Hugh J. Dawson
First published in James Joyce Quarterly
25:3 (Spring 1988) p305-321.
This text has not been re-edited for this hypertext version.
Among the unpublished papers left by Thomas MacGreevy are a manuscript memoir draft and an uncorrected typescript essay in criticism of Joyce's works that draws upon conversations during their years in Paris. MacGreevy's recollections are interesting for the light they cast upon Joyce's relations with Nora and his father, especially in what they relate of his reaction to the news of John Stanislaus Joyce's death at the end of 1931. The critical piece, although very sketchy, develops the suggestion advanced in the memoir that Dante's Commedia provided a model for Joyce's major works.1
MacGreevy who changed the earlier "McGreevy" spelling in his later years was born of a North Kerry family of teachers and farmers in Tarbert, County Kerry, in 1896. During the First World War, he served as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery and was twice wounded in the Battle of the Somme. On his return to civilian life he took up studies in history and political science at Trinity College, Dublin, where the fluency in French that he had begun to acquire while serving in the war served him well in his honors subject, the French Revolution. In later years he would translate works of Paul Valéry and Henry de Montherlant.
Following the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922, MacGreeyv gave some thought to entering the diplomatic service. However, having written a series of articles on paintings in the Dublin National Gallery collection, he set his mind on a career in the arts. After working for a time with Lennox Robinson in organizing libraries and founding the Irish Central Library for Students, he moved to France in 1926. William McCausland Stewart, whom MacGreevy had known during their student days at Trinity, was then about to leave his position as Reader in English at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. He proposed his old friend as his successor, and for the next seven years MacGreevy lectured on English literature and enjoyed the artistic excitement of Paris. One of his closest friendships, that with Samuel Beckett, also dated from his time at Trinity. It was very likely through Beckett that MacGreevy entered into the Joyce circle, as a member of which he contributed an essay on "The Catholic Element in Work in Progress" to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. The essay related Joyce's enterprise to the Catholic vision of Dante and Vico that MacGreevy preferred to that of some contemporary ecclesiastics.2
During the late 1930s MacGreevy lived in London. There he was chief critic for The Studio, lectured on art history at the British National Gallery and wrote for The Connoisseur and the Times Literary Supplement. In 1941 he returned to Dublin, in 1950 becoming Director of the National Gallery; he continued to supervise the enrichment of its collection until his retirement in 1964. In 1948 the French government named him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and in 1962 raised him to the rank of officer. In recognition of his criticism of Italian art, the Italian government in 1955 conferred on him the order AI Merito della Republica Italiana and in 1963 awarded him its Silver Medal for Culture.
His critical publications included an early monograph on T. S. Eliot as well as studies of Richard Aldington, Nicolas Poussin, and the works of the Italian School in the Dublin National Gallery.3 His relationship with Joyce, which MacGreevy remembers in the essays printed below, was but one of a wide range of literary and artistic friendships. He and Beckett were very close through some of the latter's most difficult but important years, and Beckett would contribute an appreciative foreword to the 1971 publication of his old friend's Collected Poems.4 For the Irish section of the 1962 Venice Biennale, MacGreevy organized an exhibition of the paintings of Jack B. Yeats, about whose work he had written an important essay in 1945; their friendship and the critic's appreciation of the painter's art led to MacGreevy's being named artistic executor of the Yeats estate.5 Finally, throughout the last years of Wallace Stevens' life, MacGreevy exchanged with him a long and revealing series of letters that drew upon their shared love of poetry and painting. The correspondence began in 1948, when MacGreevy sent the American poet a collection of some of the poems he had published before the war, and continued until Stevens' death. On MacGreevy's only visit to America in 1954, Stevens presented him with an inscribed copy of The Auroras of Autumn, a collection which included the 1948 poem he had written in honor of his Irish friend, "Our Stars Come from Ireland."6
Their interests in the arts and their common Irish backgrounds might seem to have drawn MacGreevy and Joyce together. However, while Joyce's eye problems would appear to have precluded his ever appreciating painting as he did music, MacGreevy in his memoir recalls Joyce's acknowledging something of a temperamental disinclination for the visual arts. The Ireland beyond Dublin was almost unknown to Joyce, and MacGreevy found that it was with Nora that his West Country origins gave him a special bond.
