January 17, 2018

Joyce at the Martello Tower

On this day in 1904, twenty-two-year-old James Joyce moved into the Martello Tower in Sandycove, outside Dublin, with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty. Joyce only stayed with Gogarty for a week -- there were disagreements, and in October Joyce and Nora Barnacle left for Europe -- but their relationship and the Tower setting would become the opening chapter of Ulysses. The Sandycove Martello Tower was one of many built by the British army a century earlier as a defense system against a Napoleonic invasion -- thus Stephen Dedalus (Joyce) is able to joke that Buck Mulligan (Gogarty) pays his rent to "the secretary of state for war."

The novel was virtually banned in Ireland for decades, but the Irish ten-pound note -- now replaced by the Euro -- eventually featured the Tower, a picture of Joyce, a map of Dublin, and the first sentence of Finnegans Wake ("riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs"). The "Joyce Tower Society," aided by a generous donation from the film-maker John Huston (a long-time Joyce fan, his last film Joyce's "The Dead") opened the Martello Museum on "Bloomsday," (June 16th) 1962, with Sylvia Beach, the original publisher of Ulysses, coming from Paris to raise the flag. It is now full of first editions and memorabilia -- Joyce's guitar, for example -- and now fully restored by Dublin Tourism with money from the brisk trade, but the view of Joyce's "snotgreen" and "scrotumtightening" sea is as it was.

There are other literary associations to the area. Nearby is the "Gentleman's Forty Foot Bathing Place," still a popular place for swimming and the spot where Buck Mulligan takes his morning plunge at the beginning of Ulysses, the detached and hydrophobic Dedalus looking on. The Forty Foot is where Samuel Beckett learned to swim in his youth, as Beckett remembers in Company, one of his late prose pieces: "You stand at the tip of the high board. High above the sea. In it your father's upturned face. Upturned to you. You look down to the loved trusted face. He calls you to jump. He calls, be a brave boy...." Richard Ellmann's biography of Joyce tells several amusing anecdotes of life at the Tower; among them is this account of Joyce and Gogarty strolling the shore on their usual search for money and an opportunity for wit:
    One day they saw Yeats's father, John Butler Yeats, walking on the strand, and Gogarty, prodded by Joyce, said to him, "Good morning, Mr. Yeats, would you be so good as to lend us two shillings?" The old man looked from one to the other and retorted, "Certainly not. In the first place I have no money, and if I had it and lent it to you, you and your friend would spend it on drink." Joyce came forward and said gravely, as Gogarty afterwards recalled, "We cannot speak about that which is not." Yeats had already moved on, so Joyce had to make his point only to Gogarty, "You see, the razor of Occam forbids the introduction of superfluous arguments. When he said he had no money that was enough. He had no right to discuss the possible use of the non-existent."

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