Bloomsday 2024 Exhibition: "James Joyce - Friends, Enemies and Influences"

Works in Indian ink, Indian ink wash, gouache, marker & pencil


Now considered one of America’s great postwar photographers, Abbott trained (pretty much by accident) as a portrait photographer in Paris under Man Ray. Ray took a few official pics of Joyce but Joyce hated them and the whole experience. The photos nevertheless have become iconic over time. But about six years later, having left a professionally jealous Man Ray and set up her own studio, Abbott alone was asked to photograph Joyce and he enjoyed the experience and her photo is now considered even more iconic than Ray’s—Joyce is relaxed, at peace; not in discomfort & angry, as in the Rays. Abbott went on to become known as one of the boldest and most original photographers in the United States, not least for her amazing ‘portraits’ of a booming New York City, and she faced down her fair share of misogyny and patronising bullshit in the trade but came through it all, head high. Her innovative scientific photography at MIT will also ensure her legacy endures. In this drawing, a young Abbott poses alone but for a single lighting unit. In a wonderful documentary directed by Martha Wheelock and Kay Weaver, which includes a long absorbing interview with Abbott herself, she recalls not using such equipment when photographing Joyce due to his serious eye troubles and sensitivity to light; instead she relied on the natural light admitted by her studio’s skylight—doubtless why Joyce in her photograph looks so calm and contemplative. (The documentary is still available to watch on YouTube.)


The Enniscorthy-born novelist, essayist, critic and journalist often disavows the influence of James Joyce on his work, steering critics more in the direction of Henry James, Thomas Mann and others. Tóibín’s 2010 book on James is titled All a Novelist Needs, and his 2004 novel The Master is itself a masterly fictionalised account in the Jamesian manner of James’s humiliation owing to the critical disaster of his 1895 play, Guy Domville. (Joking aside, the novel never falls into the pit of pure pastiche—Tóibín is too good a writer for that.)

But Joyce is always there in Tóibín’s writing, and his 2009 novel Brooklyn surely owes a large if unacknowledged debt to the deceptively subtle, spare and insightful prose of Joyce’s Dubliners—first and foremost—but also of Ulysses. In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know—The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats & Joyce (2018), Tóibín delicately assesses Joyce’s shift in tone and style, when using his own father as source material, from Stephen Hero, through Dubliners to Ulysses. Tóibín notes that Joyce’s prose begins as something of a blunt instrument as applied to his father and his peers but evolves to allow a subtler interior (and hence more empathetic) view of them all: ‘The jokes in the story [“Grace”] happen because of their ignorance, their insularity, the clichés they use. They have no wit, no energy […] Two years later, when Joyce wrote “The Dead” […] instead of studying the main character for his own amusement, he entered his spirit, allowed him to have a complex sensibility and a rich response to experience.’

Tóibín displays the same sensitivity to his characters’ autonomy and interiority in all his work, not least in his 2009 novel Brooklyn, which tells the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey (also from Enniscorthy) and her daunting move to America, where she meets and falls in love with Italian-American plumber Tony Fiorello. Midway through the novel, they spend a day together at Coney Island beach, which serves to deepen their relationship, both sexually and emotionally. In this illustration, Tóibín passes a sunny afternoon there with Joyce; he hangs onto Deno’s Wonder Wheel to get the best possible view of all the crazy characters below. (In the 2015 film of the book, a shot of the famous wheel appears behind the two lovers before they enter the water.)


A young Rebecca West enjoys a coffee at a Paris café, whilst staring askance at James Joyce, seated at an adjacent table and savouring his favourite white wine (he pretty much despised red), Fendant de Sion. Joyce’s Ulysses was published in 1922, and in 1928 West published a long essay, ‘The Strange Necessity’, about Joyce and his notorious novel. West’s essay is ‘set’ in Paris and revolves around a single day’s consideration of Joyce’s book, in homage to Joyce and his hero Leopold Bloom’s day in Dublin. West’s peregrinations around Paris lead her to believe that her assessment of Ulysses is ‘probably the first estimate to be done neither praying nor vomiting. In it I come to the conclusion that though it is ugly and incompetent it is a work of art. That is to say it is “necessary”’. (Her choice of words is clearly informed by the snobbery endemic to her class and education, and echoes similarly patronising comments made by Virginia Woolf about Joyce and Ulysses.)

West was unquestionably a great writer—not so much of fiction than of discursive prose and her 1941 classic account of her six-week trip through former Yugoslavia in 1937, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and its discerning analysis of Balkan history and ethnography, remains unsurpassed in its scope and clarity of thought—so she knew a fellow artist when she saw one, whatever her initial distaste and reservations. She defended Joyce and his novel when prosecuted for obscenity in New York in 1933, and it was West who persuaded H.G. Wells to review Ulysses for The Nation. (It should be said that West’s 1918 novel The Return of the Soldier, though these days not considered a significant work in the modernist canon, undoubtedly helped to clear more ground for the movement’s ambush and annexation of Georgian literary territory— its surviving custodians, fading flowers all, by then so etiolated that resistance was anyway futile.)

