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Padraic Colum’s “James Joyce as a Young Man”

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 45, Number 2, Winter 2008
pp. 339-347 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0060

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Although it is not as likely to shake the foundations of Joyce studies as did the manuscripts described by Michael Groden a few years ago,1 this newly discovered autograph, Padraic Colum’s “James Joyce as a Young Man,” presents a significantly nuanced—and refreshingly unmodulated—description of Joyce’s emergence “as a character” in turn-of-the-century Dublin.

Colum’s text centers on four subjects: Oliver St. John Gogarty, the essay “The Day of the Rabblement,” the “build-up” for Joyce created by his father, and the Henrik Ibsen review, “Ibsen’s New Drama”—staple themes in the discussion of Joyce’s pre-exile years.2 Their treatment, however, differs in Colum’s document from that found in other accounts; it even diverges from what appeared in Our Friend James Joyce, a lengthy memoir Colum co-authored with Mary Maguire Colum in 1958.3 The manuscript presents that memoir’s first installment. When its contents are compared with those found in Our Friend, the document, already engrossing because of the view it offers of the advent of the young Joyce, becomes even more engaging.

As the draft reveals, Colum’s friendship with Joyce began in the drawing rooms of Dublin’s Nassau Hotel at a gathering of performers who would soon emerge as the Abbey Players.4 Born three months apart, each of the two men was barely twenty. Shortly after their meeting, Colum’s play, The Land, became the third performed at the Abbey Theatre and its first success.5 According to the Dublin press, earlier productions had not fared half so well. “What we have been waiting for was a play that should be at once good and popular,” one reviewer observed, adding that Colum knew how to reach the Dublin audience, a talent that had apparently not been in evidence in works by the other two lights of the Dublin stage: “Mr. Yeats has proved a little too abstruse, and Mr. Synge a little too bizarre.”6 Neither W. B. Yeats’s classicism nor John Millington Synge’s romanticism could hold sway before Colum’s adamantly professed Ibsenian realism, a position much in sympathy with Joyce’s own.7

Despite his success, Colum, like Joyce a decade before him, left Ireland, although, unlike Joyce, he emigrated westward to America where, from 1914 until his death in 1972, he published on average a volume a year: biographies, folklore tracts, collections of poetry, and dozens of plays, along with countless essays, articles, and introductions.8 Of these, a number dealt with Joyce’s oeuvre. In New York, Colum quickly emerged as a spokesperson for the author, presenting his works to an American audience. For the New York Times, he wrote reviews of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, each within a few months of their European publication.9 He contributed essays on Joyce to the Saturday Review, was a founding member and president of the New York Joyce Society, oversaw the production of Marjorie Barkentin’s dramatization, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in Nighttown, and even prepared the scenario for a ballet version of Finnegans Wake (with choreography by British expatriate Anthony Tudor, then of the American Ballet Theatre, and music by the American composer Samuel Barber, one of the most anticipated collaborations of the post-war period).10

Even after the appearance of Our Friend James Joyce, Colum’s writings on Joyce continued. He published a moving commemorative verse in his Irish Elegies, and among his unpublished papers he left a final tribute, Monasterboise, a Noh piece on an encounter between James Joyce and Emma Cleary (with John Joyce in tow), set amidst one of Ireland’s more hallowed sites.11

The Colums’ memoir, published in 1958 and followed within months by a paperback version and a London edition, has held its own among Joyce biographies, aided, no doubt, by the poet’s being one of the few Irish writers with whom Joyce sustained a continuous relationship, from his pre-exile period in Dublin through his final years in Zurich. When Joyce returned to Dublin in 1912 for a final attempt to have Maunsel and Company publish Dubliners, it was Colum he asked to join the negotiations...

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