Genetic Joyce Studies - Issue 4 (Spring 2004)
James Joyce Interpreneur
Hans Walter Gabler

James Joyce's role in enterprisingly – entrepreneurly – interpreting Europe set in with a missed opportunity for Ireland, and the Irish Revival. The adolescent's keen interest in the continental drama is well known, as is the youthful Joyce's determination to acquaint himself with it at the source. He taught himself Norwegian to read Ibsen in the original; and well before he was twenty, he had acquired a good sense of who the important dramatists were in continental Europe, and what the theatre scene was like in Paris or Berlin. He spoke up publicly in "The Day of the Rabblement", taunting his fellow Irishmen for either not knowing, or worse, rejecting Ibsen, or Sudermann, or Giacosa, or Maeterlinck, or Strindberg, or Hauptmann.[1] At the age of 19, a sense of excitement had reached him from Berlin about Gerhart Hauptmann, the avant-garde dramatist, whose plays dealt with youth's revolutionary spring awakening, as well as with some of the most burning social questions that had arisen in Germany's (somewhat belated) industrial revolution towards the end of the 19th century. In the summer of his 20th year, Joyce treated himself to an autodidactic crash course in German that put him in the position, to the best of his belief, to translate two Gerhart Hauptmann plays: Vor Sonnenaufgang (Before Sunrise) and Michael Kramer.

Joyce set great store in his translations, copying them out calligraphically in black and purple ink. His heart may have failed him, however, about submitting them to the Irish National Theatre in 1901 – or he may even have resisted the idea of gaining a name as a translator before making his mark as a dramatist in his own right. This latter conclusion might be drawn from the peroration to "The Day of the Rabblement", the essay that the University College magazine St Stephen's refused to print and that Joyce therefore published privately in October 1901; here, he mentions Ibsen who lies dying in Christiania, and who "has already found his successor in the author of Michael Kramer, and the third minister will not be wanting when his hour comes. Even now that hour may be standing at the door." (Barry 52) It was eventually only in 1904 that Joyce took his Hauptmann translations round to William Butler Yeats, to be considered for the Abbey Theatre. Yeats gave them back to him, somewhat condescendingly remarking: "You know of course that you are not a very good German scholar"; and also, and more decisively: "We must get the ear of our public with Irish work."[2]

As regards Joyce's command of German, I am afraid, Yeats was absolutely right. I don't think I have ever laughed as much in a library as during the couple of hours I sat over the manuscript of Before Sunrise at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Just picture to yourself the young man [says Gabler, somewhat condescendingly in his turn] who had been trying to learn German for his dear life, only to find himself in the woeful plight of having to make sense of a German text written obscurely in the Silesian dialect. The howlers fall thick and fast, impossible for anyone not to get confounded by who assesses the English rendering, dictionary in hand, for faithfulness and adequacy. However, Yeats missed a truly amazing quality in Joyce's rendering (perhaps because he didn't yet know to look out for it). By sheer intuition, as it appears, Joyce grasped the essence of the original play texts that lay in Hauptmann's naturalistic employment of dialect speech. For this, Joyce invented an Irish equivalent out of the Anglo-Hibernian vernacular spoken all around him. Here are a few examples:

"me old cockey 'a bet 'at wus"

"such a hell iv a lot as them miners booses!"

"Clear the room! Every manjack a yez, clear!" [the original, tersely: "Räum ab!"]

"Dus 'a want jolly people to become mollies at home?"

"Thar's a crool twest on et .. thar es .. an' no mistake!"[3]

Without precedent, he thus already created the stage language that Synge, independently after him, invented a second time and (rightly, of course) takes credit for having publicly introduced.

Had the Abbey Theatre – let alone the Irish National Theatre before it – played Joyce's translations, Synge's revitalising of the Irish drama would have followed in the footsteps of the Joycean linguistic invention, by which he, Joyce, propped up his ardent desire to bring the continental drama to the Irish stage. The opportunity that the Irish Revival missed through Joyce's own hesitation to go to the Irish National Theatre with his Hauptmann texts, and subsequently through Yeats's rejection of Joyce's bid – however understandable that rejection – was that of opening itself to the avant-garde movement of continental drama and theatre. What we are left with, therefore, is to appreciate the nature, and beyond that only the might-have-been effect, of Joyce's heroic effort (to which Joyce criticism to this day, however, has not given its due). We can do this because the manuscript of the Vor Sonnenaufgang translation, at least, has survived (and has also been published in the edition cited above). Of the whereabouts of its companion piece, however, the translation of Michael Kramer, we know, alas, no more than that it is secreted in Mr Duffy's desk in "A Painful Case": "In the desk lay a manuscript translation of Hauptmann's Michael Kramer, the stage directions of which were written in purple ink" ("A Painful Case" 21f.).

