This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on Joyce’s Chamber Music and the research done by Myra Teicher Russel on the lost settings by Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer. Of the many settings that had been created for Joyce’s poems, Joyce liked Palmer’s the best and hoped that he would publish them to go along with his poems. Palmer, however, made no attempt to publish his settings of Joyce’s poems until after Joyce’s death. The post yesterday was biographical. Today’s post is about the poems.
Critics said that the poems in Chamber Music lacked substance. Russel says another way of looking at them is in terms of the “lightness” you find in Elizabethan verses. The images of the beloved in the poems is vague and featureless. Joyce told Nora that the beloved was a girl of his imagination, “fashioned into a curious grave beauty by the culture of generations before her, the woman for whom I wrote poems like “Gentle Lady” or “Thou leanest to the shell of night”. [Italics are Russel’s.]
As in Elizabethan verses, the beloved is impersonal and presented in traditional language. The moods and feelings of the speaker are celebrated and the object of love and desire is the sounding board. There is a suggestion of artifice. Love is a game and the lovesick hero of the poems is in search of an ideal. Music is as much a theme in the poems as is love. In fact, music is everywhere in the poems and there are many references to musical instruments. Nature also plays a vital role in the poems.
The word “air” and its rhyming counterparts occur multiple times (air, hair, there…) and every possible use of “air” is used: air as melody, celestial air, breezy air, pretty air (as in demeanor), putting on airs… Russel says Chamber Music could be called “a book of airs” and that those who wrote Elizabethan verses prior to Joyce would have applauded. (Campion, Dowland, Morley…) Joyce was an excellent student of the generations that came before him.
Joyce wrote to Stanislaus, “It is not a book of love-verses at all, I perceive. But some of them are pretty enough to be set to music. I hope someone will do so, someone who knows old English music such as I like.” Many musicians did set Joyce’s poems to music, but very few were in the old English style that Joyce liked. Palmer, however, understood what Joyce was going for and created music Joyce liked. Palmer was able to capture the gracefulness of each lyric in a way other musicians had failed to do.
Russel says that Palmer’s music belongs to the tradition of the early twentieth-century British art song which is a period sometimes referred to as a second English renaissance in song. He recognized, as did Joyce, that the music had to be well-sung. Because of this, Palmer’s settings require several hearings to be well-listened to as well. As Russel puts it, Palmer’s “settings augment and transform the poems; they become the poems. As in “Greensleeves” or “Danny Boy”, words and music are entwined and inseparable”.
I loved reading Chamber Music and wish I could hear the poems alongside Palmer’s music. I used to play piano and still own one that was recently tuned. Maybe I can brush up on my skills over the next year while studying Joyce and learn to play Palmer’s settings on my own. That would be a fun goal for the New Year! (I am completely incapable of singing them “well”, however.)
Russel mentions some correspondence and an “inferior” Palmer setting housed here in Austin at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas. I’ll put checking that out on my goals for the New Year, too!
Myra Teicher Russel found Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer’s songs set to James Joyce’s Chamber Music at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale when she was in her 70s. The Morris Library at the University had the songs for 22 years and said she was the first person to ever ask for them. Palmer had set 32 of Joyce’s 36 poems to music, but despite Joyce practically begging Palmer to publish them, he never did. Chamber Music: The Lost Settings provides the music of the previously unpublished songs along with an introduction by Russel.
Russel was first inspired to look for Palmer’s settings after reading a paper entitled “The Elizabethan Connection: The Missing Score of James Joyce’s Chamber Music”. The premise of the paper was that Joyce’s early poems were patterned after Elizabethan airs and that without the appropriate musical accompaniment, they were incomplete.
Russel says that music was so important to Joyce that he includes it in all of his works and that he reaches his “apotheosis” in the finale of Finnegans Wake, in the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” section.
Her journey in and along with the river Liffey gradually builds into a crescendo, culminating in an allegro giusto as she rushes into the arms of her father, the sea. Somehow, we too are carried along to become part of her rapid, darting movements and the joyous sweep of her reunion, as the passage becomes an amalgam of words and music, a flowing together, quicksilver. It is music, as those who listen to the recorded voice of James Joyce reciting it can verify.
