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The Joyce We Knew: Memoirs of Joyce (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 601-604 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0009

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As noted on the copyright page of The Joyce We Knew, "[t]his is a revised and expanded edition of the book of the same name originally published by The Mercier Press in 1967." The Bloomsday centenary occasioned a flood of revitalized titles, and this seems to be one of them, containing contributions by Eugene Sheehy, William G. Fallon, Padraic Colum, Arthur Power, and—a newcomer to the collection—Sean Lester. While the former four were either school friends (Sheehy and Fallon) or got to know Joyce as a young adult (Colum) or in his Paris years (Power), Lester met Joyce only in December 1940, just a few weeks before the latter's death.

The 1967 introduction mainly dwelt on Joyce's intimate knowledge of his home town and his realization that exile would be the only solution to the restrictions of turn-of–the-century Dublin. In his 2004 introduction, O'Connor proudly announces that "[s]ome myths are laid to rest here" (8), one of them being that Joyce was uninterested in sports. Another one is supposedly the relationship with his parents, which emerges "somewhat different[ly] from that . . . in the biographies and in the Stephen Dedalus persona of A Portrait and Ulysses" (8-9). O'Connor quotes Sheehy about Joyce's mother: "I remember her as a frail, sad-faced, and gentle lady whose skill at music suggested a sensitive, artistic temperament. She was very proud and fond of Joyce, and he worshipped her. I can still see him linking her towards the piano with grave Old World courtesy" (9). It goes without saying that Sheehy would recall a different woman from the one Stephen remembers on her deathbed in Ulysses; is she so different, however, from what we know of her from A Portrait or the biography of Joyce's father that describes her "energy, gentleness and humour" as well as her musical talents?

In 2004, O'Connor also expands on his remarks about William Fallon's shared interest with Joyce in rugby: Fallon found years later—on a visit to Paris in the 1920s—that this interest had not waned; it turned out that Joyce, just like himself, had been to watch Ireland playing France in a Rugby International match. According to O'Connor in 1967, when Joyce sent him copies of transition later, Fallon "discovered that Joyce [had] inserted the names of international Irish Rugby players in Finnegans Wake," and in Fallon's essay in the 1967 edition, we also learn that the copy of transition was dated September 1928 (11, 53-54). In 2004, things are quite different: O'Connor now tells us in his introduction that Fallon "hadn't been able to make head nor tail of Joyce's contribution" to transition—which is no longer dated— and that he, O'Connor, found all the references of the rugby players that Joyce and Fallon had seen at the match in Paris, as well as the references to Fallon's rugby club in Ireland, which Joyce had watched play on their grounds in Ballsbridge (15). Obviously, Fallon's passage that told us about all this in 1967 had to be excised (52-53).

So much for the new introduction. Each of the contributions is now preceded by a short biographical note in which the editor tells us about his personal relationship to them; this makes the volume as much a tribute to O'Connor's illustrious acquaintances and friends as to Joyce. And what does the newcomer, Lester (1888-1959), add to this collection? He met Joyce in his capacity as an Irish diplomat in Geneva (he was Secretary-General to the League of Nations). Joyce entered Switzerland on 15 December 1940, and Lester spent some three hours with him and his family. His diary entry, which we are given here in the first part, is dated one day later. After a description of Joyce's appearance, the third paragraph opens with an astonishing "Joyce and I soon got on intimate terms" (115). What follows is an extended list of acquaintances they had in common, Joyce inquiring after people he had not seen in years, such as Oliver St. John Gogarty or Herbert...

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