18 October 2014

Djuna Barnes - Portrait of the Man Who is, at Present, One of the More Significant Figures in Literature

Published in Vanity Fair - April 1922

Djuna Barnes
There are men in Dublin who will tell you that out of Ireland a great voice has gone; and there are a few women, lost to youth, who will add: ''One night he was singing and the next he wasn't, and there's been no silence the like of it! For the singing voice of James Joyce, author of The Portrait of the Artist as a young Man and of Ulysses is said to have been second to none.
The thought that Joyce was once a singer may not come as a revelation to the casual reader of his books; one must perhaps have spent one of those strangely aloof evenings with him, or have read passages of his Ulysses, as it appeared in The Little Review to have realized the singing quality of his words. For tradition has it that a singer must have a touch of bravado, a joyous putting forth of first the right leg and then the left, and a sigh or two this side of the cloister, and Joyce has none of these.
James Joyce
I had read Dubliners over my coffee during the war, I had been on one or two theatrical committees just long enough to suggest the production of Exiles, his only play. The Portrait had been consumed, turning from one elbow to the other, but it was not until I came upon his last work that I sensed the singer. Lines like: ''So stood they both awhile in wan hope sorrowing one with other'' or ''Thither the extremely large wains bring poison of the fields, spherical potatoes and iridescent kale and onions, pearls of the earth, and red, green,yellow, russet, sweet, big bitter ripe pomillated apples and strawberries fit for princes and raspberries from their canes'', or still better the singing humour in that delicious execution scene in which the ''learned prelate knelt in a most Christian spirit in a pool of rainwater''.

Yes, then I realized Joyce must indeed have begun life as a singer, and a very tender singer, and - because no voice can hold out over the brutalities of life without breaking - he turned to quill and paper, for so he could arrange, the necessary silence, the abundant inadequacies of life, as a laying out of jewels - jewels with a will to decay.

To read more, go to:  Vanity Fair

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