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James Joyce's Life Revisited on the 80th anniversary of his death

Dear readers of my blog,

this is not yet what I announced to start publishing this year. At the same, the sequence of seven poems on James Joyce, published to coincide with the 80th anniversary of his death tomorrow, is taken from the collection that I hope to present here in the next few months.

Reading Joyce's works since the autumn of 1983, which was earlier than I started to study Oscar Wilde who was not on the syllabus of Dundee University at the time, I have been writing on his life and work since 1984. One of my student essays at Dundee University was on his first novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". At the time, I did not know that this title is in a way derived from the first chapter of "The Picture of Dorian Gray", which, in another way, is also a novel portraying an artist.

Turning from criticism to biography, I published a biography of James Joyce in 2004, which was re-issued in 2009 when I had so much left over, which simply did not fit into the framework of a non-fiction book, that I took advantage of travelling to Luxembourg to write the following pieces. "Written to the moment", they both refer to the moment of writing them and to moments in Joyce's life.

Since all social and cultural activities have been ruled out, a celebration planned at Nuremberg last weekend had to be cancelled, too. Projected by the indefatigable Maria Eger, everybody who would have liked to attend now needs to do what is still possible: read Joyce, think of Joyce, cook the food he wrote about, listen to the music he referred to and wait for the moment when social gatherings in his name are again a possibility.

Normally, posting a blog post, sorry for that untimely repetition does not mean I need to return to the text three or four times in an hour but in Joyce's and Wilde's case this is necessary because both of them could be called famous or infamous for their tendency to revise what they had written. So I need to do so, too, when writing about either of them.

With this fifth version - you see I added a paragraph at least every second revision I made - I hope to have reached the end for the time being but you should never say never for others may spot corrections.


James Joyce’s Life Revisited


Minestrone at Zürich

Unused to clean pavements

either in Dublin or in Trieste

Joyce was wont to crack the odd joke

when after the journey across Austria

his family of four finally set foot

on clean Bahnhofstrasse later also publishing a poem.

Not a Cape of Good Hope

for the discoverer of good old Europe

in autumn 1904 the Pension Hoffnung

eleven years on became the point

of departure for one of the

least momentous of such phases as the portrait –

he had had an unnamed protagonist

say in a forgotten essay – of an artist

was to consist of. Rather than ladling

out the soup prepared by herself

which like many of these chores wasn’t her

cup of tea his mate preferred patronising

the same restaurants where he one day

would spot his favourite white wine:

Fendant de Sion. Such a generous even

Profligate patron as JJ wouldn’t mind

having a sponsor let alone a patron

himself and he happened to acquire one in Zürich.

While some recall the arrival of the

first anonymous cheque to have coincided

with one of JJ’s fits of blindness

there are others who have him happily

act the spendthrift he freely admitted

to have been from his father’s side.

With Dublin a city he left for good

in 1912 after only three visits since 1904

and Trieste a haven he couldn’t care for less

after the war while Rome proved intolerable

after seven months and Paris the

place where he finally found fame

it was Zürich which he turned to first

in October 1904 and last

36 yeas later when the second war

made him & his family leave the city of light

for the darkness of the Zone libre

where his peaceful mission of Finnegans Wake

remained unknown even at the

Hôtel de la Paix. Writing letters

at a pace he had never written

prose or poetry before he eventually succeeded

in obtaining travel permits for his loved ones

except for daughter Lucia lingering in occupied France.

The day he breathed his last

in hospital where he’d hardly wanted to be

he’d stopped writing letters some days before

trying to help his brother Stanislaus

stuck in the clutches

of another régime in another war

for the only reason that he couldn’t

but clutch the little comfort

he’d always craved

and remained unwilling to yield

for the sake of freely carrying around

his portable fatherland:

the English language that brother James

would always take with him first

then the family portraits

never the pot to stir porridge in

or Irish stew before it was yet again

time to say good-bye.

Düsseldorf – Remagen, 5 July 2009




Travelling around

Surely not descended from tinkers

JJ early learned though the lesson of travelling light

when as the eldest of many surviving siblings

he witnessed the dwindling of family possessions

the household moved with from home to home

in the North of Dublin so that once himself

a family man he insisted on keeping

a flat in Trieste although his brother

would’ve to pay the rent in their absence.

