“I loathe Ireland and the Irish.”

18 views

In the Irish Times, Brian Cosgrove takes up temporary residence in An Irishman’s Diary in the hope that, with the lifting of European copyright restrictions on James Joyce’s major works, a greater familiarity with Joyce’s “sometimes ruthless realism” may change the nature of the “annual Edwardian charade” that is Bloomsday.  From the Irish Times

The devastating cultural effects of the Ireland in which he had come to adult consciousness are amply dramatised in many of the short stories in Dubliners . These deal with unfulfilled lives and frustrated impulses, and the anger, dependency and demeaning parasitism of those trapped in an impoverished post-Parnellite culture. True, of course, that the last and finest story in Dubliners , ’The Dead’, can be read as a celebration of Dublin’s hospitality, musical culture and conviviality; but it is nonetheless significant that the comment from the letter above was written some two years after the completion of that story.

As far as Ireland was concerned, particularly in the early decades of its independence, the feeling was, arguably, mutual. Ulysses , for example, may never have been banned under the censorship board established in 1929, but only because people were afraid to import it lest they found themselves embroiled in an expensive legal battle. And as late as 1958, in a notorious episode, An Tostal were obliged to cancel a proposed dramatisation of Ulysses at the behest of Archbishop JC McQuaid.

It is easy to argue that Ireland, having looked askance at Joyce in his lifetime, was rather less than generous after his death. It is still shocking to learn that apparently our then government under De Valera instructed the Irish chargé d’affaires in Zurich not to attend Joyce’s funeral. And when his wife Nora expressed a willingness to permit the repatriation of his remains, the offer was turned down by that same government. There was at least one major consequence: an unforgiving Nora insisted Harriet Weaver donate the the manuscripts of Finnegans Wake, not to the National Library in Dublin, but to the British Museum.

On the other side, even after Ireland had gained its independence, and a mature Joyce had left behind the repressive experiences of his youth, the extent of his allegiance to Ireland remained questionable. Gordon Bowker, in his recent biography, notes that in 1940, when Joyce in France was faced with imminent German invasion, the official at the Irish legation repeatedly “offered him and [son] Georgio Irish passports”, which would have allowed them to leave occupied France when they wished. The offers were declined, and Joyce “clung doggedly to his British passport”.

We should not here jump to conclusions; but we know that Joyce was not enthused by the new Irish Free State (or as he preferred to call it, the “Irish Free Fight”), finding its nationalism regressive. He was particularly unimpressed by the ambition to restore the Irish language – a response that need not surprise us, given that Joyce, through his brilliant mastery of the English language, had engaged with a worldwide readership for his depictions of Irish experience.

How then do we reconcile Joyce’s antipathy with a lifelong fascination with Ireland and especially with Dublin? There is no ready answer, and in this as elsewhere Joyce’s attitudes were complex or ambivalent.

Read the whole thing.

, , , , , , , , ,

  • The yokel

    From A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

    —The soul is born, he said vaguely . . . It has a slow and dark birth, more
    mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this
    country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of
    nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly those nets.
    . . . Too deep for me, Stevie, he said. But a man’s country comes first, Stevie.
    You can be a poet or a mystic after.
    —Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland
    is the old sow that eats her farrow.

  • PaddyReilly

    Ulysses , for example, may never have been banned under the censorship board established in 1929, but only because people were afraid to import it lest they found themselves embroiled in an expensive legal battle.

    Not so: it was examined by both the Catholic censors and the even stricter Irish ones and found to contain no doctrinal error or incitation to immorality. Which was the case with all the works which Joyce published, the apparent but actual non-exception to the rule being ‘Stephen Hero’, which contains an incitement to immorality, when SH attempts to seduce his girlfriend. But Joyce did not publish this: a fragment of the work appeared in print without his permission, which would not have been granted for an incomplete work.

    Joyce’s theory was that literature was either kinetic, or static. Kinetic literature comes in two opposing type, pornographic and didactic. Pornographic wants what it does not have: didactic doesn’t want what it does have. True art is static: it merely describes things as they are. Unlike Hardy and Dickens, Joyce was not didactic: he did not use his works to preach a better world without this that or the other: he described things as they are.

    So why was Portrait, a description of a young man who has recourse to prostitutes, not banned? Because, for those who have eyes to see, it is based, incident by incident, on the Confessions of St Augustine, who also fell into immorality during his youth.

  • sliabhluachra

    Interesting article and it would be good to see the Bloomsday Imposters booted.
    Regarding the article: Joyce’s fondness for Irish music may be, in large part, explained by his excellent ear and voice. He came second to the great John McCormack in a singing contest. Finnegans wake is more an aural treat.