This, so far, has been but a prologue to the topic I announced for this contribution: "James Joyce: Interpreting Ireland (and himself) to Trieste," or alternatively: "James Joyce Interpreneur". My cue for entering upon this topic comes from the question of languages, on which Joyce's abortive attempt to set his youthful mark on the dramatic scene of the Irish Revival already so virulently turned. Even as he was trying out new ways of making characters speak on the Irish stage, English was the language he was experimenting with. Even taking into account Wakese as the language Joyce developed in his later years, one need not retract the statement: Wakese can be – and usually is – subsumed under 'English'.

A language, though, that one wonders whether Joyce might not actually have wished to write in, but that he did not use, was Gaelic. Anyhow, how could he have? Whatever smatterings he may have had of it, he did not sufficiently know it to use it actively. It had not been a language of his childhood, he did not learn it in natural surroundings in his youth (there were no such natural surroundings in Dublin), and he resisted learning it in his student days – though the resistance was probably less against the Gaelic language than against the nationalist fervour of its propagators and the parochial insularity and isolationalism into which, in his view, this led, both politically and culturally. At the same time, we know that he allows his persona Stephen Dedalus to feel keenly that he is living familiarly in a linguistic exile. In the fifth chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he makes Stephen interpret to the Dean of Studies, an Englishman, in assumed Anglo-Saxon something that the Dean knows only by a word of French origin. (Anglo-Saxon is what Stephen, as the haughty young man that he is, takes to be the Englishman's root tongue.) What the Dean can merely label with the name of 'funnel', is, as Stephen gives it to him, a 'tundish' – a dish through which to fill up a tun. ("It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen laughing, where they speak the best English." [P V, 519-20] True or not, we may venture a shrewd guess that Joyce would have found the word in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. There are two incentives by which he would have remembered it: a funnel, or a tundish, is an implement through which you fill a tun, or a vat, or a barrel, or – why not? – a bottle, 'measure for measure'; and the usage in the play is frank: Claudio is to die "for filling a bottle with a tundish." Just the word – isn't it? – by which to enrich a jesuit Dean-of-Studies' vocabulary, and stimulate his imagination. And perhaps we had ourselves better investigate the alleged usage in 'Lower Drumcondra'. Couldn't Joyce, tongue in cheek, have translated the 'Netherlands' of the body geography in Comedy of Errors into a more homely Irish location? and so pulled our legs, doing his little bit of 'interpreting Europe'? What can be verified is that he added the adjective 'Lower' to 'Drumcondra' in revision.) – Stephen goes on to reflect:

The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.  (P V, 553-59)

We need not, I think, refrain from reading this as a metafictional, even authorially auto-reflexive, utterance. A linguistically split consciousness, such as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man shows Stephen to be aware of, may even have been a germ and main spring for the Joycean Pentecostal miracle of Wakese. Yet I do not wish to pursue, on the one hand, Stephen Dedalus's self-indulgent suffering from his non-command of Gaelic, or his suffering under the usurping sway of the English language, and of English speech; nor, on the other hand, do I wish to engage with that fascinating topic of Joyce's speaking and writing in many tongues in Finnegans Wake.

My subject now (at last) are Joyce's writings in Italian. They came about, as we know, because, in late 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle emigrated to Trieste. The circumstances of the new life that Joyce created for himself when he decided to leave Ireland appear to have induced in him some significant linguistic repositionings. If we accept that a real-life time in Joyce's biography stands behind the fictional biography of Stephen Dedalus, then we can say that, in terms of that real-life time, it was shortly after the Dublin period of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that James Joyce set out on his moves through Europe – where, to earn a living, his first concern was the teaching of English as a foreign language. In terms of his linguistic awareness, this cannot have failed to strengthen his sense of the interpretative functions of language and languages – a sense that, as we have seen, was already budding in Joyce's attempts to translate Gerhart Hauptmann, and in Stephen Dedalus's urge to teach the Dean of Studies English. I shall concentrate on Joyce's first move: his move to Trieste and its indigenous Italian-language surroundings. (There were the subsequent moves to German-language Zurich, and French-language Paris, but these I shall not address.)

