On 3 November 1902 Joyce was invited to dine with Yeats and Lady Gregory.
The invitation came from WB Yeats, then staying at the Nassau Hotel on South Frederick Street, asking if Joyce would join him and his father for dinner with Lady Gregory at the hotel the following evening at 6.45.
It is a mark of Joyce’s extraordinary ability to impress people with his own importance that he had, in a short period, attracted such attention of some of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival. All Joyce had to show for himself was his 1900 essay on Ibsen, published in the Fortnightly Review; his 1901 essay ‘The Day of the Rabblement,’ which was critical of Yeats and Russell; and some of his poems, carefully hand-written on large sheets of parchment, which he brought everywhere with him.
Joyce had met George Russell first, on 18 August 1902, and Russell quickly alerted Yeats and Lady Gregory about the newcomer. It was a period of flux for Joyce who was just about to sit his final exams at University. Though he had decided to study medicine, Joyce had already given up his studies by the time he met Yeats and Lady Gregory at the beginning of November.
Between the dinner on 4 November and another meeting with Lady Gregory ten days later, Joyce had made up his mind to go to Paris, to pursue his medical studies there. In a diary entry on 15 November Lady Gregory noted: ‘I think he has genius of a kind and I like his pride and waywardness…. The more I know him the better I like him, and though I wish he could remain in Ireland still I would like to see him prosper somewhere. I am sure he will make a name somewhere.’
Having made up his mind, Joyce had no hesitation in writing to Gregory asking for her assistance in his move to Paris. Writing from Coole Park on 23 November, she said she would be happy to do whatever she could for him, but felt it would not be much. She did contact Yeats and Synge to ask them to assist him, and also contacted EV Longworth, editor of the Daily Express, asking him if he might send Joyce books for review.
One of the first books Longworth sent Joyce to review was Gregory’s Poets and Dreamers which Joyce slated. Longworth even published the review with Joyce’s initials at the bottom, to make sure that it was clear who had written it. Though she was offended by the review she doesn’t seem to have taken it to heart, and when Joyce was leaving Dublin in October 1904 Gregory gave him £5.
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Saddlemyer, Ann: ‘James Joyce and the Irish Dramatic Movement’, in James Joyce: A Joyce International Perspective, Suheil Bushrui & Bernard Benstock (eds), Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1982.