James Joyce’s Modernism: The Rise of Uncertainty in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This essay is the first of three on the effects of scientific and mathematical discoveries on the evolution of Modernist Literature. The works of James Joyce will be the focus of these essays. In an unchronological order, the first review will be of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) proceeding rather than following Dubliners (1914). A Portrait presents first because it is the best vehicle to showcase the subjective narrator’s voice. Ulysses will conclude the series. The discussions will consider “voice” for A Portrait, “design” for Dubliners, and Ulysses will address the space-time adventures of “plot.”

The Foundations of Certainty

An isosceles triangle of tenets tested the authenticity of “facts” during the 19th Century. The oldest of these, at the top of the triangle, we will date for convenience at 300 B.C. Proposed by Euclid, we’ll call the point The Geometry. To the left, dated for convenience at 1250 A.D., is The Catechism, fathered by Aquinas. Auguste Comte anchors the right leg, his product is Positivism, and his date of comfort is 1850 A.D. In the center of the triangle is the all-seeing eye. This is not the eye of God that is reserved for the Almighty Buck and Masonic totems. This is the eye of man. Perhaps we’ll add the legend VIDENS CREDENS (Seeing Is Believing).

Physical proof dominated science until about 1900 under the rules dictated Positivism. Under Comte’s philosophy, visual evidence, sometimes supported by the other senses, was the only evidence acceptable as scientific proof. Euclidean geometry, a representative visual proof, was consistent with Positivism and therefore also irrefutable. Four clear, concise self-evident postulates supported it.

1. Given two points, there is a straight line that joins them.

2. A straight line segment can be prolonged indefinitely.

3. A circle can be constructed when a point for its center and a distance for its radius are given.

4. All right angles are equal.

Euclidean geometry supports and illustrates a two-dimensional view of up to three dimensions of reality.

In the 4th Century A.D., Augustine of Hippo began incorporating Plato’s principles of an ideal world into Christian theology. Still, geometry remained less the— “study of an ideal order [than] a science of the real world.” By the 13th Century, Aquinas, who prioritized visual evidence above all other senses, began to use the visual nature of Euclidean diagrams as a preliminary exercise in spiritual education. By the 14th Century, Duns Scotus described “all forms of intellectual perception in terms of sight” (Rice 15-17). Sight validated the physical world, and Euclid’s diagrams, axioms, and postulates predicted known reality perfectly.

Rennaisance perspective in the visual arts blended Euclidean models with visually objective reality. The German artist Dürer constructed a machine that recreated Rennaisance perspective manifesting Euclidean perfection. Rene Descartes’ 17th Century image of reality invented an observable universe. His logic included using syllogisms in an attempt to prove the existence of God. Descartes employed premises including Euclidian-style axioms. Mathematics was absolute, and God was in his Mathematical heaven.  

By the 1830s, the Jesuits made Euclidean Geometry an essential part of the order’s teaching curriculum. They related geometrical proofs to the Catholic theological proofs. Euclid’s Geometry or the Catechism taught or could prove everything worth knowing. As late as 1902, in Euclid: His Life and Systems, Thomas Smith claimed that “Objective truth exists and should be sought…” (Rice 15). This tandem of belief in human understanding of an objective, knowable world and religious dogma were the foundations of James Joyce’s Jesuit education and religious beliefs.

Non-Euclidean Discoveries

Euclid, however, included a fifth postulate. This introduced cloudy wording as if intending to be unclear. It says:

5. That, if a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.

It seems there was an intention not to mention parallel lines. Euclid indicated parallel lines must not meet, but the discussion only works in a two-dimensional universe. Lines of Longitude on a map rather than a globe are parallel at the equator. However, they intersect at the poles. If the world had been flat, the Euclid would remain irrefutable in the face of this example, but since the globe and the universe beyond are curved, the fifth or parallel postulate brings Euclidean infallibility under question. If Euclid falls, the Catechism might also tumble, along with the old beliefs of objective reality based on visual observation. In 1795, John Playfair’s version of the Euclid clarified the fifth postulate, further tarnishing objective reality (Rice 19).

Before the 1880s, Positivism demanded visual observation for a theory to be credible. When Positivism began to teeter, thinkers questioned Newtonian laws about gravity and motion for the first time. Elsewhere, French mathematician and theorist Poincaré made the outrageous declaration: “Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.” He argued against the convenience of three-dimensional Positivism and proposed that a geometry can function for any number of dimensions. That Euclidean geometry was not a unique, inevitable, and absolute truth about the world came as a stunning blow (Rice 53). 

As this unfolded, Cézanne in graphic arts was experimenting with spatial ambiguity. He experimented with “fusing planes and integrated objects and space” (Miller 5). In reaction against the Positivism philosophers Comte and Mach, a trend toward “idealism” emerged led by Henrí Bergson. He claimed that perceptions were unreliable and that humanity could be productively unconscious, anti-logical, and intuitive (Miller 23-24). An onslaught of unobservable products of 19th Century science supported the claim. The wireless telegraph and the telephone shook public belief in the simplicity of Positivism. Radioactivity and the electron followed. X-rays revealed the invisible. In 1906, Roentgeon reported rats could be sterilized by radioactivity and rats embryos killed. In every case, there were presumed effects, but some scientific minds were now “believing without seeing.”

Until then, only Rosicrucian mystics accepted that unseen forces were part of objective reality. The poet Apollinaire from Picasso’s clutch in Paris believed this (Miller 27). Picasso began a series of Harlequin paintings, including self-portraits. The Harlequin, Miller believes, was the symbol of the new scientist and artist, free to imagine without the burden of direct visual evidence.

