On 13 September 1928 Ettore Schmitz died.
Schmitz (Italo Svevo) and his wife Livia had been passengers in a car that crashed into a tree near Treviso, not far from Venice. They were taken to the hospital in Motto di Livenza where Schmitz died from his injuries on 13 September.
Joyce heard the news of Schmitz’s death from Schmitz’s brother but held off writing to Livia immediately. He read more details in a Trieste newspaper shortly afterwards, and then wrote to Livia of his shock at the news. He arranged for her to receive a copy of Nouvelles Littéraires in which Madame Crémieux, wife of Schmitz’s French translator, Benjamin Crémieux, had written an appreciation of Schmitz, and he offered any help he could in keeping Schmitz’s memory alive.
Joyce had seen Schmitz as recently as March 1928, when Schmitz had been in Paris for a PEN testimonial dinner in his honour, attended by Isaak Babel, Benjamin Crémieux, Ivan Goll, Jean Paulhan, Jules Romains, and Joyce among others. After returning to Trieste, Schmitz offered to send Joyce a portrait of his wife Livia by his friend Umberto Veruda, as Livia was one of the models for Joyce’s character Anna Livia.
Schmitz had published three novels – Una vita (1893), Senilità (1898), and La conscienza di Zeno (1923) – but the books had received almost no critical attention, and Schmitz had had to pay for publication himself. In 1925 an essay by Italian poet Eugenio Montale had brought him to the attention of an Italian audience, but it was Crémieux’s French translation of La conscienza di Zeno, urged by Joyce, that brought him worldwide attention.
Nino Frank, who worked with Joyce on the Italian translation of Anna Livia Plurabelle, was organising a special issue of the Florentine review Solaria devoted to Schmitz, which was to contain tributes from Joyce and several French critics. Joyce advised this be delayed for a while because there seemed to be a lot of Italian resentment of Schmitz as a ‘French discovery.’
Even before Schmitz’s death, Joyce had recommended his books to Jonathan Cape in London and Ben Huebsch in New York for publication. Livia Schmitz had wanted Joyce to write a preface for the English translation of Senilità but Joyce refused. He suggested instead that Ford Madox Ford write the preface, but in the end it was written by Stanislaus Joyce. The English title, As a Man Grows Older, was also suggested to Livia by Joyce.
Returning the corrected preface to Stanislaus, Joyce added a PS in which he claimed that he and Schmitz had always maintained very formal relations and that he had never gone to Schmitz’s house except as a paid teacher. He also claimed that Livia Schmitz grew longsighted whenever she encountered Nora on the streets of Trieste! Livia later changed her name to Svevo and, despite the charge of longsightedness, she and Joyce continued to keep in touch.
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, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.