On 16 April 1910 Jacques Mercanton was born.
Mercanton was born in Lausanne but studied for a while in Paris in the 1930s where he met Joyce for the first time. Mercanton kept notes of what Joyce said at their various meetings, and later published a lengthy account of these conversations, including Joyce’s opinions on a wide range of subjects and many insights into his writing.
Mercanton took his doctorate in literature at the University of Lausanne and studied at the Sorbonne for a time in 1935. On 21 October he visited Joyce for the first time at his apartment, and questioned him about Ulysses and Work in Progress for an article he was preparing. Mercanton sent the manuscript of his article to Joyce who then visited him in Lausanne early in February 1938 en route to Zurich.
They met again in Paris on Good Friday, 15 April, the same day that Mercanton’s article was published in Europe, a journal edited by Jean Cassou. Joyce was pleased with the article and bought twenty copies of the journal to send to friends. Joyce spent that Good Friday with Stuart Gilbert and Mercanton, going over passages from Work in Progress to make them more obscure. Mercanton joined Joyce again on Easter Saturday for devotions at Saint-François Xavier des Missions étrangères: Joyce told Mercanton that Good Friday and Easter Saturday were the only days he attended church.
They met again in August and September 1938 when Joyce and his wife spent a fortnight at Lausanne. Joyce gave Mercanton notes for a study he was planning of ‘A Phoenix Park Nocturne,’ part of Work in Progress that had just been published in Verve. Mercanton helped Joyce rewrite several pages of the dialogue between St Patrick and the druid to incorporate extensive additions Joyce wanted to make. Over the following days they walked around Lausanne, and made trips to Vevey and Fribourg, discussing music, books, politics, Ireland, Joyce’s family and his works.
Mercanton saw Joyce again in Paris and Montreux in 1939, and in 1940 he assisted Joyce in obtaining entry to Switzerland. Mercanton was waiting on the platform in Lausanne on 15 December when Joyce arrived by train from the south of France. Joyce left for Zurich on 17 December, and a postcard wishing him a happy new year was the last Mercanton heard from him.
Mercanton was a successful lecturer and writer. He lectured in Florence at the end of the 1930s and at the University of Lausanne after the war. He published his first book, Le Secret de vos coeurs, a collection of short stories, in 1942, and won several awards for his writings. He died in Lausanne in April 1996. His account of his meetings with Joyce, ‘Les Heures de James Joyce,’ was first published in Mercure de France in 1963.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Mercanton, Jacques: ‘The Hours of James Joyce,’ in Willard Potts (ed.), Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, Dublin: Wolfhound Press, & Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979, pp. 205-252.