Friday 23 February 2018

Author felt Joyce had a 'persecution mania'

Writer Frank O'Connor recalls bizarre encounter with 'Ulysses' scribe in newly released recordings, says Orlaith O'Neill

Orlaith O'Neill

Ulysses author James Joyce suffered from a "persecution mania" according to another famous Irish author, the late Frank O'Connor.

After a bizarre encounter, the author of short stories such as Guests of a Nation felt that the internationally notorious Joyce suffered from what he called "persecution" and "associative" mania.

"I only met Joyce once, that was in the late Twenties when he was living in the Rue de Grenelle in Paris. It was a very comfortable apartment and the most striking thing in it was a magnificent portrait of his father by the Dublin painter Tuohy. There were a whole lot of other portraits of ancestors which weren't at all magnificent, they'd been done by Victorian artists in Cork," said O'Connor.

The unreleased recordings of O'Connor and other Irish poets and writers is part of a new three-CD set released by the British Library and called The Spoken Word: Irish Poets and Writers – I Will Arise.

During their meeting, Joyce, who grew up in Dublin but whose family came from Cork, was mostly pre-occupied by his family's ancestral city, which was O'Connor's birthplace.

"Aren't you from Cork?" was the first thing Joyce, the author of Dubliners, asked. "Do they still call a penny a lob?"

"They never called a penny a lob in Cork, we call it a lop," said O'Connor.

The pair then got talking about his famous book Ulysses. "I explained that every educated young fellow in Ireland knew Ulysses almost by heart, he obviously didn't believe a word I said.

"He explained to me that it was quite impossible that young fellows could know it because you just couldn't get copies of Ulysses in Ireland."

They then talked about a family they both knew, also from Cork, who had asked O'Connor what "all the fuss was about over this terrible, indecent book Ulysses" and couldn't believe that such an "immoral book" was written by the "awfully, gentle, quiet, decent young fellah" they knew as James Joyce.

The encounter became even more "curious" when he and another visitor were leaving and Joyce, his wife Nora and son Georgio burst into an animated conversation in Italian.

"It was very, very strange suddenly getting this shock from these extremely Irish people, realising that their natural language was Italian," said O'Connor. "I think the visitor must have felt he was being slightly insulted because he started a violent conversation with me in Irish."

As he was standing in the hallway, O'Connor saw a small print of the River Lee in Cork city.

"I put my hand on it and said 'that's rather nice, what's that?' And Joyce said, 'that's Cork', and I said , 'yes, yes! I know it's Cork but what's the frame made of?' and Joyce said, 'that's cork'. Then he said, 'I had great trouble getting the French frame makers to make it, they said they never made a frame of cork before'.

"I felt a little bit dizzy after that and it struck me that the man was suffering slightly from associative mania."

Also included in the set of three CDs compiled by the British Library are previously unreleased historic recordings of writers Sean O'Casey, Elizabeth Bowen, Liam O'Flaherty and others talking about their life and work, as well as conversations with poets Patrick Kavanagh and WB Yeats.

Irish Independent

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