Friday, 22 September 2017

Looking for Joyce and Blake in Bognor Regis: Joyce's Guesthouse

Inspiring things are happening in Bognor Regis and neighbouring Felpham, thanks to the Big Blake Project. Following a crowd funding campaign, the Blake Society has bought the poet's cottage in Felpham. The plan is to turn this cottage, where he wrote 'And did those feet' into a centre of imagination. They've also created a Big Blake Blake trail, which you can read about here, and a gorgeous virtual tour of the cottage and garden, populated by the visionary beings that Blake saw here. They say that they 'aspire to nothing less than a Blakean Renaissance, Beulah.'

It sounds like they are rebuilding Jerusalem, or Golgonooza, Blake's Eternal City of Art (inspired by a walk the poet took to Chichester). More power to their elbows!

Last weekend was Blakefest, a two day celebration of visionary art, with poetry readings, musical performances, exhibitions, and Blakean inspired face painting for children. On Saturday, there was a walk by the Irish poet Niall McDevitt called 'Bugger Bognor, my Republican Irish arse!' He described this as 'a Bognor to Felpham walk encountering the great Blakeans James Joyce and Dante Gabriel Rossetti until we meet the main man himself'.

I'd love to have gone to that, but I couldn't get to Bognor until the Sunday. I went down with Lisa and our friend Alan Fred Pipes, and we did our own Blakean trail.

We started at the former guesthouse in Clarence Road, where Joyce stayed in the summer of 1923, which I last saw in 2002. It was bright yellow then. To find out more about Joyce's time here, see my previous post (It was while staying here that he came across the name Earwicker).

In My Brother's Keeper, Stanislaus Joyce (who hated Blake) tells us that, in his youth, his brother's 'gods were Blake and Dante'. Here's an exchange they had in 1903, when, following their mother's death, James Joyce began 'to drink riotously':

I hated to see him glossy-eyed and slobbery–mouthed, and I usually told him so heatedly, either on the spot or the morning after.
–It makes me sick, said I, just to look at you....
–The road of excess, quoted my brother again, leads to the palace of wisdom.
–Why the hell do you quote that bloody lunatic to me? I retorted angrily alluding to Blake. In any case I know the name of the palace. It's called Bedlam.

That's one of Blake's Proverbs of Hell, which Joyce liked quoting. He was still quoting Blake's proverbs in 1938 when, close to finishing the Wake, he told Jaques Mercanton, 'The only thing that gives me the courage to finish is Blake's proverb: If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.'

That reminds me of a nice couplet by Anthony Burgess:

Poems are made by fools like Blake
But only Joyce can make a Wake.


Joyce identified with Blake as a fellow rebel against the Church, State and the nets of religion and nationality.

When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.   

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Blake had used this image in the Book of Urizen. Urizen is Blake's tyrant-god-king-priest figure, who weaves the nets that trap society. 

A Web dark & cold, throughout all
The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizens soul...
None could break the Web, no wings of fire.
So twisted the cords, & so knotted
The meshes: twisted like to the human brain.
And all call'd it, The Net of Religion.

The Book of Urizen.    

Here's Urizen with his net.

The nets are enforced by the Church and State - the priest and king.  Stanislaus Joyce tells us that his brother liked to quote these lines of Blake from 'Merlin's Prophecy':

The king and the priest must be tied in a tether,
Before two virgins can meet together.

In Ulysses, Stephen taps his brow and says, 'But in here it is I must kill the priest and king.'
Fred and Lisa



A 1912 lecture Joyce gave on Blake in Trieste shows another way in which he identified with him:

Like many other men of great genius, Blake was not attracted to cultured and refined women. Either he preferred to drawing-room graces and an easy and broad culture...the simple woman, of hazy and sensual mentality, or, in his unlimited egoism, he wanted the soul of his beloved to be entirely a slow and painful creation of his own, freeing and purifying daily under his very eyes, the demon (as he says) hidden in the cloud.  

Joyce, who saw himself as a man of great genius, is writing about his own unlimited egoism here. 'The simple woman, of hazy and sensual mentality' is how he saw Nora Barnacle. 