Joyce hated West’s essay, not least due to its structural conceit of a day in Paris employed to parallel his book. Here, Joyce quaffs his wine and pointedly ignores West, a hat-lover sporting a number of creations typical of the times, including the Hellenistic ‘helmet’ she is seen to be wearing in the famous Time magazine cover illustration of her (8 December 1947) by Boris Chaliapin.


Radek was a Communist International leader in the Soviet Union and, as head of the International Information Bureau of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee, he gave the address on foreign literature at the First Conference of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934. The speech is still famous for its hostile and bizarre—even by Soviet standards—dismissal of James Joyce and Marcel Proust. The former’s Ulysses is likened to ‘a heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema apparatus through a microscope.’ As for Proust: in his work ‘the old world, like a mangy dog no longer capable of any action whatever, lies basking in the sun and endlessly licks its sores.’

In this image Radek squats in a Ulysses wheelbarrow (Russian translation), chest-high in manure. Marcel Proust attempts to manoeuvre the thing, whilst helping Joyce to retrieve the Soviet-era microscope from atop Radek’s cap so that he might better examine the muck of his own making and thereby refute Radek’s charges.  The ‘cinema apparatus’ is copied from the iconic poster for Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, Man With a Movie Camera.


The Irish playwright holds two Joyce hand puppets, their features clearly symbolising two very different sides of the same character. In Ulysses and Us (2009), Declan Kiberd considers another instance of Joycean influence on a later writer: ‘The very fluency and depth of Bloom’s inner consciousness may work against a fuller participation in the social world. This hint was taken further by Brian Friel in his play Philadelphia, Here I Come!, where a character is played by two actors, Private and Public. Private is witty, debonair and fluent, while Public is tentative, uncertain and gauche. However, in the end, Private undermines Public with his corrosive mockery and put-downs, until the social man is left stuttering and dysfunctional.’


In early 1912, Joyce and his family were stationed in Trieste and under threat of eviction by their landlord, pharmacist Guiseppe Picciola. In dire need of additional funds, Joyce approached the Istituto Tecnico in Como but was turned down for a teaching position as his academic qualifications were not recognised there. After delivering a reasonably lucrative series of lectures on ‘Realism and Idealism in English Literature’ at the Università del Popolo (largely revolving around Blake and Defoe), Joyce applied for the teaching diploma in English and was permitted to sit for three days of written examinations and one oral test at the University of Padua. One of his first essays in Italian, ‘The Universal Literary Influence of the Renaissance’ was followed by another on Dickens. Stansilaus Joyce insisted that his brother ‘never cared for Dickens’ and, more emphatically, ‘could not stand’ the works of Scott or Dickens; but as a young man Joyce had read him extensively and Dickens’s ability to render London as a well-rounded ‘character’ in her own right impressed him deeply and no doubt went some way to inspiring him to do the same for Dublin.

The influence of Dickens on Joyce has always been considered otherwise fairly negligible, but this is a superficial image and recent scholarship has been digging deeply to paint a truer picture of the relationship. In his short paper, ‘More Metempsychosis? The Influence of Charles Dickens on James Joyce’ (JJQ, Vol. 17, No. 4, Summer, 1980), J.W. Wheale considers ‘Bill Sikes as a prototype for the Citizen; Jenny Wren as a prototype for Gerty MacDowell; and Dickens’s use of the letters PJT as a source for Joyce’s use of HCE’ (in Finnegans Wake). And although Wheale cautions against getting too carried away in this vein, he seems to be well up for it nonetheless: ‘More obviously absurd are the surface parallels which may be easily found between their novels: Augustus Moddle in Mrs. Todger’s boarding house and Bob Doran in Mrs. Mooney’s; Dombey’s and Bloom’s shared frustrated paternity and possible cuckoldom’ … and so on and on.

In this picture—a loose rendering of Gustave Doré’s moody etching of Saint Paul’s and her surrounding buildings (the iconic image was used by David Lean in the set designs for his 1948  film Oliver Twist)—Dickens sits atop the great cathedral and looms over a diminutive Joyce, like Mister Bumble over young Oliver as he asks again for ‘more’. On his right shoulder, Dickens rests  Bumble’s beadle stick, at the end of which dangles Bloom’s bowler. Our time-travelling Joyce proleptically proffers a copy of Ulysses, like Oliver his bowl.


Despite the unrelenting competition, Ellmann remains Joyce’s greatest biographer and critic, his near-iconic status in Joyce scholarship unlikely to be surpassed soon, not least because he was one of the very first to submit Joyce to serious, comprehensive (and admiring) analysis. But because writers, all artists generally, have always been wary of critics—discerning enablers at best; talentless parasites at worst—Ellmann’s efforts weren’t always appreciated. Declan Kiberd (another great Joycean) writes: ‘It had been said that a literary revival occurred in Dublin because five or six people lived in the same city and hated one another cordially. Ellmann, entering this force-field just after World War Two, was bound to get caught in some of the crossfire. He remained convinced that he was the prime target of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem “Who Killed James Joyce?”:

Who killed James Joyce?
I, said the commentator,
I killed James Joyce
For my graduation.