    I doub Joyce or anyone else would have had many qualms about grabbing an Irish passport. Did his daughter’s boyfriend, Sam Beckett pack an Irish one during his Resistance years?
    Poor Lucia never had a chance. Joye as a da and Beckett as a lover.

  • Alias

    Joyce might not have wanted to take the risk of an Irish passport, given that the policy of the British state was to confiscate them if presented at a British post because they didn’t declare that Irish citizens were British subjects. That policy persisted into the mid 30s. The situation wasn’t much better after the adoption of the new constitution with the British state still not regarding Irish passports as legitimate but, at least, no longer confiscating them and thereby leaving Irish citizens stranded abroad. It was simply too risky to travel on an Irish passport.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail madraj55

    The trouble is, it’s not just Joyce. Samuel Beckett chose to fight in the French Resistance and wrote his most famous works in French. The ideal espoused in 1916 was admirable, but the country that emerged out of it six years later turned out to be deeply flawed. Much like the sectarian hole to the north at around the same time.

  • HeinzGuderian

    “It is easy to argue that Ireland, having looked askance at Joyce in his lifetime, was rather less than generous after his death. It is still shocking to learn that apparently our then government under De Valera instructed the Irish chargé d’affaires in Zurich not to attend Joyce’s funeral. And when his wife Nora expressed a willingness to permit the repatriation of his remains, the offer was turned down by that same government. There was at least one major consequence: an unforgiving Nora insisted Harriet Weaver donate the the manuscripts of Finnegans Wake, not to the National Library in Dublin, but to the British Museum.”

    Says it all,really !!

  • wee buns

    ”He came second to the great John McCormack in a singing contest.”
    How interesting!

  • sliabhluachra

    Joyce lived in interesting times. Whether the expense of bringing Joyce’s bones would have been worth it, is an interesting point. Joyce was no O’Donovan Rossa or Frank Ryan. Joyce died when German peace keeping forces were in France and Germany’s leader, Herr Hitler, did not approve of writers like Joyce. Dev and the Irish had other things to think about than a Swiss resident who p–sed off a lot of Irish writers, GB Shaw among them. Dev boycitted quite a lot of masses and church services.
    I find it hard to believe the British government were messing people up travelling on Free State passports. Was this part of Dev’s economic war, did it pre date Dev’s governmwent and are there references?

    Joyce, despite his name, was not really a traveller;) He lived in Italy. France and Germany. Not too many passport stamps there.
    Also, he was annoyed at the treatment Dubliners got.

    Joyce spoke very good Italian and French. Beckett lectured in French at Trinity, where he played cricket; this latter point is important as he put it in as his sole claim to fame in Who’s Who after he won the Nobel Prize.
    Beckett’s use of French and his Parisian terrorist activities have nothing to do with his nationality unless one wishes to regard him as an eccentric Dublin Prod.

  • Alias

    “I find it hard to believe the British government were messing people up travelling on Free State passports. Was this part of Dev’s economic war, did it pre date Dev’s governmwent and are there references?”

    “[The British Government] instructed its consular and passport officers everywhere, that Irish Free State passports were not to be recognised if the holder was not described in the passport as a “British Subject”. This led to considerable practical difficulty for Irish Free State citizens abroad with many having to obtain British passports in addition to their Irish Free State passports. The British Consular Officers would also confiscate the Irish Free State passports, a practice the Irish authorities regarded as “very humiliating”. The issue continued to be a thorny one until the early 1930s.”

    More on Wiki…

  • sliabhluachra

    That is quite amazing. Of course, given today’s low standards, people from the Republic of China are often stopped as the yobos on the desk do not know the difference between the two (:)) Chinas. There are plenty more examples like that.

    When Brendan Behan was asked about Joyce, his reply was: they shouldn’t have hanged him. Though Wm Joyce, Lord Haw Haw, came from a garrison family, there seems to have been a good reason to keep a British rather than a Free State passport.

    I guess for a long time the Free State was the only entity to have given the Brit Mother Country a bloody nose and thus the only one they could then bully.

    Getting to Europe then without going through Britain would have been a problem. How did the Nazis who fled to the Free State manage it? I doubt there were direct ferries then.

  • Decimus

    “The issue continued to be a thorny one until the early 1930s.”

    Alias,

    Hardly likely to be applicable in 1940 then surely.

  • sliabhluachra

    http://tinyurl.com/joycedebrit a book on the subject

  • PaddyReilly

    Joyce was one of that class of Irishman, now disappeared, who refused to accept Irish independence because it wasn’t achieved by Parnell.

