…attorney and art collector John Quinn, 43, returns yet again to the Armory Show to buy another lithograph by the late Paul Gauguin, for $6. The night before, Quinn and the show’s organizers, the American Association of Painters & Sculptors [AAPS] had hosted a ‘beefsteak’ party at Healy’s Restaurant, 66th Street and Columbus Avenue, for their ‘friends and enemies’ in the press. Whether they had praised or trashed the artwork, critics were invited from Century magazine, the Sun, the Globe, the World, the Post, American Art News, and Arts & Decoration, which had devoted an entire issue to the show. The artists picked up the tab for the party—$234 for the whole night. Here’s a menu signed by all the participants, featuring one of the most controversial pieces, Nude Descending a Staircase, by Marcel Duchamp, 25:
Even the waitresses joined in the singing and dancing. Joke telegrams were read out from American art collector and contributor to the show, Gertrude Stein, 39, and British founder of the London Post-Impressionist shows, Roger Fry, 46. One of the most vicious critics, from the Tribune, ended his remarks with ‘It was a good show, but don’t do it again.’
A few days before, as the new American president, Woodrow Wilson, 56, took his oath office, former President Theodore Roosevelt, 54, visited the Armory escorted by Quinn, and was heard roaring ‘Bully!’ in front of the pictures.
The AAPS had just received confirmation that the Chicago Art Institute wants to put on the show, but only the most radical works. It’s due to open there before the end of the month, so Quinn comes back often to buy up more treasures.
…the reviews for the Armory Show have been pouring in. ‘Artistic rubbish’ rants the New York Press. Matisse’s paintings are ‘ugly…coarse…narrow’ says the New York Times. Brancusi’s Mlle. Pogany, is described by a critic as ‘a hard-boiled egg balanced on a cube of sugar.’
Art collector and supporter of the show John Quinn, 43, has been to visit and purchase many times. He came back the other day for another walk around with his lover, Lady Augusta Gregory, 60, on tour in America with her Abbey Theatre, and painter John B Yeats, 73, father of Abbey co-director W B Yeats, 47.
Yeats pere writes home to Ireland enthusiastically about what he has seen. A member of JP Morgan’s wealthy banking family is outraged that he has to pay 25 cents to look at such trash. But another banker is quoted as saying, ‘Something is wrong with the world. These men know…’
…the International Exhibition of Modern Art, sponsored by the American Association of Painters and Sculptors [AAPS], formed just for this occasion, opens to the public at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan—the ‘Armory Show.’
For the first time, ‘modern art’ from Europe and America is formally displayed to the American public.
This pivotal moment in the history of arts and culture of the early 20th century involves works of art either created or owned by members of three of my salons, the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Bloomsbury group and the Americans in Paris, in the city where the future members of the Algonquin Round Table were coming of age.
John Quinn, 43, the ubiquitous American art collector, lent two paintings by AE, 45, and a watercolour, The Political Meeting, by Jack Yeats, 41, brother of the poet WB.
Quinn also lent a painting he had bought the year before from Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, 46, Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, who had been dead for 23 years.
The previous November, two of the organizers for the Armory Show had been to London to see the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit at the Grafton Galleries, put on by Roger Fry, 46. They were not much interested in English painters such as Fry’s Bloomsbury friends, Vanessa Bell, 33, and Duncan Grant, 27.
However, they were most impressed by everything by Henri Matisse, 43. The Armory Show really wanted Matisse’s paintings from the London show to be lent to New York, so had ordered their Paris representative to make friends with the American ex-patriate Stein family to intercede.
It worked. The Armory exhibit secured many Matisses, including their favourite, a bas relief, Le dos.
The Steins—Michael, 47, his wife Sarah, 42, brother Leo, 40, and sister Gertrude, 39—also lent from their own collections: Matisse’s Le Madras rouge, La Coiffeuse, and La Femme Bleue,
and two still lifes by ‘Paul’ Picasso, 31, as he was listed in the program, Nature Morte No. 1 and Nature Morte No. 2.