Joyce came from a musical family that considered literature “an aberration from the proper art of music.” Joyce, of course, favored literature above all art, but he was also very musical. He believed the singing voice, especially a tenor, was the highest form of music and as a young man, he loved the “ayres” of Elizabethan composer-lutenists. His brother Stanislaus said Joyce would spend hours copying them in the National Library of Dublin.
Palmer asked Joyce for permission to set the poems in Chamber Music to music in 1907. He was one of the first composers to do so. This initiated a correspondence that continued for 25 years. (Much of the correspondence was amongst the songs that Russel discovered in the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University.) In that time, several people had put the poems to music, but Palmer’s settings remained Joyce’s favorites throughout his life.
Palmer received a Music Baccalaureate from Oxford at the turn of the century. At the time, he was the youngest recipient ever to receive the degree at Oxford. In 1902, his final year at Oxford he was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis which caused him problems for the rest of his life and eventually led to being confined to a wheelchair. But in 1904, he recovered enough to enter the Royal College of Music in London and studied with Charles Villiers who had a profound influence upon him. He received a degree in composition and piano and organ, despite his inability to play the piano or organ because of his MS.
In 1907, Palmer’s last month at the Royal College of Music, Palmer received Joyce’s just published Chamber Music from his mother as a gift. He first wrote to Joyce that same year. In 1910, he settled in Dublin and was comfortable enough with Joyce, who was then in Trieste, to ask his opinion on affordable housing in the area. In 1920, Palmer moved into his family home on Sandycove where his sisters could take care of him. (Their home was within site of the famous Martello tower where Joyce lived with Oliver Gogarty. The tower is now a James Joyce museum.)
In the correspondence, Palmer barely mentions his illness to Joyce. Joyce, however, frequently encouraged Palmer to set more and more of his poems to music. Joyce told Palmer that if he was a musician, he would have set them himself.
Amongst the Palmer settings kept by the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University was correspondence between Joyce and Palmer which shows just how enthusiastic Joyce was about Palmer’s settings. As late as 1934, Joyce was still enthusiastic about the settings. He wrote to his son, George:
“30 or 40 musicians at least have set my little poems to music. The best is Molyneux Palmer. After him are Moeran and Bliss.”
“Am sending Goossens’ settings of some of my verse. I wish I could find Palmer’s which are much finer music…”
Palmer, however, was much less enthusiastic about publishing the settings. Joyce was able to find publishers for Palmer’s music, but Palmer’s reluctance continued. Joyce even offered to pay for much of the cost, but Palmer remained ambivalent about publishing them. In 1931, Joyce wrote to Palmer:
It is a great pity you were not able to proceed with the publication I had arranged with Slivinski in Paris some years ago. Still I hope you will find a publisher in England for the songs. If I can do anything to that end let me know as I liked them very much.
Russel thinks the reason Palmer was reluctant to publish Joyce’s poems is because of Joyce’s reputation in Ireland. Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and especially Ulysses, were not well-received in Ireland and were not accepted amongst “polite society”. Palmer’s oldest sister had been headmistress at a wealthy Irish school for girls for 30 years. (Both of the sisters that took care of him were highly respected.) Russel said that when she asked one of the sister’s previous students if they were aware of the connection between Palmer and Joyce, they were shocked that any Palmer would have had a connection with Joyce.
Palmer, himself, was considered to be a “19th century gentleman”. It is likely that his reluctance to publish Joyce’s settings was because he did not want to upset his sisters upon whom he relied. In 1949, eight years after Joyce’s death, Palmer was asked to give the letters he had received from Joyce to the National Library of Ireland. He sent the letters and offered to send the songs as well, for the first time expressing real interest to have them published.
The change of heart was likely due to the impending retirement of his sisters, but may also have been because of the positive attitudes about Joyce outside of Ireland. (Even in 1949, Joyce was still not accepted in Ireland.)
The first hearing of Palmer’s music took place at Elizaabeth Seton College in 1982. It was a centennial celebration of both Joyce and Palmer and included a narrative of Palmer’s life, a dramatic presentation of the correspondence between Joyce and Palmer and a recital of several of the settings. In 1987, the BBC presented a program based on Russel’s research and all of Palmer’s settings of Chamber Music performed by Peter Dickinson and piano and Martyn Hill as tenor. There have been several other performances as well.
