On this day…26 March

On 26 March 1903 Joyce’s review of Lady Gregory’s book was published.

The review, entitled ‘The Soul of Ireland,’ was published in the Dublin Daily Express on 26 March 1903. Normally, the name of the reviewer was not published in the paper, but in this case the editor of the Daily Express made an exception and added Joyce’s initials at the end of the review to make it clear who was responsible for it.

Ironically, Joyce had been invited to write reviews for the Daily Express by the editor, EV Longworth, after Lady Gregory had written to him on Joyce’s behalf – Longworth may even have sent Joyce a review copy of Gregory’s book. Joyce had written his review earlier in March but it seems Longworth was reluctant to publish it. Afterwards, he asked Joyce to write only favourable reviews.

The book Joyce reviewed was Poets and Dreamers – Studies and Translations from the Irish, published in Dublin by Hodges, Figgis & Co. in 1903. It was a compilation of stories and folklore gathered by Lady Gregory from the west of Ireland, to which she added translations from Irish of poems and four one-act plays by An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (‘Pleasant Little Branch,’ the pseudonym of Douglas Hyde), including his most famous play Casadh an tSugáin (The Twisting of the Rope).

Joyce’s review started with the idea of childish wonder becoming middle-aged speculation and finally the wisdom of old age. However, he claimed to find only senility place of wisdom in the old age of Gregory’s book, and he dismissed the herbal folk remedies, and the rambling, repetitive stories of the locals. Joyce claimed that while Yeats had presented similar folk material in The Celtic Twilight, Yeats at least had presented it with a certain amount of scepticism. Lady Gregory, however, presented this particular class of mind “in the fullness of its senility.”

Joyce was also quite dismissive of Douglas Hyde’s one-act plays. He referred to them as ‘dwarf dramas’ which he thought were improper and ineffectual. However, though he dismissed the plays as being mere entertainments, he did compliment Lady Gregory for her verse translations of them.

Apparently Lady Gregory was deeply offended by Joyce’s treatment of her book, but she didn’t seem to take the offence to heart and when Joyce was leaving Dublin in October 1904 she gave him £5 towards the costs.

In Ulysses, at the end of the ‘Scylla & Charybdis’ episode, Buck Mulligan makes reference to Longworth’s anger at Stephen’s review of Lady Gregory’s book: “Longworth is awfully sick … after what you wrote about that old hake Gregory. O you inquisitional drunken jew Jesuit! She gets you a job on the paper and then you go and slate her drivel to Jaysus. Couldn’t you do the Yeats touch?”


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Fargnoli, A Nicholas, & Michael Patrick Gillespie: James Joyce A-Z – An Encyclopedic Guide to his Life and Work, London: Bloomsbury, 1995.

Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.