Travel light but keep your pied à terre in either

Trieste Zürich or Paris furnished or unfurnished

that he might return and pick up papers

ready to be recycled for his current chapter

or ask someone like Italo Svevo

aka Hector Aron Schmitz to take it

to Paris thus sparing the post office

the responsibility of losing such a precious

parcel of papers only JJ could use

for any other purpose than lighting a fire –

which view of course he didn’t share.

Trier, Hille’s Hostel, 6 July 2009




English as a foreign language

Teaching his mother tongue which his father taught him

by telling him tales or singing him more or less silly songs

proved to be his main source of income

once he had got off the boat in the port of Pula.

At first it was Austrian naval officers

supposed to start talking English

aping their master from Dublin a Bachelor of Arts

used to one on one tuition himself

having acquired a more than working knowledge

of Dantesque Italian in his tutorials at University

College which he would later choose to commemorate

by placing his teacher of Italian

in chapter ten of Ulysses. Meanwhile he had a full day

but complained about the meagre remuneration

given there was a flat to pay for & their habit

of dining out not to forget cigarettes to smoke

a whole set of teeth to be done &

a broadside against the Dublin literati

to be printed with the odd drink not the

smallest expense so if he wanted to learn German

too he would’ve to teach the colleague

another lesson of English – though in his epistles

dispatched regularly to all four corners

of the Dublin universe he never says whether he did do so.

In Rome however where his evening classes

at the École de langues were to provide

him & his with the extra funds for food

his day job at the bank failed to produce

JJ one day refused to stand neither

the enormous number of eight adult students

nor the impudent request a man

he called a Roman peasant uttered

to have the English grammar explained in Italian.

So matters came to a head the Dubliner

gave up banking teaching & dining in Rome

for yet more private lessons in Trieste

where all through summer autumn & winter of 1906/1907

brother Stannie had had to fend off creditors

and where he now would’ve to ingratiate

himself again for the sake of a family of three soon four

to find a flat & students willing to pay

perhaps in advance for the simple reason

that brother James felt fed up with having noone

to walk the streets at night while

enjoying an exchange of ideas. Unlike Baudelaire

who had been declared incapable of business at age 22

but couldn’t avoid indebting himself which meant

he was stuck in either Paris or Bruxelles

JJ also trained by Jesuits only ever

proved to be scrupulous about words

especially spoken ones he sought to keep absolutely beyond

reproof so while he taught people from all walks of life

it took some time until he met the only

Italian writer among his students who’d

published two novels long since forgotten

and who later wrote perceptively both

about Dubliners A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man &

about a performance of Exiles in London.

Socially though the two families

were hardly on a par since the Irishman

remained forever chained & manacled to the part

of underpaid teacher of English as a foreign

language sometime badly paid bookkeeper

in Livia Schmitz’ father’s shipyard Veneziani

as well all of which no generous advance

payments for one year of private tuition

in 1909 nor any other proofs of literary friendship

could make up for since a Joyce

like a Dickens couldn’t but continue

to feel outclassed so that once arrived in Paris

he tried not to teach English any longer

waiting – not in vain – for both money and fame to arrive.

Lobby of the city of Luxembourg Youth Hostel, 7 July 2009





Epiphanies wasn’t what he called such moments

in his life when his own & his loved ones’

safety seemed at stake nor did he adopt

a phrase like “moments of being”

for instants of sudden recognition on his characters’ part.

While never neglecting to mix dramatic narrative

& poetic modes of rendering perceptions

the only play he ever composed entitled Exiles

had no dramatic action on stage at all

unless you term public & secular confessions dramatic.

Making explicit what had hitherto been part of

epistolary novels like Clarissa Harlowe

& Les Liaisons dangereuses being somewhat his forte

he was in no need of staging fist fights or police raids

in his fiction for a brothel imagined promised much more fun.

This he did in his longest dramatic text

chapter 15 of Ulysses aka “Circe”

by those who don’t accept Joyce’s indignation expressed

in letters when he realised that once he had leaked

chapter titles to certain individuals the same

trusted people would not fail to spread the word

world-wide so that “Telemachus” through “Scylla and

Charybdis” to “Ithaca” & “Penelope” have become

household words rather remain privy to

the happy few the minority of one sought to please.