I think Russel’s book originally came with a tape of Palmer’s settings performed by Samuel Sanders on piano, but I couldn’t find it. The only thing I could find of Joyce’s poetry with Palmer’s settings on the internet was “Winds of May” from the Southern Illinois University Concern Choir…
There is a lot more information from Russel on the poems and songs I’d like to note, but this is probably a good stopping point for today. I’ll continue tomorrow.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was the first book I read by Joyce and I loved it! I’m currently 9 chapters into Ulysses. (A group of fellow Joyce lovers and I read the book aloud for 1 1/2 hours every other week followed by an informal discussion.) I’ve also read his book of poetry, Chamber Music, several times. I know I’m not supposed to read Stephen Hero because it doesn’t properly represent Joyce’s “esthetic”, but I loved it, too!
Stephen Hero is an unpublished manuscript written by James Joyce between 1904 and 1906. It is the earlier version of what became Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I wrote two previous posts on Stephen Hero: Joyce Hero and Stephen Hero, an Introduction. This post is simply highlights from the text that I think might be important for future reference. (They are all about Stephen Daedalus or by him.)
Beginning of the manuscript:
He became a poet with malice afterthought.
People seemed to him strangely ignorant of the value of the words they used so glibly.
Words, he said, have a certain value in the literary tradition and a certain value in the market-place – a debased value.
The monster in Stephen had lately taken to misbehaving himself and on the least provocation was ready for bloodshed.
But the episode of religious fervor which was fast becoming a memory had resulted in a certain outward self-control which was now found to be useful.
He was not convinced of the truth of saying “The poet is born, not made” but he was quite sure of the truth of this at least, “The poem is made not born.”
He was an enigmatic figure in the midst of his shivering society where he enjoyed a reputation. His comrades hardly knew how far to venture with him and professors pretended to think his seriousness a sufficient warrant against any practical disobedience. On his side of chastity, having been found a great inconvenience, had been quietly abandoned and the youth amused himself in the company of certain of his fellow-students among whom (the fame went) wild living was not unknown.
Stephen, after certain hesitations, showed Maurice the first-fruits of his verse and Maurice asked who the woman was. Stephen looked a little vaguely before him before answering and in the end had to answer that he didn’t know who she was. [Was this a reference to Chamber Music?]
“It is so! It is so! Life is such as I conceive it.”
Stephen may be said to have occupied the position of notable-extraordinary: very few had ever heard of the writers he was reported to read and those who had knew them to be mad fellows.
…the monster in him, now grown to a reasonably heroic stage…
…the spirit of Henrik Ibsen. He understood that spirit instantaneously.
…the minds of the old Norse poet [Ibsen] and of the perturbed young Celt [Stephen] met in a moment of radiant simultaneity.
Ibsen was the first among the dramatists of the world.
It was the very spirit of Ibsen himself that was discerned moving behind the impersonal manner of the artist: [Ibsen with his profound self-approval, Ibsen with his haughty, disillusioned courage, Ibsen with his minute and willful energy.] a mind of sincere and boy like bravery, of minute and willful energy… Here and not in Shakespeare or Goethe was the successor to the first poet of the Europeans, here as only to such purpose in Dante, a human personality had been found united with an artistic manner which was itself almost a natural phenomenon: and the spirit of the time united one more reading with the Norwegian than the Florentine.
Only twelve months ago he had been clamoring for forgiveness and promising endless penance. He could hardly believe that it was no other than he who had clung so fiercely to the sole means of salvation which the Chuch vouchsafed to her guilty children.
A very stout black-bearded citizen who always wore a wideawake hat and a long bright green muffler was a constant figure at these meetings. [Refers to Michael Cusack, the “Citizen” of Ulysses, and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association]
He recognized at once the martial mind of the Irish Church in the style of this ecclesiastical barracks. [Stephen is visiting his former college with Wells who is now a seminarian. He is thinking about the seminarian life he turned down. Love “martial mind”!]
On the other hand he was persuaded that no-one served the generation into which he had been born so well as he who offered it, whether in his art or in his life, the gift of certitude.