MacGreevy experienced Joyce's generosity when Joyce intervened to gain the ambitious young art critic a place on Formes, the review founded by Waldemar George. He recalled their mutual regard for one another in a handwritten memorial that records his feelings on learning of his friend and benefactor's passing:
MacGreevy, No. 1: Joyce's death was announced at one o'clock today (January 13, 1941). It seems to me that it marks the end of nineteenth-century individualism in literature. He was its last greater genius, like Yeats in one thing only in that he had worked out an attitude of mind which seemed to him to be valid, and he consecrated his whole life, both in his art and in his way of living, to maintaining it. But it was not the Yeatsian attitude. Yeats was certainly an individualist, but the individualism he stood for was flamboyant and external. It was an attitude on the one hand of strict adherence to the truth as he perceived it and on the other hand of intolerance that rejected nothing except dishonesty. Thus he could combine integrity and courtesy. "I love my wife and my daughter and my son," he once said to me half-dreamily. "For the rest of the world ." He held up his hands. And then, remembering my presence and paying me the compliment of taking it for granted that I would understand the reserves his rigid intellectual integrity imposed on him and, within the limits these reserves imposed, his desire to be friendly with me, he added, "I think you're honest."7
An introductory paragraph, not printed here, that alludes to his doctors' instructions suggests that the following MacGreevy memoir of his friendship with Joyce was written a quarter-century later, during the illness that preceded his death in 1967.
MacGreevy, No. 2: First, perhaps I should make it clear that I may not claim to estimate Joyce's ultimate significance as a writer. It is years since I read any of his work. I did, on occasion, act as amanuensis for him when a few pages of what was being called Work in Progress arrived in proof. The impression I gathered of what that work as a whole was intended to signify is that, just as Ulysses which I had read earlier without much understanding was to be regarded as a restatement of Dante's Inferno in terms of the underdog role of viceregal Dublin by a questioning Dublin Catholic of the early years of this century, so Work in Progress (which even now I have not read) was to be a restatement of the Purgatorio in terms of the modern world, including the modern world's preoccupation with the Unconscious. Joyce wished Homer's Odyssey, Vergil's Aeneid as well as the Commedia of Dante to be considered the prototypes of the whole. The approach to the whole was. . . to be thought of in relation to the Neapolitan philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744). Of Vico I knew and still know next to nothing. The reference books say that Vico, presumably a Catholic, wrote a book on the principles of the philosophy of history, dividing the history of each people into three epochs, the divine, the heroic and the human. The impression I got of Vico's work from Joyce was that the basic theory was that the cycles of history renewed themselves in each people and its culture. Into that theory of history Joyce was fitting his own preoccupation with what he could remember from his catechism of the Four Last Things Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.
An important influence on the format of Ulysses was Victor Bérard's rearrangement of the sequence of events in Homer's Odyssey.8 That I might have followed up since, through the Bérard sons, I had become at their father's suggestion a regular visitor at the home of the famous Homeric scholar. Bérard had been interested in Ireland since the days of Parnell. . . . He and the writer he used to call "Monsieur Zhoy-isse" were always asking me to arrange for them to meet, but as it worked out the meeting never came about for it would go on happening that when one was in Paris the other was away. But when Monsieur Bérard died, Joyce asked to come with me to the Requiem Mass. There were kings and ambassadors as well as scholars at Saint-Dominique that day, but Joyce felt very proud because as we approached the family after Mass, Monsieur Armand Bérard, the elder son, realised that it was Joyce who was with me, and stepped forward to express his appreciation of the fact that Joyce had come and then presented him to his mother; and that Madame Bérard, even in her grief at the loss of her distinguished and sympathetic husband, received Joyce in her own distinguished and sympathetic way as a writer who had come to express his homage and condolences.
It was our own Patrick Tuohy, the painter, who introduced me to James and Nora Joyce.9 I was returning from Spain. Tuohy was in Paris. At Cook's in the Place de la Madeleine I found a note from him saying that he could get me a room at his hotel in the Rue Delambre and that he would like me to meet James Joyce, "who," said Tuohy, "is a very nice person". . . . I had not, previous to meeting him, imagined Joyce as what could be described as a "nice" person. It was a couple of years since I had ploughed through Ulysses. I imagined the author "walking to eternity along Merrion Strand" as a detached kind of man. I had pondered over the discussion on the relationship between fathers and sons in the National Library scene; but that was apropos of Shakespeare, which in some way obscured its significance for I was growing a bit tired of Shakespeare. The discussion was puzzling. It was only when Joyce himself said, ages afterwards, that I was the first person who had ever sensed its significance for him and apropos of it, referred to the importance of the descent into the underworld of Aeneas searching for his father, that I realised the depth of Joyce's preoccupation with the mystery of man's origins, where fathers are no more than instruments, transmitters of life. It linked up with the scene in the maternity hospital where, amidst the ribaldries of others, the thought occurs to the half-intoxicated young Dedalus, who represents the author of the book, that there is a sense, deriving from the Gospel of Saint John, in which every baby coming into the world may be regarded as potentially a son of God "the Word made flesh."
