Classic Joyce

JJToo much to choose from, but here’s some classic bits from James Joyce that are always worth keeping in mind:

On Writing:

“Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? 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 artistic life of its own … for their mental, moral, and spiritual uplift.” (Stanislaus Joyce, James Joyce’s Early Years: My Brother’s Keeper, 103-104)

“Do you see that man who has just skipped out of the way of that tram? Consider, if he had been run over, how significant every act of his would at once become. I don’t mean for the police inspector. I mean for anybody who knew him. And his thoughts, for anybody that could know them. It is my idea of the significance of trivial things that I want to give the two or three unfortunate wretches who may eventually read me.” (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Revised Edition, 163)


On “Dubliners”:

“The order of the stories is as follows. The Sisters, An Encounter, and another story [Araby] which are stories of my childhood: The Boarding House, After the Race, and Eveline, which are stories of adolescence: The Clay, Counterparts, and A Painful Case, which are stories of mature life: Ivy Day in the Committee Room, A Mother, and the last story of the book [Grace] which are stories of public life in Dublin. When you remember that Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years, that it is the ‘second’ city of the British Empire, that it is nearly three times as big as Venice it seems strange that no artist has given it to the world.” (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, c. September 24, 1905; The Letters of James Joyce, Volume 2, 111)

“It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs around my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass.” (Letter to to Grant Richards, 23 June 1906; The Letters of James Joyce, Volume 1, 64.)

The reader will have noticed that the list of stories, above, did not include “The Dead”; Joyce came to write it in a fit of his, and his wife Nora’s, nostalgia for Ireland, and in it he thought he had finally shown what he missed of the city:

“Sometimes thinking of Ireland it seems to me that I have been unnecessarily harsh. I have reproduced (in Dubliners at least) none of the attraction of the city … I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and its hospitality.” (Letter to Stanislaus Joyce, September 25, 1906; The Letters of James Joyce, Volume 2, 111)


On “Ulysses”:

“The most beautiful, most human traits are contained in the Odyssey. It is greater, more human, than that of Hamlet, Don Quixote, Dante, Faust. The rejuvenation of old Faust has an unpleasant effect upon me. Dante tires one quickly; it is like looking at the sun. The most beautiful, most human traits are contained in the Odyssey. I was twelve years old when we took up the Trojan War at school; only the Odyssey stuck in my memory. I want to be frank: at twelve I liked the supernaturalism in Ulysses. When I was writing Dubliners, I intended first to choose the title Ulysses in Dublin, but gave up the idea. In Rome, when I had finished about half of the Portrait, I realized that the Odyssey had to be the sequel, and I began to write Ulysses.

“Why was I always returning to this theme? Now in mezzo del cammin  I find the subject of Ulysses the most human in world literature. Ulysses didn’t want to go off to Troy … [and when] the recruiting officers arrived, he happened to be plowing. He pretended to be mad. Thereupon they placed his little two-year-old son in the furrow. Observe the beauty of the motifs: the only man in Hellas who is against the war, and the father…. Then the motif of wandering. Scylla and Charybdis—what a splendid parable. Ulysses is also a great musician; he wishes to and must listen [to the Sirens]; he has himself tied to the mast. The motif of the artist, who will lay down his life rather than renounce his interest…. On Naxos, the oldster of fifty, perhaps bald-headed, with Nausicaa, a girl who is barely seventeen. What a fine theme! And the return, how profoundly human! Don’t forget the trait of generosity at the interview with Ajax in the nether world, and many other beautiful touches. I am almost afraid to treat such a theme; it’s overwhelming.” (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Revised Edition, 417)

As Richard Ellmann points out, “It is not surprising that Joyce’s description of Ulysses as pacifist, father, wanderer, musician, and artist, ties the hero’s life closely to his own.”


On “Finnegans Wake”:

“In writing of the night, I really could not, I felt I could not, use words in their ordinary connections. Used that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages—conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious. I found that it could not be done with words in their ordinary relations and connections. When morning comes of course everything will be clear again…. I’ll give them back their English language. I’m not destroying it for good.” (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Revised Edition, 546)

His wife Nora remembers: “Well, Jim is writing his book. I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing. And then I knock at the door, and I say, ‘Now, Jim, stop writing or stop laughing.’” (Brenda Maddox, Nora: the Real Life of Molly Bloom, 324)

“In Ulysses, to depict the babbling of a woman going to sleep, I had sought to end with the least forceful word I could possibly find. I had found the word “yes,” which is barely pronounced, which denotes acquiescence, self-abandon, relaxation, the end of all resistance. In Work in Progress, I’ve tried to do better if I could. This time, I have found the word which is the most slippery, the least accented, the weakest word in English, a word which is not even a word, which is scarcely sounded between the teeth, a breath, a nothing, the article the.” (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, Revised Edition, 712)


And the closing page of his four great works:

Dubliners (“The Dead”):

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

APRIL 16. Away! Away!

The spell of arms and voices: the white arms of roads, their promise of close embraces and the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon, their tale of distant nations. They are held out to say: We are alone–come. And the voices say with them: We are your kinsmen. And the air is thick with their company as they call to me, their kinsman, making ready to go, shaking the wings of their exultant and terrible youth.

APRIL 26. Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

APRIL 27. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.



and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes


Finnegans Wake

I am passing out. O bitter ending!  I’ll slip away before they’re up. They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it’s old and old it’s sad and old it’s sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms, I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I’ll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning,ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he’d come from Arkangels, I sink I’d die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There’s where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee!  Till thous-endsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given!  A way a lone a last a loved a long the