On this day…9 February

On 9 February 1880 Tom Kettle was born.

Kettle went to school at Clongowes Wood, and studied at University College Dublin where he and Joyce became friends. He studied law and qualified as a barrister in 1905. A supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Home Rule, Kettle was elected as an MP in 1906. After the establishment of the National University, Kettle was appointed Professor of Economics.

Kettle authored several book, and wrote many articles and reviews for papers and magazines. He travelled through Europe after the First World War started and despite poor health he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He was killed in the Battle of the Somme on 9 September 1916. His grave in unknown but there is a memorial to him in St Stephen’s Green.

Joyce and Kettle were both involved in the UCD Literary and Historical Society, and Joyce enjoyed discussing Aquinas with Kettle. When Stanislaus Joyce was annoyed at his brother’s lack of interest when Kettle was elected MP in 1906, Joyce responded by saying: “The reason I was not interested is because I take no interest in parliamentarianism as I suppose, you know.”

Kettle wrote a favourable review of Joyce’s Chamber Music in the Freeman’s Journal on 1 June 1907. “Those who remember University College life of five years back,” he wrote, “will have many memories of Mr. Joyce. Wilful, fastidious, a lover of elfin paradoxes, he was for the men of his time the very embodiment of literary spirit…”

Joyce and Kettle met during Joyce’s visit to Dublin in the summer of 1909. Kettle offered Joyce support for an appointment at the National University but the position did not materialise. Joyce claimed that he did not show Kettle the manuscript of the novel he was working on “as he is to be married next week and I don’t think it would be a nice thing to give him to read.”

On 5 September 1909, Joyce joined Kettle and others at the Gresham Hotel, and was delighted to be introduced to the group as “the great writer of the future.” Joyce didn’t attend the Kettle’s wedding on 7 September, even though Kettle was marrying Mary Sheehy whose family Joyce knew well. As he didn’t have any money to offer as a gift, he sent them a copy of Chamber Music instead. Kettle and his wife were to travel to Trieste as part of their honeymoon and Joyce wrote to Nora to make preparations for their visit, saying that Kettle “is the best friend I have in Ireland…and he has done me great services here.”

Things seem to have been somewhat different on Joyce’s last visit to Dublin in 1912. He enlisted Kettle’s help in his struggles with Maunsel & Co over the publication of Dubliners. Kettle had had a book published by Maunsel’s and perhaps for that reason he declined to help Joyce. According to Stanislaus Joyce, Tom Kettle “…declared [himself] against the book. He kept saying, ‘Oh, I’ll slate that book when it comes out. I’ll slate it.’”

Perhaps for this reason, Kettle, along with Gogarty, Cosgrave and Roberto Prezioso, becomes a model for the character Robert Hand in Joyce’s play Exiles. An article that Hand writes in the play is based in part of Kettle’s 1907 review of Chamber Music.

Joyce wrote a letter of condolence to Mary Kettle after reading of Kettle’s death in the Times. He mentioned Kettle’s friendliness “when I was in Ireland seven years ago,” thus eliding Kettle’s refusal to help him in 1912. Joyce owned copies of a number of Kettle’s books, including Home Rule Finance (1911), Irish Orators and Oratory (1908), and The Ways of War (1917) which included a memoir of her husband by Mary Kettle. As late as 1927, while he was working on Finnegans Wake, Joyce asked his brother to send on two books by Kettle.


Sources & Further Reading:

Deming, Robert H (ed.): James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, vol. I 1907-1927, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

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

Ellmann, Richard: The Consciousness of Joyce, London: Faber & Faber, 1977.