All that, however, was long afterwards. Before our first meeting, my feelings about Joyce were mixed. Of the stories in Dubliners, I had found "The Dead" moving and beautiful. But then that was not so much a Dublin story. The woman in it came from Galway, from the Ireland outside of Dublin the Ireland which I belonged to, which Joyce could feel but did not know. Once he said to me something like, "This Ireland that you talk about is strange territory so far as I am concerned. Thirty miles from Dublin and I am lost."
From the Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, the things that remained before I met Joyce were the scene of the hungry children of the family singing and the beauty of the verbal landscape painting. At the time I was less held by the discussion on aesthetics since, as it struck me, it seemed to be more concerned with sculpture than with painting. It may be, however, that it is important.
Yet it was indirectly on the subject of painting that Joyce tackled me on the occasion of our first meeting. When Tuohy and I joined Joyce, Nora and Giorgio for after-dinner coffee that first evening at the Trianon Restaurant, Nora laughingly said, "Tell us about the swans." But I had not been present when Gogarty presented the pair of swans to the Liffey and could only say so. Then Joyce said rather coldly, "I believe it was you told Tuohy my father's Christian name was Simon." I replied that Tuohy was quite aware that all I knew about his father was what I might opine from Joyce's own books; that Tuohy's portrait of his father seemed to me to be a great masterpiece painted from life, which meant that Tuohy was in a better position to know his father's name than I was but that preparatory to exhibiting the portrait at the Hibernian Academy Exhibition Tuohy had asked me what I thought the father's name might be; that I had never known what the father's name was, but that Harry Clarke knew the father by sight and, after the Joyce books came out, Harry would refer to him as "Old Simon." Tuohy knew Joyce well by this time. The father had sat to him for a portrait. He was amused at seeing me defending myself indignantly. Joyce, knowing his Tuohy, was amused at having caught out Tuohy, to whom he had become genuinely attached. Tuohy had chanced exhibiting the portrait as of "Simon Joyce, Esquire." What mattered to him was not so much the words or titles as drawing and painting. Joyce, I might say, was rather pleased that his verbal portrait of his father had apparently seized the imagination of Dublin as represented by my story of Harry Clarke. So all was more or less well so far as the party was concerned. Giorgio, who was hardly more than seventeen at the time and who was (and remained) a very good son, felt that his parents were in safe hands blathering about the Dublin and Ireland he did not know for the evening and cleared off. I do not remember anything else of the evening. The impression of Joyce that remained was that he was coolly detached, ready to be accusing while remaining strictly polite. Nora was more my own kind of Irish, but she had kept quiet. Two days later, however, I was taking my laundry to some small receiving place I had been directed to near the Gare Montparnasse. Since leaving Madrid for Valencia, Tarragona, Montauban, Moissac and Bourges, I had not stopped anywhere long enough to get my laundry attended to. Not knowing Paris, I had assumed that I was not likely to meet anyone who mattered while carrying a large and not very well made-up parcel under my arm. It was a sunny day in May. Taxis had their hoods down. As one taxi passed in the opposite direction, I happened to be looking that way. Inside it was Nora Joyce. She recognised me at once, smiled radiantly and waved. We might have been old friends.
Then, for nearly three years, I had no more communication with the Joyces. Tuohy would talk of them when he returned from his vacations in Paris. He had painted portraits of Joyce, Nora, Giorgio and the daughter Lucia, whom I had not met that evening at the Trianon Restaurant. . . . Meantime, having met Joyce personally, I inevitably thought more and more about what he stood for, about his significance. But I don't think I re-read his books. From his manner when I saw him, I could believe he was putting into practice his theory that the solution for the Irish artist of his time had been "silence, exile and cunning." I was not naturally given to silence, and Sunday after Sunday all through my years as a growing boy, I had heard our parish priest at home quoting Saint Augustine to the effect that open confession was good for the soul. I had had plenty of exile and did not think much of it. And the implications of the word "cunning," except in relation to the technique of art, were unpleasant. . . .
I was far from being committed to the Joyce canon in literature when at New Year, I927, the great Gustave Lanson, Director of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, accepted me as Lecteur d'anglais in place of my friend Professor William MacCausland Stewart, who was taking up a post at Sheffield and suggested me to Monsieur Lanson as a possible successor to himself as "English Reader" at the Ecole. Some little time after I had got installed in my fine room on the second floor of the Ecole, I wrote to Joyce and announced my presence in Paris. At nine-thirty the next morning, he was on the telephone. Could I go round to the flat in the Square Robiac that afternoon? I could. Thus began the few years of regular interchange with the Joyces.