Linguistically, in Trieste, Joyce rapidly adapted to the exile he had chosen. He adopted the language of the people. He had resisted Gaelic in Ireland (which, if it was not the language of the people, was at any rate there propagated as such). In Trieste he now trained himself, Nora and the children to Triestine Italian (Giorgio and Lucia, as they were growing up, would conveniently of course have been the natural family coaches). The language of the usurper – which was German in Austro-Hungarian Trieste – he shunned. And what was the coloniser's language in Ireland, namely English, usurped him now no longer. Freed from the Irish sufferance of the British dominion in language (as in all else), he outgrew Stephen Dedalus's 'unrest of spirit' and embraced English wholly as the original language of his writing, and, far from merely accommodating himself to it, infused it with the fresh originality of his art.

This can be thoroughly substantiated. Leaving aside his early lyrics, the Chamber Music poems and his "Epiphanies", as well as the early pieces of occasional criticism (which included some essays for newspapers and a few public lectures), what Joyce had written towards his main oeuvre before he left Dublin was no more than the first seven chapters of Stephen Hero, plus three short stories, two of which actually saw publication in The Irish Homestead. But it was in fact only in Pola and Trieste that his sustained fictional writing set in in earnest. This meant initially that he carried forward Stephen Hero, which by the summer of 1905 reached its 25th chapter, before it was abandoned. But very soon his short stories as well began to accumulate. At first they did so concurrently with Stephen Hero; yet from the second half of 1905 onwards, he gave them his single-minded attention, as they took shape towards a collection, to be called Dubliners. (In June 1905, his son Giorgio was born. That is, Joyce turned away from Stephen Hero, and wholly towards the stories, as he became a father, and was no longer a 'young man'. I believe the connection is not altogether fortuitous.) By the time that, after the completion of Dubliners, he retrenched his novelistic ambition and set about writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Trieste from 1907 onwards, it was indeed in retrospect that he composed that 'portrait of a young man'. What Stephen Dedalus was so sure of – "His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words" – was what James Joyce was now leaving thoroughly behind. In real life, the attitude and the sentiment were no longer his.

In the exuberance of the situation, and with a steady consistency over the middle period of his Triestine years, Joyce also took to writing in Italian. His main impulse in this, it appears, was interpretative: He assisted in the translation of Synge's Riders to the Sea, he lectured in institutions of adult education in Trieste, and he wrote articles on a variety of Irish subjects for the newspaper Il Piccolo della Sera, all with a desire to bring things Irish – history and politics, myth and religion, culture and lore – to the knowledge and appreciation of his fellow Triestines. Needless to say – for such was his wont in all his writing – he integrated into this also much self-interpretation.

The project of interpreting Irland through articles in the Piccolo della Sera was not entirely original with James Joyce. The request for contributions on Irish matters came through Roberto Prezioso, acting for the paper. But the ways of executing the project in three articles in 1907, two in 1909 and another four in 1912, were very much Joyce's own.[4] The first two pieces, "Fenianism: The Last Fenian" and "Home Rule Comes of Age" (to give them here their English titles), addressed political questions of the day and were somewhat tentative exercises in the medium, the journalistic mode (though this was not new to Joyce), and the Italian language. The third essay of 1907, "Ireland at the Bar" (and this is not a Joycean pun: 'through a glass darkly'), even as it tells a story and articulates a message, is fully assured of what it is doing, and it uses story and message to reflect on its own literary nature and journalistic purpose. The narrative has two central characters, a man by the name of Joyce, and an interpreter. (In fact, as you will see: apart from the interpreter and the judge, who is the third character in the cast, just about everybody else in the story, dead or alive, bears the name of Joyce.) This is the story, and the message:

Ireland at the Bar

Several years ago a sensational trial was held in Ireland. In the western province, at a lonely place called Maamtrasna, several people were murdered.

[They were a John Joyce, his wife, his mother, and his children.]

Four or five peasants of the village, all belonging to the old Joyce tribe, were arrested.

[By family name, they were either Joyces, or Caseys – there may indeed have been a criminal streak running up to the Mr Casey who, at the Christmas dinner table in Portrait, is just back from prison where he got permanently cramped fingers 'from making a birthday present for Queen Victoria'.]

