Images of early morning Paris through the ineluctable modality of Stephen Dedalus’ memory, smells of incense and absinthe. We discuss Stephen’s life as a starving artist (literally), Kevin Egan and his unwilling exile in Paris, Egan’s real life counterpart, New York Times write-ups of duels in the 19th century, Irish nationalist groups of the 19th century, the proper way to drink absinthe, dalcassians and Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, Édouard Drumont v. Léo Taxil, and the pitfalls of attempting to make Ireland more like continental Europe.
Maud Gonne, beautiful woman, La Patrie, M. Millevoye, Felix Faure, know how he died?
Maud Gonne’s name appears in Ulysses’ third episode, Proteus, as Stephen rummages through his recollections of his brief sojourn in Paris. Though Gonne did reside in Paris in the early 1900’s, she never met James Joyce (or Stephen Dedalus), but their non-meeting had long lasting effects on James Joyce, though he may have never realized it.
The life of Maud Gonne is often told in close proximity to the men she knew, and since my blog is about James Joyce, her story will be framed by its brief overlap with Joyce’s. However, before we dive into that, I’d like to give space to her biography, warts and all.
Joyce and Maud Gonne never met, though Yeats provided her contact information to Joyce before he left for Paris in 1902. She was living in the city at the time and could be a helpful contact there. Joyce called on her, but was turned away by the concierge. Gonne was nursing her niece who was sick with diphtheria and was under a quarantine as a result. She wrote him a gracious apology letter and offered to meet him post-quarantine. Joyce, ever prickly, took this as a slight and never followed up, though it may have been due to embarrassment about his shabby appearance due to the extreme poverty he experienced during those months. It seems like an episode barely worth mentioning, but as we’ll see, it may have had some long-term consequences.
So, who exactly was Maud Gonne and why are we talking about her?
He dressed in black, a Hamlet without a wicked uncle…. – Richard Ellmann
This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and break it down line by line.
The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 41-42 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “My Latin quarter hat.” and ends “…curled conquistadores.”
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.
In December 1901, a young, determined James Joyce showed up in Paris to study medicine. There were other, more sensible courses of study he could have taken. Most obviously, he could have carried on at University College Dublin where he had done his undergraduate work. However, he couldn’t afford the fees, and the university had denied him work doing grinds (tutoring), which would have helped him earn money to pay his fees. There was no particularly compelling reason for Joyce to study medicine in Paris. In fact, he had some powerful connections (W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory) who were more than happy to call in favors and get him a position in Dublin or London as a writer. But no, Paris was the only option. He wrote to Lady Gregory that he would travel to Paris “alone and friendless,” that he must “try [himself] against the powers of the world.”
Richard Ellmann wrote that Joyce was provisionally allowed entrance into the École de Médecine at La Sorbonne, despite the fact that the term was mere weeks from ending. Joyce’s younger brother Stanislaus, on the other hand, said that when his brother arrived in Paris, the university didn’t recognize his undergrad degree from Ireland and that he would have had to pay all of his student fees in advance of study, still an issue for the Young Artist. Apparently, this information could have been ascertained while Joyce was still in Dublin. It was also not clear if a French medical degree would be valid in Ireland or if Joyce intended to practice medicine in France. Such setbacks would not turn our intrepid hero aside, however. He remained in Paris, as Stanislaus tells it, “with some undefined purpose, vaguely literary.”