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  • Geert Leernout and Wim Van Mierlo (eds.), The Reception of James Joyce in Europe*
  • Andrew Gibson (bio)

Joyce's work constitutes a specific case for reception theory. This is not just because of its huge international reputation or the extraordinary range and variety of responses to it. Nor is it because, as many Joyce scholars suppose, Joyce's work is uniquely indeterminate and open-ended, secreting an infinity of meaning. Joyce is a specific case because his work became part of an international literary scene before it was solidly placed within its own national tradition, which has only happened comparatively recently. The same cannot exactly be said of those figures the reception of whose work would seem to pose similar questions, like Byron and Pound. Even Beckett is a different kind of instance. No developed national literary, scholarly and critical tradition immediately supplies parameters for Joyce's work that might guide non-national readings, offset them, serve as an influence, a benchmark or caution. Historical circumstance delivered Joyce to the world from the start. From the twenties to the seventies, there was a relative lack of interest in his work in Ireland and in Britain, the two countries that could in some sense claim him, if for different reasons. By contrast, modernist Paris in particular promoted him with great enthusiasm. Joyce shrewdly colluded in this, knowing that the survival of the work might depend on it. After the war, of course, his fortunes were determined by the increasing professionalization of the academy, the Fulbright Act of 1946, the immensely superior funding of American academic libraries after the war, the rapid development of the American Joyce industry and so on. But the Americanization of Joyce did [End Page 393] not mean that he no longer belonged to everybody; if anything, the reverse was true. By contrast, it is only over the past two decades that a substantial 'Irish Joyce' has emerged. The British account of Joyce was for a long time exiguous, and might even now be described as still in the making.

Hence the obvious importance of a history of Joyce's European reception. This sumptuous, richly informative and engrossing collection of essays has a great deal to tell us. It is a very fine advertisement for reception studies, and should convince any doubters of their intrinsic usefulness. It is of major significance to anyone concerned with modern European cultural history. The volumes are packed with intriguing detail. Did you know, for example, that the Flemish translators of Ulysses originally wanted to relocate it in Antwerp? Or that Slavoj ˇZiek supervised the first Slovenian MA thesis on Joyce? Here you can find out about Julia Kristeva's unswerving political orthodoxy as a young Bulgarian Joycean, or about Joyce's influence on the sexual vocabulary of Finland. You will find Pentti Saarikoski slyly translating Ulysses into Finnish at the Soviet Union's expense, and (more sombrely) Josef ˇCapek translating from Chamber Music in a Nazi concentration camp. Readers will make their own discoveries; I myself was particularly surprised to find that Lampedusa was awed by Joyce but Pavese hated him; equally that, whilst Carlo Linati's influence on the Italian reception of Joyce is indisputable, he had surprisingly mixed feelings about Joyce's works.

Part of the appeal of these volumes, then, lies in the 'magpies' nest' effect, the sheer, glittering heterogeneity of interesting material with which they present us. But this heterogeneity also reflects the often extremely particular, unpredictable and haphazard vicissitudes of Joyce's European reception. In Germany, for example, it was Exiles that first attracted attention, partly because of the liveliness of German theatre in 1919, though the same was also true in Italy. Surprisingly, Ulysses was not fully banned in Germany until 1942, partly because the Nazis were sympathetic to Irish writers they thought expressed anti-British sentiments, partly because of what Ruth Klüger notes was their 'commercial cynicism' (I, 37). The censorship of Joyce under the Franco regime in Spain was also by no means as severe as one might have assumed. Different European cultures responded to Joyce at different times, at different speeds, as possibilities opened up or closed down. And the reception...


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pp. 393-401
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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