James Joyce once said – I am not as precise as Richard Ellmann -: “I have filled my work with so many secrets that it will take two or three generations of researchers to exhaust it.” We add that nothing can exhaust this work to the point that the last of his books, finnegans wakewritten over nearly 17 years, has such a particular language, built on the basis of private references, so plagued by an importance of sound over meaning, that being absolutely musical is also incomprehensible.
It can excite us, but the truth is that we cannot understand it; an opinion shared by some critic, whose name I do not remember, but I quote using a resource so frequently used by the biographers of William Faulkner or Truman Capote, who only say “a critic” or an “investigator thinks”: “poor James Joyce losing his sight in his determination to write an unreadable work.” Richard Ellmann does not even address this opinion. Everything is perfectly clear to him. Perhaps perhaps. The inept ones must be so many unsuccessful readers; but even Harriet Shaw Weaver, Joyce’s protector since the days of Ulises, confesses to him not understanding his new book. She immediately apologizes to him. We do too. James Joyce is James Joyce. He even had the right to write a work incomprehensible to some ignorant people. One of them advances the opinion that this is because when he writes finnegans wake he was more interested in the sound of words than in the fact that they could be interpreted according to a common code. After the whole thing finnegans wake it is very accurate even for readers who confess not to understand his writing: he was going to describe an old myth of the city of Dublin as a representation of the country itself. But this work occupies Joyce’s final years. After her, all that remains is for him to leave Paris in a very precarious situation, fleeing from the Nazis, and die in Zurich of a perforated ulcer. Let’s not get too far ahead then. Let’s go back to the beginning of the beginning. Joyce, according to Richard Ellmann and everyone else, is born on February 2, 1882 in Dublin, of course. In 1903 his mother died and Joyce made an open gesture of rebellion, refusing to act as a Catholic in those dramatic circumstances. In 1904 he meets what would be his lifelong companion and mother of his two children, a hotel maid, Nora Barnacle. The two leave Dublin that same year, going first to Zurich, then to Pola and settling in Trieste. There Joyce teaches English at the Berlitz School and to private students. He has many friends. He is Irish and therefore drinks heavily. His chosen drink for life is white wine. Gossips say that sometimes he was left lying on the street. Gossips or not, we are trying to be good biographers just like Richard Ellmann, though we must admit not being able to nail down every detail of his life despite having meticulously read all of his books. No way, we are not professional biographers. The thing is that he, meanwhile, writes continuously, as he will always do, and he has the usual difficulties in publishing, coupled with his particular indecisions. Despite them, Chamber Music appears in 1907 and in 1914 Dubliners. Richard Ellmann, so precise in banal details with which he fulfills his duty as a good biographer, shows in commenting on the last story of this book, “The Dead”, his exceptional critical skills. The way in which the meaning of the conversation between Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta is communicated to us, after they have attended a lively party at the house of some of his aunts where Gabriel has made a great speech about Ireland and they are alone in her room watching it snow—which makes Gretta remember an old boyfriend’s death from tuberculosis after he serenaded her, arouses Gabriel’s jealousy and compassion and makes them ponder the snow falling on the living and the dead—, is masterful because Richard Ellmann manages to reveal the value of the story as a sort of synthesis of Joyce’s main characters and therefore of humanity as a whole. In Trieste he also writes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the one that we now know is the first version of the same work by Stephen Hero, and that Joyce tried to destroy, saving it from the fire the heroic intervention of her brother Stanislaus, who was also already living in Trieste. Likewise, his two children are born there, to whom he gives names in Italian, Giorgio and Lucia. From there the family moves to Zurich, where Joyce begins to write Ulises. During that trip Joyce commits his only infidelity to Nora. First, he sees a neighbor through the window, finds out her name: Marthe Fleischmann, and after she writes to him they maintain a correspondence culminating in a date in which Joyce tells a friend, explores the coldest and most warm from your body. Marthe Fleischmann then definitely has his nerves shaken by her audacity. Joyce returns to Nora, to her children, to white wine and Ulises. I cannot resist the temptation to make two advance comments on this work. Temptations are made to fall into them. Much, much later, when Joyce is already writing finnegans wakeon some occasion he comments to Beckett if he did not exaggerate in Ulises the parodic similarities of each episode in relation to the Odyssey; and still much, much later, when Joyce was already dead, Cesare Pavese comments that it is not about starting from the Odyssey but to get to it. Perhaps this is not important, but apart from the joy of mentioning it, it does point out two possible ways of conceiving literature. Given the power of the work and its significance for literature after it, whether Joyce’s momentary apprehension is true or Pavese’s caustic comment, so concerned about the possibility of finding myths in contemporary life, both comments do nothing more. that show the breadth of literature. What is important for our attempt is that Joyce continues with the writing of Ulises in Paris. There he begins to be financially protected by Harriet Shaw Weaver, who for a long time only knows Joyce by letter and in several letters is very concerned about the two bottles of white wine consumed by the writer every night in different fashionable restaurants. and asks her to at least be one. Of course, Joyce ignores her and instead progressively sends her the chapters of Ulises before her admiration: Joyce already has the friendship, also always protective, of Ezra Pound. Finished the arduous task of writing Uliseswhere a single day in the city of Dublin is told, the journey, on June 16, 1904, of this modern Odysseus named Leopold Bloom and whose symbolic son is Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, until arriving at the parody Ithaca, Bloom’s house, where he feels and overcomes the temptation to bring in his symbolic son and where the book ends with Molly Bloom’s famous unpunctuated interior monologue with her final affirmation: “yes”, now remains the no less arduous task of publishing it. No one wants to do it in England, where the book would surely be banned as immoral. Ulises it will be published in Paris by Sylvia Beach, owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co. The rest is history. Joyce’s celebrity is growing. We are not going to mention all the tributes, but the names of Valery Larbaud and those of Eug`ene Jolas and his wife Maria Jolas should be remembered even in this humble chronicle.
