Today in fiction
On Sept. 9, a buff envelope is delivered by a soldier in civilian clothes.
-- "The Photographer's Wife" (1999)
by Robert Sole
From "The Book of Fictional Days." Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to email@example.com.
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1904, 22-year-old James Joyce moved into the Martello Tower in Sandycove, outside Dublin, with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty. Joyce stayed with Gogarty for only a week -- and in October Joyce and Nora Barnacle would leave for Europe -- but their relationship and the tower setting would become the opening chapter of "Ulysses." The Martello Tower was one of many built by the British army a century earlier as a defense system against a Napoleonic invasion -- thus Stephen Dedalus (Joyce) is able to joke that Buck Mulligan (Gogarty) pays his rent to "the secretary of state for war."
Richard Ellmann's biography of Joyce tells several amusing anecdotes of life at the tower. This one finds them on their usual search for money and an opportunity for wit:
One day they saw Yeats' father, John Butler Yeats, walking on the strand, and Gogarty, prodded by Joyce, said to him, "Good morning, Mr. Yeats, would you be so good as to lend us two shillings?" The old man looked from one to the other and retorted, "Certainly not. In the first place I have no money, and if I had it and lent it to you, you and your friend would spend it on drink." Joyce came forward and said gravely, as Gogarty afterwards recalled, "We cannot speak about that which is not." Yeats had already moved on, so Joyce had to make his point only to Gogarty, "You see, the razor of Occam forbids the introduction of superfluous arguments. When he said he had no money that was enough. He had no right to discuss the possible use of the non-existent."
"Ulysses" was virtually banned in Ireland for decades, but the Irish 10-pound note now features the tower, a picture of Joyce, a map of Dublin, and the first sentence of "Finnegans Wake" -- "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of the novel and proprietor of the famous "Shakespeare and Company" bookstore in Paris, bought the tower in 1962 and turned it into a Joyce museum.
-- Steve King
To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.