The overturned perfection of Euclidean geometry, linked by Augustine and Aquinas to the Catechism, threatened all the certainty built up over 1500 years. The scientific world could now consider whether Newton was not completely right. This also meant serious thinkers could now endure Einstein’s ideas of 1905, although there was no evidence beyond thought experiments until 1919. Tutored by Maurice Princet (Miller 100), Picasso used non-Euclidean formulas to design his most revolutionary paintings. James Joyce changed the voice of his novels from the objective to the subjective, unpredictable, engrossing, vacillating, and only sometimes disembodied voice in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Breaks with Naturalism in Literature

During Joyce’s brief stays in Paris, he may have encountered some readers, writers, and artists who later frequented the Steins’ salon or Picasso’s informal assemblages in his shabby digs dubbed Bateau Lavoir. Picasso and Joyce later connected only through a second-degree of separation with the Steins. Joyce and Einstein never met, missing each other in Zurich by a year. And Joyce’s connection to the avantGarde writers of the Paris Vortex was only later. During his first stay, Joyce suffered too much from poverty, hunger, and dental anguish to be much involved with the intellectual discourse of the city. During his second 1903 sojourn, he mainly cafe-ed with the ex-patriots of all nations. There were no notable literary names except for Synge’s (Ellmann 120). But before 1904, the battle over Euclidean infallibility was already raging. H.G. Wells had written about the fourth dimension, and Wilde alluded to it. Thomas Smith (previously mentioned) and Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) defended Euclidean perfection. Bertrand Russell at first defended Euclid and then reconsidered. Poincaré and others attacked without relenting. The opening of the fourth dimension, spacetime, would require the acceptance of fourth-dimensional or non-Euclidean geometry, causing the triangle of certainty (The Catechism- Euclidean Geometry-Positivism) to collapse.

Joyce’s Jesuit education taught him to apply mathematical approaches to writing. In literary style, young Joyce was drawn to Zola (Miller, 177). Having lost his intellectual foundations of an objective, observable certainty as Euclidean Positivism began to tumble, Joyce also saw the erosion of religious dogma since the Catechism had been lashed to geometry by Plato/Augustine and Aristotle/Aquinas (Rice 23). Writing Stephen Hero, Joyce continued to create with the voice of a Naturalist’s narrator who relied on observable phenomenon. Meanwhile, however, Einstein was beginning to convince the scientific world that intuition without visual evidence can offer insights that Positivism would deny. He said: “Great music cannot be ‘created’ any more than great physics can be deduced strictly from experiential data. Some aesthetic sense of the universe is necessary for both” (Miller 186-187).

The openness to change and the acceptance of uncertainty led James Joyce to reconsider what voice a changeable narrator should have in a universe filled with unreliable shapes and misunderstood motion. James told Stanislaus in Ellmann’s re-telling that “our maturity is an extension of our childhood.” Stannie recorded that in the first draft of A Portrait, Joyce thought of a man’s character as developing “from an embryo” with constant traits (Ellmann 296). “His decision to rewrite Stephen Hero as A Portrait in five chapters occurred appropriately just after Lucia’s birth” (Ellmann 296). The new design builds with ontological change and uncertainty. “The five-part structure, with climax in the fourth and resolution in the fifth, is that of classical drama, Joyce’s model maybe,” says William York Tindall (59). 

Joyce’s Abandonment of Naturalism and Euclidian Positivism 

Naturalism was an outgrowth of Social Darwinism. It presumed that social conditions, heredity, and environment had an unavoidable influence on human development. Naturalistic writers wrote with highly detailed objective observation. These writers created narrative voices that were comfortable corollaries to the scientific Positivism espoused by Comte. Although the philosopher died in 1857, his influence continued, and Positivism remained dominant until about 1900. Joyce was educated during this time. His artistic model was Naturalist Zola. Then, disillusioned by suspicions about the ineffectiveness of Euclidean geometry, Joyce adapts from the naturalist narration of Stephen Hero to a dual style of Modernist narration. His narrator shifts from an observer to a voice, sometimes disembodied, sometimes Stephen’s, deluded, emotional, drunk, or blind. Joyce’s narrator can spring up on flights of memory triggered by places and objects. Tindall explains: 

The subjective-objective method is the invention of Henry James….Often called “impressionism,” the Jamesian point of view allows the author, at once within his subject and somewhere between it and the audience, to control as he presents the impression of an observer. Not what he observes but the observer observing is the subject and his mind our theater (63). 

Joyce uses places to trigger trace memories and enable travel through time. Returning to Tindall’s observations, a series of key words (such as “apologize”) also repeat as triggers for the narrator’s memory movement across time. According to Ellmann, he also incorporates both anima and animus into the narration. The novel begins with the father and ends in “severance from mother” (Ellmann, 296-297).

Joyce used Euclidean images as representations of mistakes and confusion. Rice notes Joyce’s use of “circle” as a verb. Stephen “timidly circles Monto” (Dublin’s red-light district). He feels threatened when “goatish creatures move in slow circles, circling closer and closer.” His responsibilities for the salvation of his soul “circled about its own centre of spiritual energy.” The circle or its inconstancy under non-Euclidean geometry became symbols of fear or entrapment. Rice also mentions that Stephen is elbowed into a “square ditch,” that ditch being the cesspit. The change in focus from single objective narrator to dual narrator and subjective voice is a substitution of an ellipse for a circle (Rice 74-79).

Tindall points out that religion offers no haven from discord either. Religion fails to bring peace and goodwill to a bittered Christmas dinner, neither does it prevent an unjust pandying by Father Dolan. That injustice is reported amusing to the Jesuits (56-57). 


Ezra Pound embraced A Portrait  under “pressure from Hulme and [Wyndham] Lewis.” They believed the novel would lead to the abandonment of the “objectivity of works of art” (Ellmann 351). Rice thinks the novel succeeded because it is “a thoroughly non-Euclidean novel in form and subject” (54). A contemporary editorial in New Freewoman praised it for “describing a man as he feels himself instead of in the terms of the physical image he presents to sight…” (Ellmann 352-353). None of these fully explain the leap made with this novel. In attempting to explain the phenomenon, Kenner said: “…it is now possible to explain to people why they can’t sail directly from Naturalism to Joyceland across the Freudian Sea” (144); Ellmann added:” We are still learning to be James Joyce’s contemporaries” (3).

There are three artifacts Dedalus creates in the novel that you might find also show the development of this creation in a post-Euclidean, uncertain, and curved universe. Firstly is the expanding location Stephen logs on the flyleaf of his Geography:

Stephen Dedalus

Class of Elements

Clongowes Wood College


County Kildare



The World

The Universe (Joyce 15-16)

Secondly, formulas open and expand while he attempts to comprehend. The first “began to spread out a widening tail, eyed and starred like a peacock’s; and, when the eyes and stars of its indices had been eliminated, began slowly to fold itself together again. The indices appearing and disappearing were eyes opening and closing; the eyes opening and closing were stars being born and being quenched” (Joyce 106).

[This noted by Tindall “Stephen’s first equation, like the vast cycle of stars, bears his mind outward and inward to the accompaniment of ‘distant music'” (81).]

And thirdly, that the novel concludes with diary entries. These are perfect forms of combined objectivity and subjectivity, the solution(s) to the equation modernity seeks to solve (Joyce 252-257).


Works Cited

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1983, pp. 3–7., 292-299, 339-356.

Joyce, James, and Richard D. Brown. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Alfred A. Kopf, 1991. 

Kenner, Hugh. “‘Remember That I Have Remembered.'” Gnomon, McDowell, Obolensky, New York, 1958, pp. 144–161. 

Miller, Arthur I. Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty That Causes Havoc. BasicBooks, 2002. 

Rice, Thomas Jackson. Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity. University of Illinois Press, 1997. 

Tindall, William Y. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, Noonday Press, New York, 1963, pp. 50–100. 

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: Reading Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s Andalusian Hours, Poems from the Porch


The screen door screeches, a brass section tuning, the rockers form in an oblique brass section awaiting an audience for the symphony of Flannery’s world played to Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s lyrics and music.  

I can think of no other case where a poet reflects the soul of another as you’ll find in this collection of verses. The poems collect themselves according to the Liturgy of the Hours, each capturing a snippet from O’Connor’s canon, letters, or talks. You’ll find that each verse also captures the uniqueness of that Hour’s devotion. The overplayed term “channeling” is shamed here by how well Professor Alaimo O’Donnell knows her subject. We read None, not in mid-afternoon as is appropriate, but earlier before Flannery would have finished her morning’s writing or was carted for lunch to The Sanford House. 

Pilgrim Cathy and I are not researchers or even instructors any longer. We are only readers and admirers. I confess to being a fanboy. In my hero-worship, I forget that physically, Mary Flannery was flesh and blood, and both species were especially frail in her. Spiritually, she made no claim of being sanctified, speaking only her struggle. On hellish, humid Georgia afternoons after scribbling and a deep-fried lunch chased down with another round of medication, her resolve might wither against None’s heat. It must have been then that Flannery wrote those confessional letters that showed her only-human weaknesses. Scattered among the poems we read were admissions of the foolish pride of a crippled specimen, the viciousness of a cruel race, gluttony, overmatched mother-daughter tussling, vanity over beauty lost, sexual disappointment and revenge.

One poem that seemed most provocative was “Flannery’s Donkey.” It begins… 

My Mama’s donkey would be a Catholic./

In this house there’s no other way to be./

Among the mid-afternoon None confessions, this poet paints the peccadillo of Regina’s burro. Ernest balks at the door of the Methodist church rather than participate in that congregation’s Nativity play. This poem, like the others from that Hour of the liturgy, is a diamond. Each prescribed fourteen shallow lines cut with facets that reveal layers of dimension. This one discloses the constancy toward dogma. Regina’s faith showered under baptismal endurance shines a dedication to practice in Ernest’s braying of the rosary and steadfastness in the face of insult– “dumb creature!” But since None is also the Hour of Flannery’s flagging strength, the poem warns of a failure of generosity toward fellow Christians. The Bravura Burro shows an unwillingness to take a bow.

Our Catholic ass just could not feign/

nor hide his scrupulous disdain./

Some say most blood and spittle is sprayed for religious zeal, although we could acknowledge that all are wars of acquisition or revenge. Racial commonalities aside, the Irish and Scot, Jew and Arab, Pakastani and Hindu savor their differences. Some faithful, fervent as Ernest, draw the pre-Ecumenical line on the threshold of their neighbor’s place of worship. Still, there was a time before Catholicism or any Christianity when beasts of burdens were more open-minded.

Another of my favorite poets is Gloria Fuertes. She wrote about a broken-down camel, servant of astrologers and necromancers, who carried a treasure of tribute to The Nativity Child not in a church but a stable. In Fuertes’ version the Child replies:

–I don’t want gold or incense/

or these expensive meaningless gifts,/

I want the camel, that’s what I want,/

I want the camel, the Child repeated/ 

(from Off the Map, edited and translated by Philip Levine and Ada Long) 


Poor Ernest, for the Faith of His Fodder, he forsakes the greatest glory.


Many thanks to Georgia College and State University for its stewardship of Andalusia, to that institution’s Special Collections and faculty for the inspiration nurtured. Thanks also to those who read and treasure the work of Mary Flannery O’Connor. Finally, thanks to the foundations, collections, associations, publications, and institutions that promote her legacy. And thanks to the underappreciated, late Gloria Fuertes. Most of all, thanks to Dr. Angela Alaimo O’Donnell for crafting this wonderful book of poems and for permitting the “sampling” of her perfect phrases. 


