On this day…19 November

On 19 November 1903 Joyce’s last book review appeared in the Daily Express.

Joyce’s untitled review of Borlase and Son by T Baron Russell was published in the Daily Express on 19 November 1903, and was the last review he wrote for the Express.

Joyce had been put in touch with EV Longworth, editor of the Daily Express, by Lady Gregory in November 1902. At the time, Joyce was leaving Ireland for Paris, and hoped to support himself with newspaper book reviews and other work. For the next year, Joyce received books from Longworth for review, and twenty book reviews by Joyce were published in the Daily Express between 11 December 1902 and 19 November 1903.

Borlase and Son was a follow-up to Russell’s earlier novel The Guardian of the Poor (1898), and was one of a relatively new genre of books that took as its subject the lives of drapers and shopkeepers. In his review, Joyce mentions Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) which is considered a classic of the genre. Later novels of this genre include Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), HG Wells’ Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910), and Sinclair Lewis’ Our Mr Wrenn (1914).

In his review Joyce remarks on the faithfulness with which Russell depicts the intrigue, the sordid avarice, and the unpaid labour that characterises the world of the Borlase shop in Camberwell. ‘The suburban mind,’ says Joyce, ‘is not invariably beautiful and its working is here delineated with unsentimental vigour.’ He concludes that Borlase and Son ‘has much original merit, and…is told very neatly and often humorously.’

In the final line of this review, Joyce mentions that the binding of the book was ‘as ugly as one could reasonably expect.’ Kevin Barry connects this comment to Joyce’s review of a book by Stephen Gwynn in January 1903 in which the final line of the review, as it appeared in the Daily Express on 29 January, remarked favourably on the printing and binding of the book, saying that it was a credit to the publishers, Hodges Figgis. In a letter to his brother Stanislaus on 8 February 1903 Joyce claimed that he had not written this line and suggested that ‘my little editor’ must have added it.

The ‘little editor,’ of course, was EV Longworth and perhaps Joyce’s comment on the binding of Borlase and Son was part of some argument with Longworth. In any case, whatever passed between them around this time, Longworth apparently threatened to kick Joyce down the stairs if he ever came to his office again, and so this review of Borlase and Son was the last book review Joyce wrote.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

– -: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.