On 15 August 1920 Joyce met TS Eliot and Wyndham Lewis for the first time.
Eliot had written in advance to say that he would like to meet and dine with Joyce on his visit to Paris, and that he had a package to deliver to Joyce from Ezra Pound. Joyce, who brought his son Giorgio with him, was pleased that Wyndham Lewis had also come along.
Joyce heard from Eliot on 11 August that he would be in Paris and asking if they could meet at the Hôtel de l’Elysée. Joyce brought his 15 year old son Giorgio with him, and was surprised to find that Eliot was travelling with Wyndham Lewis. Joyce had been hearing news of both writers from Ezra Pound for several years, but this was his first time meeting either of them. Joyce had read Lewis’ work in the Egoist and liked it, though he was less convinced by Eliot’s poetry.
Lewis wrote of this encounter some years later, describing Joyce as an “oddity” in a straw boater, patent-leather shoes, large powerful glasses and a gingerbread beard, accompanied by a scowling schoolboy. Lewis felt that Joyce over-played the Irishman, and described Joyce’s accent as Bostonian.
The package from Ezra Pound, wrapped in brown paper and tied with innumerable “housewifely” knots, was placed on the table between the visitors and Joyce and his son. Joyce asked Giorgio for a penknife, but Giorgio didn’t have one, and Eliot came up with a pair of nail scissors which Joyce used to cut the string.
Who knows what Joyce thought Pound was sending him, so carefully wrapped, all the way from London, but the contents of the package turned out to be a second-hand suit and a pair of old brown shoes. They sat for a while, contemplating the clothes and the “disreputable footwear” sitting on the bourgeois French table, as Lewis described it.
Joyce then accepted Eliot’s offer to dine with them, but first sent Giorgio home with the package, and a message that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. Giorgio resisted being sent off, but finally bowed and shook hands with the visitors, and left with the odd package. Joyce accompanied Eliot and Lewis to a nearby restaurant, and insisted on paying the bill when they finished. Indeed, every time they met over the follow days, Joyce insisted on paying for everything.
On 18 August, Joyce wrote to Ezra Pound to thank him for the suit and the shoes. He said the suit fitted well though it was a little tight in the shoulders, and he was glad of a wool suit for the winter as he didn’t like the cold.
Sources & Further Information:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Lewis, Wyndham: Blasting and Bombardiering, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1937.
Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited and with commentary by Forrest Read, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.