James Joyce by Chester G. Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A little over 40 years ago I read James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and the book made an extremely strong impression on me, then a young man but alas no artist. Since then, I have read substantial fragments of "Ulysses", many passages from "Finnegans Wake", and several stories from "The Dubliners" (quite recently the magnificent novella "The Dead", which I review here ). I have also read long excerpts of Richard Ellman's famous biography of Joyce, which I now want to read in its entirety.
Chester G. Anderson's biography "James Joyce" is much, much smaller in scope than the Ellman's work. Instead of over 800 pages, we have some 140 pages, almost half of which are used for wonderful photographs and illustrations (124 of them). Although this book may feel like a teaser for the real thing, I find it quite interesting and not at all shallow. For instance, Mr. Anderson writes about Joyce: "Looking intently at world through words and at words through his experience of the world, he needed to name everything in his experience". While having no literary talent whatsoever, I also look at the world through words rather than images, and I often find that one word is worth a thousand images.
Among other pearls of wisdom, the author twice mentions the quote "the past assuredly implies a fluid succession of presents" (from Joyce's 1904 essay). Then, towards the end, Mr. Anderson puts an exclamation mark on his work stating that Joyce could say to Samuel Beckett "I can do anything with language."
James Joyce was born only nine years before my grandmother. Had he been of better health, he could have been still alive when I was reading "A Portrait" in the early 1970s. But then, would he have anything left to write after "Finnegans Wake", which he finished in 1939 after dedicating to it 16 years of his life?
Three and a half stars.
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