Did you never walk the streets of Dublin at night sobbing another name?
Joyce was ill at ease in social settings. He learned to use music to gain a foothold and become a target for praise and female adoration. We might guess this happened this night when he returned from HER address on Via San Michele, praying Amalia’s name.
Eileen Vance was first among Joyce’s love objects. She appears in the opening pages of Portrait, noted for having different parents than little Jim. Ellmann tells how her father embarrassed Eileen by sending the Joyce Boy a Valentine’s Day poem she ostensibly authored.
O Jimmy Joyce you are my darling You are my looking glass from night till morning I'd rather have you without one farthing Than Harry Newell and his ass and garden.
Newell was an unsavory street character in Bray, so the poem was hardly a testament of love. On learning about the trick, Eileen withdrew and blushed whenever she heard Joyce’s name mentioned. Joyce had learned of the prank. Stanislaus Joyce reports no unusual reaction from his brother. You’ll recognize the poem as adapted for use by Ulysses‘ Mr. Bloom in praise of Milly.
When Joyce was fourteen, he engaged in a spanking incident with a girl who worked for the family. A priest at school suspected something from Joyce’s changed attitude and coerced Stanislaus into telling his brother’s secret. May Joyce was called to school and warned about her son’s behavior. The result was the servant’s dismissal. A sexual encounter with a prostitute soon followed this. Neither of these incidents would have resulted in the love-sore sobbing of a name on Dublin streets.
Joyce was better at inventing love than giving it. He wrote a story for the magazine Titbits about a young man dressed as a Russian diplomat for a masked ball. He falls into a reverie about his fiance, imagining her as the “laughing witch.” While distracted by love, a Nihilist, thinking the young man a Russian delegate, attempts his assassination. The police arrest both the assassin and his potential victim. Elements of that story and its publication appear in the “Calypso” episode of Ulysses. Joyce also wrote a series of love vignettes played out behind drawn shades. The series was called Silhouettes. This idea is also here in Giacomo Joyce. Joyce believed that love was more alluring when behind a veil.
When not slithering through Monto’s “red-faced” district, Joyce spent many evenings in the home of his classmate Richard Sheehy. From the four Sheehy sisters, Joyce selected Mary to be the object of a “small, rich passion,” although when he had an opportunity to kiss her during a parlor game, he asked if there weren’t some other option (Ellmann). Once more, if there was a passion, however small, he concealed it.
Asked if he had been in love, Joyce replied, “How could I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love?” He claimed that, for the poet, love must always be in the past or the future (Stanislaus Joyce). His answer to the question about his past experiences, while evasive, suggests he had not been in love. Joyce’s attitude, at least through 1900, was that while love must remain a servant to art, lust was indomitable. It is possible that because of the adoration showered on James Joyce as a child, he more needed to be loved than to love.
don ward August 4, 2020