When one of the Armory Show organizers had visited Michael and Sarah Stein’s home on rue Madame in October 1912, he had bowed toward the door and tipped his hat to this shrine to Matisse’s art.
Leo and Gertrude lived not far away at 27 rue de Fleurus, and a few years before, Gertrude’s friend and fellow San Franciscan, Alice B. Toklas, 35, had moved in.
About the time brother and sister were loaning paintings abroad, they were fighting over how to divide them up as Leo was getting ready to move out to live in Italy.
Gertrude’s friend in New York, Mabel Dodge, 33, was keeping her up to date on the buzz about the Armory Show, calling it ‘the most important event that has ever come off since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and it is of the same nature.’
Dodge managed to get the magazine Arts and Decoration to devote their March issue totally to the show, and include one of Gertrude Stein’s first portrait essays, ‘Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia.’
‘Do send me half a dozen copies of it. I want to show it to everybody,’ wrote Stein to Dodge.
On tour in New York with her Abbey Theatre, Lady Augusta Gregory, 60, also stops by the Armory Show, escorted by her lover, the attorney who bailed out the troupe when they were arrested in Philadelphia for their performance of The Playboy of the Western World. He was also the lawyer for the AAPS who put on the show—art collector John Quinn.
To find out what the members of the four groups were doing in the spring of 1913, click on the link for my blog on the Armory Show at the top of the Pages column to your right.
This autumn, the New York Historical Society is staging an exhibit about the show, which I would love to visit: http://www.artlyst.com/articles/reunion-of-masterworks-celebrate-the-centennial-of-the-1913-armory-show. Let me know if you’ll be there!
Wednesday, September 3, 2003, Hollywood, FL
“The Magdalene Sisters”
My Irish husband Tony and I went to see the new movie, The Magdalene Sisters. We have been reading about this film since it caused a stir in Ireland last year for its in-depth look at the young women who were sent to live and work in the “Magdalene laundries” in Dublin, either because they got pregnant, or sometimes just because they were too pretty. The last of these laundries, believe it or not, closed in 1996.
When I first met Tony he told me stories of the Magdalene laundries, how one day he had actually been in one and seen the Magdalene women. All through the movie I had lots of questions I wanted to ask him, and I thought you might too. So after we came home and had a couple of glasses of wine, I taped an interview with him. This is an edited transcript of it.
K: Tell me again about when you were working at the Montrose Hotel. You were how old?
T: 17. The machinery broke down at the Montrose laundry. The Montrose had a laundry that did all the sheets for The Scarlet hotel, the Tara Towers Hotel. But I worked at the Montrose. Something happened at the Montrose laundry so everything was packed up in these laundry baskets. These wicker baskets.
K: In the movie they showed a basket with “Father Fitzroy” printed on it, with the priest’s laundry in it.
T: They were big square baskets with handles on each end. We loaded them into Jimmy’s truck. He was the guy who carried the laundry between the hotels. I remember it was a beautiful sunny day. It must have been in the summer and somehow I was designated to go down to Donnybrook. We were on our way down and he was saying, these women are all nuts down here. These women in this laundry are all crazy, you know.
K: Where was it? How far was it from the Montrose?
T: It was only in Donnybrook, south of Dublin, which is really up class. Upscale. I used to go by the laundry every day on the bus. It had these huge walls. There were a couple of those laundries around Dublin. There was one on the South Circular Road as I remember. But the one that I went to was in Donnybrook. I’m not sure but I’d say that that was one of the last ones to close. I had passed it every day for like four years and always noticed the big gray walls.
That particular day had a profound effect on me. I remember John Martin who was the organizer telling me, Bring that down to the Donnybrook. The nuns are going to do it. The nuns are going to clean it. I didn’t see any nuns. I can’t remember seeing a nun that day. To be honest with you, to me it was like, I was out of the confines of the Montrose, I was in a truck, I was going down a mile and half to Donnybrook.
K: It was a change from the routine.
