On this day…5 April

On 5 April 1927 Joyce attended a PEN Club dinner in London in his honour

PEN was the first international organisation of writers, founded in London in 1921 by Catherine Amy Dawson-Scott. The acronym stood for ‘Poets, Essayists, Novelists’ (though this was later expanded to include playwrights and other writers). The organisation started as a dinner club to enable writers to meet and socialise, but it quickly expanded its interests and became involved in lobbying for the rights of writers.

Joyce accepted an invitation to be guest of honour at an English PEN Club dinner on 5 April 1927 partly because so many English authors had signed his international protest against the piracy of Ulysses in America (the first international protest of its kind), and partly to defend his Work in Progress against recent criticism. Poet and playwright John Drinkwater presided at the dinner, and John Galsworthy, who was then President of PEN, was also present. Joyce, however, disappointed those present when he refused to reply to the speech honouring him.

By 1925, PEN had 25 centres across Europe, including one in Paris. Joyce attended the Paris PEN Club annual meeting in May 1925, and in 1926 he was one of eight writers (including John Galsworthy, Heinrich Mann, Luigi Pirandello, and Miguel de Unamuno) each of whom presided at a table at the PEN Club meeting. In 1926 the Paris PEN Club hosted a dinner in honour of Joyce’s Triestine friend Ettore Schmitz (Italo Svevo) which was attended by Joyce, Isaak Babel, and Ivan Goll among others.

In 1937, PEN’s fifteenth International Congress took place in Paris, and Joyce gave a short address at one of its sessions on the moral right of authors (‘Sur Le Droit Moral des Écrivains’). He claimed that even where an author’s work was not protected by copyright law, the author still had an inalienable right to his work and that right was protected under law. Though Joyce’s address was recorded in the minutes, he was annoyed that nothing more was done about it. He went to dinner afterwards with Franz Werfel and Ben Huebsch, and his annoyance dissipated when he discovered Werfel had translated some of Verdi’s operas.

On 14 November 1938 Joyce attended the inauguration of the French PEN Club’s centre on the rue Pierre-Charron where Jules Romains, President of PEN, introduced Joyce to French President Lebrun, the last President of the Third Republic. In 1939 PEN invited Joyce to go to New York but he wrote to say he couldn’t go.


Sources & Further Reading:

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.

—: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writings, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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

Visit PEN’s website here.