I have just finished the biography of the father of James Joyce. The two
authors, Jackson and Costello, were very thorough! John Stanislaus Joyce
was born on July 4th 1849 and died at the age of 82. He fathered a large
Irish family. James Joyce was his eldest living son—and his
favorite of all his children. This is stating a fact mildly, considering his
absolute dereliction of duty and love towards the others.
This book not only centers around John Stanislaus, but of Dublin. He
could almost be said to BE Dublin—and he certainly personified Dublin
for James Joyce’s writing. The elder Joyce lived through many years of
Dublin’s political history–and caroused and drank his way through all
the elections–win or lose. He entertained his crowd of cronies with
music and song at the piano and his smutty wit amused them for years.
The book sails along–even with all this–or maybe because of all this–
interesting history of Dublin. These were the days of Charles Parnell
and the fight for Home Rule.
John Joyce had been born into a respectable family, and
was given 1000 pounds on his 21st birthday. He also inherited
rental properties from former generations. But over the years, he
shiftlessly spent his way through the family’s money, keeping the
furniture and the portraits of ancestors as long as he could.
He moved his family so many times I lost track–and he defied the landlords’ claims of missed rents. He eventually pawned family furniture that had been of value—and by the end of the book, even the portraits were sold, though they had been kept in the family for generations.
John married May Murray in 1880. There were to be seventeen
pregnancies–and the living children became a stair stepping stream
of a family “well begun”.
James Augustine Joyce
Margaret Alice (Poppie)
(John) Stanislaus (Stannie)
Eileen Isabella Mary Xavier
Mabel Josephine Anne (Baby)
John’s wife, May, died at the age of forty-four and there were ten Joyces
left —“Pappie”, Jim, Poppie, Stannie, Charlie, Eileen, May, Eva, Florrie
and Baby. Jim (James) left for Europe and never helped with the
upbringing of his younger siblings. The father was just about penniless.
Soon Stanislaus, a younger brother, joined James and Nora in Europe.
He hated his father–always–but did send money back to Ireland for
years to help with the younger brothers and sisters. He was often the only
means of support for James and Nora as well, being able to keep a steady
job (not an easy feat in the Joyce family history).
“Pappie” depended on the daughters to take care of the house, the cooking, the
childcare, etc and all this done under the atmosphere of terror, abuse and
the rages of alcohol addiction by the father. Money from a small pension
made the beginning of the month a little easier, but it was spent quickly and
not given out willingly to buy food or clothing.
The authors dwell on the way James Joyce used his father in his writing–used
his personality, his wit, his manner and ‘his’ Dublin for almost every single
piece that Joyce wrote—including Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It is so
obvious when you know the background. On James Joyce’s 21st birthday
he did not receive 1000 pounds as his father had. But, we can see today,
he received the kernel of his entire writing career—to put his father in
his stories. And that “was the most valuable bequest that James Joyce
would ever receive.”
James was the only child who “admired” old John–easy for him–in Europe.
The other children spent years in misery and even after Joyce became famous
for his writing, some of the girls disputed the fact that they were related–
ashamed at the banned material written by their brother.
“Until the end of John Stanislaus’s life James Joyce hoped he would receive a
sign of his father’s approval for ((his work as a writer.)) That never came.”
But that never detracted from their mutual devotion. They kept up an
intermittent correspondence over the years. Probably the last time they
saw each other in person was in 1912 when the father was 63. As time went
on, he frequently asked James to come “home” to see him, but he never did.
He doubted Ireland’s welcome because of his anti-Ireland writings.
This biography is about 400 pages long and brings a slant to the family
of James Joyce that I hadn’t known before. I am left with the thought that
as miserable as many of traits of John Stanislaus were, he apparently was
always faithful to May. And I like to think about two stalwart members of
the family—the brother Stanislaus, who saved every letter and every bit of
writing that Joyce ever wrote and was of such help to so many in the family.
The other member of the Joyce family, unsung, was Aunt Josephine–May’s
sister-in-law, who helped when she was able to be some solace and aid to
the little children after May died.
Last year I read the biography of Nora, James Joyce’s wife, by Brenda Maddox.
It tells of their years in Europe, of their two children, Georgio and Lucia. Now
I suppose I should read the book written by the brother, Stanislaus. But I hope
I can be forgiven if I let another year go by first!
Three button review: