University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The Literature Collection

Page View

Weimer, John F. (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XXIII, Number 6 (April 1924)

Rogers, S. G. A.
James Joyce,   p. 9


Page 9

APRIL, 1924
James Joyce
A Critical Study of the Man and His Mooted Works
BY S. G. A. ROGERS
LTHOUGH Joyce has written a book
A     of verses and a play, his most
£Lcharacteristic work is contained
in his three volumes of prose fiction-
Dubliners, The Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man, and Ulysses. Through
them we may follow the process of his
growth, the stripping away of all that
was not himself, the discarding of all
influence that could not be creatively as-
similated, to make room for the violent
expansion of his own originality.
Dubliners appeared in 1914. It is a
collection of sketches and short stories,
through which we get a sense of the
dingy world of Dublin's lower middle
classes, a world of taverns and boarding
houses, of petty clerks and loafers and
ward politicians. Already we find an
avoidance of artificial emphasis for the
sake of mere "point." There are no
ready-made effects, whether of humor or
pathos or surprise.  The style is re-
strained and clear. Though it attracts
on the whole little attention to itself, it
strikes one here and there by the direct-
ness with which it presents some physic-
al image. Take for instance this de-
scription of a middle-aged clerk addicted
to drink: "When he stood up he was
tall and of great bulk. He had a hang-
ing face, dark wine-colored, with fair
eyebrows and m o u s t a c h e. His eyes
bulged forward slightly and the whites
of them were dirty." More rarely occur
flashes of lyric beauty, beauty both of
sound and picture. The following para-
graph reveals, I think, that Joyce was
already an exquisite artist in the ar-
rangement of words:
"It had begun to snow again. He
watched sleepily the flakes, silver and
dark, falling obliquely against the lamp-
light. -It was falling on every part of
the dark central plain, on the treeless
hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen
and, farther westward, softly falling into
the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It
was falling, too, on every part of the
lonely churchyard on the hill where
Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly
drifted on the crooked crosses and head-
stones, on the spears of the little gate,
on the barren thorns. His soul swooned
slowly as he heard the snow falling
faintly through the universe and faintly
falling, like the descent of their last
end, upon all the living and the dead."
The Portrait of the Artist as w Young
Man is the story of the revolt of a sen-
sitive mind, eager for spiritual cleanli-
ness and beauty, against the squalor of
the world described in Dubliners, and its
s t r u gg l e to steer its way unaided
through the f e'r m e n t of adolescence.
Even more striking than in the earlier
book is the power both to etch upon the
reader's brain a physical impression al-
most brutally immediate, and to evoke,
through a caressing beauty of phrase,
the glow of emotional response that
comes to us as a rule only through
poetry. Pure narrative or plot interest,
never allowed to distort reality in Dub-
liners, is here completely sacrificed. But
what perhaps chiefly marks the emer-
gence of Joyce's personality is the direct-
ness and courage with which he follows
the stream of his hero's m i n d even
when it carries him through depths, at
once intimate and universal, that modern
literature has conventionally agreed to
ignore.
Despite their individual color, the stor-
ies in Dubliners show after all no essen-
tial difference from the methods of Chek-
kov. Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Rich-
ardson had attempted, before Joyce, to
render directly, if not completely, the
flux of human consciousness. Ulygses, in
scheme and execution, is quite new.
When I say that it is new I do not
mean that it owes nothing to the past;
but that whatever derived elements there
may be have become so thoroughly ab-
sorbed and transmuted in Joyce's brain
that their final fusion gives us a work
that is essentially new and personal.
Critics have found in it affinities to Rab-
elais and Swift, to Flaubert and Dostoi-
evsky, but none that I have read, even
its most savage detractor, has denied its
immense originality. Few have denied
its strength.
Ulysses relates a number of ordinary
events in the lives of three people during
one average day. To do this, in the man-
ner that he wishes, Joyce requires over
seven hundred large and closely printed
pages. The scene is still Dublin. We see
once more many of the figures who first
appeared in Dubliners. Stephen Sedalus,
the youth whose spiritual conflicts com-
posed The Portrait of the Artist and who
is obviously Joyce himself, plays an im-
portant part. The main character-the
Ulysses of this strange Odyssey-is Mr.
Leopold Bloom, middle-aged, in the ad-
vertising business, fleshly, easy-going
and vulgar, a living individual and at
the same time a type of mediocre sensual
humanity. A few sentences from the
book will explain both its ge n era l
scheme  and  its title:  "Every  life
is many days, day after day. We
walk through ourselves meeting
robbers, ghosts, g i a n t s, old m e n,
young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-
love. But always meeting ourselves."
Ullysses is the tale of Bloom's voyage
through himself, through the deeps and
spaces of his own mind, and of the sirens
and giants, the shades of the dead, the
hosts of the living, that he encounters,
the shipwrecks and escapes that he ex-
periences. Through Bloom, Joyce has
tried to give us completely the inconceiv-
able variety and confusion of human con-
sciousness, unsifted and unarranged.
Though he has humor, penetrating
wit, and a rare sense of ideal beauty,
Joyce sees life on the whole fiercely and
darkly. Life Swift and Baudelaire, he
is haunted by the spectacle of man's un-
cleanness. The central chapter of Ulys-
ses is a long description of an orgy in
which Stephen and Bloom both take part
amid a rout of characters, some of them
real, some of them personifications of
the images and desires that surge unin-
hibited through the dizzy minds of the
two intoxicated men.   At the revel's
height it suddenly becomes unreal to
Stephen-ghastly, a dance of death. The
image of his dead mother rises. "Re-
pent, Stephen," she says. "I pray for
you in the other world.- Years and
years I loved you, 0 my son, my first-
born." The revelers notice that Stephen
is strangely white. The mother, with
smouldering eyes, threateningly contin-
ues: "'Repent! 0, the fire of Hell!'
She raises her blackened, withered right
arm slowly towards Stephen's breast,
with  outstretched  fingers.  'Beware!
God's hand!' A green crab with malig-
nant red eyes sticks deep its grinning
(Continued on page 21)


Go up to Top of Page