His Esthetic was in the main applied Aquinas, and he set it forth plainly with a naïf air of discovering novelties… He proclaimed at the outset that art was the human disposition of intelligible or sensible matter for an esthetic end, and he announced further that all such human dispositions must fall into the division of three distinct kinds, lyrical, epical and dramatic. Lyrical art, he said, is the art whereby the artist sets forth his image in immediate relation to himself; epical art is the art whereby the artist sets forth his image in mediate relation to himself and to others; and dramatic art is the art whereby the artist sets forth his image in immediate relations to others… Having by this simple process established the literary form of art as the most excellent he proceeded to examine it in favour of his theory, or, as he rendered it, to establish the relations which must subsist between the literary image, the work of art itself, and that energy which had imagined and fashioned it, that center of conscious, re-acting, particular life, the artist.
The artist, he imagined, standing in the position of mediator between the world of his experience and the world of his dreams – a mediator, consequently gifted with twin faculties, a selective faculty and a reproductive faculty. To equate these faculties was the secret of artistic success: the artist who could disentangle the subtle soul of the image from its mesh of defining circumstances most exactly and re-embody it in artistic circumstances chosen as the most exact for it in its new office, he was the supreme artist. This perfect coincidence of the two artistic faculties Stephen called poetry and he imagined the domain of an art to be cone shaped.
A classical style, he said, is the syllogism of art, the only legitimate process from one world to another. Classicism is not the manner of any fixed age or of any fixed country; it is a constant state of the artistic mind. It is a temper of security and satisfaction and patience.
…the classical school fighting the materialism that must attend it, the romantic school struggling to preserve coherence…
Chief among these profanities Stephen set the antique principle that the end of art is to instruct, to elevate, and to amuse. “I am unable to find even a trace of this Puritanical conception of the esthetic purpose in the definition which Aquinas has given of beauty” he wrote “or in anything which he has written concerning the beautiful…”
In fine the truth is not that the artist requires a document of license from householders entitling him to proceed in this or that fashion but that every age must look for its sanction to its poets and philosophers. The poet is the intense center of the life of his age to which he stands in a relation than which none can be more vital. He alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him and flinging it abroad again amid planetary music.
Art is not an escape from life. It’s just the very opposite. Art, on the contrary, is the very central expression of life. An artist is not a fellow who dangles a mechanical heaven before the public. The priest does that. The artist affirms out of the fullness of his own life, he creates…
It is all a question of temper – one’s attitude towards society whether one is poet or critic…. Ibsen has the temper of an archangel.
My entire esteem is for the classical temper in art. …the Greek drama is heroic, monstrous. Eschylus is not a classical writer!… By “classical” I mean the slow elaborating patience of the art of satisfaction. The heroic, the fabulous, I call romantic…
If we must have a Jesus, let us have a legitimate Jesus.
Don’t mention him [Jesus]. I have made it a common noun. They didn’t believe in him; they don’t observe his precepts. In any case let us leave Jesus aside. My sight will only carry me as far as his lieutenant in Rome. It is quite useless: I will not be frightened into paying tribute in money or thought.
I have never believed in his [Jesus] chastity – that is since I began to think about him. I am sure he was no eunuch priest. His interest in loose women is too persistently humane. All the women associated with him are of dubious character.
But what is the Church? It is not Jesus, the magnificent solitary with his inimitable abstinences. The Church is made by me and my like – her services, legends, practices, paintings, music, traditions. These her artists gave her. They made her what she is. They accepted Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle as the Word of God and made her what she is.
These wanderings filled him with deep-seated anger and whenever he encountered a burly black-vested priest taking a stroll of pleasant inspection through these warrens full of swarming and cringing believers he cursed the face of Irish Catholicism: an island whereof the inhabitants of which entrust their wills and minds to others that they may ensure for themselves a life of spiritual paralysis, and island in which all the power and riches are in the keeping of those whose kingdom is not of this world, an island in which Caesar confesses Christ and Christ confesses Caesar that together they may wax fat upon a starveling rabblement which is hidden ironically to take to itself this consolation in hardship “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Even the value of his own life came into doubt with him. He laid a finger upon every falsehood it contained; an egoism which proceeded bravely before men to be frighted by the least challenge of conscience, freedom which would dress the world anew in the vestments and usages begotten of enslavement, mastery of an art understood by few which owed its very delicacy to a physical decrepitude, itself the brand and sign of vulgar ardors. Cemeteries revealed their ineffectual records to him, records of the lives of all those who with good grace or bad grace had accepted on obvious divinity. The vision of all those failures, and the vision, far more pitiful, of congenital lives, shuffling onwards amid yawn and howl, beset him with evil; and evil, in the similitude of a distorted ritual, called to his soul to commit fornication with her. [His mother then comes to him in a panic about something coming out of dying Isabel’s “hole”.]