To what extent did that regular exchange amount to friendship? So far as Joyce himself was concerned, I would say hardly at all. Joyce was not interested in personal friendship or friendships. So far as people were concerned all that seemed to matter was whether they were prepared to be interested in the Work in Progress that was to be Finnegans Wake. He was established as a contented husband and father, I think a devoted husband and father. Until Mrs. Joyce's first illness and later Lucia's breakdown, the domesticities ran on wheels for him. Money had come in. He was free to dedicate himself to his work, and that dedication amounted almost to an obsession. When new acquaintances turned up, I would say that his first and only consideration was whether they could be of use in relation to the still unnamed work. He allowed himself to relax in the evenings. But one would find echoes of the subjects that came up for discussion during the hours of relaxation in later passages and even in revisions of earlier passages of the Work in Progress. He worked all day, ate a little and drank nothing until it came to dinner time. On occasion, about once in a fortnight or three weeks, he called at the gate of the Ecole Normale about eight o'clock in the evening. Old Jean, the concierge, would call up to my second-floor window, which was usually half-open. When I appeared, he would say, "Monsieur Zhoy-isse est en-bas," and I would come down. Was I free? If I were free, we got into the taxi in which he had come and drove to an estaminet in the Rue Saint-Honoré which was owned by a Swiss. The owner knew what Joyce had come for, a bottle of Swiss wine named, I think, "Yvon." While it was being got ready we stood at the counter and Joyce ordered an apéritif for us both, a Dubonnet for him and a light mandarin-curacao which was said to be made from orange peel to be taken with soda water for me. (Once he persuaded me to try the Dubonnet, but it was not my kind of drink and I did not finish it.) Then we went to the Trianon Restaurant to join Nora, usually getting there about quarter to nine. During dinner we drank the Yvon. After dinner there would be a liqueur. At half-past eleven or a quarter to twelve, he and Nora would be in their taxi and on the way home. I would walk back up the boulevard, across to the Val de Grâce and then down a couple of hundred yards to the Rue des Feuillantines to the Ecole, which was at the upper end of the Rue d'Ulm. I think Joyce was not really a drinking man. If he took a second liqueur, one might feel he needed help getting to his taxi. But as likely as not the conversation at dinner would start him off on something or other, and as sure as half-past nine came in the morning, old Jean would be calling from outside his lodge that I was wanted on the telephone. It would be Joyce wanting something or other that had suggested itself to him as a result of the previous evening's talk. If it necessitated going round to the Square Robiac, Nora would save me the trouble: "Don't mind him, Tom. If God himself came down from Heaven that fellow would find something for him to do. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jim. Joyce would only smile at her teasing, but when he smiled, he always put his hand in front of his face. There seemed to be perfect understanding between them. I forgot to say that the first day I went to the Square Robiac apartment it was Nora who opened the door. It was nearly three years since we had met. I had only seen her wearing a hat. When she opened the door, she had her back to the light. I did not recognise her. Her face was in shadow, but the light from behind made a beautiful halo of her gold hair. "Is it Miss Joyce?" I asked. "My name is MacGreevy." Needless to say, that crowned the friendly feeling that had been from our first meeting and the smiling salute she had waved to me from her taxi the day she had passed in the other direction as I was going with my parcel to the laundry.
Nora Joyce spoke French, German and Italian as she spoke English. She was as much of an opera enthusiast as Joyce himself was. And I think she had perhaps more feeling for symphonic music than he had. They were both enthusiastic Wagnerians, but I think Joyce's enthusiasm for Italian and French opera was greater. They got to a revival of Rameaul's Castor et Pollux before I did. I remember asking Joyce whether there had been a big audience. "Of course," he answered, "Every snob in Paris was there." I had already heard a concert performance of Rameaul's Hyppolite et Aricie, and when I got to Castor et Pollux I found it more interesting than entertaining. But we were all interested in music and talk about music.
What Joyce found puzzling was my preoccupation with pictures. "Where did you pick up that way you have of talking about painting?" he once asked me. "Yeats has it. Pound has it. I never had it." But once when they were away in Holland, he came back with a colour reproduction of Vermeer's View of Delft and Lucia with a reproduction of the Vermeer Portrait of a Girl, also in colour. They had both framed and hung one in the hall, the other I think in the dining room. The Tuohy portraits hung with portraits of ancestors in the salon. The ancestors, one gathered, were mostly on the paternal side. One was given to understand that Joyce's great-great-great-grandfather was own brother to Daniel O'Connell. There was an occasion when after dinner and relaxed, Joyce told me of a day when his father was looking for him in Dublin, Joyce being no more than thirteen or fourteen at the time. The bailiffs, the father reported, were coming. So the Joyces, father and son, hurried off to Philipsburg[h] Avenue'10 and were in time. I daresay the house was only rented. In any case, all the father wanted was to keep "the ancestors" out of the bailiffs hands. He got away two under one arm and one under the other. James was given the other two "the ancestors" were five in all and carried one under either arm; and Joyce added that as they came to the end of Philipsburg[h] Avenue and safely into the more peopled Fairview Strand, his father proceeded to sing triumphantly! The rest of the family property was of no importance in comparison with the portraits of the ancestors.
