James Joyce: long-winded, tight-fisted

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Emma Garman.

It was James Joyce’s 123rd birthday on Wednesday, so Irish Studies scholars at Villanova University celebrated in the only appropriate way: by drinking. Dr James Murphy put it touchingly: “Joyce is the most important writer in the English language in my opinion. We can debate this later over a few pints.” Joyce would have approved. What he would have made of his romantic life transformed into musical theatre, however, is another matter.

And I think there’ll be at least two women – Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle and his benefactress Sylvia Beach – spinning in their graves at David Gates’ remark in Newsweek:

heroically innovative film directors are crucially different from heroically innovative writers or painters. It cost James Joyce a few francs of his own money for the ink and paper to produce “Ulysses”; it cost David Fincher some $400,000 of Twentieth Century Fox’s money to film the few seconds of “Fight Club” in which Ed Norton’s character blows his brains out.

As Brenda Maddox’s biography of Nora revealed, Joyce’s literary career meant long years of penury for his family, while Janet Flanner’s wonderful introduction to her collected ‘Letters from Paris’, written for The New Yorker in the twenties, tells of Shakespeare and Company founder Sylvia Beach’s role in publishing the first edition of Ulysses:

she became Joyce’s secretary, editor, impresario, and banker, and had to hire outsiders to run her shop…the publishing costs almost wiped out her Shakespeare and Company. The peak of his prosperity came in 1932 with the news of his sale of the book to Random House in New York for a forty-five thousand dollar advance, which, she later confessed he failed to announce to her and of which, as was later known, he never even offered her a penny.


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