The Trotskyite Joyce!

General Criticism
James Joyce and the Common Reader

William Powell Jones
University of Oklahoma Press, 1955, ISBN 0-8061-0930-0; Paperback, Out of print.

This book is a very simple guide to Joyce and his work – the “common reader” of the title is not just a coy nod to reader modesty! Focusing especially on Dubliners and Ulysses, Jones goes to great pains to illuminate Joyce’s techniques, intentions, and significance, breaking everything down into simple, easy-to-understand terms. His style is fresh and immediate, although at times his tone can seem a bit condescending, and the more dedicated reader may soon long for a more comprehensive analysis. Unfortunately, Jones devotes only one brief chapter to Finnegans Wake, claiming that the work is “too new to be thoroughly understood,” and that it’s certainly not for the “common reader” anyway. Still, the book serves as a good primer to basic Joyce, and makes some very insightful points in a clear language free from jargon.

A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce

William York Tindall

1. Noonday Press, 1959; Out of Print.

2. Syracuse University Press, 1995, ISBN 0815603207; Paperback, $19.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Commentary by Bob Williams:
Tindall was a pioneer of James Joyce studies in the United States, assigning Ulysses to his class before it was legally available. In this book and its companion, The Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake, he provides a lively look at Joyce’s prose fiction. This book is short (296 pages), and the average number of pages dedicated to each item is correspondingly brief. He covers Stephen Hero in three pages and barely more to the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses. In the hands of an intelligent writer this brevity has certain advantages. The intensity of focus gives a new and startling look to texts that often daunt and perplex the reader by their complexity.
There have been more elaborate guides, few of them as well-written as this one, and books with special emphases but for the beginner and the advanced reader of Joyce this book is handy and pleasurable.

(Or: “Here Comes Everybody”)

Anthony Burgess
W.W. Norton, 2000, ISBN 0-393-00445-7; Paperback $13.95. [

Anthony Burgess is best known as the author of brilliantly imaginative novels such as A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers; but he has also produced a substantial body of non-fiction, including several works about James Joyce. His ReJoyce – titled in England as Here Comes Everybody – stands as one of my favorite books about Joyce, and probably best reflects my own views of Joyce, views which were instrumental in setting the tone for The Brazen Head.
According to Burgess, ReJoyce “does not pretend to scholarship, only a desire to help the average reader who wants to know Joyce’s work but has been scared off by the professors.” Reassuring, but perhaps disingenuously modest – Burgess’ work, though clear and easy to read, is filled with enough insight to impress even the most demanding professor. Leaving detailed explications, critiques, and walk-throughs to others, Burgess simply writes passionately about Joyce, a writer whose influence he has never tried to conceal in his own work, which also abounds with wordplay and narrative invention. The result is less of a guide as it is a “celebration” of a favorite author, written with a lucidity and wit that is all too rare in academic criticism. Happily, Burgess’ sense of admiration for Joyce’s genius is liberally mixed in with a playful sense of irreverence, and this mix of saucy humor, intellectual appreciation, and guileless enthusiasm enlivens every page.
The primary focus of ReJoyce is Joyce’s use of language, and Burgess takes great delight in exploring not only the structural innovations underpinning Joyce’s revolutionary technique, but the psychology and authorial intentions behind it as well. Indeed, Burgess sees Joyce’s life as a near-Romantic struggle along a journey with humanist aims: self-cast into the role of Daedalus, Joyce was on a quest to “rival the primal Creator” as he fashioned increasingly more complex worlds, all aiming for the “ennoblement of the common man.” Unsurprisingly, Burgess relates Joyce’s life through the development of his writing, from the poems of a nine-year old Parnellite to the great Nightletter of Finnegans Wake. Each work is placed in a historical context touching upon Joyce’s family, his society, and his own changing ideas about his role as a writer. Against this background, Burgess highlights the many factors which played a hand in shaping Joyce’s style, and shows how Joyce himself responded to these forces. Burgess sees a synergistic relationship between Joyce’s technique and the image of “reality” he was trying to reflect, a tension which engendered a constant, almost dialectical pressure, forcing his prose into a state of continual evolution in order to meet changing demands. He points out that each of Joyce’s works contains the seeds of the next, and that from every resolution sprang a more difficult set of problems – issues that could, in turn, be resolved only through another quantum leap of language and style: “The roots of Ulysses are [in Portrait] – to every phase of the soul its own special language; Finnegans Wake must seem, not a wilful aberration from sense, but a logical conclusion to that premise.” True to this vision, all of ReJoyce unfolds below the shadow of Finnegans Wake, the “man-made mountain” and inevitable “terminus” for Joyce’s remarkable journey. All roads lead to riverrun....
As an impassioned (if not occasionally cynical) humanist, Burgess is concerned with more than Joyce’s amazing technique, and sees his work as being animated by a “jocoseriousness” that elevates it to the spiritual – ReJoyce keeps returning to the themes of integrity, joy, and resurrection. Burgess makes a very good case not just for Joyce’s literary significance, but for his universal importance as well: Joyce should be shared by everyone, not kept to the scholars and the critics. But that is not to say that Joyce is easy. Burgess believes that Joyce offers us a challenge, and part of being fully aware, fully alive, is saying “yes” to that challenge: “when we have read him and absorbed even one iota of his substance, neither literature nor life can ever be quite the same again. We shall be finding an embarrassing joy in the commonplace, seeing the most defiled city as a figure of heaven, and assuming, against all odds, a hardly supportable optimism.” Strong words, and spoken straight from the heart.