What weapon was used
To slay mighty Ulysses?
The weapon that was used
Was a Harvard thesis.

The poem goes on for another three stanzas. And Kiberd continues: ‘Yet within a few more decades a less querulous generation of artists was celebrating Ellmann in works of high literature dedicated to him. The phoney war between writers and critics was over.’ (‘Joyce’s Ellmann, Ellmann’s Joyce’ in The Irish Writer and the World, CUP, 2005.)

In keeping with the spirit of Kavanagh’s poem, this drawing is modelled after a late-19th century rendering of ‘The Death of Cock Robin’ (illustration for Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, Ernest Nister, c. 1890).  Ellmann brandishes a bow and arrow loaded with critical ammunition of his own creation. Joyce has already been hit—the notes and jottings of Ellmann’s early research almost sufficient to slay him. An appalled Kavanagh rests his pint on Joyce’s blood-spattered breast. Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, dressed in mourning, stands by his head like the female robin in the original Victorian illustration. Behind Ellmann, the eternally-jealous Yeats looks on with a look of confused horror and near-delight.


The Belgium-born playwright and essayist had a thing or two to say about bees, more specifically about honeybees and the complex system of language they use to communicate. Joyce was keen to translate Maeterlinck’s La Vie des abeilles (The Life of the Bee), 1901, for the Irish Bee-Keeper, but was turned down. (Gillies, the editor, is said to have remarked: ‘I don’t think Maeterlinck ever kept a bee in his life.’) In Joyce’s Ulysses, some pages of the same journal show up on a book-cart (in The Wandering Rocks episode), because for his part Joyce didn’t discount Maeterlinck or the language of bees.

The ‘Abstract’ to Rachel Murray’s long article ‘Beelines: Joyce’s Apian Aesthetics’ (University of Bristol, 2017) considers ‘Joyce’s career-long fascination with non-human modes of communication, tracing his fascination with apian intelligence through close readings of Bloom’s bee-sting in Ulysses, as well as through the swarm of references that appear in Finnegans Wake. Finally, it argues that bees offer new ways of reading Joyce’s work, opening new lines of connection between the fields of literary criticism and apiculture, and drawing the reader to the peripheral hum or murmur at the edges of human speech.’

The final lines of Ulysses are full-to-bursting with Molly Bloom’s ecstatic reflections on life, love, food and flowers—the very things that would attract a swarm of humming, buzzing bees—from the seedcake that she passes to Bloom to ‘that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used …’ just like the ‘Yes’ rose pictured here, irresistible to the salivating Maeterlinck-bee. 


One of the world’s greatest living philosophers, the NYC-born Nussbaum is based at the University of Chicago where she is the Ernest Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics. As prolific a thinker as she is writer, her 2001 book Upheavals of Thought takes Platonism to task for its propensity to disregard the ‘lived’ real in favour of the abstract. The book is subtitled The Intelligence of Emotions, which suggests a theoretical parity with reason and logic as an approach to a well-lived life. Thought, when met with or informed by emotion, may well undergo an ‘upheaval’ but, as Martin Puchner writes in The Drama of Ideas, Nussbaum’s book stresses that ‘such upheavals are not necessarily a bad thing […] they are simply the form that the intelligence of emotions takes […] Indeed […] emotions  actually contain judgments about the world; in this way, they function as a deliberative process …’

Part III of Nussbaum’s book is titled ‘Ascents of Love’; here she grapples with Plato’s Symposium and its central metaphor of ‘Diotima’s Ladder’, with which one begins one’s ascent from the first rung with a desire for a particular man’s beautiful body until one reaches the last rung with a knowledge of the Form of Beauty itself, entirely abstracted from any one individual. But Nussbaum queries the very idea of the ascent trope precisely because it may be taken to endorse an unhealthy disregard for the real, and so too for continuing lived experience. After a consideration of Dante, Mahler, Proust and Whitman among others, Nussbaum closes her book with an assessment of Joyce’s Ulysses, which leads Puchner to ask: ‘Why bother ascending at all if the ascent causes problems for which the only remedy is the modernist literature of the everyday—precisely the […] literature that refuses the ladder? Indeed, Nussbaum herself describe[s] the trajectory of Joyce’s a descent rather than an ascent, an “upside-down ladder”.’

Nussbaum: ‘… ideals are valuable, indeed necessary […] and yet they run a risk, which Joyce’s text makes apparent: by lifting us above ourselves, they risk the cry of disgust when we discover our daily reality. But that cry of disgust, as Mahler’s work shows, is itself a grave threat to any continued devotion to the ideal. What seems required, then, is an idealism that also shows mercy and love to the real […] Only Poldy and Molly […] appear to embrace what is most human in love […] — and only this text seems to embrace the love of the real-life reader …’

As Nussbaum ascends the ladder—Molly’s rose between her teeth—she passes Joyce on his way down; they will reverse their respective directions in due course, and on and on, a form of contemplative exercise guaranteed to keep the two emotionally, rationally and, let’s hope, physically fit. Mens sana in corpore sano.