On this day…26 May

On 26 May 1939 Joyce wrote to Sean O’Casey.

The occasion for Joyce’s letter to O’Casey was a misprint in the Irish Times. Under books received for review, Joyce’s recently published Finnegans Wake was listed as being by Sean O’Casey. On 26 May 1939, Joyce wrote to O’Casey about the misprint, though Joyce indicated that he was not entirely convinced that it was merely a misprint and not something deliberate.

Joyce wrote that he hoped the misprint might be an omen that the two of them would meet some day. He mentioned that he and Nora were planning to go to see Juno and the Paycock which was then playing at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre in Paris. Joyce said that if he finds the play is attributed to him, he’ll send a copy of the programme to O’Casey.

O’Casey replied on 30 May, pleased that Joyce wasn’t annoyed at the Irish Times misprint. He said he was reading Finnegans Wake with a friend of his, a painter, but the book was going over his head even though he was better than his friend at getting some of Joyce’s allusions. He wished he had the same power of writing that Joyce displayed in this amazing book. O’Casey said he had been in constant contact with Joyce through Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, and he hoped that they might meet some day.

As to the Irish Times’ misprint, O’Casey seemed to think it wasn’t a misprint. He felt that since both he and Joyce were not liked by Dublin’s literary clique, the misprint was surely a deliberate joke. During the summer of 1939, Bertie Smyllie, the editor of the Irish Times, met Joyce in Paris and tried to reassure him that it had been just a printer’s error and that no slight on him or on O’Casey had been intended. Joyce remained unconvinced.

Joyce and O’Casey never did meet.


Sources & Further Reading:

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