The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce

Derek Attridge, Editor
Cambridge University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-521-37673-4; Paperback, $23.00. [

Commentary by Bob Williams:
In this exagmination there are eleven participants, and they maintain a higher level of excellence than most collections of this sort. It would be impossible to go wrong with any of the Cambridge Companion series. This book contains a brief chronology, a superlatively arranged annotated bibliography and notes after each contribution, a superior although imperfect arrangement. The following are the subjects and authors of each part:

Reading Joyce, Derek Attridge
Joyce the Irishman, Seamus Deane
The European Background of Joyce’s Writing, Klaus Reichert
Joyce the Parisian, Jean-Michel Rebaté
Stephen Hero, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Styles of Realism and Fantasy, John Paul Riquelme
Ulysses, Jennifer Levine
Finnegans Wake, Margot Norris
Joyce’s Shorter Works, Vicki Mahaffey
Joyce’s Text in Progress, Hans Walter Gabler
Joyce and Feminism, Karen Lawrence
Joyce, Modernism and Post-modernism, Christopher Butler

I found the pieces by Riquelme and Norris to be especially good. Joyce and feminism is not a happy subject. Lawrence does what she can but she is, after all, dealing with Joyce who wrote “colour brings out women’s character, any that they have.”

James Joyce – A Collection of Critical Essays

Mary T. Reynolds, Editor
Prentice Hall, 1994, ISBN 0-13-512211-2; Paperback $9.80. [

Part of the “New Century Views” series, this book contains 19 critical essays on Joyce and his works by authors such as Richard Ellman, Hugh Kenner, John Bishop, Fredric Jameson, and the poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. It also contains Jacques Derrida’s famous piece, “Two Words for Joyce.” The essays are as follows:

Richard Ellman: “James Joyce In and Out of Art”
Denis Donoghue: “The Fiction of James Joyce”
David Hayman: “Language of/as Gesture in Joyce”
Fritz Stein: “Joyce’s Misconducting Universe”
Seamus Heaney: “Station Island”
Bonnie Kime Scott: “Gender, Discourse, and Culture: Exiles
Phillip F. Herring: “The Trials of Adolescence”
Cheryl Herr: “The Sermon as Massproduct: ’Grace’ and A Portrait
Hugh Kenner: “O, an Impossible Person!”
A. Walton Litz: “The Genre of Ulysses
Karen Lawrence: “Ulysses: the Narrative Norm”
James A. Maddox: “Mockery in Ulysses
Fredric R. Jameson: “Ulysses in History”
Maud Ellman: “To Sing or to Sign”
Margot Norris: “Finnegans Wake: The Critical Method”
Bernard Benstock: “Comic Seriousness and Poetic Prose”
John Bishop: “Vico’s ’Night of Darkness’: The New Science and Finnegans Wake
Jean-Michel Rabaté: “Narratology and the Subject of Finnegans Wake
Jacques Derrida: “Two Words for Joyce”

James Joyce – Modern Critical Interpretations

Harold Bloom & William Golding, Editors
Chelsea House, 1986, ISBN 0-87754-625-8; Hardcover $37.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Part of Harold Bloom’s “Modern Critical Interpretation” series, this book is a collection of “nineteen critical essays on the Irish writer and his works.” If you’d like submit commentary or a review to the Brazen Head, please send us email!

Joyce’s Voices

Hugh Kenner
University of California Press, 1993, ISBN 0-520-03935-1; Paperback $14.95. Out of print. [
Browse/Search for a Copy]

Commentary by Bob Williams:
Hugh Kenner is a brilliant writer; but he might be a better writer if he were less brilliant.
In Joyce’s Voices he notes the way in which Joyce allows the proximity of characters to influence with their inflections his narrative voice. Kenner, somewhat arbitrarily, calls this “the Uncle Charles principle,” a name which has stuck. Kenner elaborates on the element of parody in Joyce’s work and, less happily, insists upon an independent narrator whose purpose is to baffle the reader and to play tricks.
Some decisions seem themselves to be marginal. Kenner decides for example that the apparition of Rudy at the end of Circe is solely for the reader and that Bloom (despite his speaking Rudy’s name) does not himself see Rudy. He bases this conclusion on the fact that Bloom neither mentions nor thinks of Rudy in the following chapters. This is a heavy burden for negative evidence to support.
Any reader could multiply critical strictures but this short book is in the Joycean’s path, may not be avoided, is constantly entertaining and in many ways as enlightening as the more considered pronouncements of more conservative critics.