A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: On Andalusia’s Hallowed Ground, 29 September 2021

Up the gravel road and to the right, a white house mushrooms on high ground. The main building is unmistakable to anyone who has seen the Kodak of Flannery navigating on aluminum “sticks” down the brick stairs to admire that single peacock. Marked by a sign leaning against an oak tree, the house looks deceptively roomy from the exterior. The entrance is from the rear and into the small gift shop where visitors buy tickets, the best volumes by and about Mary Flannery, and peacock feathers. 

This gift shop had once been Regina’s room. To its left on entry is the office. A real working farm as this needed a sink for washing before handling paperwork. Like all the rooms toured, the office is small. Regina reconfigured the first floor when lupus felled the younger O’Connor. Flannery found it easier to climb to heaven than to navigate the stairs to her original quarters. In addition to Regina’s bedroom and office, the first floor consists of the kitchen, bathroom, dining room, sitting room, and two other bedrooms clustered around a central hall with those treacherous stairs. Practicality dictated that the rooms be small. On weekends, Uncle Louis Cline, who worked for Atlanta’s King Hardware, occupied one bedroom as small as the office. Visitors may notice a few rearrangements since the publishing of Gordon, Amason, and Martin’s A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia. Pilgrims will find that volume a great aid to their enjoyment of a trip to Flannery’s world. At least one more alteration is planned, the restoration of Regina’s bedroom as the gift shop moves to the new Andalusia Interpretative Center in 2022. 

Best is the kitchen where Regina assembled traveling fruitcakes and where Flannery admonished herself perhaps with too much scrupulousness against the gluttony of too many Scotch oatmeal cookies.

In the military, I served alongside a one-time guide on the Mark Twain tour in Hannibal, MO. He said it didn’t take long before he became bored with his canned recitation and improved it. Under Red’s expert guidance, vacationers were able to recognize the “Z-shaped” cave where Tom Sawyer’s nemesis lurked- except that the entrance to the cave was shaped like an “A.” Tourists embraced the ruse. All guides aren’t malicious or mischievous; some are only guilty of being inexpert volunteers for the civic good. But if you interrupt a volunteer museum docent with an unscripted question, he is likely to press [RESTART,] beginning the answer with ” Welcome to the Museum of Bottlecaps. My name is [fill in your name], and I will be your guide….” An encounter with the docents at Andalusia changed my expectations about docents forever. They are young but informed, experienced, it seems, but still enthusiastic. Their knowledge is broad, and they are capable of fielding even my questions about minutia. They are pleasant, engaged, and devoted to Mary Flannery’s time and place. There were perhaps a half-dozen on-site that day. It would be impossible to rank even one behind the others.


House of the Hollerin’ Hills
Guizac’s Equipment Barn
Joy-Hulga’s Loft

At the rear of the white house, beginning left of the drive stands a trinity of russet splintered structures. The first of these is the factual Hills’ House. In fiction, it housed the Shortleys and others. It’s repaired but not restored, but don’t fail to enter if carefully. It will kindle a reader’s imagination. Past the home of the Hollering Hills is Andalusia’s Calvary. Farm machinery arranged in a careful disorder surrounds Gulzac’s equipment shed. Flannery may have mistrusted mechanical modernity, but an observer might wonder how that rubber and steel might still sing had the Displaced Person survived. Finally, there is the Dairy Barn. An external ladder stretches up toward Hulga’s Loft. Fight the temptation; those rungs don’t ascend to Paradise.

Circle back beside the dry creekbed. Eighty yards from the Main House stands a PEAnal stockade where two once glorious birds serve incarceration. Their names recall other prisoners of Andalusia, Astor and Mrs. Shortley. The pen is small. When depression causes the birds to molt their glories, as it does, a docent collects the lost feathers to sell in the gift shop. If a fertilized egg results, another turnkey awaits to pluck it and send it off to a northern Georgia farm where an unrelated peahen, joyous and free, raises the peachick as her own. If this is Regina’s revenge against the birds that ravaged her flower beds and devoured her strawberries, they rehabilitated long ago. They should be perched in Andalusia’s trees, bellowing their gospels after midnight loud enough to save the souls of even distant neighbors.

Let my peafowls go!

don ward, October 21, 2021

Many thanks to Georgia College and State University for its stewardship of Andalusia, to that institution’s Special Collections and faculty for the inspiration nurtured. Thanks also to those who read and treasure the work of Mary Flannery O’Connor. Finally, thanks to the foundations, collections, associations, publications, and institutions that promote her legacy.

A Millgrimage to Milledgeville: A Groundbreaking at Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia, September 29, 2021

Among the invitations extended to Cathy and me when we visited Milledgeville was an opportunity to attend the groundbreaking for the Andalusia Interpretative Center. The Center would be planted on the farm where Flannery O’Connor lived, wrote, and raised fowl from 1951 until “the red wolf” of Lupus took her in 1964. We were pleased to receive the invitation. It was another happy coincidence afforded by the timing of our visit. We planned on visiting the hermitage and reliquary farm that morning, so the timing could not be happier. We thought we might get to observe some of the bright lights of the Flannery Scholarly Constellation.

On Andalusia’s Hallowed Ground

At 10 o’clock on a bright Georgia morning, we were pleased to observe Louise Flourencourt, trustee and proximate family to the great Flannery. Few other shooting stars flashed past the groundbreaking. We had already been honored to meet Dr. Bruce Gentry, an expert in FO’C’s body of work. We had also enjoyed the good offices of Nancy Davis Bray, curator of GCSU’s Special Collections. They serve the community of O’Connor devotees every day, and enough wisdom and good grace brushed off those two alone to make the journey worthwhile. It was disappointing that academics from across the country didn’t stream or even trickle into Milledgeville for the groundbreaking like the House of David beating a path toward Bethlemen for the great Augustinian Census.

