Monday, 8 January 2018

Eliot and Joyce: Part 1 Ulysses

T.S.Eliot was perhaps Joyce's most loyal friend. He was the only leading supporter of Ulysses to admire Finnegans Wake, which he published at Faber and Faber in 1939. At Faber, he almost single-handedly created a Joyce industry. Without Eliot, promoting Joyce in the heart of the British literary establishment, would we even have a Finnegans Wake?

After hearing of Joyce's death in 1941, Virginia Woolf looked back in her diary at Eliot's 'rapt' response to Ulysses:

Then Joyce is dead–Joyce about a fortnight younger than I am. I remember Miss Weaver, in wool gloves, bringing Ulysses in type script to our tea table at Hogarth House. Roger [Fry] I think sent her. Would we devote our lives to printing it? The indecent pages looked so incongruous....I remember Tom in Ottoline’s room at Garsington sayingit was published thenhow could anyone write again after achieving the immense prodigy of the last chapter? He was for the first time in my knowledge, rapt, enthusiastic.

Eliot and Woolf at Garsington in 1924, photographed by Ottoline Morrell

To trace Eliot's relationship to Joyce, I've been reading the massive new edition of his collected letters, which is being published by Faber. There are seven volumes so far, but they only go up to 1935. It's a long story, so this first post will just follow him through the Ulysses years, covered in the first volume.

Eliot first encountered Ulysses in The Little Review, the US journal whose European editor was his close friend Ezra Pound.  The journal published most of the novel serially from 1918 to 1920 (when the Society for the Suppression of Vice got the publication stopped for obscenity). Its splendid tagline was 'making no compromise with the public taste'.

You can read facsimiles of the publication thanks to the wonderful Modernist Journals Project, from Brown University and Tulsa. The very first episode is here.  Eliot was also an assistant editor on the British Journal, The Egoist, which was having even more trouble trying to publish the book. The British printers refused to set the opening chapter because of 'snotgreen' and 'scrotumtightening', so the publication began, in 1919, with the second chapter, which you can read here.

In his letters, Eliot's first mention of Joyce is on 30 June 1918, writing to Scofield Thayer, poet, publisher and editor of The Dial:

'Do you see the Little Review? I hope so. There you can watch...particularly the superb new novel of Joyce, which I do commend to your attention. You no doubt have read The Portrait of the Artist by him. The best living prose writer.'

After the May issue of the Review, which carried 'Scylla and Charybdis', was stopped for obscenity by the US Post Office, Eliot wrote to John Quinn, the New York lawyer and art patron who funded the journal:

'The affair is only one more episode in a national scandal. I should like to do everything I can about it over here. The part of Ulysses in question struck me as almost the finest I have read: I have lived on it ever since. You know the trouble the Egoist came up against in attempting to print Ulysses here.
  I am sorry to say that I have found it uphill and exasperating work trying to impose Joyce on such 'intellectual' people, or people whose opinion carries weight as I know, in London. He is far from being accepted, yet. I only know two or three people, besides my wife and myself, who are really carried away by him. There is a strong body of critical Brahminism, destructive and conservative in temper, which will not have Joyce. Novelty is no more acceptable here than anywhere else, and the forces of conservatism and obstruction are more intelligent, better educated, and more formidable.'

To John Quinn, 9 July 1919


The best known Eliot and Joyce story is of their first meeting, in Paris in 1920. He'd gone with Wyndham Lewis to Paris to give Joyce a pair of old brown shoes from Ezra Pound. It's told in Lewis' memoir, Blasting and Bombardiering, which mocks Joyce as a bogtrotting provincial. 

'You think he is proud as Lucifer?'
'I would not say Lucifer!' Eliot was on his guard at once...
'You would not say Lucifer? Well I daresay he may be under the impression that he is being 'as proud as Lucifer', or some bogtrotting humbug of that order. What provincials they are, bless their beastly brogues!'
'Provincials - yes!' Eliot agreed with contemptuous unction. 'Provincials.'

I've posted about it here.

Thanks to Eliot's Letters, we now have his own account of this meeting, as well as this delightful drawing he made. 

'We dined with Joyce in Paris, as you will I am sure be interested to know. Fritz Vanderpyl, a friend of Pound and myself, was also present, and I enclose a sketch (by me) of the party. Joyce is a quiet but rather dogmatic man, and has (as I am convinced most superior persons have) a sense of his own importance.  He has a sort of gravity which seems more Protestant than Catholic. He is obviously the man who wrote his books – that is, he impresses you as an important enough personage for that.'

To Sydney Schiff, 22 August 1920

'Did I tell you that I met Joyce in Paris last Autumn? I found him quite charming and I liked him; though I can see that he is certainly a handful, with the true fanatic's conviction that everyone ought to forward the interests of his work.'

