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"Pseudostylic Shamiana": James Joyce and James Clarence Mangan

From: Joyce Studies Annual
Volume 2009
pp. 248-265

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David Lloyd begins an article on the Oriental translations of James Clarence Mangan with an explication of the two dominant readings of Mangan's literary status in Ireland. One sees him as the prodigy of the Young Ireland movement, contributing rabble-rousing lyrics to Nationalist journals, while the other classes him as the bridge between British high Romanticism and Anglo-Irish Revivalism, a peer of Coleridge and Shelley and a precursor of Yeats and Joyce. Consequently, writes Lloyd, Mangan has been read in terms of his "failure to meet the standards of either of the poles between which [he] is located"; his patriotism was insufficiently fervent, his poetic muse too fanciful for him to adequately represent the Nationalist movement, while his dubious status as a "bridge" between Romanticism and Revivalism is problematic in that it defines the poet only in terms of what he is not: As a Romantic, he limps belatedly past the finishing post with little that is new to contribute, while his "misfired attempt to forge an Irish idiom" inevitably finds him languishing in the "oblivion" Joyce tentatively identified as the poet's final resting place.1 The broadness of historical generalization in both the Nationalist and Romantic-Revivalist readings makes for two very narrow critical appreciations of Mangan. The overlap between them means that the Anglo-Irish reading is more often implied than fully expounded, but the view of Mangan as the banner-waving Wunderkind of the Nationalist cause has persisted. For this reason, Mangan rarely meets with critical engagement outside of this political-historical context.

An early enemy of this line of criticism was James Joyce, who in two lectures on the poet attempted to free Mangan from this restricting public role as sometime creature of the Young Ireland movement. This essay will assess Joyce's critical position vis-à-vis Mangan, before broadening into an exploration of the artistic influence of Mangan over Joyce, an influence often overlooked by Joyce scholars. References to Mangan abound in Joyce's prose; there are several Mangan cuttings in Ulysses, most conspicuously the word "contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality," taken from a coinage Mangan used to describe an elegy he had written in a letter to Charles Gavan Duffy.2 Finnegans Wake (mis)quotes the poems and prose with abandon, and bases a substantial slice of narrative (Shem's "Portrait") partly on Mangan's famous Autobiography. All of these respectful salutes toward Mangan invite critical attention that, strangely, Joyce scholarship has scarcely recognized.3

In 1902, the young Joyce wrote an address to the Literary and Historical Society of University College, Dublin, entitled "James Clarence Mangan." In it, Joyce introduces Mangan, "the most significant poet of the modern Celtic world," to an Irish audience that, according to Joyce, has all but forgotten him. The essay's style is ornamental to the point of conceitedness, and the argument accordingly difficult to follow. Paterian flourishes of rhetoric warn the reader that the essay is as much an exercise in dramatic presentation as an attempt to restore Mangan to the Irish consciousness; an over-long introduction to the Romantic school makes no mention of Mangan, and when Joyce finally does settle on his subject, Mangan often finds himself upstaged and displaced by Joyce's stylistic experiments:

Vittoria Colonna and Laura and Beatrice—even she upon whose face many lives have cast that shadowy delicacy, as of one who broods upon distant terrors and riotous dreams, and that strange stillness before which love is silent, Mona Lisa—embody one chivalrous idea, which is no mortal thing, bearing it bravely above the accidents of lust and faithlessness and weariness; and she whose white and holy hands have the virtue of enchanted hands, his virgin flower, and flower of flowers, is no less than these an embodiment of that idea.4

That a version of this essay, with all mention of Mangan erased, found its way into the fledgling novel Stephen Hero is a good indication of Joyce's priorities at this time: The young author wanted to carve a reputation as a stylish polemicist, an opinionated and thoroughly modern innovator; the task of rescuing Mangan from obscurity took a deliberate second place to these ambitions.

Five years later...



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