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Tuesday 28 January 2020

Ireland's rejection of Joyce was cause of bitterness for his wife

The writer was dubbed a creator of immoral books and no officials would go to his funeral, says Anthony J Jordan

Anthony J Jordan
Anthony J Jordan

Anthony J Jordan

Desmond FitzGerald, the father of former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, himself a poet, called on James Joyce in Paris after the publication of Joyce's Ulysses. He promised Joyce that he would propose to the Irish government, of which he was a member, that it should nominate Joyce for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Joyce later commented to his brother Stanislaus that such a proposal could lead to FitzGerald losing his portfolio - and in fact, Joyce was never nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Unplugged, a new biography of James Joyce, by Anthony J Jordan
Unplugged, a new biography of James Joyce, by Anthony J Jordan

Some cemeteries around the world have become major tourist centres due to the graves of famous people. One thinks of Oscar Wilde at Pere-Lachaise, Paris, or Shakespeare in Stratford, England.

Glasnevin Cemetery, in Dublin, is making great strides to become such a centre. However, it lacks what is termed in the business as a gold-plated grave which would immediately be recognised worldwide.

There is one such grave in Ireland - that of WB Yeats, at Drumcliffe, Co Sligo. Ironically, when Yeats's body was repatriated to Ireland from France in 1948, an opportunity arose for a brief period, to repatriate the remains of an even more famous Irish writer back to Glasnevin cemetery - those of James Joyce.

When Joyce died in Zurich in January 1941, his family had to borrow the price of his funeral - in a small grave which could accommodate only one coffin.

James Joyce.
James Joyce.

Sean Lester, the Geneva-based secretary-general of the League of Nations (who had a long meeting with Joyce just a month before his death), asked Frank Cremin, the Irish charge d'affaires in Zurich, to represent Ireland at the funeral. He did not attend - apparently under instruction from de Valera's government - and Lord Derwent, the British minister in Berne, was the main speaker at Joyce's graveside in Fluntern cemetery.

Derwent said: "George Moore is gone; Yeats is gone; and now Joyce. But of one thing I am sure - whatever be the rights and wrongs of the relations between England and Ireland, I know Ireland will continue to take the finest and most ironical revenge on us; she will go on giving us great men of letters."

When the story of Yeats's repatriation to Ireland became public in 1948, Joyce's wife Nora hoped that her husband's body might also be repatriated to the Joyce family grave in Glasnevin. But the opportunity was allowed to pass.

Sean MacBride was Minister of External Affairs and had close personal and familial relationships with Yeats. He represented his mother Maud Gonne MacBride, at the service in Drumcliffe.

Joyce, despite spending his life writing about Dublin and Dubliners, was still infra dig in Ireland as the writer of immoral books.

This was in spite of his close relationship with one of the founders of the modern Irish State, Arthur Griffith, who had defended Joyce against censorship and who, in recognition of their dual mission to free the Irish people spiritually, politically and economically, was featured throughout Joyce's magnum opus Ulysses.

The opportunity of repatriation passed - and left a sense of bitterness with Nora Joyce and her family.

Another loss resulted when one of Joyce's most famous manuscripts Finnegans Wake was lost to the British Museum. The manuscript was sent by Joyce to his patron Harriet Weaver in various stages over many years. She was appointed his executor after his death.

Speaking of the vast number of pages of manuscript she had accumulated over the years, Miss Weaver said: "There was no arrangement whatever between Mr Joyce and myself about this. He just took to sending them and I kept safely whatever came to me."

She intended to present the manuscript to the National Library of Ireland.

Sean MacBride, still Minister of External Affairs, was moved to write an ingratiating letter to Nora Joyce telling her that the Irish government was proud to call James Joyce one of the greatest Europeans of all time and also a son of Ireland.

This cut little ice with the recipient.

In fact, when Nora Joyce heard of the intention to donate the manuscript to the National Library of Ireland, she objected and insisted that it be given to the British Museum.

This has since become one of the most famous objet d'arts in the world, drawing vast numbers of visitors to the British Museum each year.

Luckily for Ireland, Miss Weaver was adamant that the National Library of Ireland would receive the manuscript of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

She wrote to Dr RJ Hayes, director of the National Library, thus: "I did not discuss with Mrs Joyce the disposal of the manuscript of A Portrait which Mr Joyce gave to me a long time ago.

I should like to give this to the National Library of Ireland, if you would care to have it. It really is a fair copy made for the typist and without corrections.

"I should also be pleased to give you for the library - and I think Lucia Joyce would be pleased too - the wonderful illuminated initial letters she made (urged on by her father) for the Chaucer ABC."

Miss Weaver presented the manuscript of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to the Irish Ambassador in London, FH Boland (himself the father of another poet, Eavan Boland) for transmission to the National Library, in Dublin.

Anthony J Jordan's new biography, James Joyce Unplugged, is published by westportbooks@yahoo.co.ie

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