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“Parsing Joyce’s Paris”: A Review of “Exile Among Expats: James Joyce in Paris,” Rosenbach Museum and Library 23 February–28 August 2011

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 47, Number 4, Summer 2010
pp. 506-509 | 10.1353/jjq.2010.0004

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In my experience, archival collections are not always hospitable to browsing. As a researcher, one needs an almost prophetic sense of what to ask for—which box or call number to request—before arriving at a collection. And so, for those who possess a more aleatory sensibility and thus prefer to skim and browse at leisure, occasions like the Rosenbach Museum and Library’s “Exile Among Expats: James Joyce in Paris” exhibit offer just such an opportunity. The exhibit is part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, which strives to bring some of the Left Bank to Broad Street with its theme: “From Paris to Philly.” “Exile Among Expats” seeks to answer the question—“why did Joyce come to Paris for a weeklong visit, only to wind up staying for twenty years?”

Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by a giant blowup image of the Sunny Jim who graces the Penguin cover of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (see Figure 1). As its caption relates, when asked what he was thinking about as the photo was being taken, Joyce replied, “I was wondering would [the photographer] lend me a shilling.” This opening anecdote sets the tone of the exhibit, which is punctuated by a series of witty tidbits from stories of Gertrude Stein’s intense rivalry with the author of Ulysses to Henri Matisse’s refusal to read Joyce’s text and his decision to illustrate Homer’s Odyssey instead. Such amusing stories accompanying pieces of the collection reflect a keen eye for the entertainingly irreverent possessed by the exhibit’s curator, Melanie Micir, who is completing her doctorate in English at the University of Pennsylvania. Micir has made what could have been a simple dusting off of familiar Joyceana into a thoughtful narrative jaunt through Joyce’s Parisian years.

I was fortunate enough to attend a curator-led tour of the exhibition. There are two Parisian Joyces, Micir explained: the romantic Stephen-Dedalus type sauntering down “boul’ Mich,’” now associated with Ulysses, and then there is the aging Joyce of Finnegans Wake, a father of two with failing eyesight, who has little interest in the “lost-generation” scene. This detail must have presented some unique curatorial challenges, for most of the Rosenbach’s holdings reflect the former, younger Joyce of Ulysses, while the bulk of his time in Paris was spent writing Finnegans Wake. Despite this fact, the exhibit betrays no paucity of material, incorporating pieces not only from the Rosenbach but also from Princeton’s and SUNY Buffalo’s archival collections.

The exhibit includes some surprising pieces and smart juxtapositions. A picture of Gertrude Stein—who detested Joyce so much that she would not permit his name to be uttered in her famous Parisian salon—is placed next to one of Sylvia Beach, Joyce’s longtime supporter and the woman responsible for getting Ulysses into print. Other neat flourishes include a chapbook containing the “Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies” chapter of Finnegans Wake (the Wake came out not only in little magazines but also as a series of chapbooks), with the cover letters beautifully embellished by Joyce’s daughter Lucia. Another highlight is a facetious doodle by F. Scott Fitzgerald depicting one of the earliest Bloomsdays, showing Joyce surrounded by devotees with a little halo perched atop his head. While watching archival footage from the period, visitors can fiddle with an interactive audio touchscreen playing recordings of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, George Antheil’s Mechanical Ballet, and Joyce’s reading from Finnegans Wake.

One of the most intriguing artifacts on display is Adrienne Monnier’s account of Joyce’s French reception, translated by Sylvia Beach and published in the Kenyon Review. The Monnier piece stands out in the exhibit because of its engagement with the question of Joyce’s relation to Francophone culture. He was surrounded by fellow expats in Paris, but he also was inspired by the local French culture. Aside from the usual suspects—Émile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, and Édouard Dujardin—he was influenced by the writings of Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Paul Valéry, to name a few. In turn, Joyce had...



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