T: Past RTE, down to Donnybrook Road, past Ballsbridge, straight on into Donnybrook. And then on the left hand side, as you were going down by the Magdalene, there were very, very obtrusive high walls, big gates. We went by the walls and we went in to the gate. And we went into the laundry to deliver the couple of thousand sheets from the various hotels.
I remember walking in and it was like when you walk into a party and nobody knows you. There were all these women with the same hair cut, the same clothes, brown smocks, and brown tights and big black shoes. And they all had this look that said, get me fughin’ out of here. That was like 1969, 1970, and it just had this effect on me. I thought, Wow what’s wrong with them? They do look weird, but they don’t look fughin’ crazy.
K: Before you went there, what did they tell you about them? Did they tell you why they were there?
T: Jimmy said they were all mad.
T: Mad. They were all mad. All mad. It was an institution. They didn’t look mad. They looked weird, but they didn’t’ look mad.
K: How many?
K: In one room…
T: A big room. All looking the same.
K: Of all the characters we saw in the movie, The Magdalene Sisters, which one looked…
T: Crispina. She was the one that looked the most like them because of her hair. Everything about that movie, the clothes, the smell of the soap. I could nearly smell…
K: Tell me about the smells.
T: The smell of the soap when you walked in. In the movie, when she had this bandana around her face, I thought, that’s a good idea because that soap, the smell of that fughin’ soap.
K: How would you describe it? What kind of smell?
T: It was antiseptic. Antiseptic. Everything was antiseptic. You could feel it. You smelled soap. Soap and steam. You could smell soap and steam. There was a lot of steam. They worked in steam all day. And they wore these brown clothes, in the middle of the summer.
K: I want to try to get the picture. You pull up in this truck with Jimmy, and you go through the gate, and you go around the back. Were you like the guy in the movie who was handing her the laundry? I thought it was interesting that he just took it out of the van and then the women had to carry the heavy stuff in.
T: No, we actually went in to the laundry. I carried it into the actual room and dropped it. I went out and got another and each time I went in and looked and there was this look on their faces. This look of despair on these women’s faces. And they weren’t that old. They were young women. There were some of them who knew nothing else. But there were some of them there who were just a few years older than me, who were in their early 20s with that same fughin’ haircut. Straight haircut and brown smock with blue overalls. I always remembered these brown stockings with big hob nail shoes. It was the summer. You don’t need to wear those in the summer.
K: Did any of them look up and make eye contact?
T: Yeah, they did. They looked as if they were amazed, as if to say, “It’s an amazing creature.” I remember making eye contact with a few of them and they looked as if they were thinking, “Oh, there’s something out there…There’s something else out there.” As tho they were remembering something that they had had, and it was gone. And it would never come back.
It’s amazing that somebody can kill your spirit, can kill your fughin’ spirit. Can kill everything that lives in you. Suppress it and eventually kill it. There must have been a few women in there who tried to break the system. But they were broken, you know. Those nuns…broke them. I was thinking about it all night. It was like this Catholic fughin’ shit that had nothing to do whatsoever with God. Can you tell me in the Bible where there is anything related to that? There’s nothing. It’s just this fear of women being equal to them. Amazing.
K: Did you get the feeling that part of it was because you were a guy walking into this room full of women?
T: No. I didn’t. I just got the feeling that this was the highlight of their fughin’ day. Or the highlight of their week. There was finally something different going on. Here were these two guys, one a bald, 50-year-old, short, fat guy who had a job to do and me, his helper, this 17 or 18-year-old guy with long black hair. Walking into this room full of these women and they were all dressed the same. I came out of there with this feeling that there’s something fughin’ wrong here. You know, this is like a 19th century workhouse scenario. Women who have no hope. And I remember thinking that I should ask them, why don’t you walk out? Why don’t you just walk out that gate? They couldn’t, you know. There was nowhere for them to go.
K: When you walked in did you feel like, oh, they’re being punished. I remember from Catholic school thinking, well, that person is being punished.
