Hemingway always admired the Irish novelist, James Joyce, who he’d first met in Paris in the 1920s…
James Joyce is sitting inside Shakespeare & Co reading, with the help a large magnifying glass, an original edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, his lips moving like a child’s with every word he reads. So clearly does Joyce shape every word that Hemingway can follow each easily:
Once I pass’d through a populous city imprinting my brain for
Future use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a woman I casually met
There who detain’d me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together – all else has
Long been forgotten by me,
I remember I say only that woman who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
Again she holds me by the hand, I must not go…
Hemingway, now inside the shop, and standing behind Joyce, speaks:
” I see her close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.”
Joyce turns and looks up at Hemingway, smiling.
” How the devil are you old man? asks Joyce.
” Fine, Mr Joyce.”
” In the original hand-written manuscript Whitman refers to a he not a she did you know that?”
” No, Mr Joyce.”
” Enough of the mister its James although some call me JJ which I put up with but detest.”
” Will you take some tea Sylvia has just made a pot for me?”
” No, thank you, I’ve just had breakfast.”
” Breakfast is not a common occurrence in the Joyce household and the price of bread these days is rather prohibitive to an Irish writer unless of course you happen to be George Bernard Shaw with a penchant for writing prefaces longer than the damned plays themselves but it obviously pays well perhaps I should try it what do you say Mr Hemingway or can I call you Ernest?”
Joyce often spoke as he wrote, without punctuation.
” Yes, please do, and Ulysses is a goddam wonderful book.”
” Is it now goddam Ive not heard that before not even my friend Ezra Pound has said goddam within earshot of me but he is a different sort of American to you quite mad I think but then who isnt these days I know I certainly am and with good cause and must thank you once more for the help you gave this blind man in finishing that bloody book couldn’t have done it without you but I can see that you have not finished speaking yet am I right? “
” Yes, I believe you have, by breaking the rules, revolutionised literature, freed it from the strictures of the Victorian past, which is something I want to do if I can, but differently from you, because I believe what you have done is as remarkable as the Pyramids, and as important.”
There is a long pause.
“The Pyramids indeed well they are certainly big but hasnt Lawrence done that in literature I think so and you sound like a tutor I had at Trinity but I hope youre right old man oh how I hope youre right but it takes it out of you writing like that and no mistake and the Nora at home complaining I dont love her anymore leastways not like I used to and shes probably right and then theres the poor daughter madness itself and stuck in that urinal of a home and me with no money to pay for better and if it wasnt for the tea Miss Beach lets me sup from the saucer here of a morning I swear I might die right here on the floor with a million books for company and not one of them a comfort if youre fighting for your damned breath and the blindness making them useless anyway and three operations a waste of everyones time and Miss McCormicks money and no mistake and Ulysses banned whereever it drifts ashore and the new Ireland denouncing me as a sinner and all of them
murderers to a man and a woman with hundreds catching the ferry to England every day for the abortion and the gross of French Letters on the way back which they probably stick on their big toe being so thick they are and the Guinness turned like bad milk in the Irish Sea because they dont deserve me not one little bit they dont and I tell you Ernest I shall never go back even when Im famous and I will be one day in that island that is only interested in the bomb and the Pope with a prude of an old woman for a president and the rosary beads and playing rugby football with a round ball that makes no sense at all and using a language that died a million years ago or should have done to save the world a curse upon the spoken and the written word that is my life blood that I pour everyday of my godforsaken life to see it disappear down some Paris gutter with no one giving a toss but I must go on because I can only go on and it will be finished if you will help me…”
The shell from a German 88 hitting the tops of six trees less than a hundred metres from the hunting lodge brought Hemingway out of his dream, as it did the rest of the sleepers, with Pelkey rushing outside completely naked firing a Browning sub-machine after a fast disappearing German half track.
Hemingway leaned out of his bedroom window and shouted down to the naked Pelkey:
” Pelkey, I swear if you don’t put some clothes on I might just fall in love with you because you are a sight to behold and no mistake. Now, for Crissake, will you please go an get me some coffee?”
” Yes, sir, General.”
Hemingway closed the bedroom window and took a well worn copy of Joyce’s Ulysses out of his rucksack and read for the thousandth time the opening passage:
” Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stair head, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing-gown, engirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air.”