Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Midnight in Paris

I enjoyed Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's fantasy about the Lost Generation of the 20s. The hero, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) goes back in time and gets to meet Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S.Eliot, Djuna Barnes, Dali, Man Ray and Picasso

But where was James Joyce?!

Joyce was king of literary Paris in the 20s - most of the others were just passing through. Apart from Stein, the American writers worshipped Joyce. When F Scott Fitzgerald met him, in 1928, he was so much in awe that he offered to jump out of the window in homage!

Following his meeting with Joyce, Fitzgerald drew this cartoon in Sylvia Beach's copy of The Great Gatsby. Beach, shown as a siren or mermaid, sits at the right beside Joyce, who wears a halo, receiving the worship of a kneeling Fitzgerald. 

Hemingway also sought out Joyce and the pair became drinking companions. Joyce was one of the few writers Hemingway didn't fall out with.

Ellmann quotes two anecdotes from Hemingway:

We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say: 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'

Once in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking, Joyce said to me that he was afraid that his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get a round a bit and see the world. Nora Joyce said, 'Ah Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' Joyce replied, 'The thing we must face is that I couldn't see the lion.' His wife was not to be silenced: 'Hemingway'd describe him to you and afterwards you could go up and smell him. That's all you'd need.'

My other problem with Woody Allen's film is the idea that Gil would ask for literary advice from Gertrude Stein, who is shown as a great sage. 

Here's part of an interview with Stein, in which Wambly Bald asked her what she thought of James Joyce:

'He is a good writer. People like him because he is incomprehensible and anybody can understand him. But who came first, Gertrude Stein or James Joyce? Do not forget that my first great book, Three Lives, was published in 1908. That was long before Ulysses. But Joyce has done something. His influence is however local. Like Synge, another Irish writer, he has had his day.'

Bald: 'You feel then, Miss Stein, that your place in literature is secure?'
Stein: 'My place in literature? Twentieth-century literature is Gertrude Stein.'

Wambly Bald, On the Left Bank 1929-33

Would you ask her to read your novel?

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