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Una Rosa per Joyce / A Rose for Joyce, by Renzo S. Crivelli. Trieste: MGS Press, 2004. 221 pp. €18.00

Joyce's Triestine years have been investigated in various ways by several different authors, including Richard Ellmann, John McCourt, Peter Hartshorn, and Renzo S. Crivelli.1 One would, therefore, not expect to find any new material in yet another book on Joyce in Trieste. Crivelli's Una Rosa per Joyce, however, brings to the forefront a surprising wealth of new or little-known elements that significantly enrich the picture we already have of Joyce the teacher, Joyce the tenant, Joyce the drinker, and Joyce the seducer.

The title of Crivelli's book refers to an actual event—the occasion of Joyce's reading "The Dead" aloud at Italo Svevo's villa. There are actually differing versions of what occurred that day. According to Ellmann, Svevo's wife, Signora Livia Veneziani, told him in an interview that she "was so moved by ['The Dead'] that she went into the garden of their villa, . . . and gathered a bunch of flowers to present to Joyce" (JJI 280). Crivelli, however, presents a different version based on an interview he had with Svevo's daughter, Signora Letizia Fonda Savio, who has her mother returning from the garden with one rose, which she then gives to Joyce in token of her appreciation of his reading. As Crivelli puts it:

The emotional impact of those pages . . . prompted a sudden, spontaneous gesture on the part of Livia. According to her daughter Letizia, she rose from her seat and went out into the garden and down the central pathway, which was shaded by a vine-covered trellis and flanked by rose bushes on both sides. After a few moments she returned with a rose in her hand, offering it to Joyce in token of her admiration.


There is a significant difference between a woman stirred by emotion presenting Joyce with one rose as opposed to a number of flowers; that Crivelli selects the single-rose story rather than the bouquet indicates both the theme of seduction that pervades the book and the justification for the work, which, through its wealth of detail, allows for a different and deeper appreciation of Joyce and his world in Trieste.

In the opening chapter, "A Rose for Joyce" (10-53), Crivelli [End Page 157] describes the Joyce-Svevo relationship, the Berlitz School teaching methods, and the network of Joyce's upper-class students, whom Crivelli divides into three categories: 1) members of the local aristocracy, such as Baron Ambrogio Ralli, Count Francesco Sordina, Prince Konrad von Hohenlohe-Shillingsfurst, and Count Mario Tripcovich; 2) people belonging to the economic and professional elite, often of Jewish origin (like Svevo, who, when he first met the Irish writer, simply wanted to learn a language that was essential for business and trade), and the daughters of these wealthy, professional businessmen, who may well have inspired the pages of Giacomo Joyce, such as Amalia Popper, Annie Schleimer, Emma Cuzzi, Maria Luzzatto Fegiz, Olivia Hannapel, and Eva Venezian; and 3) well-educated students who were mostly interested in English literature, such as Nicolò Vidacovich (a solicitor who collaborated with Joyce in translations of John Millington Synge and W. B. Yeats), Paolo Cuzzi, who was to become a respected lawyer, the translator and writer Dario de Tuoni, and the Irredentist intellectual, Attilio Tamaro (24). Of these students, Crivelli pays particular attention to the lessons given by Joyce to the distinguished surgeon Adriano Sturli, because some notes from those sessions survive, "providing direct evidence for Joyce's teaching methods" (28). Several pages are dedicated to this unpublished manuscript, which is also partly reproduced for the first time in Crivelli's text and is one of the new documents that the author has brought to light.2 Crivelli also tells us how he came to have access to the notebook, thanks to the surgeon's secretary, Signora Bianca de Toma, who is still living in Trieste and who received it as a gift from Sturli when he retired. Unfortunately, there are three pages missing from the notebook; we are compensated for this loss, however, by the story that Sturli apparently destroyed those pages before giving the notebook to his secretary because they contained word lists he might have used during his business trip to London, in case he decided to visit the local brothels (28).

