Tag Archives: james joyce

Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) – it’s molificent!

 

MoLI - Newman House

MoLI – Newman House

MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.

Some of our literary greats

Some of our literary greats

Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.

A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dear Dirty Dublin

Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!

Even the statue has a book!

Even the statue has a book!

The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.

The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So,  what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!

A place for quiet reflection

A place for quiet reflection

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Joyce and Stream of Consciousness – kind of!

 

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Arguing with the guy you know who can beat you – I had never thought of it like that before but it makes sense, especially now as I am walking on Sandymount Strand with nobody within two hundred yards, and I can hear words go back and forth inside my head as the argument carries on. And I am nervous because I feel that I might just lose. How crazy is that? Very, I thought, and I wondered which one of those arguing had responded. I stopped, looked around making sure that I was still out of earshot of any beach walkers, and said ‘What’s going?’ There was a long silence and I heard nothing as both voices seemed to have, well, lost their…you know. It was a weird moment and I remembered that James Joyce, a keen stroller and habitué of the strand where I now stood, was fond of using stream of consciousness in his writing, a literary device that awakened the world to its subtleties in his most famous work Ulysses, a book that is considered a difficult read by many who pick it up and one of the greatest ever written by countless others. That such a difference of opinion should exist is partially a response to Joyce’s idiosyncratic style with his referencing of mythological and historical characters; differing chapter layouts where various rhythms reflect the story being told at that point and his use of the stream of consciousness technique that permitted the reader to be ‘inside the character’s head’ and in the story like never before. This was a new and radical approach that did not win favour at first, except with a small number who saw the liberating aspect that he had revealed. Being ‘inside the character’s head’ was not only interesting and revelatory but, as many readers found out to their surprise, an uncomfortable place to be, as much for its unexpectedness as its lack of familiarity, and the not-knowingness of what was coming a step too close to a reality they thought they had left behind, if only for a little while.

Joyce's magnum opus

Ulysses – book for thought

Yes, Jimmy, my man, you have managed deliberately, of course, to ‘get under the skin’ and show normal life in all its simple and twisted moments; a life that happens more surprisingly that we ever imagined; where what we see is not always what we think it is and where the opposite is equally true, and where stream of consciousness, although a wonderful addition to the writer’s quiver of literary techniques is above all, to put it simply and something that I suspect Jimmy recognised because he was such a sharp observer, about thinking people thinking as they move through the day, as they have since the dawn of time.

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Footsteps

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

It was while walking by the sea that the idea came. I have often found that having water rippling quietly beside me helps in the formation of ideas, or maybe it’s just coincidental. A friend suggested that it has to do with our being made of over 97% water – and he might just have something there! A stroll along the beach, with the bubbling water a constant companion, has always been a place of reflection and solitude. And, of course, a place for the mind to wander and let the creative juices flow.

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Some time ago, on a beautiful spring morning, I was walking on Sandymount Strand when an idea floated into my mind, like a wave coming to the shore. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin to go ‘and be alone’ with my thoughts, such is the openness and calm of the wide beach, especially in the early morning. As I walked along the sandy beach towards Ringsend, I gazed over to Howth across the mirror-like water and beyond to the horizon. How often had other people looked out at this same scene, I thought, and let their ideas slip away like the spray from a breaking wave?

And then it came.

People had been coming here for years, since time immemorial no doubt, and gazed out over the very scene that was now mine to behold. For just in front of me was a line of footsteps in the sand, an image that had not changed since the first person left similar marks so very long ago. The French have a saying ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’, which translates as ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ That seemed about right to me as I watched the waves rush in and cover the footsteps in their gurgling embrace, removing them so completely as to leave no sign of their short existence.

James Joyce - a strand fan

James Joyce – a strand fan

As the water receded, smoothing the sand to leave a blank canvas awaiting its next mark, I remembered that James Joyce had a fondness for this place and included it in his most famous book, Ulysses. In chapter three, the young hero, Stephen Dedalus, walks along the strand and ponders the difficult and complex topics of imagination, sensation and thought itself. The feel of the words is meant, in Joyce’s hand, to be fluid, hence the setting by the sea, portraying the move from birth to death, and finally, renewal. Transience leads to something permanent and new, and it is this cycle of renewal that held me as I stepped tentatively into the cold waters, making my own mark that was just as quickly erased.

The thought that there are things that cannot be changed had a strange but comforting feeling. Joyce understood this better than most and through Stephen asks the question, ‘Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’ This is not something that I can answer, but I like the idea that he and all of us who walk on the strand have ‘our moment.’ We left a mark – and as to whether it will last until eternity – that will be for others to say. In the meantime, I keep walking on the strand, not so much in the hope of seeing Stephen Dedalus, but in anticipation and comfort of its soothing power and timeless, dreamy rhythm.

Timesless...

Timesless…

 

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Bloomsday – James Joyce’s Great Gift

From its humble beginning in June 1954, the annual celebration of James Joyce’s greatest work has grown exponentially, and the day will be celebrated in cities across the world.  Joyce, who strived for so long with his financial position always a worry, would no doubt love to see such acclaim, something that he could never really have expected. And now it’s that time of the year again and I hope wherever you are that you enjoy the atmosphere, music, conversation and craic that are so much part of the day. Cheers, Jimmy

Bloomsday – The Beginning  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Samuel Beckett – Less Is More

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

For someone born on Good Friday, April 13th it was not surprising that such double luck might suggest something special was to be expected. So, Beckett, who was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin in 1906, went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century and an inspiration to dramatists like Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. His influence on the Beat Generation and their ‘experimental writing’ was vital for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and many others.