The eldest amongst them, a certain Miles Joyce, an old man of sixty years, was particularly suspect . . .The old man, as well as the other prisoners knew no English. The court was obliged to have recourse to the services of an interpreter. The cross-examination conducted with the help of this individual was sometimes tragic and sometimes comic. On one side there was the official interpreter and on the other the patriarch of the wretched tribe, who being little used to civil customs, seemed stupified by all those judicial proceedings.

The magistrate said: "Ask the accused whether he saw the woman on that morning."

The question was repeated to him in Irish and the old man burst into complicated explanations gesturing, appealing to the other accused men & to heaven. Then worn out by the effort, he was silent again and the interpreter, addressing the magistrate, said:

– He says that he did not, your worship.

– Ask him whether he was close by that place at that time.

The old man began again speaking and protesting; shouting, almost beside himself with the anguish of not understanding and of not making himself understood, weeping with anger and terror. And the interpreter, again drily:

– He says no, your worship.

At the end of the cross-examination the poor old man was found guilty and the case was sent forward to the Higher Court, which sentenced him to death. On the day of the execution of the sentence the square in front of the gaol was filled with people who on their knees were howling prayers in Irish for the repose of poor Miles Joyce's soul. Legend says that even the hangman could not make himself understood by the victim and that losing patience, he gave the miserable man's head a kick to thrust it into the noose.

The figure of this stupefied old man, the relic of a civilization which is not ours, deaf and dumb before his judge, is the figure of the Irish people at the bar of public opinion. Like him, it cannot appeal to the modern conscience of England and foreign countries. The English newspapers act as interpreters between Ireland and English democracy, which though now and then it lends an ear, ends by being wearied by the eternal eloquence of the nationalist deputies, who have come into its house, as it thinks, to trouble its order and to extort money. . . . The public, skimming through the telegrams which arrive from London and which though without acrimony, still keep something of the laconicism of the above-mentioned interpreter, then imagine the Irish to be robbers with misshapen faces, who go raiding by night, in order to kill off unionists. And the news reaches the real monarch of Ireland, the Pope, like the yelping of dogs in Church. The cries, faint from the long journey have already almost died down when they arrive at the bronze door and the messengers of the country that in past times never denied the Holy See, the only Catholic country for which faith also means the practice of that faith, are rejected in favour of the envoy of a monarch who, the descendant of apostates, solemnly apostatized himself on the day of his coronation, affirming before his nobles and the Commons that the rites of the Roman-Catholic Church are "superstition and idolatry".

In the Italian original the last paragraph reads:

Il pubblico sfiorando i dispacci giunti da Londra, che pur mancando di acredine, hanno qualche cosa della laconicità dell'interprete suddetto, si figura allora gli irlandesi come malandrini, dai visi assimetrici, scorazzanti nella notte collo scopo di fare la pelle ad ogni unionista. E al vero sovrano dell'Irlanda, il papa, tali notizie giungono come tanti cani in chiesa; le grida, infiacchite dal viaggio lungo, sono già quasi spente, quando arrivano alla porta di bronzo: i messi del popolo che non rinnegò mai nel passato la Santa Sede, l'unico popolo cattolico per quale la fede vuol dire anche l'esercizio della fede, vengono respinti in favore dei messi di un monarca, il quale, discendente di apostati, s'apostatizzò solennemente nel giorno della sua consacrazione, dichiarando in presenza dei suoi nobili e comuni che i riti della chiesa romano-cattolica sono "superstizione ed idolatria".

"–A beautiful language." – rhapsodises Leopold Bloom. – "I mean for singing purposes. Why do you not write your poetry in that language? Bella Poetria! It is so melodious and full. .... Stephen ... replied: ––To fill the ear of a cow elephant. They were haggling over money." (U 16.345-350) Or, as we might say: Interpreting Europe – n'est-ce pas? – As for the article itself, a relatively pedestrian end is added to it, giving statistics about the distribution of Irish people over the world, reflecting on the six hundred years of military occupation that Ireland has been subjected to, deploring everybody's incapability of understanding the intricate problems connected with the Irish situation, and rejecting categorically that Ireland be a country of exceptional criminality: "This is a most erroneous opinion." (It sounds almost as if Mr Deasy has taken over the pen.) "Criminality in Ireland is inferior to that of any other country in Europe; organized criminals do not exist in Ireland; when one of those facts happens, which Parisian journalists with atrocious irony call a red idyll, the whole country is shocked by it."

