On 10 August 1936 Joyce wrote a story for his grandson Stephen.
The short story tells of how the Devil was tricked into building the bridge at Beaugency by the town’s wily Mayor. Though the story is not original to Joyce, he gave it his own twist, and it has since been published as a children’s book with a preface by Stephen Joyce.
Joyce left Paris at the end of July 1936 and travelled first to Beaugency, south-west of Orleans, and then on to Villers sur Mer and Deauville on the north coast, before returning to Paris in mid- August. Apparently Joyce had sent Stephen a cat filled with sweets and followed this with the letter of 10 August from Villers sur Mer containing the story of the cat of Beaugency.
The story tells of how the Devil builds a bridge overnight across the Loire at Beaugency on condition that the first person who crosses the bridge will belong to him. The Mayor, Monsieur Alfie Byrne, agrees to this and arrives at the newly-built bridge the next morning, dressed in a scarlet robe and his large gold chain, and carrying a cat. With encouragement from a bucket of water, the cat is made to run across the bridge into the Devil’s arms.
The story was first published in 1957 in a volume of Letters of James Joyce, edited by Stuart Gilbert. Though Joyce did not give the story a title, when it was published as a book in 1964, with illustrations by Richard Erdoes, it was called The Cat and the Devil. Another edition, illustrated by Gerald Rose, was published in 1965, and a third edition, illustrated by Roger Blachon, was published in 1980.
The Devil in the story sounds like Joyce himself, always reading newspapers, speaking his own language ‘Bellsybabble,’ and also speaking bad French with a Dublin accent when he’s angry. As the Mayor, Joyce cast the actual Lord Mayor of Dublin at the time, Alfred Byrne (1882-1956). Byrne was Lord Mayor an astonishing nine times in a row from 1930 to 1939, and Joyce claimed that every time he opened the Irish Times there was a photograph of Alfie Byrne, adorned with his gold mayoral chain, in it.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957 & 1966.
– -: The Cat and the Devil, illustrated by Richard Erdoes, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1964.
– -: The Cat and the Devil, illustrated by Gerald Rose, London: Faber & Faber, 1965.
– -: The Cat and the Devil, illustrated by Roger Blachon, London: Moonlight, 1980.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.