America doesn’t honor American writers as other countries honor writers. In Montréal, Dublin, Soule, and Trieste, the celebration of the writing of James Joyce for a Bloomsday festival stretches the seams of a week. “The Joyce Industry” rewards authors, researchers, and professors for the exercise of their passion every June. It’s not that there is no appetite for the celebration of literature in America. There are globally renowned Bloomsday celebrations on Broadway and in Philadelphia, but there is no grand national event honoring Faulkner, Dickinson, Melville, Hemingway, or Whitman either. That O’Connor, among the most respected of American authors, can’t draw a decent mob for two hours on a flawless Fall day is sad if not shocking. It’s not the product at fault; it’s the marketing.

Mary Flannery isn’t the problem either. The Center is a modest venture, planned at $3.4million. If the posterboard notice propped against the wall of the “Shipley’s” cabin on the Andalusian grounds is correct, the small O’Connor homestead cost $2 million to renovate. The Andalusia groundbreaking competed on that day with the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Georgia College and State University’s $22.1 million Integrated Science Complex. The amount spent on the Andalusia Interpretative Center isn’t the problem either. The problem might be that more attendees wielded shovels than books. I have found no YouTube video of the event. This is the heritage of a prophetess without honor on her own farm.

Perhaps all ceremonial shoveling is designed to inspire construction teams. The day’s speeches addressed the project but did not delve into the exhibits that would draw an audience to the finished Center. There was no more than nominal mention of the artist herself, though many of her best stories sprung from this land. The architect could have interested the audience by showing how this design best serves Flannery. He might lure back readers, not for the next ribbon-cutting, but to stroll, read, and interact–had the architect spoke, had many readers been present. Discussion of the stories played out on Andalusia’s pastures or about Flannery’s character would have moved readers too. Afterward, in Regina’s house, a docent said that all hands mustered that morning, not knowing how many people would wander up from the meadow after the shovel turning. We were inside the house and at the peafowl pen for an hour and more after the ceremony. Only one other party of three people ventured up the gravel drive.

Imagine how Miss O’Connor would have sung out that famous laugh over the event. How would she describe ten gold shovels scratching a handful of mortal soil each? Imagine how she would have tickled Caroline, Sally, Hester, and all with the story of hardhats held without a clue as to which end was fore and which end aft. It would have made a story, no doubt a morality play with a belly laugh.

Flannery’s heritage suffers a disadvantage. She travels spacetime toward us from another era. This world misunderstands her with even more determination than did her contemporaries. Today, she is a moralist in a world almost purely secular, and she a grotesque like her own fictional inventions. Flannery understood the business of being published, ACTH and transfusions were expensive then too, but if the legacy is to survive, it will take more than business.

Read, donate, share.

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: Special Collections- September 28, 2021

The second floor of the Ina Dillard Russell Library is a lively place. Classgoers speak aloud to a zooming diaspora. Study groups hawk their ideas in voices that drift up and out over the academic bazaar. Enthusiasm bests collegiality here. The lone scholar is a peculiar sight. She may cover herself with a whiteboard of words circled, arrowed, and webbed. I came from a time and place when the best libraries were famously monkish. “Shhh!” was a greeting. Collections hired librarians for encyclopedic memories and withering scowls.

From the circulation desk, the researcher follows an escort through the long arcade. Go left at the glass wall. Then through the locked metal doors. There the collection’s security becomes obvious. A battery of networked PCs sentinels stands watch against online incursions against the collection and copyright infringement. Through another steel door, find the inner sanctum. Laptops are allowed into the researchers’ fishbowl. Selfies with the documents are verboten, but review the bound catalog, select the document that tweaks your curiosity, and your fascination rekindles like when it first flickered.

Unlike those “librarians” of my epoch, Nancy Davis Bray and her team are scowl-free. I have visited a reading room at the New York 42nd Street Library. There is a reason why the Stone Lions sit outside, 42nd Street was more welcoming than among the stacks. There a pile of the requested works were trundled in, dumped, and thumped on a table. The attendant was subway polite, littering a nicety in exit, back across the threshold. Not so at the “Ina.” Nancy’s welcome was shocking before we ever met her. Permissions, pathfinding, parking permit. Later there would be introductions and Milledgeville advice (“the cemetery closes at six”). Best of all was a richness of anecdotes she was willing to share. The curator of the Collections at the Ina is gracious with her time and her memories of the Flannery Community as well as with the materials under her care. She is Beatrice, and we are guided to Paradiso.

The purpose of my visit was to investigate the manuscripts of stories that might be compared to others by Faulkner, whose writing O’Connor found so moving. I signed a commitment to include an acknowledgment of the debt incurred to the Foundation and asked to see the copies of available manuscripts for FO’C’s stories “The Turkey,” “The River,” and “A Circle in the Fire.” The few pages of “The Turkey” had a limited number of corrections. I might have expected this since the early versions of the story were written while Flannery was still at The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Many more pages and even iterative versions of pages surfaced from “A Circle in the Fire.” A few wording improvements, reference corrections, some changes from pronouns to nouns. No changes were more significant than could be accomplished with three or four words. These might have included final drafts and penultimates. Only a bit of a manuscript of “The River” was available, but this was (not to stack one manuscript on another) a ‘”revelation.” In this very early version, Boy Bevel’s father is more than numbed by a morning-after weakness. He is foul-tempered and potentially brutish. Mrs. Conin, not yet known by that name, is more avaricious and somewhat unpleasant too. 

Meanwhile, my fellow pilgrim plowed through Mary Flannery’s early sketches and linographs. She was especially interested in Flannery’s childhood drawing of a girl and her turkey. Here she floated above the fowl like an inversion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Edward O’Connor carried that sketch in his wallet like a lucky penny. Nancy broke away from her duties to see that beautiful childhood memory was put into the hands of the person who would best adore it.