Yet, the anticlimactic ending apart – anticlimactic, that is, in aesthetic terms – it is with "L'Irlanda alla Sbarra" ["Ireland at the Bar"] that Joyce found the mode most congenial to him for his journalism in Il Piccolo della Sera on behalf of Irish causes. If poor old Miles Joyce is, as the text says, "the figure of the Irish people at the bar of public opinion," then "L'Irlanda alla Sbarra" in turn configurates the pattern for James Joyce's 'most trenchant rendition' of Ireland to the Triestines (to which ironic allusion to Tom Kernan's phrase in "Sirens", I would also add seriously that Joyce's use here of the term 'figure' has of course the scholastic ring – if not the true scholastic stink (P V, 1439) – of medieval theological usage).

The rhetoric strategy is transparent. It depends on narrative: the story told figures forth the subject and theme; and the rhetorical persuasion derives from a most fetching art of language. The moral to be drawn from the sensational story of a sordid court case in the remote westerly provinces of Ireland is brought home with a consummate mastery of register and style. Thus, the text I have quoted at length is in fact essentially structured like an emblem, where the story corresponds to the emblematic image and the peroration to the moralising subscription obligatory in pictorial emblematic art.

The blend of rhetorical devices is not always as effective and successful throughout the Piccolo della Sera contributions as it is here. The point I am trying to make, however, is that the emblematic story-telling accomplished in "L'Irlanda alla Sbarra" may be taken to represent the mode Joyce found for himself of translating into journalism the messages, opinions and analyses that he wished to convey to his Triestine readers. Seen against the wider background of his writing, none of the parameters of his journalistic mode are of course entirely new. The studied, and at times turgid, abstract language which characterises the initial Piccolo della Sera pieces wholly, and which persists as an ingredient in all of them, harkens back to the ways Joyce had with language in his Dublin years before he became a writer of fiction. The emblematic narratives, by contrast, are of the family of the Dubliners stories (perhaps their minor relations). What they signify is the delight Joyce here takes in adapting his literary art to his temporary trade of journalistic writing, discovering for himself a common trade secret of journalism, namely that to reach an audience, you must translate and interpret. A main vehicle for such translation and interpretation is the narrative invention, conveying message and argument through a fictionalised indirection. What the fictional encoding reciprocally relies on is then of course the epiphanic decoding, and the release of receptive energy that this implies. That the process of reception should thus be an active process of insight was, we may confidently posit, a thoroughly Joycean assumption about the nature and purpose of his art.

On at least one occasion in the course of his writing for Il Piccolo della Sera we may observe, in addition, that Joyce took the process a step or two further towards self-interpretation and self-insight. At any rate, this is what I believe can be made out behind the veil – or is it the seven veils? – of the manifest text of "Oscar Wilde: il poeta di 'Salomè'" ["Oscar Wilde: the poet of 'Salome'"]. What occasioned the article was the first performance in Trieste, in March 1909, of Richard Strauss's opera to the text, in a German translation, of Oscar Wilde's original French version of Salome – yet another instance of 'interpreting Europe'. There is nothing in Joyce's piece, however, either of Salome, or of the languages of its texts, or of the opera, or of Richard Strauss, its composer. It is an article on "Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. Such were the high-sounding titles which he, with juvenile arrogance – no: 'in the pride of his youth' (as an interlinear revision in an unidentified hand has it) – had printed on the title-page of his first collection of poems, and with that same arrogance with which he thought to emblazon his name he carved, perhaps symbolically, the signs of his vain pretentions and the destiny that already awaited him." Thus the exordium. And at once, Wilde becomes the vehicle by which to communicate, to the Triestine readers, a piece of Irish mythology that already, in turn, mythologises Wilde's own life:

His name stands as a symbol for him: Oscar, the nephew of King Fingal and Ossian's only son in the amorphous Celtic Odyssey, treacherously killed by his guest's hand while he was sitting at table: O'Flahertie, the ferocious Irish tribe whose destiny it was to assail the gate of medieval towns, and whose name, striking terror into the peace-loving, is still recited at end of the old litany of the saints together with the plague, the wrath of God and the spirit of fornication: "from the ferocious O'Flaherties" 'libera nos Domine'. Like that Oscar, he too, in the prime of his life, was to meet his civil death, while sitting at table, crowned with artificial wine-leaves and discoursing of Plato: like that wild tribe he would break the lance of his paradoxical eloquence against the band of useful conventionalism: and hear, an exiled and dishonoured man, the chorus of the just rehearse his name coupled with that of the impure spirit.