Aquinas had defined the good as that towards the possession of which an appetite tended, the desirable.
For Stephen art was neither a copy nor an imitation of nature: the artistic process was a natural process.
The life of an errant seemed to him far less ignoble than the life of one who had accepted the tyranny of the mediocre because the cost of being exceptional was too high.
The Church differentiates between the good which this man seeks and the good which I seek. There is a bonum simpliciter. The men you mention seek a good of that kind because they are impelled by passions which are direct even if they are menial: lust, ambition, gluttony. I seek bonum arduum.
There is no reason why life should lose all grace and nobility even though Columbus discovered America. I will live a free and noble life.
The toy of life which the Jesuits permit these docile men to live is what I call a stationary march. The marionette life which the Jesuit himself lives as a dispenser of illumination and rectitude is another variety of the stationary march. And yet both these classes of puppets think that Aristotle has apologized before the eyes of the world. Kindly remember the monstrous legend upon which all their life is regulated – how Aristotlean it is! Kindly remember the minute bylaws they have for estimating the exact amount of salvation in any good work – what an Aristotlean invention!
The woman in the black straw hat has never heard of the name of Buddha but Buddha’s character seems to have been superior to that of Jesus with respect to unaffected sanctity.
The spectacle of the world in thrall filled him with the fire of courage. He, at least, though living at the farthest remove from the center of European culture, marooned on an island in the ocean, though inheriting a will broken by doubt and a soul the steadfastness of whose hate became as weak as water in siren arms, would live his own life according to what he recognized as the voice of a new humanity, active, unafraid, unashamed.
He could not accept whole-heartedly the offers of Protestant belief; he knew that the liberty it boasted of was often only the liberty to be slovenly in thought and amorphous in ritual. No-one, not the most rabid enemy of the Church, could cause it of being slovenly in thought; the subtlety of its disquisitions had become a byword with demagogues. No-one again could accuse the Church of being amorphous in ritual. The Puritan, the Calvinist, the Lutheran were inimical to art and to exuberant beauty: the Catholic was the friend of him who professed to interpret or divulge the beautiful. Could he assert that his own aristocratic intelligence and passion for a supremely satisfying order in all the fervor’s of artistic creation were not purely Catholic qualities? The ambassadors did not labour this point.
He toyed also with a theory of dualism which would symbolize the twin eternities of spirit and nature in the twin eternities of male and female and even thought of explaining the audacities of his verse as symbolical allusions.
[Upon overhearing a conversation between a young lady and gentleman]. This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate an evanescence’s of moments.
You know what Aquinas says,: The three things requisite for beauty are, integrity, a wholeness, symmetry and radiance. Someday I will expand that sentence into a treatise. Consider the performance of your own mind when confronted with any object, hypothetically beautiful. Your mind to apprehend that object divides the entire universe into two parts, the object, and the void which is not the object. To apprehend it you must lift it away from everything else: and then you perceive that it is one integral thing, that is a thing. You recognize its integrity…That is the first quality of beauty: it is declared in a simple sudden synthesis of the faculty which apprehend. What then? Analysis then. The mind considers the object in whole and in part, in relation to itself and other objects, examines the balance of its parts, contemplates the form of the object, traverses every cranky of the structure. So the mind receives the impression of the symmetry of the object. The mind recognizes that the object is in the strict sense of the word, a thing, a definitely constituted entity… Now for the third quality. For a long time I couldn’t make out what Aquinas meant. He uses a figurative word (a very unusual thing for him) but I have solved it. Claritas is quidditas. After the analysis which discovers the second quality the mind makes the only logical possible synthesis and discovers the third quality. This is the moment which I call epiphany. First we recognize that the object is one integral thing, then we recognize that it is an organized composite structure, a thing in fact: finally, when the relation of the parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the special point, we recognize that it is that thing which it is. Its soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.
Satan offers a monstrous life. It is monstrous because the seat of the spiritual principle of a man is not transferable to a material object. A ma only pretends to think his hate more important than his head. That view of life, I consider, is abnormal.
I found a day-school full of terrorized boys, banded together in complicity of diffidence. They have eyes only for their future jobs: to secure their future jobs they will write themselves in and out of convictions, toil and labor to insinuate themselves into the good graces of the Jesuits.
