Wednesday, 11 March 2020

James Joyce and Adolf Hitler: 'heal helper! one gob, one gap, one gulp and gorger of all!'

Hitler was on Time's cover many times, Joyce just twice

'The weather is not good, and worst of all the newsboys keep careering round the streets shouting out about 'L'Autriche'. I am afraid poor Mr Hitler-Missler will soon have few admirers in Europe apart from your nieces and my nephews, masters W. Lewis and E. Pound' 

28 July 1934 Letters III, 311

That's a letter from Joyce to Harriet Shaw Weaver from Spa in Belgium. Four days before, the Austrian Nazis had staged an unsuccessful coup in which they assassinated Chancellor Dolfuss. So Joyce calls Hitler 'Hitler-Missler' - a play on hit or miss.

In 1931, Wyndham Lewis had written sympathetically about Hitler before he came to power, even describing him as a  'Man of Peace'!  As for Ezra Pound, he told Yeats that all modern statesmen were scoundrels 'except Mussolini and that hysterical imitator of his, Hitler.'

Here's another letter, written in 1935 when the Joyce children were away from Paris, Giorgio in the USA and Lucia in Ireland:

'What can I honestly ask them to come back to? Paris is like myself a haughty ruin or if you like a decayed reveller. And any time I turn on the radio I hear some British politician mumbling inanities or his German cousin shouting and yelling like a madman. Perhaps Ireland and the U.S. are the safe places. And perhaps this is where the gas is really going to be turned on. Well so be it. The motto under my coat of arms, however, is: Mors aut honorabilis vita.'

To Harriet Shaw Weaver, 1 May 1935, Letters I, 376 

'Death or an honourable life' really is on the Joyce Coat of Arms.

Though Hitler missed toppling the Austrian government in 1934, he succeeded in 1938. 
On 17 March, four days after German troops marched into Austria, the Joyces were at a St Patrick's night party at Paul Léon's in Paris. Carola Giedion-Welcker described the conversation:

'The political sky in Europe seemed to be growing steadily darker, and so the discusion touched, of course, on National Socialist Germany, whereupon fears, suspicions, and curses were voiced by several of those present.  James Joyce had assumed a calm, pensive attitude, but suddenly he began to talk and declared in his objective and cool manner that Hitler was surely a historical phenomenon of colossal force that wouldn't be easy to cope with. The detached and emotionless way in which he spoke, as though referring to a personal adversary, particularly bothered the women present. Nora Joyce, who had listened to him intently, now suddenly jumped up, and while Joyce continued his calm, interested analysis of Hitler's personalty from the point of view of its immense force and drive, she grabbed her knife, which she had just been using on a poulet de bresse, rushed forward to him, and shouted, 'Jim, another word about that devil and I will murder you!''  

'Meetings with Joyce', Portraits of the Artist in Exile, p270

Ellmann gives some extra detail: 

'For some years he had referred to Nazi Germany as 'Hitlerland', and no-one could have been less attracted than he to the frenzied personality of the Fuehrer. But he cultivated disengagement and remarked one night at dinner at Paul Léon's. 'Isn't this Hitler a phenomenon? Think of getting a whole people behind you.' Nora picked up a knife and said, 'You stop that Jim.''

Ellmann, p708

Austrian Anschluss left Czechoslovakia like a helpless animal, waiting to be gobbled up by German jaws.

Germany prepares to gulp down Czechoslovakia

It's easy to think that James Joyce, who spent the whole of World War One living in his imagination in Dublin in 1904, had no interest in contemporary events. But Finnegans Wake was not like Ulysses. Its material came from stories in the daily newspapers, radio news and conversations. Joyce said, 'Really it is not I who am writing this crazy book. It is you, and you, and you, and that man over there, and that girl at the next table.'  

In 1938, everybody was talking about Adolf Hitler, and this fed into the book Joyce was writing. So let's go Nazi hunting in Finnegans Wake.


In May 1938, Joyce revising the Shem the Penman chapter, added a reference to Hitler. The speaker is Shaun, partly based on Wyndham Lewis:

our liege, tilyet a stranger in the frontyard of his happiness, is taking, (heal helper! one gob, one gap, one gulp and gorger of all!) his refreshment 191.07

That's based on the Nazi salute, 'Heil Hitler! Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer' (Hail Hitler! One people, one empire, one leader)

Adaline Glasheen, discussing this line in her 3rd Census, found Ezra Pound here too: 'the name Ezra means 'helper''.

Hitler would be 'the gorger of all'. 

Elsewhere Joyce gives us versions of another Nazi salute, 'Sieg Heil!' ('Hail Victory'):

'Seek hells' 228.06

People who hail victory in war are seekers of hells.

