Category Archives: James Joyce



The introduction to Ulysses in the 1934 Random House advertisement got me to thinking. To quote from the introduction: Ulysses “is essentially a story and can be enjoyed as such. …. one of the greatest novels of our time.”

Is Ulysses really a novel? — is it even a novel? Is it a good story?

The parallels to The Odyssey and the characters are explained schematically. Leopold Bloom is Odysseus and Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus. Stephen is the young James Joyce, the artist as a young man. Simon Dedalus (Stephen’s father) represents Joyce’s father.

My therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr., and I discussed Joyce quite a lot. It began, as I recall, because I was reading Richard Ellman’s definitive biography of Joyce. Around that time I also read Stephen Hero, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, some but not all of Dubliners, and a few of Joyce’s poems. I also read My Brother’s Keeper by Stanislaus Joyce. Dr. Colp and I discussed Joyce’s epiphanies; and epiphany became a sort of code word between us on all sorts of subjects.

Dr. Colp recognized and acknowledged Joyce’s genius. He said to me, could you imagine if I had him for a patient?

I also took a course on Joyce at Columbia University with Joyce scholar William York Tyndall. The course was devoted solely to Ulysses. I have read and am familiar with a good part of the book, but have never read it in its entirety or straight through.

I told Dr. Colp that I found Stephen Dedalus to be boring. A self absorbed character whom one would not find interesting in real life. Dr. Colp agreed with this assessment.

Professor Tyndall said several times in his lectures that Joyce had “a medieval mind.” I did not quite understand what he meant by that. Now I think I do. He also mentioned scholasticism and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Leopold Bloom is everyman. Molly Bloom is everywoman. The book happens on a single day in Dublin and is about Bloom, Stephen, Molly, and the people they encounter during that day. It could be any day, the point being the commonality and universality of human experience as described by Homer, by Joyce, by the giants of literature, as experienced by you and I, by Leopard Bloom making his breakfast of kidneys on a particular morning, by my own father toasting marshmallows in the fireplace when I was a boy, by your father or mother, by all of us.

Bloom is everyman and his life could be ours. The Odyssey is an epic for all time with universal applicability. Ditto for Ulysses. There is a great continuity from Homer through Beowulf, Chaucer, Mallory, Shakespeare, Milton, Defoe, and I forget who else. See Ulysses, Chapter 14.

Joyce belongs in this company. But Ulysses is more like a treatise than a story or novel. An exegesis. A treatise by an Aquinas, a medieval doctor. I understand Professor Tyndall’s comment now.

Can you imagine, Dr. Colp said to me, that Joyce said: “The only demand I make of my reader, is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works” (and had given scholars enough to keep them busy)?

Joyce was a genius and his use of the interior monologue, indirect discourse; Freudian insights; stream of consciousness are brilliant and unprecedented. It’s like Beethoven. Literature post Joyce will never be the same.

But let’s take characters. Charles Dickens’s are unforgettable. Realer than real. The major and minor ones: Pip; Joe Gargery; Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister; Biddy; Magwitch; Estella; Mr. Jaggers; Wemmick, Mr. Jaggers’s clerk; the Aged, Wemmick’s father, who toasts sausages and repeats himself in conversation.

Huckleberry Finn is a novel about boyhood. You can say that this is its theme, boyhood. Two memorable characters: Huck and Jim. A damn good yarn.

What about Theodore Dreiser? His first novel, Sister Carrie? Intellectually, and as a writer, one could say, Dreiser, compared to Joyce, is a pygmy. There is no comparison. Sister Carrie is a “plain” tale drawn from real life. While Joyce was a genius of language, Dreiser in his maturity was still struggling to write acceptable English prose and showing off by using obsolete “literary” words such as “vagrom” and “distrait.”

Sorry, dear readers, but I can get into Sister Carrie, whereas I can’t manage to finish Ulysses. And, An American Tragedy, which is several hundred pages longer than Ulysses, carried me through from beginning to end. So did Moby-Dick, which is the work of a genius which tells a good story.

This is an egregious understatement: Ulysses impresses one. But does it engage the reader the way a novel by an “inferior” writer like Dreiser does, the way Mark Twain, Steinbeck, and, by comparison, “plebeian” writers like James T. Farrell do? I would answer in the negative.