T: I just remember that I felt that it was sad that they weren’t enjoying the 60s. They weren’t enjoying whatever we were enjoying.
K: They were cut off.
T: Yeah. And I remember saying to my friends, “I was in the laundry today, the Magdalene laundry. There were these women who didn’t really look like women, who all looked the same.” Maybe I didn’t verbalize it right but I was trying to explain to them that every one of them had the same fughin’ hair cut. They had the same shoes, they had the same brown bulletproof fughin’ tights. They had the same brown skirts and they had blue overalls, every fughin’ one of them. There were like 30 or 40 of them and they all looked alike.
K: They stared.
T: Yeah. Every one of them stared.
K: At you.
T: At me. You know what it was like? It was like, Oh look at him. It’s like a duck, like a white duck, and everything else I’ve seen that day was chickens. I’m sure there’s a whole load of these women who remember that day but never want to talk about it. But they saw this guy in the laundry who was never there before, who had never been there before, and I wasn’t dressed the same as they were. I was in a khaki fughin’ uniform. My hair was down to my fughin’ chest.
You know, you get a moment. You just get a moment in time and you say, this is not right. You know there’s something wrong with this. I can’t verbalize it. It was like they all seemed to be focused on me, which made me uncomfortable.
K: Did any of them talk to you?
T: No. No, no.
K: When you would pass this place on the bus, before you had been in, what would you think? Did you think it was a prison?
T: I thought it was an asylum. A place where they keep mad people.
K: And after you‘d been in there, and you would go by on the bus, what would you think when you saw it?
T: When I’d go by on the bus I’d feel that, you know, there were human beings in there. There were human beings that maybe were not mad.
I had a neighbor like Mr. O’Connor in the movie. In the late 60s his daughter got pregnant by the next door neighbor who was married. And he sent her off to the Isle of Man to pick tulips.
K: (Laughs.) Is that really where she went or do you think she went to one of these…
T: No, actually I think she went to Jersey. She went to the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Isles to pick tulips.
K: Is that what they said in the neighborhood?
T: Yeah, she’s picking tulips. She got a great job in the Channel isles.
K: What did you figure out later?
T: About two years later I found out from word that got around that she got pregnant by sleeping with the married neighbor, who was like this weird absolute joke of a man.
K: When you say sleeping with…
T: She had sex. Right.
K: But do you think it was her idea?
T: Yeah, it was her idea. I’m sure she was attracted to him in some way and made a mistake, got pregnant.
K: Do you think it was his idea?
T: I think it was both their ideas. And you know if she had got pregnant maybe five or six years earlier her dad could have literally put her into this Magdalene home.
K: And when she came back what did she say? What did people say?
T: She gave up tulip picking.
K: (Laughs.) When she came back, did people really believe she had been picking tulips?
T: I did. A lot of the neighbors did. I’m sure they did. I did
K: I think she was down the street giving birth.
T: No. Who knows? She could have been in Inchicore. She could have been in the Magdalene laundry.
K: But if she was in the Magdalene laundry she wouldn’t have been back at the end of the year.
K: How did she look when she came back?
T: She looked great. She married a guy from Offaly. They have a great life. They’re happily married. I’m sure he doesn’t know. But you know there’s this part of her… She would have this like 30-year-old, 32, 35-year-old child now. Who has never met her. But you see this wouldn’t happen if women were in charge, you know. This wouldn’t happen.
K: That’s a whole different discussion. Besides the day when you went to the laundry, what did you hear about the Magdalene women?
T: I heard about women who had gone astray. You know, women who were too sexy, or women who men were attracted to. I heard that they had to go to England or they had to go to the Isle of Jersey or they had to go somewhere.
K: But they wouldn’t say why?
T: No, it was like shhh. Shh. Shh. I knew that there was something wrong. I didn’t want to fughin’ know at the time.
