On this day…7 August

On 7 August 1924 Stanislaus Joyce wrote to his brother criticising Joyce’s new work.

The criticism was contained in a long letter, the first that Stanislaus had written to Joyce for some time. Stanislaus was not impressed by what he had read of Joyce’s new work, and took the opportunity to remind Joyce of how little he had liked certain parts of Ulysses as well.

Joyce had undergone an iridectomy on his left eye in June and Lucia had written to Stanislaus to let him know about it. In his letter of 7 August Stanislaus started out by asking about the many eye operations Joyce has had, and he wondered if the doctors would ever be done.

Stanislaus went on to thank Joyce for several things he had sent him, including a copy of the transatlantic review, in which the first extract from Joyce’s new work had been published in April 1924 under the heading ‘From Work in Progress.’ The title had been suggested by Ford Madox Ford, editor of the transatlantic review, as Joyce did not yet want to reveal the actual title of his new work. The first extract published was a version of book II, chapter 4, dealing with Tristan and Isolde.

Stanislaus, in his usual caustic fashion, started out by referring to the extract as “drivelling rigmarole” and a “nightmare production,” and he wondered if Joyce was simply pulling the reader’s leg. Perceptively, he went on to say that the extract suggested the Book of the Four Masters, and that it contained certain elements that might be the beginning of something, but he added that it was “unspeakably wearisome.” Worse than that, he feared it was perhaps an indication of “softening of the brain,” and that it might mark the last “witless wandering of literature before its final extinction.”

Stanislaus was the model for the character Shaun in Finnegans Wake, and during 1924 Joyce was already working on the watches of Shaun that make up book III of Finnegans Wake. But Joyce also includes more direct references to Stanislaus in the book, such as this from p. 237:

Enchainted, dear sweet Stainusless, young confessor, dearer
dearest, we herehear, aboutobloss, O coelicola, thee salutamt.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

– -: Finnegans Wake, London: Faber & Faber, 1975.