On this day…5 October

On 5 October 1932 Joyce declined an invitation to join the Academy of Irish Letters.

Joyce had been invited by WB Yeats and George Bernard Shaw to join an Academy of Irish Letters that they were starting, but Joyce decided to decline their invitation.

Yeats had written to Joyce on 2 September 1932 telling him about the plans for an Academy of Irish Letters and inviting him to join. Joyce also received a letter from Shaw a few days later, reiterating the invitation and enclosing a list of proposed rules of the Academy.

One of the main aims of the Academy would be to fight increasing censorship in Ireland. The increasingly Catholic bias of the ten-year-old Free State had seen the establishment of a Committee on Evil Literature in the mid-1920s and the introduction of a Censorship of Publications Board to assess individual publications. For the Academy to be effective in fighting censorship, it would need not only the support of Irish writers but also the backing of internationally renowned Irish writers like Yeats and Shaw, and Joyce.

Writing to Yeats from Nice where he was holidaying, Joyce thanked Yeats for his kind letter and reminded him that it is now thirty years since the first time Yeats offered his help to Joyce. Joyce wished Yeats well with the Academy and then added rather cryptically that his situation being what it has been and probably will be, he saw no reason why his name should be considered in connection with the Academy.

Joyce seems to mean that because he hasn’t been living in Ireland and doesn’t plan to live in Ireland, that an Academy of Irish Letters would have nothing to do with him. But he would have been well aware of Shaw’s situation, living in London since 1870 and only very rarely visiting Dublin. And it’s not as though Joyce was in some way averse to societies or associations the supported writers: he was active in the PEN Club in Paris and regularly attended its functions there and in London. It seems more likely that Joyce was simply averse to his name being used by others for their ends, and certainly Yeats and Shaw wanted Joyce as much for his name as anything else.


Sources & Further Reading:

Foster, RF: WB Yeats – A Life, vol. II The Arch-Poet 1915-1939, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957.