Introducing Joyce

David Norris and Carl Flint
Totem Books, 1994, ISBN: 1-874166-19-6, Paperback $10.95. [

This book is part of the Totem Books line of “Introducing X.” Delightful little books that incorporate comical illustrations, the series takes on some rather serious authors and topics, from Derrida, Lacan and Hawking, to Genetics, Fascism and Buddhism. Though written as primers and laid out in a comic-book style, they are far from condescending, and the frenetic art is often clever and slyly irreverent. The Joyce volume was written by David Norris, an Irish Senator, Trinity College Don, and internationally known Joycean. The book details his life and work, tracking the long-nosed James from the cradle to the grave, and ends with a pair of Joyces discussing what they’ve learned about life: “That it’s sometimes bleak, more often comic, and desperately joyous.” I recommend this for everyone, newbies and experts alike.

James Joyce A to Z : The Essential Reference to the Life and Work

A. Nicholas Fargnoli & Michael Patrick Gillespie

1. Facts on File, Inc., 1995, ISBN 0816029040; Hardcover $55.00. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-511029-3; Paperback $29.50. [Browse/Purchase]

According to BookNews, this work is “a reference on the life and work of the great modernist writer James Joyce (1882-1941) that manages to attain clarity and concision without sacrificing the fascination of its subject. Some 800 alphabetical entries encompass specific aspects of the author’s work, and provide insight into the culture, history, biography, and criticism of his writings. Includes 34 B&W photos, bibliographies of biographical and critical studies, a chronology of Joyce’s writings and publications, a timeline from Ulysses, and a working outline of Finnegans Wake.

Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory and History

Derek Attridge
Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-77788-7; Paperback $22.00. [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

Joyce Effects is a series of connected essays by one of today’s leading commentators on James Joyce. Joyce’s books, Derek Attridge argues, go off like fireworks, and one of this book’s aims is to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of these special effects. He also examines another sort of effect: the way Joyce’s writing challenges and transforms our understanding of language, literature, and history. Attridge’s exploration of these transforming effects represents fifteen years of close engagement with Joyce, and reflects the changing course of Joyce criticism during this period. Each of Joyce’s four major books is addressed in depth, while several shorter chapters take up particular theoretical topics such as character, chance and coincidence, historical writing and narrative as they are staged and scrutinized in Joyce’s writing. Through lively and accessible discussion, this book advances a mode of reading open to both the pleasures and the surprises of the literary work.

1. Introduction: on being a Joycean
2. Deconstructive criticism of Joyce
3. Popular Joyce?
4. Touching ‘Clay’: Reference and reality in Dubliners
5. Joyce and the ideology of character
6. ‘Suck was a queer word’: Language, sex, and the remainder in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
7. Joyce, Jameson, and the text of history
8. Wakean history: not yet
9. Molly’s flow: the writing of ‘Penelope’ and the question of women’s language
10. The postmodernity of Joyce: chance, coincidence, and the reader
11. Countlessness of live-stories: narrativity in Finnegans Wake
12. Finnegans awake, or the dream of interpretation
13. The Wake’s confounded language
14. Envoi; Judging Joyce.