The irony is that Nora had such a strong personality that there was no way that Joyce could mould her. According to Ellmann, the only occasion when she spoke of his writing with any approval was in Bognor when, on returning a pair of split shoes, she told the shopkeeper,  'My husband is a writer and if you don't change them I'll have it published in the paper.'

Here's how Joyce imagine Blake in the act of creation, supported by a loving wife:

Los and Enitharmon
Elemental beings and spirits of dead great men often came to the poet’s room at night to speak with him about art and the imagination. Then Blake would leap out of bed, and, seizing his pencil, remain long hours in the cold London night drawing the limbs and lineaments of the visions, while his wife, curled up beside his easy chair, held his hand lovingly and kept quiet so as not to disturb the visionary ecstasy of the seer. When the vision had gone, about daybreak his wife would get back into bed, and Blake, radiant with joy and benevolence, would quickly begin to light the fire and get breakfast for the both of them. We are amazed that the symbolic beings Los and Urizen and Vala and Tiriel and Enitharmon and the shades of Milton and Homer came from their ideal world to a poor London room, and no other incense greeted their coming than the smell of East Indian tea and eggs fried in lard. Isn’t this perhaps the first time in the history of the world that the Eternal spoke through the mouth of the humble?

Nora was not like this. She used to say that it was a shame that Joyce didn't stick to singing instead of writing novels. Brenda Maddox tells us that Nora's reaction to her husband's growing fame was to say, 'We should put him in a cage and feed him peanuts through the bars.'


In a 1902 paper on James Clarence Mangan, Joyce described poetry in Blakean language:

Poetry...makes no account of history, which is fabled by the daughters of memory, but sets store by every time less than the pulsation of an artery, the time in which intuitions start forth, holding it equal in its period and value to six thousand years.

He's quoting A Vision of the Last Judgement, where Blake contrasts fable or allegory with vision or imagination:

Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct & inferior kind of Poetry. Vision, or Imagination, is a Representation of what Eternally Exists, Really & Unchangeably. Fable or Allegory is Formd by the daughters of Memory. Imagination is Surrounded by the daughters of Inspiration.

Joyce is also using Blake's description of time, in Milton:
Every Time less than a pulsation of the artery
Is equal in its period and value to Six Thousand Years; 
For in this Period the Poet’s Work is done; and all the great
Events of Time start forth and are conceiv’d in such a Period,
Within a Moment, a Pulsation of the Artery.

By 1912, when he wrote his lecture on Blake, Joyce had turned away from idealism. He wrote, 'by minimizing space and time and denying the existence of memory and the senses, (Blake) tried to paint his work on the void of the divine bosom.'

In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, teaching a Roman history lesson, thinks about history:

Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. 

The events of the past must have happened in some way in the real world, even if history/memory misreports them. Robert F Gleckner has a great reading of 'thud of Blake's wings of excess':

Blake flew too often and too far into the beyond, and that excess led not to wisdom but to a thud against the unyielding hardness of reality.

'Joyce's Blake: Paths of Influence' in Blake and the Moderns (ed Bertholf and Levitt) p 147


This is how Blake describes space, in Milton:

For every space larger than a red globule of Man's blood
Is visionary, and is created by the Hammer of Los;
And every space smaller than a globule of Man's blood opens
Into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a shadow.

Here's Blake's Los, with his blacksmith's hammer, from the Book of Urizen. He's the embodiment of the creative poetic imagination. Joyce might have been thinking of him when he wrote in A Portrait, of Stephen's desire 'to forge in the smithy of (his) soul the uncreated conscience of (his) race.'

Stephen thinks of the Milton passage in the Library episode, where he sets Blake's idealism against the real physical world. 

Space, what you damn well have to see. Through spaces smaller than red globules of man's blood they creepycrawl after Blake's buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow. Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past.

The creepycrawlers are the Dublin theosophists, like AE, who follow Blake into the void of idealism. In Ulysses, Joyce holds 'to the now the here' Dublin on a single June day in 1904.

From Joyce's guesthouse, we walked down to the seafront, where we found Blake's favourite word, Vision, displayed on the top of the pier.

In front of the Carlton Hotel, we spotted Lucia Joyce dancing along the balcony.  

A friendly wave from a seafront mystic...

Then we caught the Whaleway train to Bognor's Butlin's Holiday Camp, on our way to Blake's cottage in Felpham....


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