The day done, and with directions from Nancy Davis Bray (“the graves are to the left and against the fence”), we stood before the graves of Edward Francis, Regina Cline, and Mary Flannery O’Connor.

I gratefully acknowledge the assistance and permission of the Georgia College & State University, The Flannery O’Connor Collection, The Estate of Mary Flannery O’Connor, and The Flannery O’Connor Foundation. Particular thanks are due to the curator of the collection, Nancy Davis Bray, and her entire team.

A Final Note

Before our visit, I wrote an essay contrasting O’Connor’s “The River” and James Joyce’s story “Grace.” The required acknowledgment of the Foundation and GCSU offices will accompany its publication. I don’t know, however, if I will continue to write criticism about O’Connor’s work in the future. The rules applied to control O’Connor’s works are inscrutable given my layperson’s understanding of copyright law. I regret this, believing more exposure could draw young and international readers to O’Connor’s in greater numbers.


James Joyce Reading Circle Usage by Nation

James Joyce Reading Circle Usage by Nation during October
Activity on the website was greater than usual during the month. Four new posts were created for readers of Flannery O’Connor. This resulted in the increase of  US usage. Four new posts are planned for November three of these will relate to the canon of James Joyce.
Argenti   01%
Austral   03% 
Belgium  02%
Bosnia   <01%
Brazil       04% 
Canada   02%
China       01%
Falklan. <01%
France.    01%
Georgia <01%
Germa.    02%
Greece  <01%
India         01%
Ireland     19%
Isreal        02%
Italy           07%
Malta.     <01%
Mexico      01%
Oman      <01%
Poland       01%
Russia        01%
S. Afr.       <01%
Spain          01%
Switz.       <01%
Taiwan        01%
UK                05%
US                50%

(D) about “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”- October 6, the Anniversary of Parnell’s Death

Edwardian Dublin was an occupied city under imposed and foreign institutions. Eight hundred years previously, Stirruped Strongbow took the Dark City. Beyond the Pale, Norman strongholds pockmarked the fortifiable positions. Eventually, most Normans succumbed to Ireland’s charm, but one result was the dilution of old Irish ways. The new masters denuded forests. Farms turned to pastures for invaders’ livestock. Norman and English law plowed under Brehon Law over the next 500 years. An English pope turned Rome against Celtic Catholicism. Education was outlawed, and Irish marriage weakened under economic pressure and protestant prudery. Irish language and culture were outlawed. Even family names were made unfamiliar, and all this resulted from inviting a Stranger into a family dispute. Conquest was born of a betrayal as unnatural as Cain’s murder of Abel. Betrayal in Ireland became a way of survival, institutionalized by the “soupers” who sold Protestantism in exchange for a bowl of famine porridge. Meanwhile, the Castle made snitchery a route to the middle class, and Catholic clergy were sometimes more interested in preserving permission to exist from the conquerors than in shepherding a flock.

A Dublin municipal election could be held in October but probably only after the death of an officeholder. Generally, the short interval between October and January would simply delay the election for sixty days until the customary date in January (Hodgart 115). This fictitious October election does occur after the death of an incumbent. It was eleven years since Parnell’s passing, allowing emotions to soothe and betrayals to fade into memory. Tindall observes that since then, like John Donne’s world, Joyce’s Dublin has gone “all in pieces all coherence gone,… lacking that moral cement” that once “did faithfully compact and glue all virtues” ( 34). Everything became unglued after the betrayal of the man who had Home Rule within his grasp. In 1903 it was as unlikely that Home Rule would advance as that the sun might rise over the former Irish Parliament building, as shown on the Freeman’s Journal’s masthead. Gifford and Seidman report among radicals, the Freeman’s was considered “compromised by the quasi-conservative interests” (292. 37-38), and the sun could never rise over the old Parliament (in 1903 the Bank of Ireland) since the building faces Northwest (Gifford and Seidman N: 57: 33-35).

The Home Rule movement built upon ancient Celtic traditions, a history of rebellion, and the unfairness of English law and economic policy. Yeats’ Twilight, Irish Athletics linked arm in arm with the threat of rebellion, and a delicate balance between Tories and Labour in the halls of Parliament had favored the Home Rule cause. Since Parnell’s fall, there was little need for the Empire to compromise. International events and the willingness within some quarters of the Catholic hierarchy to trade Irish freedoms to secure Church wealth made political disinterest possible.

The attempt to resurrect the old heroes, culture, and law had scuttled. After more than a decade, the Committee Room collected representatives from all strata of Irish society. Facts became clouded, and political power realigned; time erased Parnel’s “betrayal” from history’s memory. The canvassers assembled to drink to the “Pok-ing” of Parnell’s tattoo.

Jack is an unlettered keeper of the flame. Others’ devotion has faded, but he remains dedicated to old ways. He fiercely but ineptly defends against the passing of tradition but remains susceptible to the influence of his “betters.” When Old Jack rakes the ashes, he casts a shadow distorted and overblown like the ones in Plato’s cave. His counterpart in the assemblage is the delivery boy, who is the vehicle of shabby patronage. He shares the drink, like Jack’s son, who brutalizes the old man when the opportunity presents. The delivery boy and Jack’s son are too young to remember the events that led to the abandonment of Home Rule; Jack is too old to forget the uncomfortable but stable Ascendancy. 

A tainted member of the clergy scuttles quickly into and then out of the group. Fr. Keon is looking for the man who buys the drinks and is happy to meet him in the pub where the rounds are likelier to flow. Lyons stands in for the observant Catholics who followed clerical advice and condemned Parnell. Mr. Lyons can’t grasp why Dublin should welcome the British playboy sovereign if Parnell must fall, “Why, now, would we welcome a man like that? Do you think now after what he did Parnell was a fit man to lead us? And why, then, would we do it for Edward the Seventh?”