To John Quinn, 9 May 1921

So Eliot's 'contemptuous unction' towards Joyce might have been imagined by Lewis.


In Spring 1921, Joyce sent Eliot manuscripts of the 'Oxen of the Sun', 'Circe' and 'Eumaeus' episodes. In his letter to Quinn, above, Eliot, said, 'The latter part of Ulysses, which I have been reading in manuscript, is truly magnificent.'

Eliot wrote to Joyce:

'My dear Joyce,
  I am returning your three manuscripts by registered post as you require, and I am exceedingly obliged for a taste of them. I think they are superb – especially the Descent into Hell, which is stupendous. Only in detail I object to one or two phrases of Elijah: 'ring up' is English, 'call up' the American; 'trunk line' is applied to the telephone service, is English, the American is, if I remember, 'long distance'. I don't quite like the wording of the coon transformation of Elijah, either, but I cannot suggest any detailed alteration. But otherwise I have nothing but admiration; in fact, I wish, for myself, that I had not read it.'

To Joyce, 21 May 1921

Eliot also mentioned the manuscripts in a letter to Robert McAlmon, in which he warned him of the dangers for a writer of living in Paris:

'The chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulus, and like most stimulants incites to rushing about and produces a pleasant illusion of great mental activity rather than the solid results of hard work....Joyce I admire as a person who seems to be independent of outside stimulus, and who therefore is likely to go on producing first-rate work until he dies....Joyce has form, immensely careful.  And as for literary – one of the last things he sent me contains a marvellous parody of nearly every style of English prose from 1600 to the Daily Mail.'

To Robert McAlmon, 23 May 1921

Eliot summed up the book's significance in his review  'Ulysses Order and Myth' in The Dial in November 1923:
'I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can has given me all the surprise, delight, and terror that I can require....Mr. Joyce’s parallel use of the Odyssey...has the importance of a scientific discovery....In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him....It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.'


For the same episode of the Dial, Eliot wrote to the eminent literary critic, George Saintsbury (1845-1933), asking him to write an article on Joyce's style and prose rhythms. Saintsbury's History of English Prose Rhythm had been Joyce's major source in writing the parodies in the 'Oxen of the Sun' episode. Joyce also wanted Saintsbury to read his book:

'It would perhaps be well to send a copy (press) to Professor George Saintsbury. I am old fashioned enough to admire him though he may not return the compliment. He is however quite capable of flinging the tome back through your window, especially if the 1922 vintage has not matured to his liking.'   

Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 17 November 1922

'the 1922 vintage': Saintsbury was a famous wine connoisseur.

Saintsbury wrote Eliot an elegant letter turning down the proposal:

'Dear Mr Eliot
  I'm afraid it's no go. There is no prudery in me but I have what the doctors I believe call an 'irritable vomiting centre' and Mr Joyce unfortunately acts on it like ipecacuanha or a feather. It is a pity: for not only are his more serious or serious-parodist pieces sometimes very good, but he has an odd faculty of more pictorial or musical than purely literary composition. The long bar room piece in the middle is a sort of sonata with the two girls being in and out of it like mottoes. But when you're always expecting to have to run to the side of the ship as you turn the pages it ceases to be delightful. So I must decline to be happy with either of the two ladies who offer themselves so generously and together on this occasion.'

11 February 1923.

Ipecacuanha is a Brazilian plant used as an emetic. Its name means 'roadside sick-making plant'!

I doubt if Eliot shared Saintsbury's opinion with Joyce. If he had, Joyce would probably have used it in Finnegans Wake, as he used The Sporting Times review of Ulysses:

'The main contents of the book are enough to make a Hottentot sick' 

Sporting Times,  1 April 1922

'you squandered among underlings the overload of your extravagance and made a hottentot of dulpeners crawsick with your crumbs.' FW 193.02


In late 1921, Eliot wrote his most famous poem, The Waste Land. Like Joyce, he was manipulating 'a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and history' (Margate Sands and Carthage; Tiresias witnessing the typist and the young man carbuncular) and using myths (the Grail Legend and the Fisher King) to 'give a shape and significance' to his work.

The poem was greatly influenced by the late Ulysses chapters he'd been reading. In the original version, Eliot even included a drunken visit to a Brothel based on the 'Circe' episode.

The Waste Land facsimile, published by Faber

At the end, the narrator is saved from arrest by a passing Mr Donavan, just as Stephen Dedalus is by Corny Kelleher in 'Circe'.