But Ulysses, as Dr. Colp noted, will continue to challenge and delight readers and scholars. As it should.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

advertisement for Ulysses, 1934


‘How to Enjoy Ulysses’

Ulysses ad – Saturday Review 2-10-1934 pp 474-475


Posted here (PDFs above) is an advertisement for James Joyce’s Ulysses, which (the advertisement) is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University.

The advertisement is dated 1934, the year in which a ban on the book was lifted, enabling its publication by Random House. The advertisement was published in the Saturday Review of Literature, February 10, 1934.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

    July 2022

CONTEMPO Volume III, Number 13; James Joyce Issue


Contempo, Vol. III, No. 13


I am posting what I believe to be a very rare item, which I have copied at the New York Public Library:

CONTEMPO Volume III, Number 13

James Joyce Issue (edited by Stuart Gilbert)

February 15, 1934

I was alerted to this issue in the following article: “ ‘Ulysses’ Arrives in the United States: A Perspective from Eighty Years Ago.” By Richard J. Gerber, James Joyce Quarterly, Fall 2013, pp. 163-167.

As Gerber explains, Bennett Cerf’s Random House published one hundred copies of Joyce’s Ulysses in January 1934 in order to secure its copyright in the United States. U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey had ruled that the book was not pornographic, enabling the book’s publication.

Contempo was a so called “little magazine” offering literary and social commentary. It was published only for three years, between 1931 and 1934. Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, and Eugene O’Neill were among the authors featured. Ezra Pound served as the magazine’s foreign editor. In addition to the James Joyce issue, Contempo published special editions devoted to work and criticism by and about William Faulkner, Hart Crane, and George Bernard Shaw. The editors of Contempo asked Stuart Gilbert, one of the first Joyce scholars, to serve as guest-editor for their final, special edition devoted to Joyce.


James Joyce’s “Work in Progress [published as Finnegans Wake],” Part I

Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf’s “Publishing Ulysses”

commentary by Stuart Gilbert, one of the first Joyce scholars: “We’ll to the Woods No More”

Modern Library advertisement for its editions of Joyce’s Dubliners (1926) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1928)

Richard Thoma, “A Dream in Progress,” a discussion of “Anna Livia Plurabelle” (a character in Finnegans Wake)

Samuel Beckett’s acrostic poem “Home Olga.” based on Joyce’s name and written in 1932

William van Wyck’s “To James Joyce, Master Builder,” a poem in tribute to Joyce

Eugene Jolas’s “Verbirrupta for James Joyce,” a parody of Finnegans Wake

a review by Padraic Colum of Charles Duff’s Joyce and the Plain Reader

Gotham Book Mart’s advertisement for the Egoist Press edition of Ulysses and other works. (A personal note: I used to patronize the Gotham Book Mart.)

Contempo advertisement for the Random House Ulysses

Gerber concludes:

Contempo III.13 is an important document in the Joyce and Ulysses history, with Gilbert’s recollection of Joyce’s rediscovery and iconic use of the monologue intérieur technique representing the immediate past, Cerf’s account of publishing Ulysses embodying the remarkable present, and Joyce’s excerpt from Finnegans Wake presaging the imminent future. From start to finish, the brilliance of Contempo III.13 is that it captures, in part, a sampling of the critical atmosphere at the initial high point of modern literature–that moment when Ulysses first burst upon the American scene, like a comet, a shooting star streaking across the literary sky.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2022

James Joyce on his father


James Joyce said of his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, “I got from him his portraits, a waistcoat, a good tenor voice, and an extravagant licentious disposition.” In Ulysses, Simon Dedalus is a version of the author’s father. While the fictional character is a bad provider for his family, leaving his daughters penniless, James Joyce also portrays Simon as witty and good company outside of his home, popular in bars and gifted with a wonderful tenor voice that soars in the novel’s “Sirens” episode. Of his father’s influence on the book, Joyce told a friend, “The humor of Ulysses is his; its people are his friends. The book is his spittin’ image.”’