Let’s move on to other aspects of James Joyce’s life, the family side. True to his anti-Catholic worldview, he only legally married Nora Barnacle very close to her death and for testamentary reasons. True to his worldview, Nora never asked him to do it. She, too, did not bother to read Joyce’s works. He had an admirable tenor voice, and she thought that instead of wasting her time with literature, Joyce should have been an opera singer. And indeed, both of them really liked the opera, besides the fact that under the influence of white wine Joyce always ended up singing. On the other hand, the life of his two sons can be considered disastrous. Giorgio as an adult changed his name to George. He tried to be an opera singer without ever succeeding. He married a very rich American named (one more coincidence in the world) Helen Fleischmann. Her marriage upset Joyce, Nora and Lucia because Helen was ten years older than George and to top it off for a time she took him to live in the United States. Then Lucy. She seems like she was a very beautiful girl and a teenager alike. She was studying dance and participated in a contest in Paris with a costume designed by herself. Contrary to the opinion of the majority of the public, she did not win the prize, although when learning of the jury’s decision the public shouted “We want the Irish!” Joyce was extremely pleased. But from then on Lucia’s story is not very positive. She has many boyfriends, although Richard Ellmann is discreetly silent on this. He so thorough! Beckett makes his appearance at the Joyce home fascinated by his father; but Lucia waits for him, looking to see him alone. Beckett is not interested in the daughter but in her father and so he lets her know. Neither Lucia nor Nora agree with such a purely literary interest. Nora considers her daughter cheated and deceived. She firmly complains to Joyce. He this one has to fulfill his duty as father families and lets Beckett know that in the Joyce house he is a person non grata. What a pain, what a pity for Beckett! He has to give up friendship with Joyce. However, Lucia makes her mental disorder more and more evident. She will finally be admitted to a sanatorium and after a while Joyce reconciles with Beckett. He is already immersed in writing finnegans wake and his eyesight is deteriorating. Despite this, she refuses even to type. Beckett’s enormous culture and admiration are very useful to him. The eternal return has a very important role in the novel. Together Joyce and Beckett read books that he considers indispensable. Among them is decisive Vico. The difficult writing finnegans wake keep going. Joyce has time to finish it as we already know. The last word of the novel has to be quoted in English: the. In fact we can say that it ends in nothing. the It can be in Spanish el, la, los, las. Spanish is more precise but lends itself much less to boom to which Joyce was so addicted. The end of the biography, we already know, is sad. Lucia interned in different sanatoriums, George, Nora and Joyce having to leave Paris in precarious conditions and finally finding refuge in Zurich, only for Joyce to die very shortly after, in 1941. Richard Ellmann says that she was 58 years old; Being as meticulous and precise as he is, it should be noted that Joyce was going to turn 59 twenty days later. To quote Richard Ellmann in his description of Joyce’s ending:
Frau Giedion-Welcker requested, with Nora’s consent, that the sculptor Paul Speck make a death mask. A Catholic priest approached Nora and George to offer to do a church service, but Nora said, “I couldn’t do this to him.” […] As the wooden coffin was placed in the grave, Nora held out her arm, partly in farewell, partly as if trying to stop it. So far the mortal life of Joyce. She begins her other life on the pages of her books. –
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