This is just one example of the anecdotes that enrich Crivelli's reconstruction of Joyce, the unconventional teacher, and he provides many other such episodes, reported by local scholars, which give us a portrait of Joyce as a teacher who did not much care about his wealthy students' linguistic (in)competence. While many of the accounts Crivelli refers to have already been published, they subsequently disappeared from circulation, becoming unavailable or difficult to find. His careful and painstaking archival research has yielded an accurate reconstruction of the cultural, multiethnic background of Trieste in those years, and the interviews with relatives, newspaper articles of the time, and other extensive archival documentation form the texture of a picture that, in the author's capable hands, becomes lively and fascinating. [End Page 158]

In the second chapter, "Lessons in Desire" (54-103), the connection between the theme of seduction and Giacomo Joyce, already mentioned in previous pages, becomes more prominent. After portraying a number of adolescent, female students who appear to have been sensitive to the charm of their extraordinary teacher, the author argues that Giacomo Joyce is "the symbolic projection of several women (Nora included) united by the common anomalous relationship between a seducer who ends up by being seduced (Joyce himself) and a pupil who gives lessons rather than receive [sic] them (lessons in desire, naturally)" (92-94). The theme of the rose returns in another anecdote, first mentioned by Leon Edel,3 on which Crivelli elaborates by identifying the place where the episode "almost certainly" occurred, which was "the Caffé Eden in via Acquedotto (now Viale XX Settembre)" (70). Crivelli gives us a scene of an ironic Joyce flirting with a group of young women in a Trieste "café chantant": "At a certain point Joyce invites one young lady, who is dressed in an elegant gown adorned by a rose, to dance and as they whirl about the floor the flower falls dismally to the ground. With a mix of studied elegance and unpardonable effrontery, Joyce picks up the rose and hands it to the girl with the chilling comment: 'I seem to have deflowered you'" (70).

In this chapter, we also find some interesting anecdotes about Joyce's use of the Triestine dialect. Crivelli calls attention to a previously unpublished letter, written in the dialect of Trieste, and signed "'Jacomo del Oio, sudito botanico'" (64).4 There is wordplay between "suddito britannico" (British subject), ironically turned into "botanic subject," and a Triestine idiomatic expression, "'scampar coi bori dell'oio," which means "'to make off with the money for the oil,'" a phrase referring to a swindle perpetrated by an Istrian official who ran away with the public funds that were to be used to buy oil for the street-lamps (64, 66). Crivelli's clarification is yet another example of the new information that makes his book so stimulating to read.

The third chapter, "Private Lessons" (104-41), is a detailed reconstruction of the setting of Joyce's English instruction, Via Bramante 4, where the Joyce family lived from 15 September 1912 to 28 June 1915. Crivelli searched the Trieste archives to check the neighbor's names, the apartment map, the precise position of the room where the lessons took place, and the furniture and its origin. In spite of the great detail and accuracy Crivelli clearly exhibits, the picture that emerges does not add much to our knowledge of Joyce's life or his teaching methods. Crivelli does bring to the fore, however, many of the memories of local authors and former pupils and also interviews that, although published earlier, are little known or unavailable. As Crivelli convincingly argues, the years spent in Via Bramante comprise the best period of Joyce's life in Trieste: new archival documents show that the family's financial affairs were better, partly because Joyce had been [End Page 159] able to add another income to his private lessons by teaching courses at an evening business school, where, among his colleagues, we find Almidano Artifoni, who had been director of the Berlitz School of Trieste and who was probably Joyce's connection to the job (132).

