On this day…3 March

On 3 March 1907 Stanislaus Joyce received the proofs of Chamber Music from Joyce.

Joyce was living in Rome in 1907 when the publisher, Elkin Mathews, sent him the proofs for Chamber Music. He made corrections and changes to one set and returned them to Mathews, asking him to send on corrected proofs as soon as possible. The second set of proofs was sent to Stanislaus in Trieste.

When Joyce sent the proofs to Stanislaus on 1 March 1907, his accompanying letter made it clear that he felt the poems were insignificant, and he even wondered about the value of the stories he was writing. When he received the poems on 3 March, Stanislaus recorded his own rather disparaging comments about the poems. He felt the poems didn’t reflect Joyce’s real strength or his courage as a writer, that Joyce hadn’t put any real effort into them, and that it was as if someone other than Joyce had written them.

The poems had been written between 1901 and 1904. Unable to find a publisher, Joyce sent the poems to Arthur Symons, to whom he had been introduced by WB Yeats. In October 1906, Symons told Joyce that Elkin Mathews was interested in his poems, but Joyce wrote to Stanislaus that he felt the poems belonged to his past and that the writing he was now doing (the stories of Dubliners) gave him much more pleasure than all of his poems.

Joyce’s disinterest in Chamber Music is illustrated by the fact that he left the ordering of the poems to Stanislaus, and that he didn’t correct changes to the line indentations made by the printer of the first edition. Joyce, usually so fastidious in such matters, seemed to be disowning his book of poems.  However, as the publication date approached, Joyce became anxious about how insincere the poems were and decided to cable Mathews to stop the publication. Stanislaus finally managed to persuade him not to cable Mathews on the basis that Chamber Music, once published, would help him to get other books published.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.

McCourt, John: The Years of Bloom – James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2000.