When Joyce did relax the talk invariably came round to the comedy of his father. He knew that people got wrong impressions of people from his books and went to the trouble of telling me that his relations with his mother were tender and understanding. He also insisted on the kindness and consideration the Jesuits in Dublin had shown him. When he came back from the village of Saint-Patrice on the Loire where the tree that is supposed to have let Saint Patrick cross to the other side of the river is still shown, the parish priest had walked down to the riverbank with him, and they had a talk which Joyce had obviously enjoyed. Again he was deeply impressed when he went to get seats for the Holy Week service at the Maronite church in the Rue d'Ulm. There were no more tickets to be had. Joyce looked so disappointed that the priest in charge asked questions, and when it transpired that Joyce was Irish, there was an immediate response. The priest was Lebanese. There were, he said, only three Catholic countries left in the world, Poland, Ireland and Lebanon. Seats would be found for the Monsieur and Madame even if they had to be inside the sanctuary rails. And they were.
Joyce's enthusiasm for the voice of John Sullivan is remembered by everybody.11 It was a really heroic tenor voice which came over most wonderfully in Rossini's William Tell and Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah. Sullivan's parents had taken him from their home in Killarney when he was six. He had grown up in Le Havre. But his mother had instilled in him the idea that he could be nothing better than a Fenian. The net result was that in defiance of the Austrians in Tell and [in] defiance of the Philistines in Samson, Sullivan had, I think, no peer. I found him less sympathetic in Lohengrin and Romeo and Juliet. And I had so little use for Les Huguenots itself that even with Sullivan and a very gifted Swedish soprano named Eidé Norena, I could not enthuse.12 Joyce went to the opera practically every time that Sullivan was singing. I think Nora whispered to me that if Sullivan's name came up to let it go as quickly as possible, and not to introduce it myself. Joyce felt Sullivan and his voice were underrated.
But even at the height of the Sullivan enthusiasm one had only to mention his father and he would be back to the level, not so much of the comic as of the comedic. In memory the comedy of his father was unending and affectionate. The day the father died I went to the Hotel Bassano in Passy, where they had been staying since the move from the Square Robiac. Joyce had arranged to meet an Italian composer who was setting some of his poems to music.13 That was for some time later. The atmosphere was subdued in the room at the Hotel Bassano. Joyce kept up well enough. Nora was quiet. Then it was time for me to go. It was also time for him to keep his appointment. Would I mind, he asked, if he dropped me at the Trocadero underground station instead of taking me the whole way to the Quarter. He had not much time. Naturally I agreed. I was well able to find my own way home. We hardly talked as we drove. When we reached the entrance to the Metro at the Trocadero, however, Joyce said, "Don't go just yet." I waited. He began to talk, but then suddenly he broke down. He cried and cried and cried for several minutes. I don't remember whether I tried to say something or whether he grasped my hand. But in a little while he asked for forgiveness, talked himself back into normality for another minute or two and then, saying he thought he would be all right, he let me go my own way, and he drove on to keep his appointment at some cafe[sic] at the Rond Point des Champs Elysées. I feel sure he entered that cafe[sic] looking as cool and detached as if nothing whatever of special interest had happened during the preceding twenty-four hours. But I feel sure too that he tipped the taxi-driver even more handsomely probably apologised for having made what he would regard as an exhibition of himself. Though he need not have bothered. Like the attendants at the opera, pretty well every taxi-driver in Paris knew James Joyce and took care of him. With men he carried himself most affably as a grand signeur, a grand seigneur of letters. Had not the wife of a concierge at some friend's apartment opined that Monsieur Zhoy-isse represented for his countrymen what Victor Hugo represented for Frenchmen? Joyce told me of that remark with obvious satisfaction.
The following MacGreevy essay in criticism may have been written for publication in The Furrow, the Irish Catholic magazine in which he had taken an interest since its founding. The intended article had progressed to typescript, copies of which he circulated to friends for their comments. It appears to have been written about 1950, with notes entered in the margin in 1964 and perhaps at other times in his last years.
MacGreevy, No. 3: The interpreters of Joyce's work whose writings I have come across in casual reading are not always convincing. Sometimes they evoke influences and associations for which the ordinary Irish reader would be inclined to substitute others that seem more obvious. And often I have found myself thinking that the ordinary Irish reader is more likely to be right. All his immense erudition did not prevent Joyce from keeping close in many essential things to the people, more especially, of course, to the people of his own generation. Recently one of the interpreters of Finnegans Wake associated the sentence "Silence is in our faustic halls" with The Castle of Dromore (which I take to be the now well-known song, the words of which are translated from the Irish of Dr. Hyde). But I wonder whether The Castle of Dromore was well-known or known at all in the Dublin of Joyce about the first decade of this century. Certainly I never heard Joyce or any member of his family (all of whom sang or lilted Irish songs about the house like the rest of us) refer to it or sing, or even lilt, it. So I think the derivation of "Silence is in our faustic halls is more likely to be from Moore's "Silence is in our festive halls than the Hyde translator's more remote "But peace reigns in her lofty halls." What is primarily interesting about the Joyce adaptation would seem to be the appropriateness of the word "faustic" to the scheme of Finnegans Wake.
