“My Brother”, Stanislaus Joyce’s memoirs on James Joyce

“Being the brother of a famous author confers great obligations and very small distinctions. Professor Stanislaus Joyce, who died in Trieste at the age of seventy, bore his singular burden with nobility and nonconformity”.

With these words, Richard Ellmann, the great biographer of James Joyce, presented the book of personal memoirs of Stanislaus – James’s three-year younger brother – which would remain unfinished, but which, even so, consists of five robust and well-constituted parts: “The earth”, “The shoot”, “Raw spring”, “Maturation” and “First flowering”.

The book My brother James Joyce it was released in 1957 with a preface by TS Eliot and an introduction by Ellmann himself, who would publish his monumental work on Joyce two years later, in 1959. There was a Spanish edition with a translation by Berta Sofovich de Fabril Editora in 1961, and now, one hundred years after the appearance of Ulisesis rescued by Adriana Hidalgo.

“Stanislaus was among the first to recognize the genius of James Joyce,” notes Ellmann, “but he found his character ‘very difficult’ and his final work wasteful. Despite these reservations, he lived a life largely shaped by his brother, fiercely combated the right of others to criticize James, and, at the time of his death, had written a substantial part of the memoir of a life in common”.

Once the initial surprise of reading the memoirs (or even the autobiography) of a man who is actually looking through his eyes and listening through his ears and remembering and dialoguing with the past of two men, and leaving aside all psychologism that Stanislaus would have rejected (perhaps, James, not), there remains the resounding sensation of being in front of an exceptional book, the result of an originality perhaps not sought and, nevertheless, found.

The unfinished character adds mystery and flavor to the achievement of Stanislaus Joyce, since what would finally reach the readers is a textuality that produces that same “introductory” effect of Joyce’s first books: it seems that they were just mere preparations for the major work of 1922, the Ulisesbut well looked at, it is a retrospective effect due to the greatness of the monument and the hermetic addendum of the Finnegan’s Wake (The latter book was expressly disowned by Stanislaus at the time of its publication, and he had earlier urged James to abandon it.) But it turns out that those books, particularly Dubliners Y Portrait of the teenage artist they are as material, resounding and structurally, compositionally calculated as they surely intended to be My brother James Joyce as an ambitious literary project conceived from the annotations and typical entries of a “Memory”. A series of formally autonomous parts, extremely complex composition exercises in which the biographical elements, the personal experiences of one and the other, merged, indiscernible at times, were to be poured into a Master Plan to which all the parts respond. A project so rational that as it progressed, it was surely tinged with nuances and amazing tones.

Could it be conjectured that, unfinished and all, the five parts of My brother James JoyceDid they secretly aspire, and still aspire in their own way, to be integrated into that Master Plan that would no longer be just the plan of the famous brother but of both?

The reading of My brother it always leaves floating the feeling that Stanislaus is not appropriating James’s production, but that he is building from the roots a lineage that roots them in the same nutritious soil. By the work of fate that cut short the rest, the book comes to present a picture of filial ties and intellectual affinities up to the twenty-two years of James, barely twenty of Stanislaus, the two subjected to the devouring force of the figure of the father (with whom James got along much better than Stanislaus), that is to say, that the best-known part of their relationship was left out in Trieste, the city-port of Italy that in those years before the 1914 war belonged to Austria, and where he first met. James had gone into exile. It is the story of a responsible Stanislaus, providing for the maintenance of the genius, his unconditional support so that his books were finally accepted by publishers and, in return, an already more liberated James, tempted at times by the sins that in his adolescence used to torturing him, and definitively doomed body and soul to consummate his literary work, programmed, already executed without so many hesitations, an effort and a triumph of the will.

Stanislaus’s exile was even more severe, because in addition to the difficulties in joining the university, despite being an outstanding researcher and teacher and the fact that he would finally be admitted, beginning an extensive academic career, he suffered greater persecution.. At first, the Austrian authorities did not bother British subjects, so, according to an account by James, Stanislaus became overconfident: walking through the city with an irredentist friend, he was arrested and locked up in an Austrian castle. In the meantime, James would be allowed to emigrate with his family to Switzerland and would spend the war years in relative well-being in Zurich, where he wrote most of Ulises. All in all, Stanislaus’s confinement would finally not be so severe and at the end of the war he returned to Trieste and resumed his classes.

Throughout all those years Stanislaus was following the career of his genius brother, banking him, sometimes distancing himself and reflecting obsessively and constantly on the past in common and the points of view that came closer and further away according to the swings of life. History, literature and, above all, the Catholic religion in which they had been trained by the Jesuits, and which he had earlier abjured with much more violence than James.

From a very young age Stanislaus got used to recording everything. He was thorough and a slow reader, unlike James, who was more careless, intuitive, and intellectually alert. Until those notes, those records, those spiral thoughts embedded in a stubborn basic realism, became memory, and those memories, more and more consciously, turned into a strange, rigorously crazy book: one’s own memory, the memories of the Other, in an indistinguishable set.

It is assumed that the childhood and youth shared so closely (Stanislaus was not only the younger brother, but among the numerous brothers and sisters, the two of them were the inseparable pair) were a true factory of anecdotes, themes, topics and even nuances that Joyce would pour into his books, especially when he decided that he should no longer insist on poetry but apply all his formal rigor to narrative (“Yeats gave proof of his insight and sensitivity as a poet, rather than a critic, predicting that prose, not poetry, it would be my brother’s means of expression”). Stanislaus confesses to having realized very soon, and being the first to understand that “crudeness and not delicacy would be the fundamental tonic of my brother’s work”.

Follow these paths step by step, like an affectionate but stinging hound with flaws, seeking to extract the old and mysterious perfume from every trace of the past, from every detail, minutely, James’s extravagant laugh, his way of walking, of smoking, looking at it, everything, everything is recorded.

My brother James Joyce results in an intensive record of family and subjective memory, but it also becomes the perfect reverse of the Portrait of the teenage artistalmost its negative, or a different but recognizable condensation, in the manner of another version of stephen the herothe first link in the chain.

“My brother made his most important work at the end of an era in the history of Ireland, perhaps one could say of Europe, giving it an understandable image through the daily life of a big city,” Stanislaus points out early. “He always maintained that he had been lucky enough to have been born in a city old enough and historic enough to encompass it as a whole, and he believed that the circumstances of birth, talent and character had destined him to be his interpreter. To this task he devoted himself so sincerely that the cataclysm of the First World War seemed to him an insignificant disturbance.

Until the end of his days, Stanislaus dedicated himself to being his brother’s interpreter. He would die almost fifteen years after James, ruminating on all that past and all that present of immortal glory, of literary fame, of genius, of old Dublin, of the stubborn Jesuits.

Stanislaus Joyce died – unbelievably, one might say – on June 16, 1955, a Bloomsday invented by James, a day as Irish as it is tragically Argentine.

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“My Brother”, Stanislaus Joyce’s memoirs on James Joyce

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