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Joyce’s Reception in Romania, 1935–1965

From: Joyce Studies Annual
pp. 277-285

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In the 1930s, the Romanian elite either promoted James Joyce to the point of adulation or, much more often, deprecated his work to the point of travestying its contents. The long, enduring history of misinterpretations includes the names of well-known critics and Anglicists who based their opinions either on a preconceived rejection of new aesthetic trends (Marcu Beza, Dragoş Protopopescu, the two best-known English specialists of the period) or on personal idiosyncrasies (Camil Petrescu, a famous inter-war writer and feared critic, who called Ulysses “the improvisation of a dilettante, a pseudo-value”). Years after the publication of Ulysses, the Romanian writer and critic Ion Biberi (1904–90), who received a training in letters and philosophy as well as in medicine and surgery, dedicated two comprehensive critical studies to the Irish writer: “James Joyce,” published in Revista Fundaţiilor Regale (Journal of the Royal Foundation) in 1935 and “James Joyce’s Interior Monologue,” which appeared in Secolul XX (no. 2) in 1965 and was reprinted in 1982 in a volume including Biberi’s critical studies. Biberi was a wide-ranging man of letters whose work includes not only volumes of literary criticism but essays on psychology and philosophy, as well as translations. It is very likely that because of Biberi’s efforts, Joyce underwent critical reappraisal in Romania in the late 1960s, and the literary magazine Secolul XX, which was a kind of cultural bastion against communist censorship, dedicated several special issues to Joyce’s texts.

Biberi’s theoretical model was based on an axiological system that applied a loosely bio-critical perspective to explore what he called the “inter-correlation” between the creator of the work and the work itself. With this foundation, he advanced a “multidimensional approach, starting from the bio-typological complexity, the characterological profile, the evolution of the author’s personality in time, the integration in the historico-social climate, his vision of the world.” Biberi’s main interest was to “get a deeper psychological portrait of the creator, thus indirectly completing the assessment of the work … The work is no longer considered independent of the artist who fashioned it, it is no longer considered to be removed from the state of mind that conditioned it, and it is no longer seen as a petrified expression, thus one that has remained in this state forever.”

In his first, rather desultory essay, Biberi sets out to show Joyce’s originality as a figure that produced a “technical revolution” on a par with Wagner, Mallarmé, and Balzac; for Biberi, Joyce’s work was “the most remarkable poetic experience of the time.” The publication of Ulysses, after Dubliners (mistyped once in the essay as Oamenii din Sublim, i.e. Sublimers) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, apparently came as a surprise to the Romanian critic. Dubliners was “characterized by a standard, vigorous narrative, which did not surpass the canon of the usual writing” (393). Contrasting with “the cold analysis of the street” in Dubliners, in Portrait “the background became a means in which the internal echoes of the events could be heard, and that made the novel a book of transition, unitary in form and rhythm” (393). Joyce transcribed another “system of expression,” in the novel, sometimes colored by the attempt to use the interior monologue.

Biberi describes Ulysses as a “permanent vortex of associations and images, of transpositions and leaps to opposite planes,” but he insists that this does not produce textual chaos or incoherence, as several Romanian critics had claimed. Joyce’s style was, on the contrary, “a lucid, cold elaboration of all devices that were previously employed” in literature, which allowed him to analyze “the symphonic echoes of the inner life of the characters” (393). Biberi used Morel and Gilbert’s French translation, reviewed by Valery Larbaud and Joyce himself, regarding it as “an original,” quoting directly in French, and making no attempt to translate portions of Ulysses into Romanian (398). The fragments that he selects for close analysis are from “Hades,” where “the monologue is not incoherent and disorganized, but organic and well structured,” and from “Sirens,” where Joyce “passes successively from unpredictable and grotesque association to onomatopoeia, pun...

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