A more understandable surmise on the part of an interpreter I think it was the same one, but I did not keep the article was that the Voice of Shaun in Finnegans Wake might be associated with an Irish radio transmission, especially presumably when heard from outside Ireland. But I had it from Mr. Joyce himself that the original of the Voice of Shaun (and indeed of the personality of Shaun too) were already familiar to lovers of singing in Joyce's Dublin days twenty years before there was a radio station in Ireland.14 The original of Shem in the "Shem and Shaun" section of Finnegans Wake was the author just as the original of the Gracehoper in "The Ondt and the Gracehoper" section is the author. There was no mystery either, amongst Joyce's immediate friends at any rate, about the identity of the Ondt.15 But as it has not been divulged by any of the commentators, I do not feel that it is for me to divulge it. There may be what are called "considerations." I am far from having read all or even most of the commentaries or interpretations, but if the original identity of a character had been suggested, I assume that it would have created discussion and that I should be likely to have come across some reference to it.
It is the Gracehoper who brings me to my real object in writing this note, which is to suggest that Father John Quinlan's observation ". . . the Dublin Commedia of Joyce has no Paradiso" (in his review of Mr. Sean O'Faolain's A Summer in Italy in the first issue of The Furrow) may yet, especially if the information given me a little while ago proves correct, require qualification.16 I am, I think, right in saying that the late Father Thurston, S.J. wrote tentatively but not without respect of Ulysses when it first came out.17 But otherwise there have been very few priest-commentators on Joyce's work. It is because Father Quinlan is a priest-commentator and also because it is obvious that he reads with literary appreciation and because he can write, that I break my rule in this instance of not intervening upon the discussions of Joyce commentators. For I understand that there is reason to believe that the Gracehoper, he who hoped for grace, was granted grace.
Those of Mr. Joyce's friends who were interested in the parallel with Dante and took Ulysses to be a restatement in terms of modern realism of the Inferno, and Finnegans Wake to be an evocation in transitional language of an appropriately transitional purgatorial state of being, used often to wonder about the Paradiso that should follow. I was one of them and spoke of it to Mr. Joyce more than once. He did not live to write his Paradiso, but that he was likely to do so had he lived I have no doubt.18 The Dante influence on Joyce is beyond question. I never heard him say that he knew the Divina Commedia by heart, but I know that more than once when, in my own fumbling Italian, I reminded him of some phrase or passage from Dante that for some reason or other had caught my imagination, he could take it up without hesitation, and had no difficulty in recalling and quoting the context. I would also, naturally, say that his interest in Dante was a creative interest. All the reading of Dante that ever was will not give a man an intellect who has none or make a writer of a man who was not born to write. But granted the natural gifts in both cases, I think the influence of Dante had much to do with the fact that as a writer of English prose Joyce had no peer in the first half of the twentieth century except W.B. Yeats, another close student of Dante.19 It is not that either Joyce or Yeats was in any sense a mere pasticheur. They were both pronouncedly individual, and in their writings they gave considerable play to their personal predilections. Thus often in his later years, and especially when he was writing of organised society, Yeats tended to write with a flourish. And Joyce often gave play to his sense of the comicality of people and things, which sometimes turned to ribaldry, and which, in so far as it could be said not to be specifically his own, derived not from Dante or Florence but from Joyce's father of whose quaint humours he loved to tell stories and from Dublin. But just as he based the sequence of happenings in Ulysses upon Victor Bérard's arrangement of the events of the Odyssey, so I think that he based his epic scheme as a whole, as well even allowing for a Vico qualification as the philosophic (and, it may turn out, even the religious) balance of it, upon the Divina Commedia. A case might, without excess of special pleading, be made out for the theory that the values of Ulysses are as orthodox as those of the Inferno. And for the idea that a Paradiso is implicit in it as surely as the actuality of an Inferno is realised. Father Quinlan says that "Dante's working model was the hierarchical order with the eternal God at the summit, Joyce's the flats and souterrains of the sub-conscious, a subjective enclave of hieratic secularism. . . ."20 Really, I wonder. It seems to me that it should not be part of a secularist work to evoke a picture of heresiarchs fleeing "with their mitres awry." It seems to me to be far from secularism to choose to represent the Law of Nature in the person of Bloom, whose traditions were not Christian and to whom the ringing of the Angelus meant nothing, but the Law of Grace in the person of a young Irish Catholic who, temptation having brought him to a mauvais lieu, flies from the gibbering inferno of it with the Voices of All the Blessed, as they sing "Alleluia for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" ringing in his ears and the Voices of All the Damned horribly cackling the same sounds in reverse. (Incidentally, this reversal of the words is a literary device that Joyce took straight from Dante, but taking it with Joyce's dismissal of the heresiarchs, I think it may be considered as providing some ground for assuming also Joyce's acceptance of the teaching that evil is but the abuse or absence of good.) These are but a few points that come to my memory. I write without having copies of Joyce's works at hand.