Anything but dramatic are 136 removals

in his life for such was his attitude towards

possessions that rather than furnishing a flat

which he did but three or four times

he preferred to move in and out of rooms

fully provided with all but books

papers & ancestral portraits

all of which were left behind when the Joyces

like many Parisians fled for the Zone libre

in May/June 1940. If anything this was

pure drama given that a writer – a subject as much as

Alan Bennett’s sovereign – was a reader first

and will always continue reading unless his work

library or both is missing with Joyce

having published Finnegans Wake in May 1939

he even lacked the project which earlier

had kept his sense of being a writer

alive despite all the worries both his

children were wont to caused him

thus he lacked a purpose & a profession

filling his pockets with stones every morning

like Molloy in the later eponymous novel –

before walking the streets of St. Gérand-le-Puy

where he used them one by one to stone the dogs

flocking around him just as he had envisaged

an anonymous protagonist to be beset by the pack

of what were dogs figuratively speaking

hunting the stag that could only flash the antlers

in what was the 22-year-old Joyce’s moving image

of the social strife any outsider would face in Ireland.

Whether he had just put into words his hallucinations

or whether he had anticipated the witch hunts

regularly staged by the media today it was

just nine months & a day after

dating this essay duly rejected by the editors of Dana

as unprintable since they didn’t understand it

that JJ went abroad boarding the ship

unaccompanied it seemed but he had pulled the strings

so it became known only after their departure –

a petty intrigue played at the expense of

his enraged father – that he was followed

by Nora Barnacle whose name meaning goose

made for a nice pun since JJ could thus

hope to be one of the many lucky geese

who in former times had left Ireland never to return.

Trier, in the kitchen of Hille’s Hostel, 6 July 2009





Invisible facilitators of printed matter

these VIP for writers are sometimes

also photographed like Sylvia Beach

in the doorway to her Anglo-American

lending-library in the Rue de l’Odéon Paris

where true lovers of JJ

remember her standing face to face

with her first & only author but

these days photographs are wont to be

tinkered with recklessly with Joyce’s

white tennis shoes & his stick more

focused than heretofore and

the people walking past on the opposite

pavement appearing suddenly to be more than

street furniture so that at long last

after looking at it repeatedly it dawned

on me that Sylvia Beach couldn’t be

made to disappear without harming the picture

though in real life Joyce abandoned her

when he thought her in the way of a more

profitable contract with a publisher in New York

who would make Ulysses a financial success as well.

Lobby of the city of Luxembourg Youth Hostel, 7 July, 12 noon





At age 15 I discovered retaining

the complete text of a drama

by Gerhart Hauptmann we had studied at school

wasn’t something I needed to work hard for

so until recently it never occurred to me that

Joyce when unable to find an English translation

of the current Hauptmann play

Vor Sonnenaufgang worked hard

to make his own English version or was extremely doué

after having learned German for that purpose.

He may have accomplished the same surprising

feat regard to Henrik Ibsen

whose native tongue he is also said to

have mastered well enough to translate

his own letter into Norwegian and to

have read the last play When We Dead Awaken

in the original. A poly-linguist Joyce

corresponded fluently in at least four languages –

it’s no surprise then finding him

reading Hauptmann in German

or Wilde in Italian whose drama Salomé

he also wrote an essay on

published in Italian to coincide

with the première of the opera in Trieste.

Corresponding in a professional capacity

as he did for some months in a Roman bank

however didn’t please him

his counterparts or correspondents being all but genuine

he lacked a purpose in life

which could only be writing

and if he had to teach English

he also accepted this under certain conditions

for a limited period while remaining a socialist

concerning one point only: he refused to do

many of the chores he couldn’t see a profit in

so that he only exceptionally earned

his living as a hack. An Irish gentleman

he considered himself to be so when famous at last

Joyce took up polite correspondence with

Writers whom he had met or admired earlier

and who like George Moore W. B. Yeats

& Gerhart Hauptmann belonged to a generation

he at least in polite conversation

or more often in as polite correspondences looked up to.

