On 7 June 1924 Edmund Gosse attacked Joyce in a letter to Louis Gillet.
Edmund Gosse was a well-respected English critic who had even helped secure a grant from the Royal Literary Fund for Joyce. Writing to the French critic Louis Gillet in 1924, however, Gosse claimed that Joyce was a “literary charlatan” and should not be supported.
Gosse (1849-1928) is probably best known today for Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, an account of his childhood and adolescence under a puritanical father whose religious world Gosse escaped through his discovery of literature. But he also published several volumes of verse and numerous critical studies, literary histories, and biographies. Though he had no formal academic qualifications, he lectured at Cambridge University where he was awarded an honorary MA in 1886. He was knighted in 1925.
Throughout his life he served on various literary committees and his opinion was sought after and respected. He was influential not only in England but in France too where he was made a Commander of the Légion d’Honneur and given an honorary doctorate by the Sorbonne.
Louis Gillet (1876-1943) was an influential French critic and a member of the French Academy. His father-in-law was Secretary of the Academy and a director of the prestigious Revue des Deux Mondes, for which Gillet wrote.
In his letter to Gillet in 1924, Gosse’s concern seems to have been the compliment the Gillet would pay to Joyce, and the prominence he would give him, by publishing an article about him in the Revue des Deux Mondes. Gosse calls Ulysses an “anarchical production,” and tells Gillet that Joyce is unable to publish or sell his books in England because of their obscenity. Though Gosse acknowledges that Joyce has some talent, he says he has prostituted that talent, and that no English critic of any significance considers him important. Gosse finishes by saying this is not simply personal prejudice on his part and that he is speaking purely in literary terms.
Whether or not Gillet paid any attention to Gosse, the review that he wrote for the Revue des Deux Mondes was not particularly favourable to Joyce. But for Joyce, as for Gosse, any review in a French Catholic aristocratic magazine was regarded as important. Gillet later revised his opinion of Joyce’s work, and he and Joyce became friends.
Sources & Further Reading:
Deming, Robert H: James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, vol. I, 1907-1927, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Gillet, Louis: ‘Farewell to Joyce,’ and ‘The Living Joyce,’ in Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, edited by Willard Potts, Dublin: Wolfhound Press in association with University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1979.