Exile's
        Return

James Joyce
Exile's
Return

Exile's Return

James Joyce, also presented us with a picture of the writer who never repeats himself. From Chamber Music through Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, each of his books had approached a new problem and had definitely ended a stage of his career. Ulysses, published in Paris in the winter of 1921-22, marked yet another stage. Although we had not time in the busy year that followed to read it carefully or digest more than a tenth of it, still we were certain of one thing: it was a book that without abusing the word could be called "great."

Thus we learned to couple Joyce and Eliot in a second fashion. Joyce, too, had become a success picture to fire the imagination of young writers, even though the success was on a different plane. He was another local-boy-makes-good, but not a St. Louis boy or a Harvard boy. His birthplace was the lower middle class; his home, above which he seemed to have soared, was the twentieth century. Can a writer of our own time produce a masterpiece fit to compare with those of other ages? Joyce was the first indication that there was another answer to this question than the one we were taught in school.

But--here were more difficult questions--what were the methods by and the motives for which he had written his indubitably great work? Had he set an example we should try to follow?

It seemed that from all his books three values disengaged them. selves, three qualities of the man himself: his pride, his contempt for others, his ambition. Toward the end of A Portrait of the Artist they stood forth most clearly. The hero, Stephen Dedalus, was lonely and overweening in his pride; he despised the rabble of his richer schoolmates for being his inferiors in sensibility and intellect; and he set for himself the ambition, not of becoming a mere bishop, judge or general, but of pressing into his arms "the loveliness that has not yet come into the world." He would be the spiritual leader standing alone; he was leaving Ireland "to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." Stephen Dedalus was obviously a more or less accurate picture of Joyce himself; but in life the author had chosen a still lonelier ambition. As he wandered through Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France, he continued to write about the Dublin of his youth and remembered the sound of Irish voices but he half forgot that Irish race whose conscience was being forged in the smithy of revolution. He had chosen another destiny. Like Napoleon landing from Corsica, like Cortes or Pizarro marching into the highlands, he set himself a task of self-aggrandizement: he would be a genius!--he would carve out an empire, create a work of genius.

Exile's Return

Having been granted an interview, I went to his hotel. He was waiting for me in a room that looked sour and moldy, as if the red-plush furniture had fermented in the twilight behind closed shutters. I saw a tall, emaciated man with a very high white forehead and smoked glasses; on his thin mouth and at the puckered corners of his eyes was a look of suffering so plainly marked that I forgot the questions with which I had come prepared. I was simply a younger person meeting an older person who needed help.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Joyce?" I said.

Yes, there was something I could do: he had no stamps, he didn't feel well enough to go out and there was nobody to run errands for him. I went out to buy stamps, with a sense of relief as I stepped into the street. He had achieved genius, I thought, but there was something about the genius as cold as the touch at parting of his long, smooth, cold, wet-marble fingers.

Exile's Return

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James Joyce