What a delicious Joycean text, if you come to think of it. In terms of Ulysses, we are close to "Cyclops". Would he have written up such a mythicized ancestral tree in Dublin? It is hard to imagine. Among revivalists, he would have been too much in danger of being taken seriously. To be taken straight in Trieste was no threat; it would not put him in the wrong camp. Thus, he could present his readers with a cameo of Irish mythic idealising, and at the same time have a good chuckle with Stannie over how well he had done it.

Which is not to say that the story of the wronged and exiled Dublin-born English writer didn't, in the telling, increasingly get under his skin. The story begins with Wilde's parents (the father a scientist of renown, the mother a spokeswoman of the literary-revolutionary movement of 1848 who would so have wished Oscar to be a daughter); and the boy's growing up 'in an atmosphere of excess and extravagance.' Wilde's Oxford years in the Ruskin circle are touched on, and his aestheticism in poverty as well as affluence in London evoked: "Wilde, carrying on that literary tradition of Irish playwrights which stretches from the time of Sheridan and Goldsmith to Bernard Shaw, came, like them, to be the court jester for the English." And then his downfall: "His fall was greeted with a howl of Puritan joy"; his humiliation, ignominy, and death: "he died a Roman Catholic, adding to the failure of his civil life his own denial of his proud teaching. After deriding the idols of the market-place, the man who was one day the singer of the divinity of joy, bent his knee, a pitiable and sorrowful figure, and concluded the chapter of his rebellion of the spirit with an act of spiritual surrender."

The biographical sketch, extending to about two thirds of the article, proves yet to be only the prelude to the harsh criticism of the British educational and legal systems and of the social realities in England that follows, and which leads to reflections on the perverse Christianity – "the throbbing centre of Wilde's art: sin" – underlying the conflict between the turn-of-the-century society and the non-conforming, 'sinning' individual. There is great empathy in the conclusion. For all the ironic distance from its subject with which the article begins, it ends in lucid appreciation of Wilde's exceptional stature and a nearly felt comprehension of the existential threat that lies in moral and literary non-conformism and in personal exile. Interpreting Oscar Wilde to his Triestine readers, Joyce interprets to them – or at the very least, to himself – also something of himself:

In his last book "De Profundis" he bows down before a gnostic Christ, that had risen from the apocryphal pages of "A House of Pomegranates", and then his real soul, tremulous, timorous and sorrowful, shines through the mantle of Heliogabalus. His fantastic legend, his work, which instead of being a revelation of his soul is a polyphonic variation on the theme of the relations between art and nature, his golden books, sparkling with those epigrammatic phrases which made him, in the eyes of some, the wittiest speaker of the last century, are now a divided booty.

A line from the book of Job is carved on his tomb in the poor churchyard in Bagneux. It praises his elequence, "eloquium suum", the great legendary mantle which is now a divided booty. The future perhaps will carve there another line, less proud and more piteous: "Partiti sunt sibi vestimenta mea et super vestem meam miserunt sortes.

