On this day…24 February

On 24 February 1917 a review by HG Wells of Joyce’s A Portrait was published.

After first being serialised in the Egoist, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in the US in December 1916, and reviews of it appeared in the English press in February 1917. One of the most favourable reviews came from HG Wells. Under the title ‘James Joyce’ the review appeared first in the Nation on 24 February 1917, and again in the New Republic on 10 March 1917.

In this review, Wells straightaway tackled the question of Joyce’s Swiftian obsession with matters cloacal, warning the squeamish reader that he would have to be prepared to tread carefully. But Wells also admitted that even in this matter, Joyce had a new take on what was offensive.

In a very perceptive commentary, Wells described the novel as fragmented and discussed some of Joyce’s techniques, such as his abrupt shifts from one scene to another, his shift from third to first person for the final section, and his use of dashes instead of inverted commas. He instanced the Christmas dinner scene as being particularly successful in terms of Joyce’s skill at representing dialogue.

The two elements that Wells saw as being most significant were the realism of the novel, particularly in the depiction of Stephen’s Catholic upbringing, and the picture the novel gave of Irish hatred for the English.

Joyce wrote to Wells on 3 March 1917 to thank him for his review, but this wasn’t their first or last contact. In 1915, Wells had already been active of Joyce’s behalf, helping secure a grant for Joyce from the Royal Literary Fund. The two writers met for the first time in November 1928 when they lunched together in Paris. After their meeting, Joyce wrote to Wells to enlist his support for Work in Progress, but Wells replied on 23 November to say that, despite his great respect for Joyce’s writing and a personal liking for him, he thought that Joyce’s experiment in Work in Progress wasn’t going anywhere.


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.