|Thomas Wolfe in 1937, photographed by Carl van Vechten|
'I took the day off and went to Waterloo in a bus – the first trip I've made. There were seven or eight of us – two or three English, two or three French, and your old friend* James Joyce. He was with a woman about forty, and a young man, and a girl. I noticed him after we had descended at Waterloo – I had seen his picture only a day or two ago in a French publisher's announcements: he was wearing a blind over one eye. He was very simply – even shabbily – dressed. We went into a little café where the bus stopped to look at the battle souvenirs and buy postcards: then we walked up what was once the Sunken Road to a huge circular building that had a panorama of the battle painted around the sides;'
Elizabeth Knowell, (ed)The Letters of Thomas Wolfe p114
*Aline Bernstein had put on a production of Exiles the previous year, and had visited Joyce in London to pay royalties.
Here's part of the panorama, a 110m-long canvas painted by Louis Dumoulin in 1912, to commemorate the centenary of Waterloo. It shows a key moment in the battle - Marshall Ney's charge against the English infantry squares around Wellington.
Could this panorama be in Finnegans Wake?:
'the whole panoromacron picture.' 318.09
'— A lambskip for the marines! Paronama! The entire horizon cloth!' 502.36
Back to Thomas Wolfe, who now describes visiting the 40 metre-tall lion mound, built by King William I of the Netherlands to mark the position where his son, Prince William of Orange, was wounded in the battle. The 'young man' referred to here is Giorgio Joyce:
'then we ascended the several hundred steps up the great mound which supports the lion and looks out over the field. The young man, who wore horn-rim spectacles, and a light sporty-looking overcoat, looked very much like an American college boy: he began to talk to me going up the steps – I asked him if he knew the man with the eye blind. He said he did, and that it was Joyce. I commented briefly that I had seen Joyce's picture and read his book; after this the young fellow joined me at every point.'
'Walking back down the road to the café, I asked him if Joyce's sight was better – he said it had greatly improved. He said that Joyce was working on a new book, but thought it impossible to say when it was finished. We went back to the café – they sat down at a table and had tea – the young man seemed about to ask me to join them, and I took a seat quickly at another table, calling for two beers. They all spoke French together – he told them all about it, and they peeked furtively at me from time to time – the great man himself taking an occasional crafty shot at me with his good eye. As they had tea, they all wrote postcards. As they got up to go into the bus, the young man bowed somewhat grandly to me – I don't blame him; I'd be pleased too. I judge the people are Joyce's family – he is a man in his middle forties – old enough to have a son and a daughter like these. The woman had the appearance of a thousand middle class French women I've known – a vulgar, rather loose mouth; not very intelligent looking. The young man spoke English well, but with a foreign accent. It was tragic to see Joyce – one of the gods at the moment – speaking not one word of the language his fame is based on. The girl was rather pretty – I thought at first she was an American flapper.'
|James and Lucia Joyce in Ostend in 1924, from Bob Cato and Greg Vitiello's Joyce Images|
'Joyce was very simple, very nice. He walked next to the old guide who showed us around, listening with apparent interest to his harangue delivered in broken English, and asking him questions. We came home to Brussels through a magnificent forest, miles in extent – Joyce sat with the driver on the front seat, asked a great many questions. I sat alone on the back seat – it was a huge coach; the woman sat in front of me, the girl in front of her, the young man on one side. Queer arrangement, eh?
Joyce got a bit stagey on the way home, draping his overcoat poetically around his shoulders. But I liked Joyce's looks – not extraordinary at first sight, but growing. His face was highly colored, slightly concave – his mouth thin, not delicate, but extraordinarily humorous. He had a large powerful straight nose – redder than his face, somewhat pitted with scars and boils.
When we got back to Brussels, and stopped in front of the bus office. the young man and two women made a little group, while Joyce went inside. The young man was looking at me, and I was swimming in beer. I made a dive for the nearest place, which was under a monument: they are more respectable here than in Paris.
Anyhow it was too good to spoil: the idea of Joyce and me being at Waterloo at the same time, and aboard a sight-seeing bus, struck me as insanely funny. I sat on the back seat making idiot noises in my throat, and crooning all the way back through the forest.
I think they really might have been a little grand about it if they had known they were discovered. But they were just like common people out sight-seeing.'
|The Joyces in 1924, from Joyce Images|
What jumps out of this letter to me is the description of Joyce climbing a great mound on the battlefield of Waterloo. Just two months later, he wrote the opening chapter of Finnegans Wake, which contains a visit to the 'Willingdone Museyroom', which is located beneath a mound!
'a proudseye view is enjoyable of our mounding’s mass, now Wallinstone national museum, with, in some greenish distance, the charmful water-loose country and the two quitewhite villagettes who hear show of themselves so gigglesomes minxt the follyages, the prettilees! Penetrators are permitted into the museomound free.' 7.36-8.05
This 'museomound' sounds like a mixture of the Waterloo battlefield panorama building and lion mound with the Wellington monument in the Dublin's Phoenix Park. It's also another version of the 'orangeflavoured mudmound' (111.34), where Belinda the Hen discovers the letter. Joyce came up with the mudmound before visiting Waterloo, but he must have been struck by the coincidence of finding a mound on the battlefield commemorating a Prince of Orange! (He'd also called the mound 'the orangery' at 110.27).
|The Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park|
What follows is the voice of the janitrix, Kathe, describing the contents of the Museyroom, where the battle of Waterloo is re-imagined as another version of HCE's sin in the park. HCE becomes 'Willingdone on his same white harse'. The three soldiers become the 'lipoleum boyne' (bringing in another William of Orange and the Battle of the Boyne). The two girls are called 'jinnies'. Joyce drew a plan of the battle in his manuscript.
You can read the text, and annotations here in fweet. To give you a feel of the style, here's the opening, from Joyce's fair copy of 29 November 1926.
Is this the 'harangue' of the 'old guide' who showed the Joyces and Thomas Wolfe around the battlefield?