Thursday, February 01, 2007

Circular Annotation

In the first chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, we meet the Dedalus family friend Mr Casey, whose hand is cramped from a spell in prison picking oakum:
And when [Stephen] had tried to open Mr Casey’s hand to see if the purse of silver was hidden there he had seen that the fingers could not be straightened out: and Mr Casey had told him that he had got those three cramped fingers making a birthday present for Queen Victoria.
My edition of the novel (Viking Critical Library, ed. Chester G. Anderson, 1968) annotates the passage thusly:
“Kelly was in prison several times for Land League agitation, and John Joyce regularly invited him to recuperate from imprisonment…at the house in Bray. In jail three fingers of his left hand had become permanently cramped from picking oakum, and he would tell the children that they had become so while he was making a birthday present for Queen Victoria.” (Ellmann, pp. 23f.)
That’s Richard Ellmann, of course, from his authoritative biography James Joyce (1959, rev. ed. 1982) And where does Ellmann get the story of Queen Vic’s birthday present? The only footnote to this passage in James Joyce refers us to Stanislaus Joyce’s memoir My Brother’s Keeper: “The fingers of [John Kelly’s] left hand were premanently cramped from making sacks and picking oakum in jail” (p.13). To which the editor of My Brother’s Keeper – Richard Ellmann – adds the helpful footnote: “‘…and Mr Casey had told him that he had got those three cramped fingers making a birthday present for Queen Victoria.’ A Portrait of the Artist, p. 27.”

So at least two details in Ellmann’s biography – the “birthday present” quip and the fact that it was three fingers that were cramped – have no other source than A Portrait of the Artist itself. How much Joyce annotation that relies on Ellmann is similary circular – especially given the fact that the memories of so many of his informants – Stanislaus in particular – had been influenced precisely by Joyce’s fictive presentations of his autobiography?

1 comment:

Henry Gould said...

Did Ellmann ever interview Stanislaus in person? Or did he work with him directly while editing his memoir? Stanislaus could have elaborated on this anecdote at that time. That seems a possibility, anyway. (Innocent before proven guilty.)