James Joyce Quarterly 44.1 (2006) 166-169

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Reviewed by
Franca Ruggieri
University of Rome
James Joyce and German Theory: The Romantic School and All That, by Barbara Laman. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004. 176 pp. $39.50.

Barbara Laman's volume opens with Donovan's words in the fifth chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: the brief reference to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing—"the classical school and the romantic school," the "idealistic, German, [End Page 166] ultraprofound" dimension (P 211). The book is the result of much learned research, all well documented and updated in its primary as well as in its secondary sources, by an author who authoritatively masters both Joyce's literary corpus and "German Romantic theories" (20). By this general designation, Laman hints at that exceptionally vast, fruitful season of German literary and philosophical thought that expands from the second half of the eighteenth century to the early decades of the nineteenth one. Her thorough text is organized into six main chapters, prefaced by an illuminating "Introduction," which is an essential, anticipated précis of her argument, and followed by a final, clear "Conclusion." The very titles of the chapters show how this comparative study of influences covers the whole sequence of Joyce's works, from the beginning to Finnegans Wake: "German Romantic Theory and Joyce's Early Works"; "From Stephen Hero to Portrait: The Kunstlerroman Revisited"; "Exiles and Romantic Irony"; "Ulysses and the 'Mythic Method'"; "'A Picture of its Age': Hamlet Expositions and Revisions"; and "The 'Romantical' Wake."

Laman's thesis is that most inquiries into the sources of Joyce's aesthetics have focused on Aristotle, Plato, and Thomas Aquinas, leaving little space for his use of the German aesthetic theories, which "contributed centrally to the Europeanizing of Irish literature" (13). Through the operative presence of Goethe and Lessing, Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich von Schiller, Novalis (Friedrich Leopold) and Richard Wagner, in fact, Joyce could overcome Ireland's parochial status—the subordinate condition that he saw as a basic handicap for Irish culture—and actually "fly by those nets" of "nationality, language, religion." (P 203). One is tempted to emphasize what Laman additionally observes: how closely Wagner's presence has already been examined in Timothy Martin's Joyce and Wagner and how later contributions to Joyce Studies in Italy focused on the idea that the juvenile Joycean notion of "drama" is borrowed from Wagner's Prose Works and Gabriele D'Annunzio's Il fuoco.1 The same could be noted about Lessing: after Fritz Senn, other scholars discovered the presence of Laokoon: Oder Uber die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie in Joyce.2 One should also remember Jacques Aubert's words, when speaking of Joyce's first lecture on James Clarence Mangan (CW 73-83) and the influence on Joyce's thinking of "Hegelian, or rather neo-Hegelian" thought: "Joyce in those days was not in a position to read much of Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, but, as I have demonstrated long ago, he did indeed read the neo-Hegelian History of Aesthetic, of Bernard Bosanquet, to which, anyway, is appended the closing section of Hegel's 'Introduction' to his Aesthetic."3

It was Senn who, during a lecture, objected to Aubert's thesis, observing ironically that Joyce could have read Hegel in an English translation, which might have made Hegelian thought much more [End Page 167] understandable than in its original German version.4 Even if this were true, in some cases, Joyce obviously undertook an untranslated reading of "German theory," yet he could also have a wider mediated knowledge of it. In our different predicaments, we, as readers of Joyce, must start our analyses from two established, basic notions. The first relates to Joyce's literary education. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and during the years Joyce spent in elementary and secondary schools and at University College in Dublin, the ordinary cycle of literary education was certainly grounded on several sources but especially on Romantic and Victorian literature. The second notion, which interacts with the first, is that Victorian culture was inflected by a wave of interest in German literature and what Laman calls "German . . . theories." One could even suggest a random selection of intellectuals and writers immersed in German studies, some of whose books Joyce had in his Trieste library, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the author of Biographia Literaria, Sir Walter Scott, the translator of Goethe's Goetz of Berlichinghen, George Eliot, the translator of David Friedrich Strauss's Leben Jesu, and Thomas Carlyle, who invited his contemporaries to close their Byron and open their Goethe.5 They all could have played the role of mediator between German Romantic literature and Joyce himself. For instance, in that Trieste library, Joyce had a copy of Carlyle's Past and Present, dated 1909, and a second-hand French Revolution, dated 1920 by an earlier owner, too late to be of any use in his early formative years,6 but do we know which books the young exile carried from Dublin when he left with Nora in 1904? The absence in Trieste of any of Schiller's works or a copy of Carlyle's Life of Friedrich Schiller or his translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is thus not altogether negative evidence, since Carlyle could have been on Joyce's secondary-school syllabuses, whereas the absence of Goethe's original Wilhelm Meister from that library might be more significant.7

Franca Ruggieri is Professor of English at Università Roma Tre. She is the editor of Joyce Studies in Italy and coordinates the Ph.D. program in Literary Theories and Comparative Studies. She has published extensively on eighteenth-century literature and on James Joyce, including such works as Maschere dell'artista, Introduzione a Joyce, L'età di Johnson, and Dal Vittorianesimo al Modernismo.


1. See Timothy Martin, Joyce and Wagner: A Study of Influence (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991); Franca Ruggieri, ed., Joyce Studies in Italy: Romantic Joyce, 8 (Rome: Bulzoni, 2003); Richard Wagner, Prose Works (New York: Broude Brothers, 1892); and Gabriele D'Annunzio, Il fuoco (Verona: Mondadori, 1930).

2. See Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laokoon: Oder Uber die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie. Mit Beiläufigen Erläuterungen Verschiedener Punkte der Alten Kunstgeschichte (Berlin: C. F. Voss, 1766); Fritz Senn, "Esthetic Theories," JJQ, 2 (Winter 1965), 134-36; and my "Laocoon and Stephen Dedalus," Joyce Studies [End Page 168] in Italy, 7, ed. Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli and Ruggieri (Rome: Bulzoni Press, 2002), 67-76.

3. Jacques Aubert, "Joyce's Romantic Propositions and Position," Joyce Studies in Italy, 8 (Rome: Bulzoni, 2003), 14; Bernard Bosanquet, A History of Aesthetic (London: S. Sonnenschein, 1892); and Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Aesthetic (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).

4. Senn, "Byronic Rumblings," a paper delivered at the "Romantic Joyce" conference in Rome, 11-12 April 2002, and included in Joyce Studies in Italy, 8 (pp. 25-34).

5. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (London: G. Bell and Daldy, 1870); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goetz of Berlichinghen, with the Iron Hand: A Tragedy, trans. Sir Walter Scott (London: J. Bell, 1799); David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus: Critically Examined, trans. George Eliot (London: Chapman Brothers, 1846); and Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus: On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p. 145.

6. Carlyle, Past and Present (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1909), and The French Revolution: A History (London: Chapman and Hall, 1837).

7. Carlyle, The Life of Friedrich Schiller: Comprehending an Examination of His Work (London: Taylor and Hennessey, 1825), and Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship: A Novel from the German of Goethe, trans. Carlyle (London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1824), and Wilhelm Meister, Goethe's Werke (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta'schen Buchhandlung, 1817-1819).