It has also to be remembered that we read Dante's Inferno with the full knowledge that the glory of the Paradiso is to follow. If Dante had died before the Paradiso was written, I wonder whether the outrageous audacities and disgustingnesses of the Inferno would be accepted as they are. Who, it might be asked and not without some justification, was Dante Alighieri to arrogate to himself the right to consign anybody, let alone a pope who had been very sorely tried in this life, to eternal damnation, while putting others who had died excommunicate on the road to eternal salvation? I shall not cite instances of the images of physical dirt that are to be found in the Inferno. And so I venture to suggest that we may discuss an Irishman who is recognised as a great writer with sentiments of charity and, as Christian men amongst Christian men, refrain from greeting his name with commination. Which does not all mean that I would put the works of Joyce in the way of undeveloped or inadequately trained intelligences. The only point I wish to put forward for consideration by Father Quinlan and other priest-commentators is that the writer whose work shows a constantly recurring if not ever-present sense of Catholic values should not be too lightly dismissed as a secularist, hieratical or otherwise.
Incidentally, it may be of interest to point out that Joyce's literary scheme, like Dante's, had its political as well as its religious and moral implications, Ulysses representing, amongst other things, the squalor and horror, for a hyper-sensitive young Irishman of the people, that were the background to the last absurd manifestations of English viceregal pageantry, and Finnegans Wake representing the transitional, the unstable, the "faustically onward and upward," progressive, Free State stage of Dublin's existence. The "paradisal" stage was not to be in Joyce's lifetime. (Whether it could ever be paradise, politically speaking, is another matter.) But I have heard it affirmed.21 that there survives a short draft of a sketch (or sketch for a draft) of a third and last part of Joyce's uncompleted trilogy. This, if it be true, might, in terms of the spirit, be taken to mean that the great writer had, in fact, before his earthly life ended, had his glimpse of his Paradise. As I knew him, he was, especially in his devotion to his work, an austerely tragic figure, though domestically and among his friends, he was in the most innocently happy way an easy man, liking nothing better than an ordinary party with a little tea or light wine to drink and the singing of Irish songs till one o'clock in the morning.
I have not been in touch with Mrs. Joyce for eleven years, and I would not willingly hurt her feelings by discussing her personal affairs in public. But I think that, for the sake of the most devoted of husbands and because of her and his undying attachment to their own people and their own people's ways, she will forgive me if I tell one little story of them both. One day Mrs. Joyce telephoned to ask me if I could call over to their flat. She would explain what she wanted of me when I arrived. In the afternoon I went over they lived near the Invalides, a long way from the Mont Ste. Geneviève where I lived. When I got there she told me she had been invited to a very smart afternoon party, at the Ritz no less, for which she had bought a new hat, and which she would be disappointed to miss. But the morning's post had brought a letter from a Galway uncle, of whom she and Mr. Joyce were very fond and who was very fond of them, saying that he would be arriving for a promised visit the very next day. He was old I think he was a retired Inspector of Customs and Excise and he was a daily Communicant, so the problem was where to find a hotel as near as possible to a church in order that he would not have far to go fasting in the morning, or risk getting wet. Would I mind walking around the Quarter with "Jim," whose eyes were giving him trouble at the time, and drawing his attention to hotels that looked suitable, so that he could make enquiries and book a room for her uncle. Naturally, I agreed. So off she drove in her finery having first, however, been called back from the door a couple of times by Joyce, ostensibly to ask her something, but in reality because, as usual, he was loth to let her go and wanted to keep her lingering. Finally, with laughter all around, she got away by telling him "for Heaven's sake" to let her go to her party and letting him be minding his Ondts and Gracehopers till she came back. And then Joyce and I proceeded to traipse round the Quarter in search of a convenient lodging for the dear uncle who must not through any fault of the Joyces miss his daily Mass and Communion. Indeed I think we may hope that the Gracehoper found grace.
1 Both MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett discuss the influence of Dante upon the nascent Finnegans Wake in their contributions to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. See also Mary T. Reynolds, Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 201-02; Reynolds, "Joyce's Planetary Music: His Debt to Dante," Sewanee Review, 72 (Winter 1964), 450-77; Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 48-50. Back to Text.
