I’m juggling several books right now:
1. After reading Ellmann’s biography of Joyce, I decided to re-read Ulysses. During our tree decorating party, I was discussing this with a random LBJ liberal who suggested The New Bloomsday Book, Harry Blamires’ guide to Ulysses. Said liberal then sent me a copy of the book. It’s incredible. I’m getting much more out of Ulysses this time around thanks to Blamires. And I’m finding it odd that a great writer like Joyce seems to bring out the best in his critics. Both the Ellmann and Blamires books are exceptionally readable.
2. The Ellmann bio spawned another obsession: Joyce’s daugher, Lucia. I found myself irked when Ellmann would go through an entire chapter with little or no mention of Lucia. Her story within Joyce’s story fascinated me. That’s why I was glad when Carol Loeb Shloss released Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake in December, and I immediately purchased a copy. Shloss, unfortunately, is falling short of the standards Ellmann and Blamires set in Joyce sholarship, and I have to admit that I agree with Hermione Lee’s review in yesteday’s New York Times, where Lee says: “I lost count of the incidences of ‘We can imagine’ or ‘It is safe to imagine’ or ‘We can speculate’ …”
Shloss indeed reads a lot into Lucia’s story that simply isn’t supported by fact. I’m only a hundred pages into the book, and Schoss already has implied some sort of incestous relationship between Giorgio and Lucia and that Joyce had incestuous feelings toward his daugher. I’m not seeing any facts that even remotely back up these suppositions.
That being said, I’m still glad to get more detail on Lucia’s troubled life. At this point, I’m of the mind that Ellmann had it right: Lucia was mad and Joyce was in denial. He just couldn’t deal with it, and I think he also realized his bohemian, artist’s lifestyle might have contributed to or even caused Lucia’s problems. Shloss asks: ‘ “Why should Joyce’s primary biographer have judged Joyce to be a man of extraordinary discernment in some matters but foolish in judging Lucia?”
Well, because people of extraordinary discernment, even genius, can be wrong. Especially when it comes to family.
3. John Gardner: The Life and Death of a Literary Outlaw. This is a proof copy of a bio that will be released in January 2004. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I’m glad it’s finally been written. When I was doing my master’s work, I wanted to focus on Gardner’s “moral fiction.” I see him as a progeny of Matthew Arnold on some levels, and I love his books. His guide to writing, the Art of Fiction, is exceptional. But alas. The politically correct world of academia didn’t want to have much to do with Gardner and his outlandish ideas that some fiction rises above others. I was steered away from Gardner (and a second idea of doing a thesis on water imagery in the lyrics of Robert Hunter). I regret that. I still think Gardner was a major figure. The Sunlight Dialogues still haunts me. Grendel is a fascinating reworking of Beowulf. It’s been years since I read most of his books, but his characters remain vivid in my mind. Can’t wait to start reading this bio, and I suspect it will resurrect my Gardner obsession.