“As one grew to know him, one became as it were enveloped by a fine network of half-expressed thoughts and feelings that created an atmosphere of such suavity that it was difficult to resist, all the more so since it contained no element of restraint.”
Paul Léon on James Joyce
The James Joyce Centre Dublin is home to a table and four armchairs that came from the apartment of Joyce’s friend Paul Léon in Paris. Here Joyce was an almost daily visitor from 1928-1939.
Paul Léon was a Russian Jewish émigré who left Russia after the Revolution and came to settle in Paris in the 1920s with his wife Lucie. He was a lawyer, philosopher and sociologist who had published two books. James Joyce and Paul Léon first met through Giorgio’s friend Alex Ponisovsky, Léon’s brother in law, who was giving Joyce lessons in Russian. In the early 1930s, Léon took over as Joyce’s unpaid secretary looking after most of his legal and literary correspondence. When Joyce was writing Finnegans Wake, bad eyesight and general ill health made the task of birthing ‘the monster’ even more difficult. Léon’s help, was indispensable.
Joyce and Léon met regularly with others to work on the text. Towards the end of November 1931, Philippe Soupault joined the group which met each Thursday at 2.30pm in Léon’s apartment on the rue Casimir Perier. They would use the table and chairs that you see in the exhibition, and read the English and French texts of Finnegans Wake. Léon would regularly threaten to sell the round table if Joyce would only inscribe his name upon it.
Their relationship was typified by the following correspondence when Joyce wrote a note to thank Léon for his help in April 1930, Léon replied
“One thing I do object to, it is in your thanks to me which I do feel I cannot ever thank you enough for having allowed me to observe the formation of your thoughts which is, I confess, both captivating and meaningful”.
After the Joyces fled Paris in 1940, Léon salvaged the family’s belongings and dispersed them among friends for safe-keeping for the duration of the war. Léon was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 and died in a concentration camp in Silesia in 1942, but it was thanks to his efforts that the Joyces’ possessions survived the war.
Joyce recorded his own appreciation of Léon in Herbert Gorman’s biography:
“For the last dozen years, in sickness or health, night and day, he [Léon] has been an absolutely disinterested and devoted friend and I could never have done what I did without his help.”
This exhibition now recreates the apartment to pay tribute to this extraordinary friendship. The James Joyce Centre gratefully acknowledges the support of Alex Léon, The Heritage Council, The Office of Public Works and Mr. Danis Rose.