Like our neighbor, she’s married now. Her husband probably doesn’t know that she had this experience. But there’s this baby in Jersey now who has no idea that he has this whole network of people who I know and he doesn’t, that his grandfather died 15 or 20 years ago. He doesn’t know his uncle Andrew, he doesn’t know that his aunt died of breast cancer when she was 35. He doesn’t know all of this stuff. He doesn’t know what I know and he’s missing out on this. That’s what bugs me about this. It’s like they killed links, you know. They took babies away. They killed links.
K: What bothered me the most was that anyone could take a baby from a mother.
T: I was e-mailing to my sister Liz tonight and I was telling her that I had gone to see the Magdalene Sisters. I said to Liz, thank God that mam and dad were somewhat protective of us. When our sister Mary got pregnant, what if my dad had been like our neighbor, who just said, No. I don’t accept that. Send her away. My sister Mary married Brian and they’re still married. And both of these incidents happened at the same time. Our neighbor was like 20 years older than my dad. He came from a different generation, you know. He came from a generation where that doesn’t happen to your daughter.
K: But it did.
T: But it did.
K: So he sent her to pick tulips.
T: In Jersey. He sent her out of the house. He sent her away from any support that she had.
You know, looking back on it, and what I saw in that movie tonight, I wish I had been more sensitive. Because when I saw these women all looking the same, I thought, there’s something wrong here. That movie summed it up well. It didn’t actually go far enough. The two women in the movie got out, they got out of it. But there were women there from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. There were women there from the 40s until it closed in the 90s. Women who knew nothing but life inside it.
K: Let me ask you something else. When we came out of the movie you said that you had thought, there you were with all those women and why couldn’t you have done something. What made you feel that way about them? What could you have done?
T: First of all, I probably would have never done anything. In hindsight, who was I to make these women move? They had been institutionalised for so long. But I mean, if I had just gone over and said to one of them, Why don’t you leave? Why don’t you get out of here? And the thought stuck in my mind that I could save them, that I could save just one of them.
K: Thank you, honey.
‘Such Friends’ has some upcoming events you are all welcome to find out about and join us.
Here in Birmingham, UK, on Wednesday, 6th February, I will be presenting ‘W B Yeats and the Founding of the Abbey Theatre’ to the Birmingham Irish Heritage Society, at The Irish Club, in the Digbeth part of town. It’s 7 pm for a 7:15 start, and free to anyone interested. We’ll have some books, pictures and reading lists, and a few clips from the National Library of Ireland’s excellent DVD about Yeats and the theatre. If you’re interested in coming, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The weekend after, 9th and 10th February, London’s Southbank center is putting on ‘Paris 1910-1930’ as part of their ‘The Rest Is Noise’ series. I’ve got my weekend pass! If anyone cares to join me, the schedule and ticket information are at http://ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/paris_full_weekend_listings_1.pdf.
Also in London, the play, Fiesta, based on Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, is at the Trafalgar Studio. Let me know if you’re game…
The Yeats presentation is a warm up for the three-lecture series I will be doing this May on board the second leg of the Semester at Sea’s Enrichment Voyage through northern Europe. In addition to Yeats, we will also explore ‘Britain Before the War—the Irish Literary Renaissance and the Bloomsbury Group,’ and ‘Happy Bloomsday! James Joyce in Dublin and Paris.’
Semester at Sea [www.semesteratsea.org] is one of my favourite ways to teach—on board the beautiful MV Explorer, sailing from LeHavre, to Antwerp, to Amsterdam, to Edinburgh, to Belfast, to Dublin to Dover. If you or someone you know is interested in joining us, check out the details at http://enrichmentvoyages.org.
As discussed in the last blog posting [see post below and the article to the right], 2013 is the centenary of the Armory Show, a seminal event which links all four of my groups of writers and artists. I have been posting what was happening 100 years ago on my ‘Such Friends’ Facebook page and @SuchFriends.
And in May the new film of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby will appear. Let’s hope it’s a great year for all of our ‘Such Friends’!
