04 August 2016

My Little Town

James Joyce and Italo Svevo: The Story of a friendship
By Stanly Price
Somerville Press 276 pp £14

A review by Jan Morris in today's Literary Review

This fascinating work of scholarship concerns the association between two great 20th-century writers and the city that brought them together. The writers were the Italian Italo Svevo (1861–1928) and the Irishman James Joyce (1882–1941). The city was Trieste (45˚38’N 13˚46’E).

All three – the two men and the city – were almost equally complex in status, origin, style, condition and intention. To my dilettante mind the governing presence of the triad, binding it together in a kind of posthumous trinity, was the city, standing as it did upon an ethnic and historical fault line, and notorious for its genius loci, a gale-force wind called the bora.

The three of them are properly matched, and for me perhaps the most telling passage in the book (which is essentially a work of advanced cultural reportage) describes the two writers walking together in the city when the bora blew in one day. An eyewitness reported that they clung like mountain climbers to the safety ropes fixed in the downtown streets, but never stopped talking as the genius howled around them.

They met in Trieste in 1907: Joyce was scraping a living teaching English to Italian residents and Svevo came to him for lessons. Nothing in the tale, though, is as simple as that. Svevo, who was born Ettore Schmitz, was twenty years older that his teacher. He was a prominent local businessman whose family had enriched itself by making a unique kind of underwater paint, and he was not yet a writer at all. His only vice, it seems, was chain-smoking. Joyce, on the other hand, was already writing books of startling originality, was nearly always in debt and was a notorious drunkard. Yet the two, it seems, recognised the genius in each other, however latent, and were to remain friends and colleagues for life.

To read more go to: The Little Review

15 January 2016

James Joyce - Scientist of Letters

...he was absolutely without an equal.

The New Republic's obituary for James Joyce, 1882-1941

by The New Republic

January 20, 1941
Detail of a photo by Gisรจlle Freund
James Joyce died in Switzerland, the last truly neutral country in western Europe. Since his escape from France, he had been living with his family in Zurich—in the same house, we are told, that they occupied in the World War. He was there twenty-six years ago when Romain Rolland, also a refugee in Switzerland, published Above the Battle. But Joyce was not so much above as completely outside the battle. He was working as much as 16 hours a day on the writing of Ulysses, a task that seemed more important to him than the fate of the warring countries. After leaving Ireland in 1904, he never permitted himself to make a statement on any political issue. He was the leading representative in our time, and perhaps in all times, of the theory of literature as a pure art almost

Literature as a pure art approaches the nature of pure science. And Joyce was also the great research scientist of letters, handling words with the same freedom and originality that Einstein handles mathematical symbols. The sounds, patterns, roots, and connotations of words interested him much more than their definite meanings. One might say that he invented a non-Euclidean geometry of language; and that he worked over it with doggedness and devotion, as if in a laboratory far removed from the noises of the street. This does not mean that he neglected to present human beings in his novels. Stephen Dedalus and his father, Leopold and Molly Bloom, even H. C. Earwicker of Finnegans Wake, are figures that will not be forgotten. But they are figures that are analyzed exhaustively in repose rather than being presented in action. And the side of them that held Joyce’s interest was their subconscious—that is, the side that medical scientists like to deal with. Moreover, even the strongest of his characters seem dwarfed by the great apparatus of learning that he brings to bear on them. They are almost like atoms being smashed by a 250-ton cyclotron.

These are some of the reasons why Joyce was not a writer of the same magnitude as Tolstoy or Stendhal or Dickens or any of the great men whose subject was human actions in their social background. In his own field, however, he was absolutely without an equal. There are very few serious novels of the last twenty years that do not show traces of his influence, even if only at third hand. The writers of the world owe him an enormous debt for making discoveries that have opened new horizons even to those who completely disagree with Joyce’s idea of literature. They will miss him all the more because, in the hard years that lie ahead of us, it is doubtful whether any great scientist of letters will have the opportunity to carry on his work. Perhaps there will not even be neutral countries to which they can escape.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, commissioned by the BBC and later adapted for the stage. This film version, Under Milk Wood directed by Andrew Sinclair, was released in 1972. With Richard Burton reprising his role, also featured Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O'Toole, Glynis Johns, Vivien Merchant and other well-known actors, including Ryan Davies as the "Second Voice". It was filmed on location in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, and at Lee International Film Studios, London.

An omniscient narrator invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of a fictional small Welsh fishing village Llareggub ("bugger all" backwards).

They include Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, relentlessly nagging her two dead husbands; Captain Cat, reliving his seafaring times; the two Mrs. Dai Breads; Organ Morgan, obsessed with his music; and Polly Garter, pining for her dead lover. Later, the town awakens and, aware now of how their feelings affect whatever they do, we watch them go about their daily business.