— James Joyce exhibit, Morgan Library


I can relate to this portrayal.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

James Joyce, Defoe lecture (Trieste, 1912)


Joyce, ‘Daniele Defoe’ (Italian)

Joyce, ‘Daniel Defoe’ (English)


The above downloadable Word documents contain the full texts — in the original Italian and English translation — of a lecture on Daniel Defoe that James Joyce delivered at the Univerità Populare, Trieste, Italy in 1912.

A bilingual edition of this lecture is virtually unobtainable — in print or on line. (The Defoe lecture, which was accompanied by one Joyce gave on William Blake, was presumed to be lost or unavailable for a long time.)  I managed to obtain separate texts and have transcribed the entire lecture for posting here.

Defoe and his works have long been an interest of mine, and my appreciation as well as interest in him continues to grow.

Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

James Joyce on Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”


The black plague devastated the City of London during the earlier years of the reign of Charles II. The toll of victims cannot be established with any certainty, but it probably exceeded a hundred and fifty thousand. Of this horrible slaughter Defoe [in his A Journal of the Plague Year] provides an account which is all the more terrifying for its sobriety and gloominess. The doors of the infected households were marked with a red cross over which was written: Lord, have mercy on us! Grass was growing in the streets. A dismal, putrid silence overhung the devastated city like a pall. Funeral wagons passed through the streets by night, driven by veiled carters who kept their mouths covered with disinfected cloths. A crier walked before them ringing a bell intermittently and calling out into the night, Bring out your dead! Behind the church in Aldgate an enormous pit was dug. Here the drivers unloaded their carts and threw merciful lime over the blackened corpses. The desperate and the criminal revelled day and night in the taverns. The mortally ill ran to throw themselves in with the dead. Pregnant women cried for help. Large smoky fires were forever burning on the street corners and in the squares. Religious insanity reached its peak. A madman with a brazier of burning coals on his head used to walk stark naked through the streets shouting that he was a prophet and repeating by way of an antiphony: 0 the great and dreadful God!

— James Joyce, “Daniel Defoe” (lecture delivered at the Univerità Populare, Trieste, 1912)


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

“Let it stand.” (an exchange of emails about James Joyce)


Once or twice [Joyce] dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to [Samuel] Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn’t hear. Joyce said, ‘Come in,’ and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, ‘What’s that “Come in”?’ ‘Yes, you said that,’ said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, ‘Let it stand.’ He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator. Beckett was fascinated and thwarted by Joyce’s singular method.

— Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1965), pg. 662



I had the following exchange of emails with my brother the other day. We were discussing certain aspects of writing.


May 8, 2019



Writing shouldn’t amount to an incoherent, rambling screed; a sort of data dump of the brain. But sometimes thoughts creep in and occur that don’t have to be excised.

P.S. There is an interesting passage in Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce describing how in Paris Joyce was dictating a passage from either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (I don’t recall which) to his amanuensis, Samuel Becket. There was an interruption such as someone knocking on the door and Joyce said something which Becket wrote down. Then, Becket asked, was that supposed to be included? Joyce mulled it over and said leave it in. It was words such as “Come in.”




But leaving “come in” in text when it was just a remark that happened while writing and when it has nothing to do with the subject about which is being written is absurd. Joyce’s ego must have been enormous by then.



Joyce was a genius. Us mere mortals can’t carp or judge.

Yes, a bit nutty at times.

Dr. Colp [my former psychiatrist] and I talked quite a bit about Joyce from time to time. Dr. Colp once said to me: “What would I do with a genius like Joyce for a patient?”



Yes, a genius, but clearly his self-importance was out of control if he had become arrogant enough to leave something in that made no sense.



I wouldn’t argue the point. When I read this (years ago), it made me wonder.



I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce when I was in my twenties.

I don’t think it will be surpassed.


— Roger W. Smith

    May 12, 2019

“The Holy City”



“The Holy City”

music by Stephen Adams

words by Frederick E. Weatherly


Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang,
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And then methought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang.
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;

It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna forevermore!



“The Holy City” is a religious Victorian ballad dating from 1892, with music by Michael Maybrick, writing under the alias Stephen Adams, and lyrics by Frederic Weatherly.

The song is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  February 2018