2 Thomas MacGreevy, "The Catholic Element in Work in Progress," in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1929), pp. 117-27. See also MacGreevy, "A Note on Work in Progress," transition, 14 (1928), 216-19. Back to Text.
3 Thomas MacGreevy, Thomas Stearns Eliot (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931); Richard Aldington: An Englishman (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931); Nicholas Poussin (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1960); Catalogue of Pictures of the Italian Schools (Dublin: Stationery Office, ). Back to Text.
4 Thomas MacGreevy, Collected Poems, ed. Thomas Dillon Redshaw (Dublin: New Writers' Press, 1971). Deirbre Bair has drawn upon the MacGreevy-Beckett correspondence for her book Samuel Beckett: A Biography (New York: Harcourt, 1978). Back to Text.
5 Thomas MacGreevy, Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation (Dublin: Victor Waddington, 1945). Back to Text.
6 See Letters of Wallace Stevens, ed. Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966). See also, Peter Brazeau, "The Irish Connection: Wallace Stevens and Thomas McGreevy," The Southern Review, 17 (1981), 533-41. Back to Text.
7 Permission to print MacGreevy's unpublished writings has been kindly given by his nieces, Mrs. Elizabeth Ryan and Mrs. Margaret Farrington, and by The Board of Trinity College, Dublin, where the MacGreevy papers are deposited. The three MacGreevy pieces printed here are from the papers catalogued in the Trinity manuscript collection as MS 8114/10, MS 8114/16 and MS 8114/17. Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce, pp. 49-50, 140n., draws upon other of MacGreevy's unpublished reminiscences of Joyce. Back to Text.
8 Victor Bérard (1864-1931) was a French Hellenist whose studies of Homer focused upon the geography of the Odyssey. See Michael Seidel, Epic Geography: James Joyce's "Ulysses" (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976). Back to Text.
9 Patrick Joseph Tuohy (1894-1930). On his paintings of Joyce and his father, see Ellmann, JJII 12n., 565-66. Back to Text.
10 Richard Ellmann's listing of the family's many addresses during Joyce's childhood and youth (Letters II 1v) makes no mention of their having lived here, but MacGreevy's double mention of "Philipsburg Avenue" in this paragraph has been confirmed by Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts, Trinity College, Dublin Library (personal correspondence, April 7, 1986). I am indebted to him for correcting MacGreevy's spelling and for the information that "the street runs between Fairview Strand and Griffith Avenue on the north side of the city." Back to Text.
11 John Sullivan (also "O'Sullivan" 1878-1955) was a Cork-born tenor whose excellent high notes won him Joyce's passionate favor. He sang at the Paris Opera 1914-22 and 1929-30. Back to Text.
12 Eidé Norena (originally Kaja Hansen Eidé 1884-1968) was, in fact, Swedish. Back to Text.
13 This was perhaps Edgardo Carducci, whom Ellmann (JJII 641n.) lists among those who were at this time setting Pomes Penyeach to music. Carducci's music for "Alone" appears in The Joyce Book, ed. Herbert Hughes (London: The Sylvan Press, 1953), pp. 58-61. Back to Text.
14 MacGreevy's marginal note: "John MacCormack." Back to Text.
15 MacGreevy's marginal note: "Wyndham Lewis." Back to Text.
16 MacGreevy here refers to John Quinlan, "The Land of the Hundred Cities," The Furrow, 1 (1950), 56. Back to Text.
17 MacGreevy appears to refer to the Rev. Herbert H.C. Thurston, S.J., but no such essay is listed in the bibliography of that Jesuit's writings appended to Joseph Crehan, Father Thurston: A Memoir (London: Sheed and Ward, 1952). He may be confusing Thurston with C.C. Martindale, S.J., whose review of Ulysses appeared in the Dublin Review, 171 (1922), 273-76. Back to Text.
18 MacGreevy's marginal note: "I have not read the end of Finnegans Wake" (1964). Back to Text.
19 For Yeats's indebtedness to Dante, see Thomas Vance, "Dante, Yeats and Unity of Being," Shenandoah, 17 (1965), 73-85; Giorgio Melchiori. "Yeats and Dante," English Miscellany, 19 (1968), 153-79; David Spurr, "A Celtic Commedia: Dante in Yeats's Poetry," Rackham Literary Studies, 8 (Spring 1977), 99-116; George Bornstein, "Yeats's Romantic Dante," Colby Library Quarterly, 15 (1979), 93-113; Stephen Paul Ellis, "Yeats and Dante," Comparative Literature, 33 (198 1), 1- 17. See also George Bornstein, Yeats and Shelley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 218-22. Back to Text.
20 Quinlan, p. 56. Back to Text.
21 MacGreevy's marginal note: "by Thornton Wilder." Back to Text.
© Copyright 1988 Hugh J. Dawson.