My copy of Stephen Hero (published by New Directions Publishing in 1963) has an interesting introduction by Theodore Spencer who edited the Harvard College Library version so I took notes…
Stephen Hero is the early unpublished manuscripts of Joyce that were replaced by The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The manuscript (in Joyce’s handwriting) was first made available to the public by Sylvia Beach, the first person willing to publish Ulysses. They were bought by the Harvard College Library in 1938 and were printed for the first time in 1944. Stephen Hero was likely written between 1904 and 1906.
Some accounts claim that Joyce had tried to publish it Stephen Hero, but was repeatedly rejected. Others claim he was simply frustrated with the results. Either way, most accounts concur that he threw the manuscript into the fire in frustration. His wife, Nora Joyce, pulled it out of the fire at the risk of burning her hands. What remained was pp. 519-902.
Whether or not Joyce had actually tried to publish the manuscript or simply burned it because he was frustrated with it, we do know he called it a “schoolboy’s production” and said he wrote it when he was 19 or 20.
According to Herbert Gorman, it was meant to be:
…an autobiographical book, a personal history, as it were, of the growth of a mind, his own mind, and his intensive absorption in himself and what he had been and how he had grown out of the Jesuitical garden of his youth. He endeavored to see himself objectively, to assume a godlike poise of watchfulness over the small boy and youth he called Stephen and who was really himself.
The surviving 383 pages cover Stephen Daedalus’ two years at the University. There are many characters and incidents that are not in Portrait, and others are developed much more fully than they are in Portrait. The growth of Stephen’s mind is also described in a much more direct way.
Theodor Spencer says Joyce replaced Stephen Hero with Portrait because he was “aiming at economy”. He wanted the center of the action to be within his consciousness. Also, the method of writing used in Stephen Hero is similar to that in Dubliners (objectively presenting one character or event after another) and Joyce did not want to duplicate method in his works. In Portrait, “the diffuseness of real life is controlled and ordered by being presented from a single point of view.” It merely hints at conversation which makes Stephen’s thoughts and actions more suggestive than they are in Stephen Hero. (For instance, Stephen has a full dialogue with his mother about his decision not to perform his Easter duty in Stephen Hero. The conversation is barely hinted at in Portrait.)
Spencer says there are five main themes closely related to the central theme of Stephen himself in both works:
Stephen’s friends, male and female
The life of Dublin
…sloughs off the first four in order that the fifth may stand clear. When this happens, and art is defined, the artist may then return to the first four for his subject matter. In fact he has to return to them if his function as an artist is to be fulfilled.
Stephen as hero is an adolescent. Stephen as artist is an adult. Perhaps the Stephen in Stephen Hero is not yet the artist he was to become? In Portrait, Stephen is a “cold fish” and is above approval or disapproval. He is “already prepared for ‘silence, exile, and cunning’”. In Stephen Hero, we are far more aware of his personal struggles with family, friends, women, his Professors, and Catholicism. He is much more vulnerable and self-conscious.
According to the artist in Portrait, the true artist is impersonal:
The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.
Proper art (art that is true to esthetic emotion) is static. Improper art, on the other hand, is “kinetic” in that it moves us to do something. Portrait is static, Stephen Hero is kinetic. We feel sympathy for Stephen and hope for his success. Portrait is more mature, artistically. It illustrates Stephen’s artistic theory and does not expound upon it as does Stephen Hero.
Spencer points out a passage in Stephen Hero that is altogether absent in Portrait that explains Joyce’s theory of epiphanies. It begins on p. 210 with “He was passing through Eccles Street”. Spencer explains that Dubliners “is a series of epiphanies describing apparently trivial but actually crucial revealing moments in the lives of different characters.” Likewise:
The Portrait may be seen as a kind of epiphany – a showing forth – of Joyce himself as a young man; Ulysses, by taking one day in the life of the average man, describes that man, according to Joyce’s intention, more fully than any human being had ever been described before; it is the epiphany of Leopoldo Bloom, just as, years earlier, the trivial conversation overheard on a misty evening in Eccles Street (where, incidentally, Mr. Bloom lived) was the epiphany of those two people’s lives, shown forth in a moment. And Finnegans Wake may be seen as a vast enlargement, of course unconceived by Joyce as a young man, of the same view. Here it is not any one individual that is “epiphanized”; it is all of human history, symbolized in certain types the representatives of which combine with one another as the words describing them combine various meanings, so that H.C. Earwicker and his family, his acquaintances, the city of Dublin where he lives, his morality and religion, become symbols of an epiphanic view of human life as a whole, and the final end of the artist is achieved.