'Hide! Seek! Hide! Seek! Because number one lived at Bothersby North and he was trying to. Hide! Seek! Hide! Seek! And number two digged up Poors Coort, Soother, trying to. Hide! Seek! Hide! Seek! And nomber three he sleeped with Lilly Tekkles at The Eats and he was trying to. Hide! Seek! Hide! Seek!'  372.35

And here's a reference to goose stepping.

'Such was the act of goth stepping' 332.10

The Goths were one of the Germanic peoples who overwhelmed the Roman Empire. It would have made more sense to nickname Germans Goths rather than Huns (an Asiatic people).



For much of 1938, Joyce was writing the final book of Finnegans Wake. Rereading this recently with fwread, the online reading group, I've been struck by repeated ominous shadows of encroaching war.  

On page 598 there's a menacing reference to Nazi Germany's 'Strength through Joy'.

'And your last words todate in camparative accoustomology are going to tell stretch of a fancy through strength towards joyance, adyatants, where he gets up. Allay for allay, a threat for a throat.' 598.23

'allay for alley' is 'an eye for an eye' - the principle of retribution, and a play on the German für alle (for all) so a threat for every throat. This was added to the text in the second typescript, spring-summer 1938.

Strength through Joy
On the next page we have gathering clouds, panicstricken humanity, 'the fog of the cloud in which we toil'  and 'bomb the thing's to be domb about it':

'Cumulonubulocirrhonimbant heaven electing, the dart of desire has gored the heart of secret watersthe poplarest wood in the entire district is being grown at present, eminently adapted for the requirements of pacnincstricken humanity and, between all the goings up and the whole of the comings down and the fog of the cloud in which we toil and the cloud of the fog under which we labour, bomb the thing’s to be domb about it' 599.27

The 'fog of war' is a phrase associated with Carl von Clausewitz: 'War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.'

A few pages on, we greet the arrival of Shaun the Post:

'Here's heering you in a guessmasque, latterman!' 603.02

He's got a gasmask!  During the Munich crisis, in September 1938, 38 million gas masks were distributed to the British public. Joyce added this phrase to the text in November 1938.

'In the summer of 1938 we felt an anxious awareness of Hitler on one side and Mussolini on the other....Paris was no longer the City of Light.  The festive times were over.  The dimness in the streets made us feel the dispiritedness of the citizens. Our concierge gave us a list of things were were to take to the basement with us in case of bombardment, and the municipality was advising people who did not have to stay in the city to go elsewhere during the emergency. Simple people were asking, 'Where is Czechoslovakia? Do we have to go to war for people there?'
    To Joyce, disturbed by thunderstorms and timid of dogs, the menace of war must have been hardly endurable. He and Nora decided to leave Paris....
    Then came Munich, and a shamefaced relief was evident, at least at first, among the sojourners in Paris. The Joyces came back to the city. When Joyce telephoned me he mentioned the settlement. 'Give him Europe!' he said angrily.'

Padraic Colum Our Friend James Joyce p226-230



When we reached page 610, introducing the Patrick and the Druid section, Philip Franklin pointed out Joyce's use of the word 'appeasement' in this description of cycles of history:

'So that when we shall have acquired unification we shall pass on to diversity and when we shall have passed on to diversity we shall have acquired the instinct to combat and when we shall have acquired the instinct of combat we shall pass back to the spirit of appeasement?'  610.33

I had a look at the Digital Archive and discovered that this sentence – the only clear English one on the page – was added to the Galleys between November 1938 and January 1939.
At that stage, the Germans, with the agreement of Britain and France, had occupied the Sudetenland - the area of Czechoslovakia with a large German population – but they hadn't yet broken the Munich agreement. It was only in March 1939, when Germany seized all of Czechoslovakia, that appeasement was discredited. Britain and France gave a guarantee that they would fight if Hitler invaded his next target, Poland.

Before March 1939 appeasement was a positive word - it meant 'making peace'.  From the OED:

1920 W. S. Churchill Let. 24 Mar. in World Crisis (1929) IV. xvii. 378 Here again I counsel prudence and appeasement. Try to secure a really representative Turkish governing authority, and come to terms with it.
1936 A. Eden in Hansard Commons 5th Ser. CCCX. 1446 I assure the House that it is the appeasement of Europe as a whole that we have constantly before us.
1938 Times 3 Oct. 13/2 The policy of international appeasement must of course be pressed forward... There must be appeasement not only of the strong but of the weak... With the policy of appeasement must go the policy of preparation—preparation not so much for war as against war. 


