrogance. No longer the center of Joyce’s art, Stephen is often lampooned and caricatured, a process which is carried much further in Joyce’s final work, Finnegans Wake.

In contrast to the aloof and cold-blooded Stephen, Leopold Bloom is sympathetic, kind, and completely human. It was Joyce’s intention to present Bloom “in the round,” and we see as many aspects of his personality as possible. No other character in English fiction is surrounded with such a rich array of intimate detail. Whereas Stephen is only the artist, Bloom plays the roles of father and son, husband and citizen.

And yet, in spite of his many roles and complex personality, Bloom is as isolated as Stephen. Within the structure of Irish society he is an outcast, a member of the alien Jewish race. Within the frame-work of orthodox Hebrew society he is also an outcast [...].’ (p.79.)

Note: Litz remarks taht the publication of the “schema” to Ulysses - ‘a disasterous event in the history of Joyce’s reputation [which] had a centrifugal effect on criticism, turning the attention of the reader’s from the novel’s central themes to its peripheral patterns of organisation.’ (pp.96-97; a ‘simplified’ of the schema is reproduced, p.97.)

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Chap. 7 [Finnegans Wake ]: ‘The story of the last twenty years of Joyce’s life is in large measure the story of his work on Finnegans Wake, which was intended to be a self-sufficient cosmos creating its own laws of existence; and there is no doubt that Joyce gradually became a prisoner of that cosmos. I have spoken earlier of the triumphs and limitations of Finnegans Wake, which force me to conclude that it is a partial failure. Any set of standards that will account for the essential greatness of Ulysses must, I feel, find a certain sterility in Finnegans Wake. Even the comic spirit which, much more than the elaborate structural patterns, gives the Wake its unity, seems to me ultimately self-defeating. In Ulysses, parody and satire have direction because they serve a moral vision; but in Finnegans Wake they turn in upon themselves and destroy their own foundations.

It is easy to relate Finnegans Wake to a number of literary traditions - symboliste experiment, the Irish comic heritage, hermetic writing - but these relationships rarely seem vital. The Wake illustrates the extreme tendencies of many traditions without enlarging them. Unlike Joyce’s other major works, lt does not affect our view of the whole literary tradition; it stands outside the mainstream, asking to be judged in terms of itself. One of the Wake’s most intelligent readers, James S. Atherton, has claimed that “strong as are the arguments for the solipsistic nature of Finnegans Wske they fall to nothing before the liveliness of the book itself.” (See Books at the Wake, NY 1960, p.13.) This is a statement of personal taste, and must be respected as such. But to many readers the “liveliness” of the Wake does not touch on life with sufficient frequency to compensate for the work’s extraordinary demands.

The one tradition which does stand in vital relationship to Finnegans Wake is that of joyce’s own art. At the beginning of his work on the Wake Joyce kept a notebook (finally published under the title of Scribbledehobble) which contained headings for each of his works up to and including the chapters of Ulysses. Under these headings Joyce entered fragments left over from these earlier works, verbal parodies, comments on leading themes: the obvious aim was to make one level of Finnegans Wake a summing-up of his artistic career. However, as Clive Hart has pointed out (Structure and Motif, London: Faber 1962, pp.42-43), Joyce partially abandoned this aim in favor of [118] “narcissistic self-parody within Finnegans Wake itself” - satiric comment on his own “Work in Progress.” / But, whatever Joyce’s final attitude may have been, the Scribbledehobble notebook does emphasize the unity in Joyce’s achievement. [...] For this reason anyone who wishes to comprehend joyce’s full achievement must devote his critical attention, if not his unqualified admiration, to Finnegans Wake. [pp.118-19; end.]

Notes
1] For Eliot’s remarks, see RICORSO > “Classic Irish Texts” > James Joyce > Commentary, supra)

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