On this day…29 March

On 29 March 1918 Ezra Pound criticised Joyce’s language in ‘Calypso.’

Writing on Good Friday, 29 March 1918, Pound warned Joyce of the possibility that the Egoist and the Little Review would be suppressed because of Joyce’s language. He claimed that he wouldn’t mind suppression on account of what Joyce had written in the first episode of Ulysses, but thinks that in episode four, the ‘Calypso’ episode, Joyce has overdone it.

In his letter to Joyce, Pound made clear what he objected to and why, but slightly disingenuously he neglected to tell Joyce that he had deleted about twenty lines from the typescript before sending it to Margaret Anderson at the Little Review in New York. Joyce didn’t find this out until later, and in a letter to Harriet Weaver in July 1918 he makes it clear that what appeared in the Little Review was not his full text and that any deleted parts would have to be reinstated in future.

Pound claimed that some of the writing in ‘Calypso’ is bad simply because Joyce had used stronger words than he needed to. For instance, he claimed that the contrast between Bloom’s poetic thoughts and his somewhat squalid surroundings would come across just as well without such a detailed description of Bloom going to the toilet. He even complained of Joyce’s use of the word “urine” in the first paragraph of the episode and claimed that Joyce’s excremental language would blind readers to the passages of quality.

Pound said he hoped that maybe an unexpurgated text could appear in a Greek or Bulgarian translation later, but his implication was that it could not appear in English, on either side of the Atlantic, at this time. He also warned Joyce that if the magazines were suppressed too often they might be suppressed for good. That outcome, he warned, would benefit no one, and he added that he could not have his editor (Margaret Anderson) jailed for something written without sufficient mastery.

The passages in ‘Calypso’ deleted by Pound when he sent the typescript to the Little Review include the mention of “loosening of the bowels” and “undoing the waistband of his trousers,” as well as much of the description of Bloom sitting on the toilet, and wiping himself and exiting the jakes at the end of the episode. ‘Calypso,’ in Pound’s censored version, was published in the Little Review in June 1918.


Sources & Further Reading:

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957.

Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited and with Commentary by Forrest Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.