My favourite contribution to the online discussion came from Jack Pacer, who shared a dream:

'I'm not sure how seriously to take this, but years ago, after seeing a page from the manuscript of ALP at the British Museum, I had a dream about James Joyce. He had a fat pink face and wore no glasses. He said to me: "The key to Finnegans Wake is in the last chapter, based on something Hitler said. Of course I despise him but one must use what comes to hand."'  



Richard Ellmann has a wonderful story of Joyce in La Baule, just days after war broke out in September 1939:

'During these shattering days when La Baule was filling up...with refugees, Joyce renewed his friendship with Dr Daniel O'Brien....One night, they went together to a large restaurant with dancing at La Baule. It was close to where the French and British soldiers were encamped and two or three hundred of them having crowded into the place, they began to sing the 'Marseillaise'. Joyce joined in the singing, and gradually his voice caught the soldiers' attention. They turned and stared at him, and then a group hoisted him onto a table so he might sing it all over again. As O'Brien later recalled, 'You never saw such an exhibition of one man dominating and thrilling a whole audience. He stood there and sang the 'Marseillaise' and they sang it again afterwards with him, and if a whole German regiment had attacked at that moment, they would never have got through. That was the feeling. Oh Joyce and his voice dominated them all!''

(from a 1958 interview with O'Brien by Adeline Glasheen)

Wouldn't we all love to have seen that?! It reminds me of the famous Marseillaise scene from Casablanca.

Ellmann also discovered that Joyce, using contacts in the French Foreign Office, helped around 16 people escape from Nazi territory to Ireland and America.  Like Rick in Casablanca, he joined the struggle.

After I posted this, John Coyle told me that there is a precedent to the scene in Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion (1937). 

This makes me sad to have the turgid 'God save the Queen' as my country's national anthem.



After posting this yesterday, I found a great article by Sean Ledwith, posted on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2.  He argues that Finnegans Wake, which was also 80 last year, is an anti-fascist masterwork:

Bernard Benstock persuasively makes the case that Joyce regarded himself as the equivalent of the Irish monks who, at the onset of the Dark Ages of the early medieval period, sought to preserve the culture of the classical world as the forces of barbarism and darkness, in their eyes, closed in on civilisation. The astonishing breadth of allusions and references from the cultures of the world that Joyce draws on in the Wake is testament to his conviction that diversity and pluralism are essential to the flourishing of human beings and, implicitly, that the intolerance and racism of the far right represent a modern barbarism which must be resisted....Phrases and vocabulary from some seventy languages have been identified in the book, along with a cornucopia of references to virtually all the major world religions, including Confucianism, Hinduism, Taoism and the Eddas of Scandinavia....The fact that Joyce, who was practically blind by 1939, chose to deploy his encyclopaedic and labyrinthine knowledge of the varieties of human belief in such a gargantuan exercise can be seen as a heroic act of defiance in the face of an oncoming nightmare. It is not unreasonable to argue that Finnegans Wake is the ultimate literary clarion call for what we now call multiculturalism..... As fascism rears in hideous head again in our time, with its visceral politics of hate, the message of the Wake about the essential unity of the human race is emphatically worth another look.'

'Finnegans Wake, fascism, and the essential unity of the human race ' Culture Matters 

3 September 2019

This point was first made in 1967 by James Atherton:

'Joyce is saying that mankind is one. We are “humble indivisibles in this grand continuum” (472.30). It is customary, or was until a year or so ago, to speak of Joyce as entirely uninterested in politics. He was an ardent pacifist; he saw the world as a single family. Can we not also see it as one in which it is time the boys grew up and stopped fighting? If so the Wake is not a “crazy book” but a work of importance for all of us.'

'The Identity of the Sleeper' A Wake Newslitter Vol IV no 5, October 1967


  1. Wonderful piece, thank you.

    I want to share a piece I wrote about Joyce, FW, fascism, and WW2 called "Waging Peace from the Inkbattle House"

    There's a story in there about a Nazi soldier trying to buy the last copy of FW from Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co. She refused and shut down the bookshop instead.

    1. Excellent piece PQ! Love the quotation about writing Ulysses, which backs up the parallel with the Irish monks during the Dark Ages: 'I wrote the greater part of the book during the war. There was fighting on all fronts, empires fell, kings went into exile, the old order was collapsing with a crash; and I had, as I sat down to work, the conviction that in the midst of all these ruins I was building something for the most distant future. (Portraits of the Artist in Exile, p. 158)'

  2. Mind blown and bent at all manner of angles...thanks. Brilliant!

  3. Love this post, as always - is the writing "marseilleise" instead of "marseillaise" intentional ? (with joyceans, you never can tell... - btw i'm french)