JAMES JOYCE: A Portrait of the Artist by Start Gelber Davies

JAMES JOYCE: A Portrait of the Artist

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Heretofore the impeccable 1959 Ellmann biography of Joyce has had no competition, but since Davies finds it has ""too much of the monument about it,"" he has written a life in another mold--lively, congenial and altogether human. It is, as he says, ""short on critical waffle,"" and rather more emphatically on the side of risque gossip. Thus, the weight given to Joyce's sexuality and to the censorship struggle which by now seems so absurd as to be forgettable. One of the greatest differences between Davies and Ellmann--the rest of the story is virtually identical--is his claim, buttressed by Budgen's account of an assignation at his studio, that Joyce had carnal relations with Marthe Fleischmann in Zurich. While the sources are the same, Davies' Joyce is less the artist than the bad boy. He agrees in tone and substance with poor Stannie, who was his brother's keeper: Joyce was a drunk, a spendthrift, a liar, a conscienceless borrower, a bankrupt and an arrogant s.o.b. A genius, yes, but that's no excuse for such bad manners. His dealings with prostitutes come under examination, as well as his contemplated desertion of Nora, their exchange of pornographic masturbatory letters, his rudeness to every other writer who walked the earth, his whining and paranoia, etc., etc. This is not the Joyce of Ulysses so much as it is the Joyce of the dirty limerick. But who's to say that the general public, who may not choose to spend the ""centuries"" Joyce charged it would take the professors to read him, won't prefer this mean-spirited and Earwickian old sot to the forbidding father of modern literature?

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Stein & Day