- Introduction to “Biographical Joyce”
When Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce appeared in 1959, it was acclaimed both for its wealth of information about Joyce’s life and his works and for its graceful style. Reviewers declared it “definitive” and “masterfully” done. During the ensuing years, James Joyce was widely acknowledged as the model for literary critical biography, and when the revised edition appeared in 1982, Ellmann received a new round of applause. Since 1959, his masterpiece has been a boon for Joyce scholars.
But no biography can be definitive. There is always more to learn about an author’s life and milieu as interpretive contexts for the writing. And, of course, Ellmann’s sources, methods, and interpretations have at times been challenged.1 The eight essays in this volume—all of them presented in earlier versions at the 2007 North American James Joyce Conference held at the University of Texas at Austin—might well be thought of as augmenting, or filling, gaps in James Joyce. All the studies employ biographical methods that enhance our understanding of Joyce the artist, Joyce’s work, or the link between his work and a given cultural/historical moment.
In this special issue’s opening essay, Martin Dowling devotes almost half of “‘Thought-Tormented Music’: Joyce and the Music of the Irish Revival” to what he calls “the situation of music in the Irish literary revival.” He focuses chiefly on 1904, which was both an “intensely productive” period for the revival movement and a year chock-full of crucial events and decisions for Joyce. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Lacan, Dowling explores the revivalists’ efforts to “de-anglicize” Irish music, to remove foreign influences that distorted the “pure tradition of Irish song,” and to achieve an improbable harmony between the music favored by the disappearing Anglo-Irish aristocracy and the Irish-speaking peasantry. Inevitably, disputes occurred over what constituted “authentic” Irish music. Factions quarreled over whether pristine Irish music existed in the Atlantic seaboard or more inland; whether “authentic” songs were sung with or without instrumental accompaniment; and whether the piano, rather than the traditional harp, was a legitimate instrument of accompaniment.
Having delineated the historical and theoretical context, Dowling [End Page 409] offers a richly detailed analysis of Joyce’s story “A Mother.” He reveals how almost every element in the story—from the Eire Abu society to the Antient Concert Rooms, from the conflict between Mrs. Kearney and Hoppy Holohan to the plight of Kathleen Kearney—is charged with meaning by the subtextual conflicts of the revivalists’ agenda. Dowling also explains the “authenticity” in Joyce’s depiction of vocal performances of “The Lass of Aughrim” in “The Dead” and “The Croppy Boy” in “Sirens,” which he calls two “true gems” of authentic Irish music.
The next two essays, by James A. Reppke and Christine van Boheemen-Saaf, shift attention from the short-story form and authenticity in Irish music to Joyce’s work in two nonfiction genres: journalism and letter-writing. Reppke devotes much of “Journalist Joyce: A Portrait” to fleshing out the heretofore sketchy history of Joyce’s engagement with journalism. He shows that Joyce published “at least thirty-six [journalistic pieces] over a thirty-year period,” with Joyce’s most intense times of journalistic activity being 1902–1903 in Paris and 1907–1912 in Trieste. While many of these articles were literary reviews, a surprising number (especially during Joyce’s Trieste years) concerned social and political themes. Where Ellmann’s James Joyce provides only a scanty account of this aspect of Joyce’s life, Reppke offers a full biographical narrative, complete with well-grounded speculation about Joyce’s motives for writing journalism: money, prestige, and certain perks granted to journalists—such as free train tickets. He also speculates insightfully about the sources for some of the journalists portrayed in Joyce’s fiction and about the possibility that some of Bloom’s traits mirror the characteristics and career of one Teodoro Mayer, a Jewish-Hungarian journalist in Trieste. Reppke’s conclusion becomes more theoretical as he contemplates the attraction that newspapers (“at the center of almost everything”) and...