Reflections on James Joyce

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Stuart Gilbert intended this journal to be a thorough record of his association with James Joyce. Alas, it never lived up to expectations. The infrequent entries cover just five years of a much longer relationship and contain little about Joyce but gossip, of a increasingly hostile and bitter nature, while the reflections reveal far more about Gilbert than Joyce.

Stuart Gilbert is often associated with Joyce the way Dr. Watson is with Sherlock Holmes, a loyal friend always ready to assist the master, but fatuous and decidedly slow on the uptake. Gilbert helped with the French translation of ULYSSES and wrote a still famous study of that novel. For his part, Joyce, though willing to make use of Gilbert, had little regard for either him or his book. This journal shows just how bitterly aware Gilbert was of this.

Publicly he played the loyal and valued helper to the end, and even in this journal, he makes some attempt to maintain that stance. However, he filled most entries with his unguarded feelings, which make for a very bitter brew. The Joyce in these pages is arrogant, self-centered, and thoroughly manipulative. He is both money-grubbing and spendthrift. Gilbert criticizes him for wasting his time promoting the Irish tenor John Sullivan, but when Joyce returns to FINNEGANS WAKE, Gilbert disparages his arbitrary working methods. Throughout, he takes an unsavory delight in Joyce’s literary and domestic battles.

Though his portrait of Joyce is supported by others, Gilbert must be credited with good judgment in his lifelong discretion. Frankness only exposes his misogynistic, chauvinistic, and appallingly snobbish nature. However, his often unbearable anguish and paralyzing self-pity make him a touching, if pathetic figure. Aware of how far above him Joyce towered, he despised himself and his limitations. Though feeling himself a parasite living off a genius, he couldn’t forgo that connection to greatness. In the same way, he couldn’t turn his back on Paris literary society, which either ignored or exploited him. Despite the new light this book throws on the Joyce-Gilbert association, it will interest only readers fairly well acquainted with Paris of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The editors include an index and comprehensive footnotes as well as seven previously unpublished letters from Joyce to Gilbert.