From our vantage point a century on, 1913 looks like the year before the world exploded into war. Among the writers and artists I researched—William Butler Yeats and the Irish Literary Renaissance, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, Gertrude Stein and the Americans in Paris, and Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table—there were signs that things were changing in the wider world.
What tied them all together was the Armory Show which opened in February of 1913.
Yeats’ ‘hostess,’ Lady Augusta Gregory, 60, visited while she was in New York with their Abbey Theatre. Squired by her close friend, American art collector John Quinn, 43, they saw paintings by her fellow Abbey director ‘AE’ [George Russell], 45.
In London, Vanessa Bell, 33, sister of Woolf, 31, and their Bloomsbury friends were all involved with the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit which closed early so many of the paintings could be sent on to New York. Roger Fry, 46, put the London show together, Vanessa and her partner, Duncan Grant, 28, had paintings exhibited, Virginia’s new husband, Leonard Woolf, 32, served as secretary, and Vanessa’s husband Clive, 31, wrote the reviews.
In Paris, where the Armory Show’s organizers had visited to scout out paintings, Gertrude, 39, and her brothers Leo, 40, and Michael, 47, along with Michael’s wife Sarah, 42, lent generously, cajoled by the ubiquitous Quinn.
And back in New York, Dorothy Rothschild, 20, and Robert Benchley, 23, were living in Manhattan, not yet lunching at the Algonquin. They could not have escaped the hype.
On February 13, two days before the official opening in New York, there was a party in London where George Moore, 60, one of Yeats’ ‘such friends,’ and Lytton Strachey, 32, one of Woolf’s, met Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 35. Gertrude chronicled the moment this way in her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:
“Gertrude Stein and George Moore, who looked like a very prosperous Mellon’s Food baby, had not been interested in each other. Lytton Strachey and I talked together about Picasso and the russian ballet.”
To read about what all four groups were doing that spring, click on the link to your right, ‘The Armory Show, 1913.’ And to find out what they were doing day by day during this eventful year, check out the ‘Such Friends’ page on Facebook, and follow @SuchFriends.
Let the year begin!
Still working on a posting a blog about Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End [did you enjoy it?]. In the meantime, check out my Such Friends Facebook page about the Abbey Theatre’s production of Sean O’Casey The Plough and the Stars, and my evening in the theatre with Christopher Walken: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Such-Friends/201449423252358
Yes, I went to see Gatz! Eight hours and fifteen minutes of theatre. So how was it to sit there for eight hours, you may ask.
Y’know when you’re on a long haul flight, leaving London knowing that seven or eight hours later you will arrive in Beijing, or Miami, or another exciting place?
The first hour drags a bit. You get up and walk around. The second hour you really get into your book/magazine/movie. Then—dinner break. Then read another hour or more, walk around. By the time you land you’re thinking, ‘I’m sorry that’s over. I’d really like to keep going.’
That’s how it felt.
I knew that the text was a reading of the complete The Great Gatsby—one of my all time favourites. I didn’t realize that the only text was The Great Gatsby. Any other chatting between narrator Nick Carraway and his office-mates on stage was mouthed or mimed.
So Scott Fitzgerald had to carry the whole weight. And, as expected, Gatsby is definitely up for the job.
There were fabulously memorable parts that I hadn’t remembered at all from the book. The images from the Robert Redford film, which I had seen right after I’d read it for the first time, and have used in my Gatsby presentations, came back to me. Some of the wonderful lines even sounded better: ‘Her voice is full of money.’ Scott Shepherd, playing Nick, brought the language and the voices alive.
Getting the most out of my trip down to London, I also attended the talk ‘The Great Gatsby’ at the Southbank Centre the evening before. The four erudite panel members were very interesting, but, as usual, the best questions came from the audience.
All were complementary about the humour in the book, and thankful that Gatz!, by New York’s Elevator Repair Service company, brought this out.
I particularly appreciated Nick’s dry descriptions of characters who border on the absurd, such as Tom Buchanan, Fitzgerald’s unknowing precursor of Nazi sympathizers.