    The children of today hardly understand the disapproval that attached to the mention of sex before the swinging 60s. D.H. Lawrence was subject to official persecution (police raids) right up to the time of his death (1930). I don’t suppose he had the British consul at his funeral. Ulysses was banned in England, though never in Ireland. Joyce had the additional problem that he could not forbear from mentioning real people under their real names, particularly in Ulysses. There were about a dozen people waiting to slap a writ for libel on him the moment he set foot on Irish soil.

    That is the real nature of his gripe with Ireland. I don’t suppose he would have rejected the current polity which gives him so much adulation.

    He, unto whom thou art so partial,
    Oh, reader! is the well-known Martial,
    The Epigrammatist: while living,
    Give him the fame thou would’st be giving;
    So shall he hear, and feel, and know it—
    Post-obits rarely reach a poet.

    But art is not didactic. Persecution and suffering are a godsend to the creative artist. A well-known Belfast author mentioned how all the other students were jealous of him in his creative writing class in Cambridge, because he actually had something to write about.

  • Alias

    Decimus, he rejected the state and the state rejected his bones. I’d say that evens the score. ;)

  • antoinmaccomhain

    @That is the real nature of his gripe with Ireland. I don’t suppose he would have rejected the current polity which gives him so much adulation.

    He, unto whom thou art so partial,
    Oh, reader! is the well-known Martial,
    The Epigrammatist: while living,
    Give him the fame thou would’st be giving;
    So shall he hear, and feel, and know it—
    Post-obits rarely reach a poet.

    But art is not didactic. Persecution and suffering are a godsend to the creative artist. A well-known Belfast author mentioned how all the other students were jealous of him in his creative writing class in Cambridge, because he actually had something to write about.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Some misguided people have at times affirmed that the stimulus of poverty is useful to the artist and it may be darkly hinted that one day one of these misguided individuals will come to any untimely end. Poverty was never any good to anybody-Frank Budgen.

    There is no glory in poverty.None whatsoever.I don’t mean this to be smart or anything,but perhaps if the ‘students who were jealous of the persecuted Belfast writer,were persecuted,they wouldn’t be quite as jealous.
    Where’s the glory in dying half-blind in poverty?Joyce was no fool,and he loathed Ireland and the Irish,imo,for a lot of valid reasons-He was rejected by Ireland in life,and i think the Irish are hypocrits for loving him in death.A bit oirish as they’d say.The backstabbing,backslapping Irish.
    How this country ever produced people like Pearse, Joyce,Beckett and Behan is beyond me.

    Look at our ruling class’-They had billions and billions of dollars to spend during the ‘Celtic Tiger’,yet they couldn’t provide the basic living requirements for homeless people-Not only that,but they denied that Ireland had a homeless problem-

    Even now,with an estimated 200,000 idle houses,and an estimated 150,000 people on the housing list they can’t put 2 and 2 together-Nope.Too complicated-The middle-class who created the mess want to blame everybody but themselves.

    He loathed the sow the ate it’s own farrow.But who in their right mind could love a pig……………….

  • sliabhluachra

    antoinmaccomhain: I think, if you read around the subject, you will find Joyce was a narcissistic sponger.

    Oscar Wilde was another waffler. He did not die in poverty either and he hammed up that part of his life for his own narcissitic reasons.

    You should not confuse the artist and the nature of his art.
    Joyce was always getting into scraps (mini fights) in Paris and Hemmingway who was a big, boozing brawler, had to literally give him a dig out on more than one occasion.

    You may be happy to hear that many years ago, I was strolling down past the quaint junkies of Dublin’s North Earl St and there were a gang of tourists from Kenya (I recognised their Kikuyu dialect) having their smiling pictures taken by his statue. I asked them for the craic, if they knew who the dude was. Neither knew nor cared. That is the same the world over.

  • PaddyReilly

    There is no glory in poverty.

    No doubt, but Joyce never really suffered any. He came from the highest echelon of Irish Catholic society. Such squalor as he experienced was largely due to his own imprudence.

    The Belfast author I was referring to was not persecuted, he was a Belfast Protestant who became a University lecturer in England. But he still had something to write about.

    Obviously, if you put a man in a darkened cell aged 5 and keep him there, he will not produce any great literature, but equally giving him millions of pounds and a series of beautiful concubines will not inspire him to make any effort.