The story of how he used his brother Stannie

& Ezra Pound himself an acquaintance of Hauptmann’s

in Rapallo to have his copy of Vor Sonnenaufgang

Before Sunrise signed by the Nobel Laureate of 1912

needn’t be retold but it’s interesting

to note that Joyce refused to publish youthful

tour de force but sought to clinch the relationship

he thought to have established by asking

for an autograph while Hauptmann also

in private said in his diaries that he had

lost his way in Joyce’s Ulysses just as

George Moore wrote about that book’s French version

Joyce had given him in 1929.

Just as colours and sounds happily correspond

in Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances”

and as Rimbaud makes vowel sounds correspondents

people interests & works in a later age

fail to find each other being merely juxtaposed

so that Joyce had he been able to perceive that

wouldn’t have choked with anger on learning

that his wreath for Moore’s funeral

went unmentioned by the press

and that unlike Hauptmann & his spouse

the Joyces were unnamed too on Yeats’s death.

He kept up many strands of correspondence

all his life managing not to lose too many friends

though he didn’t correspond well

to people’s expectations standing out

& thus being passed over

while all he tried to do in later life

was to toe the line of politeness

when in terms of his literary work

he had reached a point of no return.

Trier, in the yard of Hille’s Hostel, 5 July 2009



Stations of the Cross

Listening to but not watching

the ceremony televised live worldwide to commemorate

the “Sphinx of Pop” as put by Durs Grünbein

I couldn’t but think of JJ’s life

in terms of seven stations of the cross

which is a given in Catholic liturgy not only

a fig of the literary imagination

in Nuremberg it was Adam Kraft who halved

the customary fourteen stations

with Joyce becoming a pictorial Jesus Christ bearing his cross

accompanied by a host of Dublin hecklers

in a photo collage prepared to render

the late mediæval Catholic atmosphere

within an early 20th century society

redolent of a Corpus Christi procession –

bodies in bloom-like – as you can still witness it

and participate in traditional parishes all over Europe

where however JJ’s formula of refusing

to be a “literary Jesus Christ” who would

die for his passion rather than give up writing

would necessarily be condemned as blasphemer

with the result that his post-Catholic claim

to be a literary martyr misunderstood by all

but the closest and staunchest friends

would ring wrong in their ears

making his struggle a literary image of his day & age

not the scrupulous chart

of what he perceived & felt when still in Ireland

but the gratuitous action of an amoral man fouling the nest.

Cafeteria of the city of Luxembourg Youth Hostel, 7 July 2009

So, dear readers, when you have worked through all this, which I had to do in order to place all the references to place and time of writing, to italicise titles as well as uncommon words from languages other than English, you know what is the lot of someone like James Joyce who in late 1939 during the "funny war", the "drôle de guerre", was said to have placed commas in his last novel Finnegans Wake. Today, we have got the lockdown or shutdown with Ireland recently much affected because of decisions taken at the wrong time. People there deserve both our sympathy and our support. Perhaps reading this on the internet can be supportive, too. Do spread the word,

all best wishes,

Jörg W. Rademacher


Read more …

The die is cast: Hugo, Wilde, Ford, and Joyce, who's next?


The die is cast:

Hugo, Wilde, Ford, and Joyce, who's next?

Dear readers of my blog,

This being the first time that I go for a series of blog posts in the sense of the term “work in progress”, first coined by Ford Madox Ford for the publication of instalments of what was to become Finnegans Wake, the last work in prose by James Joyce, let me simply ask you for forgiveness to have to look through a roughly similar text once again before discovering re-written or added passages – including new episodes or anecdotes.




Read more …

Brexit is back on the agenda

Dear readers of my blog,

having been reminded of my silence online by some readers, I must say that I don't regret to have read, written, and translated – in the dark, so to speak – for the past two months or so. Of course, it is not that I have forgotten to speak up about things, though, seriously, with so much change in the air owing to the virus crisis, it has not been easy to reconcile the restart of complete school populations in Lower Saxony with free time activities such as running a blog and website concerned with Oscar Wilde and anything under the sun that can possibly be related to him and his works.


