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A Footnote on the Russian Reception of Joyce

We cannot tell for sure what Joyce thought of the Russian Revolution, but there is an existing document to show that those involved in it tried to enlist him for their own purposes. It seems that Joyce was still seen then in the context of revolution and "impulsivism," as many reviews claimed and as is reflected in Finnegans Wake: "aboleshqvick" or "that bogus bolshy of a shame" (FW 149.11, 302.18, 425.22). By August 1934, attitudes had changed: the first Congress of Soviet Writers, prompted mainly by the notorious fulminations of Karl Radek, dismissed Joyce as bourgeois and decadent, and from then on he was an anathema in the period of Social Realism. 1

The following letter is part of the Hans Jahnke collection held in the Zurich James Joyce Foundation. The document shows the way Joyce was claimed by the so-called "World Revolution" at about the same time—2 September 1932—that W. B. Yeats wanted him to join the new Academy of Irish Letters (LettersIII 258). No answer from Joyce seems to be extant.

The letterhead reads as follows:

Zentralorgan der Internationalen Vereinigung Revolutionärer Schrift-steller, Literatur der Weltrevolution (Central Organ of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers, Literature of the World Revolution)
Centre Post Office
Box 850 Moscow USSR
17. IX. 32

Here is the text of the letter itself:

Dear Sir,

The International Union of Revolutionary Writers is preparing a symposium on the Russian Revolution of October 1917. This symposium, which will be published in the International Union's official organ "International Literature," is being contributed to by the world's foremost men of letters. We should value greatly any contribution, no matter how short, outlining your views on the Revolution. We are particularly interested in knowing from you what influence the revolution had on you as a writer, what significance it has for you as a man of letters. [End Page 459]

The symposium will be published in a special number of "International Literature" to be issued in connection with the fifteenth anniversary of the October Revolution. As the special number is going to the press early in October we should be [glad?] to receive your contribution no later than October fifth.

Thanking you in anticipation
Yours sincerely
Secretary of English Edition "International Literature"
H. Romanova [?]

Fritz Senn
Zurich James Joyce Foundation
Fritz Senn

Fritz Senn has been with the Zurich James Joyce Foundation all twenty-six years since its inception. He has written on Joyce and a few related subjects. The Zurich workshop on "Punctuation in Joyce" was held in the first week of August 2011.


1. See Emily Tall, "The Reception of James Joyce in Russia," The Reception of James Joyce in Europe: Vol. 1: Germany, Northern and East Central Europe, ed. Geert Lernout and Wim Van Mierlo (London; Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), pp. 244-57. [End Page 460]

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