CORNY KELLEHER (To the watch, with drawling eye.) That's all right. I know him.  ....Leave it to me, sergeant. That'll be all right. (He laughs, shaking his head.) We were often as bad ourselves, ay or worse. What? Eh, what?
FIRST WATCH (Laughs.) I suppose so.




The Waste Land and Ulysses were both published in the same year, 1922, exploding like twin modernist bombshells on literatureUlysses, in particular, was so momentous that Ezra Pound saw it as marking the beginning of a new era of world history. He dated it from 29 October 1921, the day Joyce finished Ulysses, and announced the new era with a calendar in the Little Review of Spring 1922.  His 'p.s.u.' stands for 'post scriptum Ulysses' (after Ulysses was written).

Liitle Review (Modernist Journals Project)



Richard Ellmann quotes the Diary of Helen Nutting, in which she records Joyce saying, after reading The Waste Land, 'I had never realised that Eliot was a poet.' She replied, 'I liked it too, but I couldn't understand it.' Joyce asked, 'Do you have to understand it?'

A 1920s notebook entry of Joyce's, quoted by Ellmann, says 'T.S.Eliot ends idea of poetry for ladies'.

Joyce also praised Eliot as a fellow realist in two conversations with the romantic idealist Arthur Power (not a fan):

'Idealism is a pleasant bauble, but in these days of overwhelming reality it no longer interests us....We regard it as a sort of theatrical drop-scene. Most lives are made up like the modern painter's themes, of jugs, and pots and plates, backstreets and blowsy living-rooms inhabited by blowsy women, and of a thousand daily sordid incidents which seep into our minds no matter how we strive to keep them out. These are the furniture of our life which you want to reject for some romantic and flimsy drop-scene....Eliot has a mind which can appreciate and express both and by placing one in contrast to the other he has obtained striking effects.'  

Conversations with James Joyce 86-7

Sitting in a bar in the Champs Elysees, Joyce quoted the Shakespeherian Rag section of The Waste Land, which Power did not like. Power responded with some lines of Browning's Sordello, which Joyce found full of clichés.

'Haven't we had enough of all that. It was written in a tradition that is...already dead....Did you ever hear anyone talk like Browning's characters?....The Waste Land is the expression of our time in which we are trying to lift off the accumulated weight of the ages which was stifling original thought: formulas which may have meant something in the past but which mean nothing today. Eliot searches for images of emotion rather than for an ordered sequence, and in this he is related to all the other modern poets.'

Conversations with James Joyce p.116-7

Joyce seems to have known most of Eliot's poem by heart. He parodied it in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver:

Rouen is the rainiest place, getting
Inside all impermeables, wetting
Damp marrow in drenched bones.
Midwinter soused us coming over Le Mans
Our inn at Niort was the Grape of Burgundy
But the winepress of the Lord thundered over that grape of Burgundy
And we left it in a hurgundy.
    (Hurry up, Joyce, it's time!)

I heard mosquitoes swarm in old Bordeaux
So many!
I had not thought the earth contained so many
    (Hurry up, Joyce, it's time)

Mr Anthologos, the local gardener,
Greycapped, with politeness full of cunning
Has made wine these fifty years
And told me in his southern French
Le petit vin is the surest drink to buy
For if 'tis bad
Vous ne l'avez pas payé
    (Hurry up, hurry up, now, now, now!)

But we shall have great times,
When we return to Clinic, that waste land
O Esculapios!
    (Shan't we? Shan't we? Shan't we?) 

14 August 1925, Selected Letters, p.308

Eliot's poem also found its way into Finnegans Wake:

A pause. Their orison arises misquewhite as Osman glory, ebbing wasteward, leaves to the soul of light its fading silence (allahlah lahlah lah!), a turquewashed sky.Then:
   — Xanthos! Xanthos! Xanthos!    235.06-7

Apart from 'wasteward' that echoes three parts of Eliot's poem:

'looking into the heart of light, the silence' TWL 41
'Weialala leia / Wallala leialala' TWL 278
'Shantih shantih shantih' TWL 433

And sunrise at the book's end is announced with another triple Shantih:

Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas!
Calling all downs. Calling all downs to dayne. Array! Surrection!  



  1. Does George Saintsbury seem to have responded in any way to Eliot's request? I've always been curious what Saintsbury would have thought of Joyce - or any of the modernists, for that matter. He's got a wide taste, that can accommodate Tristram Shandy and the like, and he wrote that he enjoyed the first volume of Proust. I read his book on Prose Rhythm, which is suprisingly entertaining, and if you come across anything the old "King of Critics" said about Joyce I'd be interested to hear it.

    1. Thanks Craig - I've added his reaction to Joyce in the blog above

  2. Splendid, as always. Got me looking! Had no idea riches were in my backyard ...