Beckett’s father William, who traced his lineage back to the Huguenots, was a quantity surveyor and successful property developer and had the family house Cooldrinagh built in 1903. His wife Mary Jones Roe was a nurse and they had married in 1901 and Frank, their first son was born the following year. The local woods and open fields of the surrounding countryside were an area where the young Sam often walked with his father, and he often referenced them used them in his writing.

He attended junior school in Dublin before going as a boarder to Portora Royal School (1919-1923) in Enniskillen where Oscar Wilde had once been a pupil. He returned to Dublin and entered Dublin University (Trinity College) where he studied Modern Languages from 1923-1927. He was a bright student and a competitive athlete, excelling at tennis and cricket. Playing as a left-handed batsman he took to the field in two first-class matches against Northamptonshire and, as such, has the unique distinction of being the only Nobel laureate (Awarded in 1969) to be mentioned in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac – cricket’s ‘bible’.

He graduated first in his class and briefly lectured at Campbell College, Belfast. He soon tired of this and with his college first behind him he was invited to be a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met James Joyce, who was basking in the glory of having written Ulysses in 1922, the controversial, modern novel that made his name. Beckett was invited to join Joyce’s inner circle and helped him in carrying out research for his next project – Finnegans Wake.

In 1930 he returned to Ireland to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but he left in December 1931 after only four terms. This was his final fling with teaching and he went off on an extended tour of the Continent. He did odd jobs and wrote short stories, poems to earn money and filled many notebooks with notes about places and people that would provide inspiration in the following years. He hated the cruelty of the Nazi regime that he had seen in Germany and in 1937 finally decided to settle in Paris. Before that he returned to Dublin where Murphy was published the following year. Then he fell out with his mother who he was more like than his father and returned to Paris, and did not see her again until after the war.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

Back in Paris Beckett almost died when he was stabbed in the chest by a pimp after he had refused his solicitations. The knife missed his heart by inches and it was during his stay in hospital that he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who was to become his life-long companion and greatest supporter. She was in Paris studying piano and they had met once before at a social gathering, but after this they became lovers and eventually married in a secret wedding in Folkestone, Kent in March 1961.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allowed him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He joined the Resistance movement but he and Suzanne fled Paris when some members of their group were arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. They spent weeks making their way, on foot, to Roussillon, in south east France, where they worked as farm labourers until late 1944. After the war, Beckett was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French Resistance. He, however, was typically understated at his efforts referring them to them as ‘boy scouts stuff’. His most famous work Waiting for Godot has been described as “a metaphor for the long walk to safety, when Beckett and Suzanne slept in haystacks during the day and walked and talked by night.”

He returned to Dublin in 1946 and stayed with his mother for a while. And it was here that he had a revelation that would direct his writing from that moment. Fearful of remaining in Joyce’s shadow he was prompted to change direction and find his own path. ‘I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, of being in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.’

Beckett's most famous work

Beckett’s most famous work

He and Suzanne returned to their pre-war apartment in Paris where he had his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories and a book of criticism. Although he was a native English speaker, he wrote in French because, as he reasoned, it was easier for him to write ‘without style’.

Having completed Godot he was unhappy with the lack of response from publishers and it was Suzanne who badgered them until Beckett’s work was recognised. Godot was written between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949 and had its premiere on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris and ran for over 400 performances. This brought Beckett international recognition and the English language version was premiered in London in 1955. In a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre it was voted the ‘most significant English language play of the 20th century’.

Beckett focuses on the essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways in a style that was called ‘Theater of the Absurd’. His plays focus on human despair and the determination to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and died on 22nd December 1989. He is buried with Suzanne, who had died five months earlier, in Montparnasse Cemetery and they share a simple granite gravestone that follows his instruction that it should be ‘any colour, so long as it’s grey’.

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

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On the radio

A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two topics I talked about were:

  • The publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 (95th anniversary) and the growth in popularity of Bloomsday; and
  • The premiere of GF Handel’s Messiah in 1742 (275th anniversary) and his time in Dublin.

 

Link (click to listen): The History Show

James Joyce

James Joyce

GF Handel

GF Handel

 

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Bloomsday – Joyce’s Memorable Gift

Sweny's Chemist

Sweny’s Chemist

When he wrote Ulysses James Joyce said: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.’ He may well have succeeded in that as the interest and industry in all things Joyce continues to grow; but having a date in the calendar proclaimed in honour of his book is something else entirely. Such acknowledgement, worldwide and sustained, would have been a great source of pride and, no doubt, brought a smile to his steely countenance. Well done, Jimmy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story, The Bloomsday Boys, and was fortunate enough to have it read by the actor Shane Egan, on the fateful day, outside Sweny’s Chemist (where Leopold Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap in the Lotuseaters episode (No. 5) of Ulysses).

 

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