The Works of James Joyce

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THE JAMES JOYCE EXHIBITION IN  PARIS

By ARTHUR POWER

This article is reproduced by kind permission of Roderick Power.  First published in The Envoy Vol1 Feb 1950 No.3

 

 

The James Joyce Exhibition in Paris, which opened on the 24th of October last, is being held in "La Hune" library, which stands half-way between the two most famous and intellectual cafes on the left bank, the "Flore" on one hand, and the "Deux Magots," which faces the cobbled Square of St.Germain des Pres, on the other.

In a room surround by book-shelves, and interspersed with the inchoate and struggling forms of abstract sculpture, are collected the few mementoes recovered by devoted friends, when the Joyce effects were sold up in Paris during the Occupation.

These relics consist chiefly of pictures and books.  The pictures are those painted by the Irish artist Tuohy of Joyce himself, and of his son Georgio, and his daughter Lucia-and above all, the one he painted of Joyce's father, a portrait which always hung in the place of honour over their mantlepiece in the flat in the Square Robiac, of this fierce, rugged-faced old man, with his rheumy eyes and tugged mousache, who grips the arms of his chair, while all Dublin's scandal bubbles on his lips.  It is "Ulysses"incarnate.

Then there are the family portraits which Joyce carried with him all over Europe at great expense and trouble, and which he attributed to "Comerford"-the women, their hair plaited on the temples and wearing dark, pleated bodices, with lace collars and the men with side whiskers and tight-buttoned high-neck coats, prim and starched figures which time and travel have faded to an almost ethereal delicacy:  these shadowy ancestors which were more real to Joyce than many of the strangers and admirers who surrounded him.  For one always felt that they were a close part of himself, and often, during the evening, his eyes would wander through the partition door to where they hung in shadow on the dining- room wall.

But the chief interest of the Exhibition is in the twenty-odd Joyce notebooks which were saved from the sale, of the Joyce effects, at the Salle Drouot in 1941, by Paul Leon, Joyce's confidential adviser, and his brother-in-law Ponezowske, both of whom died later in deportation.  Most of the books and MSS., and notes, clippings,etc., were removed from the apartment in advance, or bought at the sale.

Those important MSS. which Joyce gave out of gratitude to some people are not here, but apart from these, it is probably the most comprehensive collection of Joyce items ever displayed together.

 

For instance, there is an orange-red notebook which was bought in Locarno, which contains 18 pages of the Proteus episode out of Ulysses, with many corrections in the margin; while another, which has a Trieste label contains a version of "Oxen of the Sun,1"- and is a very early version, but so different from the final text that it is almost impossible to identify it.   This notebook, like all the others, is an ordinary short exercise book, and contains twenty written pages with the opposite page filled with insertions and corrections.

Another blue-covered notebook contains notes and drafts of his play, Exiles, with a profound analysis of the characters, and bits of dialogue.  At the top of the first page we read a typical Joycean quirk:

"Richard-an automystic."

"Robert-an automobile."

These are besides twenty-two clearly written foolscap sheets, which contain some of the "Epiphanies." By an "Epiphany," Joyce meant a memorable phrase of the mind; a striking phrase; a gesture even, and he thought that a man of letters should record these with extreme care, as they represented delicate and evanescent moments.  This idea came to him from a passage in Stephen Hero.  It is on page 210, and is as follows:

"A young lady was standing on the steps of one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of irish paralysis.  A young gentleman was leaning on the rusty railings of the area.  Stephen as he passed on his quest heard the following fragment of colloguy out of which he received an impressioin keen enough to afflict his sensitiveness very severly. The Young Lady-(drawling discreetly)...O,yes...I was...at the...cha...pel...The Young Gentleman-(inaudibly)...I...(again inaudibly)...I... The Young Lady-)softly)...O...but you're...ve...ry...wick...ed..."

But some of the books contain only brief notes or single sentences, such as: "Sunday in July";"Buck Mulligan"; "Glengarrif Parade"; but in one of the last he used we find the following significant phrase standing by itself-"I probe into the Irish Dublin world."

Most of them are written in ink with pencil corrections, and it is interesting to note that when he starts to write, the hand is small and crabbed, but as he progresses, the idea seizing him, the writing becomes bigger and more vigorous until the letters seem to chase each other in haste to formulate his iseas, writing so different from the small neat hand he used in his correspondance-letters which he only wrote out of politeness, or from urgency.

then there are the library books which Joyce kept after he had parted with the greatest bulk when changing his residence.  they form a very wide collection, but I only remember one or two: The Weaver's Grave, by Seamus O'Kelly, illustrated by jack Yeats, which was also a favourite of Mrs Joyce's; Dublin Official Guide, Irish Tourist Association, a very different kind of Ulysses; and Tumbling in the Hay, by Oliver St.John Gogarty.  In many of them, inside the cover, we find the proud and sober Joyce motto:

"Mors aut honorabilis Vita."

Striking an original note among these literary and artistic mementoes, is an old hunting-vest which belonged to his O'Connell great-grandfather, a cousin of the Liberator.  Embroidered with hounds and antlered stags, it evokes visions of early hunting mornings with the fields covered in mist and soaked in dew as this O'Connell ancestor set out on his sturdy nag to the local meet; and also of the still evenings in the dim candle-light of the big house, when the great-grandmother knitted it's coarse mesh with unwearying hands.  This vest, Joyce used to wear on all occassions, and which for him had special significance, such as his own birthday, the 2nd of february; and his father's birthday, the 4th of july; and Michaelmas Day.

