On this day…26 September

On 26 September 1888 TS Eliot was born.

Born in St Louis, Missouri, Eliot lived in England from 1914. Best known for his poems ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock,’ ‘The Waste Land,’ and Four Quartets, Eliot also wrote plays and criticism, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Joyce and Eliot only met for the first time in August 1920, but they would have known of each other at least from the time Eliot replaced Richard Aldington as assistant editor of the Egoist magazine in 1917. When they met for the first time, Eliot arrived bearing a package for Joyce entrusted to him by Ezra Pound. The package turned out to contain a second-hand suit and a pair of old brown shoes.

Eliot had already seen some of Joyce’s Ulysses in the Egoist, and he was one of a small group of people to whom Joyce circulated new episodes of Ulysses in typescript. Eliot wrote to Joyce in May 1921 expressing his admiration for the ‘Oxen of the Sun,’ ‘Circe,’ and ‘Eumaeus’ episodes, but Joyce’s writing exerted such an influence on him that he told Joyce he wished he had not read it.

For Eliot, Ulysses was both a great achievement in literature and also the end of literature: in conversation with Virginia Woolf, Eliot wondered how anyone, including Joyce himself, could write anything after the ‘Penelope’ episode of Ulysses. In his essay ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’ Eliot claimed Ulysses was a book to which all writers would be indebted and one they would not be able to avoid. He also pointed to the significance of using Homer’s Odyssey as a base, saying that this allowed Joyce to control and order his material thus preventing it from falling into anarchy and futility. Joyce was pleased with the essay and grateful to Eliot for drawing attention to the Homeric parallels.

Eliot’s reading of Ulysses influenced his own work on ‘The Waste Land,’ and he sent Joyce an inscribed copy of the poem when it was first published. Though Joyce rarely read other writers’ work, he did read ‘The Waste Land,’ and after reading it he told Myron Nutting’s wife, Helen, that until then he hadn’t realised Eliot was a poet. Helen Nutting told him that she had read it too but couldn’t understand it, to which Joyce replied: ‘Do you have to understand it?’ Joyce knew the poem well enough to be able to write a parody of it in a letter to Harriet Weaver in August 1925 while he was staying at Rouen.

An important development in their relationship came when Eliot was made an editor at the London publishers Faber & Faber. Faber were Joyce’s preferred publishers for Ulysses, but their fear of prosecution led them to refuse it in 1932, after which Joyce referred to them as ‘Messrs Feebler and Fumbler.’ Thanks to Eliot, however, Faber remained enthusiastic about Joyce’s Work in Progress, publishing Anna Livia Plurabelle in 1930, Haveth Childers Everywhere in 1931, and Two Tales Told of Shem and Shaun in 1932, and finally Finnegans Wake itself in 1939.

Even after Joyce’s death, Faber continued their commitment to publishing Joyceana: Eliot edited a collection of Joyce’s prose, published as Introducing James Joyce in 1942. Faber published three volumes of Joyce’s correspondence between 1957 and 1966, as well as Pomes Penyeach and a volume of his critical writings. Stanislaus Joyce’s My Brother’s Keeper and his Dublin Diary were also published by Faber as well as works by numerous Joyce scholars, including James Atherton, Stuart Gilbert, Clive Hart, Adaline Glasheen, Harry Levin, David Hayman and Anthony Burgess.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

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.