On this day…5 June

On 5 June 1917 Joyce updates Ezra Pound on Ulysses.

Ezra Pound had been doing a great deal over the previous year and a half to bring Joyce’s work to readers’ attention. With both Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man finally in print, Joyce was now free to concentrate on Ulysses.

In his letter to Pound at the beginning of June 1917, Joyce wrote that he had by now finished episode four, ‘Lotus Eaters,’ and episode five, ‘Hades,’ and had started work on episode six, ‘Aeolus.’ Pound was hoping that both the Egoist and the Little Review would serialise Ulysses, so that Joyce could earn money from both. (The Little Review started publishing Ulysses in instalments in March 1918.) In the meantime, Pound was doing what he could to keep readers interested in Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

In March 1917 Pound had promised to write a critique of the criticisms of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, just as soon as there were enough of them to criticise. This critique had just appeared in the Egoist of June 1917 under the heading ‘James Joyce and his Critics – Some Classified Comments.’ Pound ‘classified’ extracts from various critics in order to demonstrate their contradictions, but also to create a kind of tease: after reading these snippets of criticism, you might very well want to read the book that prompted them!

Perhaps to grab readers at the very beginning, Pound includes a snippet from the Everyman review under the classification ‘Drains’: “Mr Joyce is a clever novelist, but we feel he would be really at his best in a treatise on drains.” This is followed by one from the Irish Book Lover, classified as ‘Cleanmindedness’: “This pseudo-autobiography of Stephen Dedalus, a weakling and a dreamer, makes fascinating reading… No clean-minded person could possibly allow it to remain within reach of his wife, his sons or daughters.”

The realism of Joyce’s portrayal seems to have aroused most criticism. The Southport Guardian claimed “It is a ruthless, relentless essay in realism,” while the Rochester Post-Express claimed “Mr Joyce aims at being realistic, but his method is too chaotic to produce the effect of realism.” The Birmingham Post said “Its realism will displease many,” and the Irish Book Lover said “Mr Joyce is unsparing in his realism, and his violent contrasts – the brothel, the confessional – jar on one’s finer feelings.”

Regarding Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin, the Freeman’s Journal said “It  is an accident that Mr Joyce’s book should have Dublin as its background,” while New Ireland claimed “He is justified, in so far as too many Dubliners are of the calibre described in this and the preceding volume.”


Sources & Further Reading:

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