Indeed, what strikes one emotioinally about this exhibition is the importance that Joyce attached to the family.  for him it contained everything, and to understand that is to understand the essential basis of the Joyce problem.  It was the source of his multiple literary talent, as it was the source of his emotional life, and also at the end, the cause of much suffering, when his daughter Lucia fell ill. For, for him, paternity had a deep signifiance, and it is the theme to which he so constantly returns in his work. We have a very full exposition of it in the Telemachus episode in Ulysses, in the meditation between Stephen and Mulligan in the room of the National library when they discuss Hamlet, in which Joyce launched one of his favourite theories, that the "Ghost" is the real mover in the tragedy, and that hamlet was but a weak shadow of his father's spirit.  Also the same theme occurs again later in Ulysses when Bloom recognises in stephen Dedalus his spiritual son, to whom he has been travelling all day.

In Finnegan's Wake the family is again the basis of the whole action, when, during sleep, the One in the person of the father begets Shem and Shaun, who resemble him, differ from him, and yet repeat and amplify him.

So it was in life.  Joyce was bound up in his family, and when his daughter became ill he cared about nothing else, and leaving Paris, he went to the seaside resort of La Boule, on the Atlantic coast, so as to be near her.  He believed that he understood her case better than the doctors, and visiting her every day, he hoped that some miracle of paternal love would restore her mental health.  Also, which added salt to the wound, believing that as the father was the prime genitor, he was entirely responsible for her state-a strange and illogical theory.  So in obedience to this dicate, he left Paris and all it meant to him; the company of his friends, the constant adulation of his numerous admirers, his comfortable apartments, and the convenience of a great city, and he spent his days walking by the sea, speculating on the causes of her  illness, and passing the hours until he could visit her.

When the war broke out he returned to paris.  The city was then threatened, and he went with the Jolases down to the village of Jean-le_Puy near Vichy, and while the German armies swept through the village and countryside, he lay hidden in their farm-house lodging, only Mrs Joyce venturing to go out to get such provision as they could afford, for, for the time being, he was quite destitute, and lived on the money given him by the American Vichy representatives.  When the armies had passed, and the immediate danger of capture had subsided he spent his days wandering about the village and countryside, unable to concentrate on anything or do any work, a tired and sick man.

Eventually, after about six months' anxious waiting, they managed to cross the border into Switzerland, and on to Zurich, where he had lived and written much of Ulysses during the former Great War.  Pleased to be out of teh disastrous turmoil, he only desired that his daughter would be sent after him.  But his application was refused, and it was destined that this town should be his final resting place.

For years Joyce had been suffering from a mysterious internal pain, which the Paris doctor had attributed to nerves, a diagnosis which suited Joyce's temperament.  But in spite of what he suffered, he retained a good deal of his original vitality, and a few days before his death even he visited a renoir exhibition, and was tireless in his interest in it.

the following night he woke up complaining of a severe pain in the stomach, and the doctor was sent for, and after two others had been brought in in consultation, he was removed to teh hospital and when Mrs.Joyce and his son went to visit him, they found him in a very low state after a transfusion.  He wanted her to stay the night in teh room with him, and his wast words to her were; "Nora, Nora-stay here to-night." But the doctors insisted that complete rest was essential for his recovery, so with some misgivings they returned to their hotel, when at two o'clock in the morning the hospital authorities rang up to say that he was dead.  Significantly, it was the 13th of the month, of Jamuary- a number which he feared all his life, for he would never take a room in a hotel with the number 13, nor a cabin on a boat, nor indeed touch anything connected with it; for that number, and being struck by lightening, were the two fears that haunted him.

Not a single compatriot attended his funeral except it was his own son, a fact hich his family resented.  yet, in a way, it was the natural sequence to his own self-imposed exile; for some reason, real or imaginary, he held a perpetual grudge against the country of his birth, and was determined never to return there.  As a young man, he had quickly decided that Ireland was too small a stage for his talents, and after he had left it, he took no further interest in its progress.  Politically, the Parnell crisis left its scar on him, and he often referred to it with feeling, and if you tried to talk about current events, he would dismiss them with silence and return to his early memories of Dublin-memories which were not free from bitterness.  Indeed, in regard to all current events, either in his own country or elsewhere, he maintained a fierce detachment, which he considered was the  proper attitude for one who was, to use his own favourite and somewhat archaic phrase, "a man of letters.'

Indeed, seeing his learned and graceful figure passing among the continental literati, artists, and scholars, I was often reminded of earlier Irish predecessors who brough their originality and visioin on to the Continent, and by so doing, helped to establish the intellectual reputation of this island far beyond it's own shore.  Such, no doubt, was his intention, and insisting on his international character, he wished to show his hatred for all that was provincial and intolerant, both of which had scarred his vivid and sensitive youth.  And wandering round this exhibition, turning over the crumpled leaves of these endlessly-corrected notebooks, and looking at the faded family portraits, as one searches for words to sum up the essential man, we can only repeat, in spite of contrary and hostile opinion for which he had a silent contempt, words that must have often flickered through his own mind during the adversities of his tenacious exile:

"Mors aut honorabilis Vita."

 

 

 

 

 

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