James Joyce: A Short Introduction

Michael Seidel

Blackwell Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0-631-22702-4; Paperback $19.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Commentary by Bob Williams:
Michael Seidel is a professor at Columbia University, the author of many books on Joyce and others. He is also on the editorial board of The James Joyce Studies Annual.
Appropriately to such a short book, the tone is brisk and the area to be covered marked out firmly. Seidel begins with Joyce’s fascination with language and observes that this fascination – an obsession – exercised Joyce’s creative genius throughout his life. Much the same can be said of his obsessions with Ireland and its church. The many obstacles of his youth became the fixtures with which he recreated the world. Inner conflicts, once acquired, are not easily dissolved; and Seidel describes convincingly the way that Joyce nurtured these conflicts in order both to commemorate and transform them. Rivalry and betrayal, the other springs of Joyce’s creative motions, also get ample treatment in proportion to the brevity of the book.
But what we have so far read are the indispensable preliminaries to the consideration of the individual books, and subsequent chapters concern themselves with the works in the order of their composition. There is a chapter each for Dubliners, Exiles and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The rest of the book is about Ulysses. The author promises little for the complex last work by Joyce, Finnegans Wake, but he sets out to cover the arc of creativity that culminates in the Wake. However, his quotations show that he is well acquainted with the Wake, and he begins on an incidental basis to do more than he proposes. He also points out that “It is one of the more powerful paradoxes in Joyce’s work that he sometimes says things more clearly in Finnegans Wake than he does elsewhere because he can get away with saying almost anything in Finnegans Wake.
Seidel refurbishes Dubliners, dimmed for many modern readers by the similar effects of many later writers. The stories, extraordinarily Chekovian in spirit (although the evidence is strong that Joyce did not know Chekov’s stories at the time that he wrote Dubliners), are intricately connected and carefully constructed. Seidel develops this splendidly and adds important observations that are as fresh and original as the stories themselves.
Moving on to Portrait, some minor errors of small importance occur – the use, for example, of “drawing” instead of “drawling” – but the reference to Brother Michael (infirmarian at Clongowes) instead of to the dean of studies at University College Dublin is an error of a serious and inexplicable sort. Otherwise Seidel’s account of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is vigorous and sustainedly interesting, although the excessive preoccupation with the villanelle is curious.
Joyce’s one play, Exiles, is the ugly duckling that never became a swan but remains the focus for valuable study. Seidel manages in a fittingly brief discussion to indicate the importance of Exiles without allowing it more virtues than it deserves.
The first chapter on Ulysses concerns narrative strategies. Seidel finds that there are four: customary third person narration, conversational narration, interior monologue, and, Joyce’s specialty, fourth estate narration (to give it Seidel’s name). The last presents the most difficulties, as it contains the book’s musings upon itself, and is mainly seen as eruptions of text only tenuously connected with the more customary narrative levels. In his examination of mixed modes, however, Seidel may be rowing into a fogbank. One of the perplexities of Joyce’s method regarding direct quotation – the use of the tiret (dash) rather than conventional quotation marks – is that the reader can never be altogether certain that direct speech has ended and another voice begun. To interpret, as Seidel does, that a closing phrase may be a thought rather than a spoken utterance is doubtful at best. (Joyce, a connoisseur of ambiguity, would have loved this confusion.) The “deficiencies” of the tiret over the quotation marks are especially marked in Finnegans Wake. Alas, in an otherwise successful effort to illustrate the fourth estate narrational device, Seidel again gets caught up in poor editing. The text gives us “Beniobenone” for “Beninobenone,” “Martha” for “Marta,” and “Karmelopulos” for “Karamelopulos.”
Seidel next examines the Homeric structure of Ulysses. He admits that this can be transparent for most readers, but that they will be the poorer for ignoring it. He has further the good and rather rare sense to modify the too easily made assumption that Stephen is searching for a father and Bloom is searching for a son. However true this may be, its truth is more metaphoric than real. Seidel could have pushed the matter yet more: Homeric parallels are often ironic.
Seidel then turns to the characters themselves. The idea of commenting on Ulysses by a study of each of the three main characters is original and, although brief, has merit. It asserts the humanity of Joyce as we look closely at Stephen, Bloom and Molly.
Much of the same line of thought continues in the chapter on the reflexive nature of Ulysses. Much of the book is turned in on itself. Much of the book is turned outward to the reader. This is in both cases part of the novel’s problems but even more of its charm. Seidel illustrates the reflexivity of Ulysses in a brilliant coda of alternative possible titles for Ulysses, all drawn from phrases used in the book itself.
The final chapter considers the relationship of Bloom and Molly. To what degree did Bloom connive at Molly’s affair with Boylan? The answer is equivocal and much in the same area as the troubled relationship between Richard Rowan and Bertha in Exiles.
One who has long been acquainted with the works that Seidel discusses will enjoy the book most. Despite the title and despite the titles of books like it, there is really no introduction to Joyce. The only introduction to the works of Joyce is reading the works themselves. Despite this general reservation, I would not hesitate to recommend this as one of the better examples of introductory surveys.

Green Bar

Go To:

Joyce Criticism Main Page – Back to the main criticism page, where you will find the standard Brazen Head menu.

Notes and Annotations on Dubliners & PortraitGuides and criticism on Joyce’s first two works.

Notes and Annotations on UlyssesGuides and criticism on Ulysses.

Notes and Annotations on Finnegans WakeGuides and criticism on Finnegans Wake

Specific Criticism – Joycean criticism with an angle: Feminist, Marxist, Post-structural, Postquailist, etc.

Biography: Life and Times – Biographies about Joyce, or books about Ireland during his epoch.

The sissymusses and the zossymusses in their robenhauses quailed to hear his tardeynois at all – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

–Allen B. Ruch
& Bob Williams
15 July 2003