This theory implies a lyrical view of life:
It emphasizes the radiance, the effulgence, of the thing itself revealed in a special moment, and unmoving moment in time. The moment, as in the macro cosmic lyric of Finnegans Wake, may involve all other moment, but it still remains essentially time-less.
The introductory article in James Joyce Today is entitled “Joyce Hero”, a play on Joyce’s unpublished Stephen Hero, by Robert Glynn Kelly. He says that Joyce would not be happy with those of us who choose to read Stephen Hero because everything Joyce published was diligently and systematically “finished” at a very high level. Stephen Hero was not finished at this level. It provides too much background information which ultimately obscures the effect of Portrait.
Kelly contends that Joyce’s variety and excellence are genuine because Joyce studied his own nature and accepted it as a “divine commission” and “life-subsuming” responsibility.”
Part of being true to himself is the recognition that he lacked imagination. “He could not invent, he would only elaborate, develop, build up what was already there.” Fact, for Joyce, was sacred. He revered all the disparate things that happened, and as Joyce put it, “lodged in the room of infinite possibilities they ousted”.
Besides his reverence for fact, Kelly says Joyce was dedicated to symbols and correspondences (and mysticism and cabal). He did not make a hard distinction between science and superstition or fact and symbol so the real world was much more extensive for him than for most people. Many of the symbols and themes in his work were his personal obsessions with life such as exile, persecution, betrayal… He payed close attention to his life and lived it in order to write about it. (He didn’t live it and then write about it.)
His books are like poetry in that they are indeterminate. “All his logic and all his facts are at the service of his mysticism”. He does not report, he engages in transubstantiation. Joyce wrote:
I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent life of its own.
Kelly says that what Joyce worked for in his writing was an effect: something that can be understood by feel, but not by logic and does not rely upon the security of logic:
You can respond to the meanings of Ulysses, feel them, see them, experience them like life itself, and if you are a good critic you can evoke them for others. But you can never define them.
According to Kelly, a lot of us read Stephen Hero to make sense of Portrait – “to reduce the effect of the Portrait to meanings and origins” hoping we will better see the effect. But Joyce didn’t publish Stephen Hero precisely because he believed the meanings and origins within it obscures the effect he wanted for Portrait.
I read Portrait before I read Stephen Hero and I loved it without knowing “the meanings and origins”. But I must admit I’m very excited to read Portrait again now that I have the background information.
I suppose I feel a little guilty knowing that Joyce wouldn’t want me to read Portrait without knowing “the meanings and origins”, especially since he once threw the manuscript in the fire out of frustration. But hee must have preserved the unburnt part of the manuscript for a reason, so I don’t feel too terribly guilty.
Thomas Merton is a fascination for me. He was a well-travelled not particularly religious Protestant with a degree from Colombia who became a Trappist Monk in Kentucky. He told a priest that reading Joyce had “contributed something to [his] conversion.” What about reading Joyce would make someone want to become a monk?
I’ll have to dig into that further. For now, I just want to take down some notes on Merton’s essay, “News of the Joyce Industry” which he wrote in 1969. It is a criticism of much of the scholastic study of Joyce at the time. Twenty dissertations appeared on Joyce between 1960-1963 and 5 books on Joyce had been published annually since 1960. (Just think of all that is out there now. There are endless podcasts, youtube channels and even Spotify channels on Joyce’s works!)
I am going to start at the end of his essay where he refers to an essay by William Blissett who quotes E.M. Forster on Joyce and Nietzsche on Wagner:
Forster remarked that “even the police are said not to comprehend [Ulysses] fully” (which comment still applies to those who take upon themselves the office of morally or politically “policing” Joyce’s work). But he added that when one had gone to the trouble to read one of Joyce’s big books, one will naturally tend to be pleased with his own achievement and call it “a great book, the book of the age. He really means that he himself is a great reader.” And Nietzsche said the same of Wagnerians. Lured into the mystery of Wagner, the hide-and-seek symbols, “in the midst of Wagner’s multiplicity, fullness and arbitrariness, they are justified, as it were, in their own eyes – they are ‘saved'”.
