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A Letter from James Joyce to Thomas MacGreevy

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 49, Number 2, Winter 2012
pp. 365-368 | 10.1353/jjq.2012.0006

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In late April-early May 1928, James Joyce was in Toulon, staying at the Grand Hotel. This post-Easter trip to the south of France had been recommended by his doctor, Dr. Thérèse Bertrand-Fontaine, as a means of recuperating his health, since she found him to be “in a state of nervous exhaustion.”1

As was customary, though, on these excursions from his Paris base, Joyce never stopped working. He brought with him no fewer than sixteen notebooks to enable him to work on proofs both for transition 13, which contained what was to become part III, chapter 2 of Finnegans Wake, and for the first publication in book form of the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter of the Wake.2 And for Joyce, of course, working on proofs involved much more than mere correcting: it entailed continuous creativity, expansion, and elaboration—almost as sustained an effort as the original composition. All this labor involved copious correspondence with sources back in Paris, principally Sylvia Beach. Much, though not all, of their communication is documented in the Banta-Silverman volume cited in endnote 1, as well as in LettersIII.

Among the amanuenses who were helping with all this activity (principally proofreading) was Thomas MacGreevy.3 His contributions are recorded in the Banta-Silverman volume (139), as well as in an unpublished letter from Joyce to MacGreevy that is among the MacGreevy papers held in Trinity College Dublin.4 Another unpublished letter from Joyce to MacGreevy, also held at Trinity College Dublin,5 however, is of a rather different stamp (see Figure 1). In it, Joyce addresses the issue of MacGreevy’s future. In other correspondence, he had already shown awareness of MacGreevy’s precarious financial position (LettersI 265–66, 323).

In the unpublished letter, he considers the advisability of MacGreevy taking a position as a lecturer at Uppsala University in Sweden. (Joyce spells the name “Upsala.") MacGreevy had been recommended for the post by T. S. Eliot, through a contact, the poet Robert Nichols.6 (In the event, MacGreevy did not take the position.) The letter is marked by the solicitude and concern that Joyce manifests for his friend—and “friend” is the only term that seems appropriate here. While much is said of the use Joyce made of members of his circle, especially in the writing of Finnegans Wake, it is salutary to be reminded of the degree of care that he could also manifest towards them. The letter ends with a delightful Joycean wordplay on the names “Uppsala” and “Stockholm,” proof that his funds of creativity and linguistic resourcefulness were far from diminished, despite the pressures he was under.

Terence Killeen  

Terence Killeen is Research Scholar at the James Joyce Centre, Dublin. He is the author of “Ulysses” Unbound: A Reader’s Companion to “Ulysses.” His most recent publication is “Tackling the Errears and Erroriboose: Another Look at the Rose/O’Hanlon Finnegans Wake,” in Genetic Joyce Studies, 13 (Spring 2013), <www.geneticjoycestudies.org>.


1.  See Melissa Banta and Oscar A. Silverman, eds., James Joyce’s Letters to Sylvia Beach, 1921–1940 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1987), p. 135. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

2.  Joyce, “Work in Progress,” transition, 13 (Summer 1928), 5–32, and Anna Livia Plurabelle (New York: Crosby Gaige, 1928).

3.  Thomas MacGreevy (1893–1967) was an Irish poet and critic influential in the modernist movement in the 1920s and 1930s. He was first acquainted with Joyce in 1924, and, on moving to Paris in 1927, he became very close to Joyce and his family. In later years, he moved back to Ireland and became director of the Irish National Gallery from 1950 to 1963. Joyce referred to him as “McGreevy,” but he changed his name to the “Mac” form later in his life, and that is the standard way now of spelling his name. Further information about MacGreevy’s relationship with Joyce, both personally and as a critic, is contained in my essay entitled “Our Shem: MacGreevy and Joyce,” in Susan Schreibman, ed., The Life and Work of Thomas MacGreevy: A Critical Reappraisal (London: Bloomsbury Publishers, 2013), pp. 173–89.

4.  See the Trinity College Dublin manuscript...

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