In the fourth chapter, "University Professor" (142-203), we are given details about Joyce as a university teacher. A number of new documents are produced here to provide evidence of Joyce's relationship with the Revoltella Advanced School of Business Studies, a prestigious institution where he worked from October 1913 to June 1915. It was a temporary job, with the school reserving the right to relieve Joyce of his position without the usual three-month advance notification (Crivelli provides copies of Joyce's letter of acceptance in Italian—146-48—and the letter by which he was hired—112). The history, location, and prestige of the Revoltella School are attested to by citations from the school's archives, fully investigated for the first time by the author. We also learn that Joyce had many Slovenian and Dalmatian students in his class, that he was to teach six hours a week (three in the first year and three in the second), and that he managed to have the teaching program modified by the addition of one hour per course (see the letter in which Joyce argues for an increase in the number of hours—158). We are given the syllabi for Joyce's courses (162) and a detailed list of the topics for each of the three terms, which included the British Empire ("l'impero brittanico [sic]"—163) and the Army and Navy. A rather unexpected picture of a conformist Joyce emerges from these lists, although it is not clear whether such topics were proposed by Joyce or imposed on him. Crivelli also documents Joyce's attendance at the Academic Council meetings by checking his signature, reported or missing, in the Council minutes. A case of insubordination by a student named Sangulin who refused to approach the blackboard because "he accidentally broke his spectacles" is compared to Stephen's rebellion in A Portrait, when he was unjustly punished for breaking his glasses (168). The most stimulating part of this chapter is the vivid description of the atmosphere of intolerance between the Slav and Italian students at the Revoltella School in March 1914, characterized by physical attacks and political demonstrations (168). Joyce seems to have used a strategy of non-commitment by skipping some of the more contentious academic meetings where decisions about the expulsion of the most violent students were under discussion. "As for Joyce," Crivelli writes, "even though he was clearly aware of the turbulent situation around him, he seems to have been reluctant to become involved, judging from his 'strategic' absences from the School" (174). The chapter ends with an accurate representation of the tumults that distinguished Trieste just before World War I, during the last few months of Joyce's stay. The school could not function regularly, and Joyce had no salary for [End Page 160] a while. He was appointed for the 1914-1915 academic year, despite the fact that he was a British subject, but when Great Britain declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 4 August 1914, Joyce "suddenly found himself a British citizen . . . resident in an enemy country" (176). Most students and teachers left Trieste. The school closed on 16 June 1915, and Joyce departed for Zurich on 27 June 1915. He returned to Trieste in mid-October 1919 to resume his position at the Revoltella School, but he was no longer really interested in teaching, perhaps because he had begun writing Ulysses and the school still owed him money. He left for Paris in July 1920 and refused to go back to Trieste for the exams at the Revoltella, which had, in the meantime, become a university institution under the Italian government.

In addition to the great number of local, documentary materials brought to light for the first time, Crivelli's book demonstrates once again the intense and lively interest that Trieste has shown in Joyce for several years now (after ignoring the Irish writer for decades) and confirms this city in its role as one of the most prominent centers of Joyce studies in Italy and in Europe. A final note about the format of the book: it can be read in both Italian and English since two parallel texts run together, English on the left-hand page and Italian on the right.

Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli
University of Bologna
Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli

Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli is Professor of English at the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators at the University of Bologna at Forlì, which she directed from 1992 to 1996. She chaired the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies on Translation, Languages, and Cultures from its inception in 1999 until 2005. In June 2000, she was elected President of the International James Joyce Foundation for a four-year mandate. She has published extensively on James Joyce, the language of advertising, screen translation, political language, and metaphor. Her publications on Joyce include The Benstock Library as a Mirror of Joyce, ReJoycings: New Readings of “Dubliners,” Anna Livia Plurabelle di James Joyce nella traduzione di Samuel Beckett e altri, The Languages of Joyce, and Myriadmindedman: Jottings on Joyce. She is currently editing a collection of essays entitled Joyce and/in Translation, forthcoming in 2007.


1. See John McCourt, James Joyce: A Passionate Exile (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 2001), and The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2000); Peter Hartshorn, James Joyce in Trieste (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997); and Renzo S. Crivelli, James Joyce: Itinerari Triestini/Triestine Itineraries (Trieste: MGS Press, 1996). A number of articles on the subject are included in the bibliography of Crivelli’s Una Rosa per Joyce (pp. 209-13).

2. See page 14 of Adriano Sturli’s notebook, which is reproduced in the central portion of Una Rosa per Joyce (n.p.). Crivelli mentions the existence of this unpublished manuscript, the Sturli copybook, in Itinerari Triestini/Triestine Itineraries (pp. 139-41); it was first discovered by Stelio Crise and discussed in his Scritti (Trieste: Edizioni Parnaso, 1995), p. 65, but no facsimile reproduction was available until now.

3. Leon Edel, Stuff of Sleep and Dreams (London: Chatto and Windus, 1982), p. 94.

4. As Crivelli reports (p. 64), this letter is quoted by Crise, who mentions the owner’s refusal to display it at the Lugano exhibition, April 1961—see Accademie e biblioteche d’Italia, 5 (Rome: Palombi Editori, 1961), p. 10. [End Page 161]