James Joyce (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Reading James Joyce, particularly his two great works, Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), is a descent into a catacomb for which the correct key, or a well- informed guide, appears indispensable. The key and the guide come in the form of such books as Joseph Campbell’s A Skeleton Key to “Finnegans Wake” (1947) and Don Gifford’s Joyce Annotated (1982). Yet armed only with books like these, readers may come away from Joyce sensing that the experience was in some way flat, that between the stones analyzed and annotated lie cracks that seemingly hold the whole thing together, a continuity that eludes the simplistic, fact-by- fact approach of the well-meaning guides. The discovery of this continuity involves the study of Joyce’s life itself, to a degree unnecessary to the reading of a less demanding writer. Joyce is the most demanding of writers in the English language, if one dares call “English” his transmogrifications of the language, and not simply insofar as he requires the reader to approach with an air of erudition. Joyce demands to be known, and as is clear from the fervor of the Joyce industry, not a few have acceded to this demand. Shelves and shelves of books have come forth, among them a number of outstanding volumes, and among these at least one biography that, while it is mandatory reading for anyone studying Joyce, can in itself justifiably be called, as Anthony Burgess puts it, “the greatest...
(The entire section is 1842 words.)
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James Joyce (Magill Book Reviews)
Peter Costello has a tough act to follow in writing a new biography of James Joyce. Richard Ellmann’s book, first published in 1959 and revised in 1982, is not only the standard biography of Joyce but has justly been hailed, by Anthony Burgess, as “the greatest literary biography of the century.” Costello maintains he is writing for the general reader, but unless the general reader is interested in the minutiae of Joyce’s genealogy or in a detailed accounting of his father’s slide into bankruptcy, he or she had best turn to Ellmann’s much more satisfying book.
There are a number of mistakes that need correcting in Ellmann, and Costello sets out to correct them, although unfortunately, just as many others seem to creep back in, through both authorial and editorial carelessness. These mistakes should be unimportant to Costello’s professed readership, but for the scholar, for whom this book is more suited, they are annoying and may serve to disqualify the book from notice. Especially lacking, for the scholarly reader, are adequate endnotes. The mistakes in Ellmann which Costello manages to correct deal with subjects such as the date of Joyce’s first sexual intercourse, a correction hinging on the date of the first Dublin production of a play, evidence which bespeaks Costello’s careful research. What is strongest in this book is Costello’s reworking of the accepted version of Joyce’s father’s bankruptcy and his suggestions regarding...
(The entire section is 377 words.)