So the humour in Gatz! was welcome. But in the post-dinner second half, I felt there were parts played for laughs that Fitzgerald hadn’t intended that way. Of course he based Daisy Buchanan on his wife Zelda. But he loved Zelda; he was absolutely in awe of her. He didn’t think of her as silly, or as a fool. I think in Daisy’s carelessness he was showing how a womea like that wreaks havoc on others, without realizing what effect she has.
For example, I don’t think he wrote the famous scene with the shirts—‘They’re such beautiful shirts…It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before’—as humour at all. Daisy truly wept at the sight of such shirts.
And he gave her the immortal lines about the birth of her daughter: ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing that a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ That resonates with all women who are not fools—and feel there is little reward in their self-awareness.
So thumbs up for Gatz! Get an aisle seat so you can stick your leg out, scope out a nearby restaurant ahead of time, and definitely buy the program. That’s where I found out that the Elevator Repair Service was co-founded by one of the producers of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. That explains a lot.
This Bloomsday, 16th June, 2012, I plan to spend the day turning the back ‘cat’ room into a tidy writer’s space for me, while listening to BBC Radio4′s all day tribute to Joyce’s Ulysses. By the time they get to Molly Bloom’s ‘Yes,’ I should be covered in cat hair.
Eight years ago, I was in Dublin for the centenary celebrations with two fabulous ladies on the first [and so far only] ‘Such Friends’ tour. Happy to go again!
So here is the Bloomsday blog I wrote the year before that. American bookstore owner and entrepreneur extraordinaire Sylvia Beach published Ulysses 90 years ago. This Bloomsday, raise a toast to her and Jimmy Joyce.
The Journal of a Teacher in Search of a Classroom
By Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
Wednesday, June 18, 2003, Hollywood, Florida
99 years ago this week (June 16th, to be exact), James Joyce had his first date with the woman who was to become his wife, Nora Barnacle, and so he chose to immortalize it in his epic, Ulysses, which covers every detail of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a Jew living in Dublin, in only 783 pages.
What this really means is that next year, Dublin will go fughin’ nuts.
I lived in Ireland for just short of a year, but I have never been there for Bloomsday celebrations. Maybe next year. [NB from the future: I made it!]
Many think that June 16th is the date that Jimmy and Nora met, but indeed that was June 10th. She coyly kept putting him off but finally agreed to go out with him. I’ve seen pictures of Nora and let’s just say, she must have had a wonderful personality.
On my second trip to Ireland, the minute I turned on to the street in Galway town with the house that Nora grew up in, my stomach said—just like where my mom grew up in Pittsburgh. If I showed you photos of the two, you might not see the similarity, but the “feel” was palpable. Small row houses, all looking the same, but with each door painted a different color.
Soon after they met, Joyce convinced Nora to come with him to Switzerland where he had accepted a teaching position. They had two children and went to visit Paris in 1920 for just a week—but stayed for years. Paris has that affect on people. Even the Irish.
James and Nora never actually got around to getting married until their children were both grown. They just presented themselves as a married couple and were always accepted that way.
In Paris Joyce continued work on Ulysses and the writers living there knew that he was working on something big. He didn’t socialize in the writers’ salons in Paris at the time. He mostly drank alone, sometimes with others, breaking into song late at night in the cafes. The cab drivers would bring him home, where Nora would be waiting at the top of the stairs, arms akimbo, like a good Irish wife. “Jimmy,” she’d say, looking down on him lying in a drunken heap,
“Your fans think you’re a genius but they should see you now.”
When Dorothy Parker visited the city in the twenties, she saw Joyce on the street but he didn’t speak to her. She said,
“Perhaps he thought he would drop a pearl.”
Excerpts from Ulysses began appearing in the Little Review in the States around 1918, causing quite a stir because of the language. Virginia and Leonard Woolf, operating their Hogarth Press in London, had rejected it. Reading it made Virginia feel as though, in the words of one biographer, that
“someone had stolen her pen and scribbled on the privy wall.”