Crofton championed self-assured but unexpressed support for the status quo. The well-fed Orangeman undermines anything but Ascendancy in circumspect ways. He only supports Tierney as an ineffectual foil to Labour’s opposition (“Mr. Crofton…. was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him”). This reluctant canvasser, whether from a lack of artistic taste or as a way of insult, gives thin praise to Hynes’ paean. Hugh Kenner offers a truer analysis of the poem: “the pathos genuine, the rhetoric frigid and ludicrous, falsity exposed in the very grief it expresses” (82). If the Protestant is unmovable and passive-aggressive, then frail, uncertain O’Connor is his opposite number. He has just enough insight to question the faulty logic proposed but without the conviction to oppose it. The betrayal could not have succeeded without his cadre of the indifferent.

The final pairing consists of compromised, caustic, self-serving Henchy and blindly staunch Hynes. Henchy is Joyce’s fictionalized treatment of Healy, whose betrayal of his longtime friend was chiseled in “Et Tu Healy.” Henchy navigates ethical sholes by the star of his own advantage and argues that Ireland needs English “sovereigns” more than freedom or dignity:

Listen to me, – said Mr. Henchy.-What we want in this country, as I said to old Ward, is capital. The King’s coming here will mean an influx of money into this country. The citizens of Dublin will benefit by it. Look at all the factories down by the quays there, idle!…Parnell, -said Mr. Henchy, -is dead. Now, here’s the way I look at it. Here’s this chap come to the throne after his old mother keeping him out of it till the man was grey. He’s a man of the world, and he means well by us. He’s a jolly fine decent fellow, if you ask me,…Damn it, can’t we Irish play fair? (James Joyce)

Hynes, though unaccomplished as a journalist or a poet, remained loyal to Parnell. Hodgart calls him a “waster whose political idealism is spilled out in bad verse” (118), but the name Hynes derives from the Irish for ivy, the symbol of Parnell’s memory (Torchiana 179). Crafty Henchy, henchman of the Castle, whispers the accusation that Hynes spies for the Labour Party, the loyal few now called disloyal themselves.

Old Jack, in an intuitive but also mindless ritual, holds off the darkness. The firelight is flickering. Fuel is scarce, and the old porter brings candelabra for the requiem. O’Connor lights tentative cigarettes by burning canvassing cards. These flimsy cards exist to kindle fires in the hearts of indifferent voters. Jack warns of the treachery of the dark stairs. They could lead the men out into the gray light but have kept them down in the darkness, where tardy corks “POK!” on the fire’s hob. Jackson and McGinley observe that the hob or iron side of the grate where stout bottles heat is also called the “devil or goblin” (116). Joyce indicted Irish politics to Grant Richards, noting “the special odour of corruption which, I hope floats over my stories.” In this story, corruption maneuvers through the relationship of politico and priest and the falling away of personal loyalties. The old institutions have expired.

At nine years old, James Joyce wrote his poem honoring the dead Parnell. Disappointed by politics as a child, when a young man, Joyce composed the anthem that placed “the artist” beyond the authority of human institutions. Nietzsche thought similarly. Pre-dating Joyce, he is called a proto-modernist but is best known for nihilism. This philosophy proposes that there are no universal truths and therefore no meaning in institutions, political, religious, or social. By 1903, there had been a societal shift toward situational politics and loyalties favored by Henchy. Old institutions buckled under the weight of corruption. By the time Joyce wrote Dubliners, he had turned away from human institutions, leaving Ireland, abandoning the Church, and keeping a stiff arm between himself and his old Irish loyalties.


Works Cited

Adams, Robert Martin. Surface and Symbol: The Consistency of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 4-12.

Burgess, Anthony. ReJoyce. Second ed., W.W. Norton & Company, New York. 1965, pp. 41-42. 

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York. 1983, pp. 207-223, 252-253, 310-311.

Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Univ. of California Press, pp. 57: 33-35, 292: 37-38. 

Joyce, James. Dubliners. Enhanced Media, 2016, Retrieved September 14-September 23 2021.

Joyce, James. James Joyce’s Dubliners: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations, edited by John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, St. 

Martin’s Press, 1993, pp. 106-121.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Enhanced Media, 2011, Retrieved September 26 2021.

Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years, edited by Richard Ellmann, Da Capo Press, 1958, p. 206.

Hodgart, M.J.C. “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” James Joyce’s Dubliners: Critical Essays, edited by Clive Hart, Viking Press, 1969, pp. 115–121. 

Kenner, Hugh. Joyce’s Voices, Dalkey Archive Press, 2007.

Scholes, Robert and A. Walton Litz, editors. James Joyce’s Dubliners: Text and Criticism. Penguin Books, 1996, pp. 477-481. 

Tindall, William York. “Dubliners.” A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959, pp. 33-36. 

Torchiana, Donald T.” ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’: Fanning the Phoenix Flame, or the Lament of the Fianna,” Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners, Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 176-187.






What You Read on the JJRC Last Month


Materials about Flannery O’Connor continued to gain interest among US readers. Two new essays will be posted during November concluding the series on our visit to Milledgeville, GA. Also in November, updates will be made to the existing content of Giacomo Joyce, Cantos I and II.and the format redesign will be completed. A new series will begin on the influence of Einstein, Picasso and Joyce on thinking in the 20th Century and beyond.~Don

October Access by Topic

Ulysses 32%

The Flannery O’Corner 28%

Home Page, etc. 13%

Giacomo Joyce   7%

Dubliners 13%

Reviews of Books, etc 3%

Bloomsday 2%

Where Has Ulysses Been? <1%

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: A Classroom of Flannery with Dr. Marshall Bruce Gentry at GCSU

One most pleasant surprise of our visit to Andalusia and Flannery’s alma mater in Milledgeville was the invitation to sit with Bruce Gentry’s scholars on September 27. 

