On this day…24 January

On 24 January 1931 Joyce authorises Herbert Gorman’s biography of him.

In this letter to Gorman, Joyce makes it clear that Gorman is the only person authorised to write a book concerning Joyce’s life. Joyce claims that no one else is writing such a work and that if someone else does, he won’t give them access to information or documents.

Herbert Sherman Gorman (1893-1954) was a journalist, editor and critic who had worked on many of the New York newspapers. He wrote biographies of Hawthorne, Longfellow, Dumas, and Mary Queen of Scots, as well as two biographies of James Joyce.

James Joyce – His First Forty Years, which appeared in 1924, was the first biography of Joyce. Joyce told Harriet Weaver that it was well written but that it reminded him of so much strife that it was partly responsible for a nervous collapse he had suffered. In 1925, Joyce sent Gorman some corrections for this book. He told Gorman these should be incorporated in such a way that it would seem as if the information had not been contributed by Joyce.

This kind of ‘ventriloquism’ was something that Joyce had already used with Stuart Gilbert and Paul Léon. Joyce liked to control the information but also liked to appear aloof and impartial, getting other people to put their name to it. Therefore, when he promised Gorman that his would be the authorised biography, Joyce was also ensuring that he would be in control of the book.

Joyce asked people he knew to help Gorman by providing letters, interviews, and other materials. Even so, some of Joyce’s friends were reluctant to speak to Gorman, and work on the book proceeded slowly. Gorman divorced his first wife, Jean Wright, in 1932 and took his second wife, Claire Crawford, to Paris where he spent a lot of time with the Joyces.

From early on, Joyce insisted on a right of veto over the book, stipulating that he would have to vet the manuscript and the galley proofs before publication. He claimed that his main interest was to ensure that facts and dates were correct but his interference was much more extensive. Examination of the proofs shows that Joyce’s comments range from minor corrections to extensive explanations which he expected would be incorporated into the text.

In June 1939 as the book was going to press, Joyce, through Léon, insisted certain changes be made. Léon indicated where Joyce had found Gorman’s work “incorrect and misleading on two vital points.” One of these was in relation to John Joyce’s profligacy and the other was in relation to Joyce’s ‘marriage’ to Nora in 1904. Again in September 1939, Joyce told the publishers he was still refusing permission to publish and into October he was still making corrections.

The book was finally published at the end of 1939 in New York. It was only published in England in 1941, when Joyce was already dead. As a work of biography, Gorman’s book is limited and the main interest in it today is that it shows how Joyce wanted himself to be seen. As Bernard McGinley said about it: “The published book was abandoned rather than completed and inadequate to its task.”



Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

McGinley, Bernard: Joyce’s Lives – Uses and Abuses of the Biografiend, London: University of North London Press, 1996.