Merton says these two quotes explain the Joyce Industry. What matters is not what you say, but the ritual of saying it. Just as long as you make an effort to prove what you are saying, it doesn’t matter what it is. Nobody cares all that much because as long as you “pay enough homage to the Joyce establishment”, you can get away with anything.
Some Joyce scholars, according to Merton, “want to transubstantiate the bread of Ulysses and Portrait into the unearthly and arbitrary substance of their own fantasies.” What these scholars fail to realize is that Joyce accepted ambivalence and lived with it. He knew he had not escaped the rigidity of his Catholic upbringing, but he also knew he never would escape it. He broke with the Church and his parents subculture, but he did not renounce the ambiguities and conflicts built into Western civilization. The conscience of James Joyce:
…was the conscience of a European of the post-Victorian era, of a man in a sophisticated, complex, self-contradictory culture about to fall apart in World War I.
Freud’s Civilization and It’s Discontents helps “to understand what lay behind the comic judgment of society and its repressions in The Portrait of an Artist and Ulysses. “There is a big difference between a rigid puritanical repression of sex and “a civilized experience of ambivalence toward it.”
There are several scholars Merton does recommend:
William York Tindall, Hugh Kenner, and S.L. Goldberg are absolutely necessary for a full appreciation of Joyce.
English novelist Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange) called Here Comes Everybody: an Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader, the emphasis being on the healthy catholicity of Joyce (little c).
A collection of essays: James Joyce Today: Essays on the Major Works.
Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce. This was an abandoned project which was published in 1968. Merton said the unique interest lies in its imperfection and total lack of any “finish”.
The Giacomo notebook represents a pivotal development in Joyce’s ideas about love, from the erotic idealism of A Portrait of the Artist to the more ironic and mature realism of Ulysses. It deals specifically with the theme of spiritual seduction – and with the curious ambiguities involved in it… Joyce in Giacomo is clearly both Stephen and Bloom and, as Ellmann remarks in his introduction, the sardonic influence of Svevo is not unlikely. What comes clear in Giacomo is that Joyce, now middle-aged, has acquired the necessary ironic distance simultaneously to be in love and to see himself faking – or “forging” – his love. Giacomo Joyce is a lucid, ironic description of the involvement of art, eros, and social custom, of life, literature, and manners, of race, culture, history, in an essentially comic experience of love. It marks the crucial point at which the comic genius of Joyce emerges to full maturity and awareness.
I deeply enjoyed James Joyce’s book of poetry, Chamber Music. It’s beautiful and not as difficult to interpret as Ulysses. It is a book of love poems written when he was young to a woman he hoped would come into his life one day. He told Nora, his wife, “When I wrote [Chamber Music], I was a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me.”
Joyce was somewhat disappointed with the collection. In 1906, he told Arthur Symons he didn’t like the title because it was too complacent: “I should prefer a title which repudiated the book without altogether disparaging it.” In 1907, he wrote to his brother, Stanislaus:
I don’t like the book but wish it were published and be damned to it. However, it is a young man’s book. I felt like that. It is not a book of love-verses at all, I perceive. But some of them are pretty enough to be put to music. I hope someone will do so, someone that knows old English music such as I like. Besides they are not pretentious and have a certain grace. I will keep a copy myself and (so far as I can remember) at the top of each page I will put an address, or a street so that when I open the book I can revisit the places where I wrote the different songs.
In 1931, he told Herbert Gorman, “I wrote Chamber Music as a protest against myself.”
Some say the title has to do with the sound of tinkling in a chamber pot. This is supported in Ulysses when Leopold Bloom thinks to himself, “Chamber music. Could make a pun on that.” According to Joyce biographer Richard Ellmann, the pun may have come from a visit Joyce made with Oliver Gogarty to a widow in 1904. They were drinking porter while reading a manuscript version of the poems aloud. At one point, the widow went behind a screen to use the chamber pot and Gogarty said, “There’s a critic for you”. Joyce’s brother, Stanislaus, said that was a “favorable omen”.
The collection was first published by Elkin Matthews in May, 1907. Ever since, the poems have been performed by all kinds of artists. My favorite (at least so far) is 1969 “Golden Hair” by Syd Barrett (co-founder of Pink Floyd):