On this day…25 October

On 25 October 1919 Ezra Pound claimed that ‘Cyclops’ might be the best thing Joyce had written.

Pound’s views on Ulysses had been constantly shifting from the time he read the ‘Telemachus’ episode in December 1917. However, having just read the ‘Cyclops’ episode, he told New York lawyer John Quinn in a letter on 25 October 1919 that ‘Cyclops’ was perhaps the best thing that Joyce had written.

Pound’s excitement over ‘Cyclops’ focused particularly on the parodying of styles in the episode. Pound saw this as a trick that Joyce had borrowed from Rabelais, but he also claimed that such parodying had never been done better before, even in Rabelais! He added that Joyce was a ‘grrreat’ man.

Though Pound had been an enthusiastic promoter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, his opinion of Ulysses wavered over a period of years. Though he wrote to praise the ‘Telemachus’ episode when he read it in December 1917, he also criticised it and, given that the Little Review had been suppressed in November 1917 on account of a story by Wyndham Lewis, he feared that ‘Telemachus’ would also result in the Review being suppressed, even though he felt that would be well worth while.

Writing to HL Mencken in January 1918, Pound said Joyce’s first chapter was ‘corking’ but felt that the second chapter wasn’t as good. By the end of March, having read the ‘Calypso’ episode, Pound was increasingly concerned about the language Joyce was using, saying, amongst other things, that he thought the word ‘urine’ on the first page was unnecessary.

By this time Pound’s ‘enthusiasm’ for suppression had changed to a fear that if the Review were suppressed too often it would be suppressed for good, and that would bring a lot of people’s plans to an end, he told Joyce. But in April, while he defended Joyce’s realistic language and descriptions in the face of John Quinn’s concerns, he also added that he had edited twenty lines out of ‘Calypso’ for fear that it would lead to trouble.

By June 1918, Pound was hailing the ‘Proteus’ episode as being so good that he felt it needed to be divided in two, that even his great intellect couldn’t handle so much good writing in such a short space, and in November, Pound claimed that Bloom’s character answered those critics who felt that Joyce would not be able to create a non-autobiographical character.

All of this praise was followed by the seizure by the postal authorities of issues of the Little Review in January and May 1919 because of parts of Ulysses, and Pound’s frustration at reading the ‘Sirens’ episode led him to write to Joyce asking for less of Bloom and the return of Stephen Dedalus. For Joyce, this seemed to indicate once and for all that Pound did not like his book.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

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

Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited with a Commentary by Forrest Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.