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Joyce and the Spanish Ulysses

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 19, Number 2, April 2012
pp. 255-275 | 10.1353/mod.2012.0049

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Antonio Marichalar . . . asked me for something for [Juan Ramón Jiménez’s review] Índice, and I suggested my article [on Ulysses], freely and out of the love of making Joyce known to the people of the land of María Santísima. (Molly Bloom in Gibraltar, reading about herself in a Madrid review.)

Valery Larbaud to Adrienne Monnier, 24 March, 19221

Valery Larbaud’s parenthetical comment in the epigraph above conjures a fascinating scenario that connects the world evoked by a fictional text to a critical world in which it circulated: James Joyce’s Spanish-Irish heroine Molly Bloom reads an analysis of herself (as depicted by an expatriate Irish author) in an actual Spanish periodical in the 1920s. Even if it would require Molly to return to the disputed territory of Gibraltar of her youth and to remaster the “little Spanish” she has mostly “forgotten” (U, 4.60–61), Larbaud’s vision of her reading his own influential article in translation raises several intriguing questions: how did Spanish critics initially receive Ulysses and interpret Molly’s character and avant-garde monologue, in contexts that dramatically contrasted those of their Anglophone and continental counterparts? What political critiques did they see entwined in Molly’s Hispanicity and in the Spanish and Irish affinities staged throughout the novel? As writers and intellectuals in Spain searched for new, foreign literary forms that would regenerate the culture of their marginalized “land of María Santísima,” what kind of map did they see in Joyce’s postcolonial Ireland integrated within an imagined post-imperial Europe? That is to say, when Stephen Dedalus overhears the Irish man of letters Dr George Sigerson’s claim that Ireland has no “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” and that its “national epic has yet to be written,” Joyce points unawares to a challenge that many Silver Age (1898–1939) Spaniards saw for a country whose national epic from its Golden Age had become outdated, if not altogether irrelevant (U, 9.308–309). How does all of this bear on present readings of Joyce, his complex cosmopolitanism, and the politics of Ulysses, tied as they were to a country where civil war broke out in 1922?

To answer these questions about the reciprocity between the “Spain” within Ulysses and Ulysses in Spain, this chapter begins with a close reading, rooted in Anglo- and Hispanophone literary-critical history, of the embedded and multilayered political narratives in the novel. Widely circulated throughout Europe but largely unavailable in the emerging Irish Free State, Ulysses spoke to a generation of Spaniards living under dictatorship who modified Joyce’s sketch of a future continent to be rebuilt after the era of provincializing nationalist cultures. This work was both inaugurated and, in many ways, crystallized by Antonio Marichalar, the first critic to use Ulysses as a means of linking specifically Ireland, Spain, and Europe, and the first to translate portions of Ulysses into Spanish. Marichalar, who became the interwar era’s leading intermediary between Anglophone and Spanish modernist cultures, did not translate Larbaud’s piece, as suggested in the letter above. Instead, he published his own groundbreaking work, “James Joyce in His Labyrinth” (“James Joyce en su laberinto,” 1924), in the Revista de Occidente (1923–36), which would become the most influential Hispanophone periodical of the interwar era. Here, in a medium edited by Spain’s leading intellectual and most vocally pro-European figure, José Ortega y Gasset, it became one of the most important pieces of interwar Spanish-language literary criticism, and in a loose pan-European network of reviews, became a broadly disseminated touchstone for Spanish-European modernism. It also launched Marichalar’s career along paths that led to Sylvia Beach and briefly to Joyce himself. A review in T. S. Eliot’s Criterion proclaimed rightly that Marichalar’s essay was

not only the best that could be imagined for readers in Catholic countries, it also—and the two things are not unconnected—has claims to being the best estimate of the intellectual significance of Joyce that has appeared in any language so far.2

The Spanish-Irish alliance posited in this powerful note is one that Marichalar explores in his portrait...



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