On this day…30 December

On 30 December 1921 Joyce wrote to Alessandro Francini Bruni.

Francini Bruni was planning to give a lecture on Joyce in Trieste in February 1922 and had written to Joyce asking for specific bits of information that he wanted. Joyce later considered Francini Bruni’s lecture as an act of betrayal.

Alessandro Francini Bruni had been deputy head of the Berlitz School in Pola when Joyce arrived there in 1904. His family name was Francini but he had added his wife’s family name, Bruni, to distinguish himself from the many other Francinis. According to Richard Ellmann, Francini Bruni ‘had a gift for fantastic, ironic verbal caricature, which attracted Joyce to him at once.’ It was also to get him into trouble with Joyce.

The Francinis and the Joyces were very close friends for several years. The Italian that Joyce spoke when he arrived in Pola was a rather archaic, formal Italian, and Francini Bruni suggested an exchange of lessons: Joyce would teach him Dublin English, and he would teach Joyce Tuscan Italian. Though Joyce usually managed to find excuses for not keeping his end of the bargain, he learnt a lot from Francini Bruni, and the two worked together on a translation of George Moore’s Celibates, a book of short stories.

In Trieste, the Joyces shared a flat with the Francinis from February 1906 until the Joyces left for Rome in July. While Joyce was learning Italian from Francini Bruni, Nora was learning Italian from Mrs Francini in order to be able to keep up with her husband, but Nora also noted a change in Joyce. ‘Since you’ve come to know Francini,’ she told him, ‘I can’t recognise you any more.’

During this time Francini Bruni had ample opportunity to observe and record Joyce in action as a teacher at the Berlitz School, and this material became the basis for the lecture he delivered in 1922. Francini Bruni described Joyce as being ‘a composite of incompatibles,’ and said he was ‘suspended by natural gravitation between the mud in which he wallows and a refined intellectualism that touches the limits of asceticism.’

The lecture started with a description of the Berlitz School and its staff and students, but it was his records of Joyce’s classroom examples that gave his lecture an intimate dimension, one that Joyce, afterwards, did not appreciate. For instance, Joyce would come out with occasional exclamations such as ‘Berlitz, Berlitz, what have I done to deserve this from you?’ or ‘Signor Berlitz and Signor Joyce, fool and beggar.’ Others came from his personal life, such as ‘My wife has learned Italian – enough to enable her to run up debts comfortably.’

Others related to themes and topics that are significant in Joyce’s writings. In relation to British government in Ireland, he said ‘The government sowed hunger, syphilis, superstition, and alcoholism there; puritans, Jesuits, and bigots have sprung up.’ There was also an outburst against Dubliners as ‘the most hopeless, useless and inconsistent race of charlatans I have ever come across, on the island or the continent. …The Dubliner passes his time gabbing and making the rounds of bars and taverns or cathouses…and when he can hold no more…he goes slithering his backside against all walls and corners. He goes “arsing along” as we say in English. There’s the Dubliner for you.’

On the Irish use of the English language he declared that ‘The Irish, condemned to express themselves in a language not their own, have stamped on it the mark of their own genius and compete for glory with the civilised nations. This is then called English literature.’

Francini Bruni’s lecture, ‘Joyce intimo spogliato in Piazza’ (‘Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza’), was delivered in the Dramatic Society’s Hall in Trieste under the auspices of the Triestine Press Association on 22 February 1922, and was published as a pamphlet by La Editorale Libraria the same year. Stanislaus Joyce attended the lecture and declared it ‘an outrage.’ Joyce at first saw the funny side, but later came to see it as yet another incident of personal betrayal.

In addition to his lecture, Francini Bruni also published ‘Ricordi su James Joyce’ (‘Recollections of James Joyce’) in the September-December 1947 issue of Nuova antologia.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Francini Bruni, Alessandro: ‘Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza,’ translated by Camilla Rudolph et al, & ‘Recollections of Joyce,’ translated by Lido Botti, in Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, edited by Willard Potts, Dublin: Wolfhound Press, in association with the University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1979.