    Somewhere in the middle is the optimum scenario. Take Vonnegut. He had a regular American childhood and an unstressed, comfortable adulthood, but the source of his best literature was the 2 year period he spent as a soldier and prisoner of war in Germany, and his experience of the destruction of Dresden. Largely this was a description of other people’s suffering, but being a prisoner of war is not actually fun, and Vonnegut could have written nothing if it was him that was executed, and not his companion, him that was fire-bombed, and not the people of Dresden.

    the Irish are hypocrits for loving him in death

    It may have escaped your notice but there has been a change of personnel in the Irish population. There are no 150 year olds about who decried Joyce during his lifetime, but enthuse for him now that it is fashionable. I am not a hypocrite because I do not share the literary and social views of my grandparents. I am me. My grandmother put books on the fire, even my father put one book on the fire, I wish I knew what it was, I would certainly consider this to be a recommendation. A book is either interesting or boring, I am not interested in its moral worth. Mairtín Ó Cadhain said of one book, Bríde Bhán by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, there is nothing to the two main characters in this book but lust: what that produces, children maybe, is not literature. I did try reading it, but I never finished it, but it was boredom, and not moral revulsion that stopped me.

    How this country ever produced people like Pearse, Joyce,Beckett and Behan is beyond me.

    Um, Pearse? As in Íosagán and Eoghainín na n-Éan? This is great literature? I think you should try reading a few more books. They wrote great literature, inasmuch as they were not didactic. Beckett’s characters are exactly like the patients in a ward for the terminally ill or incurably insane. Behan wrote about prisoners, not pampered socialites. The source of their muse was suffering, vicariously experienced usually, but working with the incontinent demented is not exactly fun, neither is being a prisoner, even if you yourself escape the rope and the bullet.

    Your tirade is just complaint: you don’t want what you have. Beckett and Behan and Joyce told things as they were, that is literature.

    Please leave a space after a full stop.

  • sliabhluachra

    PaddyReilly: You are putting Behan into some exalted company. I don’t think Vonnegut is great literatute though Mann is.
    Let us imagine there is a checklist for what constitutes great literature. First off, that list would change with the ages. English Victorian literature is too long winded, never getting to the point (if there is one). Ulysses has been attacked for those self same reasons.
    Behan scores a couple of points but no goals with his offerings. Joyce and Beckett are probably not too far away from his lowly position. Sure, both were literary path breakers but what of it? Both in different ways could mould the English language any which way but what of it?
    Seeing a Beckett play is like seeing West Side Story. Dated.

    Who should really give a flying fggk what Joyce thought. He was a bookish boy into music, words and other things we cannot mention. He was prescient regarding some of the 1916-23 leaders whose path he crossed in the little confines of literary Dublin but what of it?
    Though Alias, amongst others, makes some good points here, citing Joyce’s opinions are argumentum ad verecundiam. Interesting, especially for those of us who are reflective, but that is all. Sin e.

  • antoinmaccomhain

    )-antoinmaccomhain: I think, if you read around the subject, you will find Joyce was a narcissistic sponger.
    Oscar Wilde was another waffler. He did not die in poverty either and he hammed up that part of his life for his own narcissitic reasons.

    I never really took to either Wilde or Joyce,apart from a few extracts here and there-Christy Brown would be more up my alley-My left foot is a great flick,but ultimately it failed to portray him as the great poet that he was,imo.

    )-’the Irish are hypocrits for loving him in death’….I am not a hypocrite because I do not share the literary and social views of my grandparents. I am me.

    I never called you a hypocrit.I’d agree with with what Alias said:’he rejected the state and the state rejected his bones. I’d say that evens the score.’

    )-Mairtín Ó Cadhain said of one book, Bríde Bhán by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, there is nothing to the two main characters in this book but lust: what that produces, children maybe, is not literature.

    I haven’t read Bríde Bhán but i like Ó Cadhains labourers view of socialism – ‘I was a marxist before i ever knew what marxism was’.I’d consider Ó Cadhain to be a latter day William Thompson,although they both came from opposite sides of the fence.

    )-Um, Pearse? As in Íosagán and Eoghainín na n-Éan? This is great literature? Some would say he was away with the birds.Others would say there’s a thin line between madness and genius.

    Great literature?-I’d consider Frank McCourt a ‘great’ writer,but he was called a fantasist.

    )-Behan wrote about prisoners, not pampered socialites.

    Borstal Boy was good,but i preferred Confessions of an Irish Rebel.But both books take away from the fact that he was also a Gaelic scholar,and i think it was a bit sad,to say the least,that he hadn’t got the ability to write at the end of his days,and had to dictate his words to some hack,so in a way we only got half the story.

  • sliabhluachra

    Good post, antoinmaccomhain. I guess these writers are like football players. We can cheer Robbie/Roy Keane but they are not really us even if some of them are of us.
    Behan came along at the right time, when using f words was cool. O’Cadhain was a seriously good writer. Isn’t it great we can enjoy them and get solace from them even if they are sensible enough to loathe us.

  • wee buns

    ”Isn’t it great we can enjoy them and get solace from them even if they are sensible enough to loathe us.”

    Confirms yon recent ‘Lonely Planet’ diagnosis of the Irish being pessimistic and suffering from issues of self worth – yet still worth a visit!