We first encountered Dr. Gentry digitally during the International Flannery O’Connor Conference in early August (2021). Bruce, who edits and writes for the Flannery O’Connor Review, had the conference Zoomers halting their walking-in-place and bookshelf dusting as he explored the comparative treatment of amputees by writers doing homage (or damage) to O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” One gem he mined was an exploration of Joyce Carol Oates’ treatment of physical disfigurement in “Amputee.” Bruce pointed to the degradation of the comparison. O’Connor’s sometimes infused “otherness” with grace, as in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost.” At other times, she used the grotesque as a merit badge of nihilism as she did in “Good Country People.” Oates departs O’Connor’s precedent making her amputee an icon of Postmodernism. JCO elevates “otherness” creating in her character a token of sexual conquest in the casino of the Twentyfirst Century. Oates’ theme: “God meant to mock: a pretty-girl face on a broken body” became a focus of fascination in Bruce’s discussion. 

When we asked for access to O’Connor’s manuscripts, we expected a response from Special Collections. We’ll post more about Nancy Davis Bray’s benefices soon, but Nancy’s reply included invitations from Bruce Gentry too. We could not have anticipated the generosity of Dr. Gentry’s hospitality. He offered links to two express but expert discussions of Wise Blood conducted in September and October. I wasn’t certain how this could be conjured, but it seems Bruce has done this before. His overview wasn’t a shoveling out of CliffNote factuals. He marked the significant themes with notes that don’t replace a careful reading but enhance it. I was happy to hear him confirm my thinking that the Redcap is, in fact, a railroading prodigal son. He disagreed with my (okay, sigh) overly optimistic hopes for Haze Mote’s salvation. I’ll hear his conclusion in two weeks.

Sandwiched between bookended digital Wise Blood discussions was another invitation. That was for seated attendance in the Gentry classroom, where undergraduate and graduate inspiration is fostered in a single class. The academic diversity of this class requires special handling. We could only guess at how diverse the students’ academic interests were. One self-identified as a film major, and another may have studied Social Sciences or Psychology. One might have been pursuing studies in Literature. Posing and answering questions in this advanced class while maintaining the interest of such a group requires surgical skill– not too broad for the specialist, nor too focused for the generalist. Every response directly responded to a questioner’s particular interest while sparking general attention among the class. This pedagogical deftness speaks nothing of the depth of this professor’s boundless subject matter mastery. 

Flannery O’Connor’s generosity toward correspondents is legendary. When questions were vapid, she was usually gentle unless they offended her religious sensibilities. With some frequency, she invited continued contact, explained her process and the intent of her writing. Sometimes she provided materials for the novice writer’s development. That spirit lives on in Milledgeville. I taught on the lowest rung of higher education for thirteen years. I confess that I never mastered the easy and judgment-neutral style of feedback that got the same reception from students, whether the feedback was approbation or remediation. At GCSU, student comments are bent from dark night toward morning. No one gives feedback more effectively. No instructor is more gently collaborative. No instructor better handles dense subject matter improvisationally.

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: Planning and Provisioning the Trip

One delight found when exploring Mary Flannery O’Connor’s life and craft is the discovery of her generosity toward correspondents— researchers, instructors, or unwashed readers like me. This quality conjoined with her persistent bravery and laugh-out-loud, squint-eyed humor sustains fascination even beyond the hammered genius of her storytelling. The people found in Milledgeville, those who surround her legacy, honor and perpetuate her charity, devotion, and wit.

For the second plague year, O’Connor’s storytelling sustained us. We read her weekly. At first weakly, then with a better understanding about the persistence of her treatment of grace. We plied open JSTOR and other sources of criticism and her occasional writings. We YouTubed lectures, read Gooch, Ellie, and others. Most instructive were her responses to those who corresponded with her unannounced. Usually patient, sometimes less so, she explained in pages of detail the whats and whys of her process. “Mary-Cathy” and I would talk for three hours weekly about what we found in her writing and criticism about her art.

For weeks I had been thinking about the incongruous treatment of grace and simony in O’Connor’s “The River” and James Joyce’s “Grace.” For weeks too, I spoke about it perseveratively. I don’t remember who first suggested that we should try to look at her manuscripts. In reading her stories, we thought her manuscripts, marginalia, and revisions would give us a peek into her process.

Nancy Davis Bray is the long-tenured Associate Director for Special Collections at Georgia College & State University. We contacted Nancy thinking she might grant or deny us access and that, were we permitted to view any of the collection, our treatment would be procedural and perfunctory. But Milledgeville is in Georgia, and Nancy Davis Bray is Nancy. There were forms to complete, yes, but they are streamlined and exist to establish expectations. The procedures are sensible and painless rather than authoritarian. Nancy must have chuckled or tutted at my overly ambitious and fanciful list of manuscripts for review. She and her crew had done this before. She guided us through obstacles we would have collided against blindly–parking, directions through the brick gate and around the campus landmarks, navigation bending around a library’s construction maze. If you are ever are offered directions by the curator of a collection, accept the offer. They will be — encyclopedic.

I’ll share the details of our visit with a series of short posts over the coming days. Here is the current schedule:

The Classroom of Dr. Marshall Bruce Gentry (visited on September 27)
Nancy Davis Bray’s “Stacks” at Georgia College & State University (September 28)
The Final Resting Place of FO’C and “THE River” (September 28)
The Groundbreaking for The Andalusia Interpretive Center (September 29)
On Andalusia’s Hallowed Grounds (September 29)
About Your Visit to Milledgeville

We owe heartfelt thanks to the curators of the Flannery O’Connor Collection, The Ina Dillard Russell Library, Georgia College & State University, and the estate of Mrs. Regina C. O’Connor for access and assistance in viewing items from the collection during our visit.