Sylvia Beach, the American who founded the bookstore Shakespeare & Co., the social center for the expatriate community, approached Joyce at a party and said,
“Mr. Joyce, may I publish your novel Ulysses?”
After being rejected by so many who weren’t adventurous enough to take it on, he was intrigued that this woman wanted his book.
It took longer for Joyce to finish than they expected, so for the local artistic community, many of whom had subscribed in response to Beach’s mailing announcing the work, she held a reading on December 7th, 1921, in her shop. Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, didn’t come; they lived a few blocks away but were preparing for their annual Christmas party. When Beach did publish Ulysses the following February, Alice promptly walked over to Shakespeare & Co and cancelled Gertrude’s subscription. They would brook no competitors for her title as greatest writer in English.
After publication, Ulysses was promptly banned in Boston, but a friend of Ernest Hemingway managed to smuggle a copy into the United States via Canada. The landmark case that allowed Random House to publish it in 1932 was argued by Irish-American lawyer John Quinn. Quinn, like Beach, is one of the true heroes of early 20th century literature and art. He helped William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory found the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (and had an affair with Augusta later), bought up lots of Cubist and Post-Impressionist paintings in Paris, lent many of them to the Armory Show in New York in 1913, and argued a case for the organizers of that show that changed the customs law in the U.S.: From that point on, works of art less than 100 years old would be free of tariffs as their classical cousins were.
In his later days, working on Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce employed another Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, as his scribe and assistant, because his own eyesight was so bad.
Joyce died in 1941 at the age of 59 of a duodenal ulcer. Nora lived another ten years.
Sylvia Beach, who funded the publication of Ulysses on her own with the help of the paid subscriptions, never saw any profit or royalties from it. Her writer friends helped her keep the bookstore open, but when the Nazis occupied Paris in World War II she was interned for a few years. She wrote a lovely memoir called Shakespeare & Co. which was published in the mid-fifties.
During our marriage ceremony last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, our friend performing the ceremony announced that Tony and I each wanted to say something that we’d written. We looked at each other, and Tony said,
“You’re the writer. Go ahead.”
So I glanced at my scribbled notes and told him that I wouldn’t promise to solve his problems, but that I would help him to solve them. And that I wouldn’t promise to love everyone he loved, but that I would always respect those he loved.
I finished with Molly Bloom’s “Yes!” from the ending of Ulysses, but because I didn’t do the requisite fact-checking, I misquoted it. So here, for those of you who were at the wedding, and those who weren’t, is the correct ending for Molly and for me:
“…and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
In April of 1912, the RMS Titanic went down in the Atlantic Ocean. It had been built in Belfast, in the northern part of Ireland, set sail from Southampton, England, stopped off in Queenstown, in the southern part of Ireland, and hit an iceberg on its way to New York City.
Dorothy Rothschild [later Parker], 18, lost her uncle, but he managed to save his wife. Her future Algonquin Round Table member Alexander Woollcott, 25, was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the end of the month by his employer, the New York Times, to interview the survivors. Soon after he came back, he was made Times drama critic.
The art world was about to explode at the Armory Show one year later in 1913—and all hell would break loose in Europe the year after that.
But what else was happening a century ago? What about W B Yeats and his friends in the Irish Literary Renaissance, whose Abbey Theatre was just a bit over seven years old?
What about the Bloomsberries, in London, who had spent the past five years talking, writing, painting and smoking in the salons of Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square?
What about Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, hosting painters in their Paris atelier at 27 rue de Fleurus? Most of the future American writers who would visit after the war were just growing up in the US.
And what about Dotty and Alex and the rest of the Round Table, embarking on their careers in Manhattan?
I’ve gone back to dig out what all the creative people in the four salons were doing 100 years ago, in Ireland, England, France and America. Click on the links in the column to the right to find out what was happening 100 years ago in Ireland, England, France and America, 1912.
And for a look ahead to spring 1913, click on the link to The Armory Show.
If you come across any other related 100 year anniversaries, please pass them along to me at email@example.com. Thanks!