"I may not be the Jesus Christ I once fondly imagined myself, but I think I must have a talent for journalism," as Joyce, much satisfied with his Piccolo della Sera contributions, commented to his brother Stanislaus (Joyce cited in Barry, xiii). In Portrait, as we know, it is Stephen Dedalus who acts out the identification. Here, by means of the imagined future inscription on his gravestone, it is displaced onto Oscar Wilde. The Italian text is as cadentially rhythmical in the article's last sentence: "Il futuro potrà forse scolpire là un altro verso, meno altiero, più pietoso: "Partiti sunt sibi vestimenta mea...", etc. The rhythm is virtually identical in Italian and in English: "The future perhaps will carve there another line, less proud and more piteous." Or, let us take the opening of the last paragraph: "Nell'ultimo suo libro "De Profundis" si inchina davanti ad un Cristo gnostico, risorto dalle pagine apocrife della "Casa del Melagrani" ed allora sua vera anima, tremula, timida e rattristata, traluce attraverso il manto di Eliogabalo." "...allora sua vera anima, tremula, timida e rattristata, traluce attraverso il manto di Eliogabalo": we know that this is Joyce's own text, he wrote the Italian contributions to Il Piccolo della Sera; and of course we also recognise, the shift in the language notwithstanding, the peculiar lilt of the Pater-Wildean poeticisms reminiscent of the fourth chapter (especially) of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and this in an article on Wilde: Samuel Beckett was not for nothing to assert in later years that Joyce's writing 'was not about something; it was that something itself'). But who, we must stop to wonder, wrote the English equivalent: "and then his real soul, tremulous, timorous and sorrowful, shines through the mantle of Heliogabalus"; and who speaks of the future line on Wilde's gravestone, "meno altiero, più pietoso" as "less proud, more piteous" (for all that it is the cognate of 'pietoso', 'piteous' is very much an adjective in the style of Joyce, the artist as a young man)? Who did truly write and rhythmicize in English the peroration to "Ireland at the Bar" that we quoted, giving it not only its irresistible rhythmic drive, but also varying the double 'i messi' ... 'i messi' of the Italian to 'the messengers' ... 'the envoy'? Who, similarly, was responsible for driving home the article on "The Shadow of Parnell" with "In his intimate fiery appeal to his nation he implored his countrymen not to throw him to the English wolves who were howling around him. It redounds to the honour of his countrymen that they did not fail him at that desperate appeal. They did not throw him to the English wolves; they tore him to pieces themselves."[5] And who was it that worded Dublin's readying itself for the Annual Horse Show: "La città veste da sposa novella" as 'the ... town arrays itself as for a bridal'? Or who decided, for the essay "The City of the Tribes", and in talking about the house of the Lynches in the central street of Galway – "il triste e scuro castello che ancora nereggia nelle via principale" – to abandon the Italian description of it as 'blackening the street' and instead to say "a bleak, dark castle which still stands a black mass in the main street"?

No, don't anticipate me wrongly: I am not arguing that the translation fragments in typescript that have survived from the Triestine years of the Joyces are hitherto unrecognised or unacknowledged translations that James Joyce made himself of his Italian writings. I have quoted in this paper from these translations,[6] and not from either the Mason/Ellmann mid-20th century/mid-Atlantic one,[7] nor from the more recent re-translation prepared by Conor Deane for the World's Classics (Barry) volume, because not only are the translation fragments in typescript closest in time, and thus in English usage, to the Italian originals. I can also not help suspecting that in the course of an effort that is likely to have involved a team of collaborators from the Triestine circle of family and friends, James Joyce himself, too, worked over intermediate stages of the translated texts. There was the opportunity, and there was a hoped-for occasion. Giorgio Melchiori has established that there was an attempt to collect Joyce's Italian pieces in book form, but that the intended 'socialist Genoese publisher, Angelo Fortunato Formiggini', eventually declined to undertake the venture. The next plan was to publish the collection in English.[8] Let us assume that the typescript fragments that survive represent traces of this attempt. It would stand to reason that James Joyce – while undoubtedly not the main translator – was also himself involved. In the end, however, here was another opportunity missed: Joyce was, alas, never given the chance of making his Italian writings known in English, so as, through his Irish indirection, to tell the Brits what he thought of them. But the unpublished translation fragments, while collaborative, are very likely related genuinely to the Joycean oeuvre.[9]


[1] James Joyce, Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. Kevin Barry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. (Oxford World's Classics) (subsequently cited as Barry); "The Day of the Rabblement" pp. 50-52.

[2] Cited in Jill Perkins (ed.), Joyce and Hauptmann: Before Sunrise. [Pasadena]: Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, 1978, pp. 9-10.

[3] These examples are taken from Jill Perkins's edition, Chapter IV: "Critical Commentary", p. 34.

[4] The Italian originals are now available in Barry, Appendix, pp. 217-243, and are followed there (pp. 244-288) by the remainder of Joyce's Triestine Italian writings.

[5] The imagery, be it noted in passing, is taken over from Richard Barry O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stuart Parnell (1899). The rhetoric in the Italian is Joyce's, and the English and Italian versions are closely modelled on each other (see further note 8).

[6] Reproduced in The James Joyce Archive, vol. [2], New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1978, pp. 653-703.

[7] The Critical Writings of James Joyce, ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann. London: Faber and Faber, 1959.

[8] see further Barry, pp. x-xii.

[9] On hearing this paper delivered, Gerry Dukes suggested investigating – and, if nothing else, eliminating – the possibility that the typescript fragments derive from Joycean try-outs in English in preparation for the Italian texts for Il Piccolo della Sera.