Read more …

Blog Post July: The Covid-19 crisis covered in books

Dear readers of my blog,

once again there is a moment of time to spare which I would like to devote to reporting on books bought, read and re-read in the past few months. Some such acquisitions relate in more senses than one to the current crisis. First, their acquisition was the result of our being allowed to browse in the shops once more. Second, they all relate to the problems of mankind to adapt to health crises, whether in the 19th or the 21st century. In parenthesis, before I begin in earnest, and it is important to be earnest now, let me say that this sentence is the only one alluding to Oscar Wilde this time. Perhaps you can point out a link after having read this post. Thank you in advance. As ever, I will acknowledge such help.

To give you an overview, I first list the titles with all the bibliographical details:

On 6 May 2020 I bought several books at Weener, a little town, still in East Frisia, but on the western side of the River Ems where I had a moment to spend in the local bookstore. Earlier, I had been wandering round the old port or talking to a dear friend on the mobile for in early April everything was closed and the streets were deserted.

Paolo Giordano, In Zeiten der Ansteckung, translated from the Italian by Barbara Kleiner, Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2020, 80 pp., 8.00 €.


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Addendum in English only: Oscar Wilde and Graham Swift: illusionists of literature

Dear readers of my blog,

certainly it is not a very convincing move to announce a few days ago I would not write on Graham Swift again for some time to come and to do so within less than a week. It might have been otherwise in a study with piles of work undone and lots of papers lost for the time being in files difficult to find because of being in no order whatsoever.

At the moment, though, owing to a refurbishment of my study that I had been thinking of for some time and which was realized, delivered and mounted by a local company of joiners according to my plans last week, I for once see through many angles of my work that normally seem to be hidden away. As a result, I also looked through newspaper articles kept during the period when the schools were completely closed, and there was one article I came across just after having uploaded the last blog post which dealt with Mothering Sunday as well as with Here We Are by Graham Swift.

While rereading this good article I recalled my first perusal and a silent wish on my part not to allow myself to fall under the spell of the reviewer's drift. In fact, this did not happen, though I still agree with most of his observations on both novels. Lothar Müller from the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, based in Munich, insists on Swift's view of all people being “secret agents”, both in the literal sense of following Joseph Conrad's novel of that title, which is an influence on Jane Fairchild, the narrator in Mothering Sunday, and in the figurative sense of living with their secrets all their lives.


Read more …

Literarischer Blog - Literary Blog Graham Swift (3)


Dear readers of my blog,

this third blog on Graham Swift is the last for some time. I need to re-read the other two novels in my possession or watch one or the other film to add more to my tally. Apart from this teaser, the entries are only roughly alike. I do apologize for this but since I like writing in English as much as I like to put things into words in German but for different reasons I refuse always to try to eliminate through translation processes what can only best be said in either one or the other language. So, if you want to have the best of both worlds, do as I do, try to read both German and English.


Liebe Leser meines Blogs,

dieser dritte Blog zu Graham Swift ist der vorerst letzte. Ich muß nämlich die beiden anderen Romane in meinem Besitz wieder lesen oder die ein oder andere Verfilmung schauen, um noch weitere schreiben zu können. Von diesem Appetithappen abgesehen, sind die Blogeinträge nur im Großen Ganzen einander ähnlich. Dafür bitte ich um Verzeihung, doch da ich so gern auf Englisch schreibe, wie ich auf Deutsch formuliere – aus jeweils unterschiedlichen Gründen –, lehne ich es ab, stets durch Übersetzungsvorgänge auszuschalten, was nur in entweder in der einen oder der anderen Sprache am besten zu sagen wäre. Wer also die beste beider Welten wünscht, möge bitte auf deutsch und englisch lesen.



Read more …

Wildes Hauptwerk

Alles über
"Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray"

Über mich

Jörg W. Rademacher (*1962), born and bred in Westphalia. Attended university at Münster, Dundee and Lille. State exam in 1988. Ph.D. In 1993. Scholar, language teacher as well as writer and translator at Münster until 2002. Since 2002 secondary school teacher, writer and translator in East Frisia. Working on Wilde since 1988. Publishing on Wilde since 2000 as biographer and editor and translator, on a regular basis with Elsinor Verlag since 2012, since 2015 also editor and translator of Oscar Wilde calendars.

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