‘It is extremly difficult to say exactly what place in literature will be occupied by Mr James Joyce’

From the Archive: The language in ‘Ulysses’ is not a trifle free – it is freedom itself. It is questionable whether any word forbidden in polite society is not to be found somewhere in its pages

Sidney Nolan’s Portrait of James Joyce from the Wild Geese Series. “This is an age of introspection,” wrote The Irish Times in 1923, “and this author has, one would think, carried introspection to as far a limit as we can understand. But we can understand his writing for the simple reason that, unlike some other writers, he leaves out absolutely nothing

Sidney Nolan’s Portrait of James Joyce from the Wild Geese Series. “This is an age of introspection,” wrote The Irish Times in 1923, “and this author has, one would think, carried introspection to as far a limit as we can understand. But we can understand his writing for the simple reason that, unlike some other writers, he leaves out absolutely nothing

Fri, May 16, 2014, 01:00

From The Irish Times. Saturday, May 5th, 1923: SOME IRISH ARTISTS. VI – Mr. James Joyce (By Bruyere)


IT is extremly difficult to say exactly what place in literature will be occupied by Mr. James Joyce. That his position is unique there can be very little doubt; but that statement helps us virtually no more than the pronouncement of many, on the appearance of “ Ulysses,” that the book was “European,” and that in writing it Mr. Joyce had made an entry into European literature. Anything may be unique – in fact , most things are – but the mere giving it that label does not thereby make it of any particular worth.

That Mr. Joyce’s work is of particular worth is the firm opinion of many: but, probably, for the next generation or so people will differ very strongly upon that question. Nearly everybody was able to accept “Dubliners.” “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” even his play “Exiles”, possibly with a shake of the head, as being, rather advanced; but, at any rate, they were accepted. The correct mind, however, found that “Ulysses” was more than a large mouthful; it was a large stomachful. It was almost as if somebody was speaking in a language hitherto unheard, even unthought. Thousands of people who love the delightful humour of Mr. Stephen Leacocke will remember that in one of his sketches he speaks of the language of “Saloonio” as being “a trifle free”: the language in “Ulysses” is not a trifle free – it is freedom itself. It is questionable whether any word forbidden in polite society is not to be found somewhere in its pages.

Among Mr. Joyce’s earliest works, if not actually his first, is a volume of poetry entitled “Chamber Music.” Most of these poems, some of which have found their way into modern anthologies, are delicate love lyrics, differing as much as possible from the stern hardness of his other work. It is, indeed, difficult to believe that the man who wrote “The Twilight Turns From Amethyst,” could also have produced “ Dubliners.” What verse could possess more charm and grace than –

“The old piano plays an air ,

Sedate and slow and gay:

She bends upon the yellow keys,

Her head inclines this way.”

There is in his poetry unrestrained gentleness and feeling an air of dignified beauty which is not often surpassed.

About a dozen years have passed since Mr. Joyce left Dublin to settle on the Continent. A generation, therefore, is growing up which only knows him through his work. It is a matter of genuine regret that so many Irishmen of genius either can not, or will not find their level in this city. Mr. Joyce was educated at Belvedere College and at the Royal University (where at least once he got into trouble with the authorities through the publication of a pamphlet that did not meet with unqualified approval). He is now about forty-one years of age. Among other activities he managed the first Dublin picture theatre – the Volta, in Henry street. He is now in Paris, where he wrote over a period of seven years – 1914 to 1921 – his much-discussed book. His play “Exiles” has not yet been performed in Dublin, although efforts have been made to obtain a performance either by subscription or by private enterprise. To read, it is a play of intense psychological interest, but for acting purposes it would need a cast chosen with the greatest care.

A not altogether favourable critic, Mr. Stephen Gwynn, has pointed out the power of Mr. Joyce’s writing. That is certainly true; whether one likes or dislikes his work, one cannot fail to be impressed by its sheer force. It is never dull or uninteresting, whatever else it may be. This is an age of introspection, and this author has, one would think, carried introspection to as far a limit as we can understand. But we can understand his writing for the simple reason that, unlike some other writers, he leaves out absolutely nothing: he presents the complete chain of thought and reasoning. If that were his only merit he would still be able to claim the attention of the world as a master; for to be able to write exactly what one feels is among the most difficult of accomplishments.

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