There has been a steady increase in the number of participants each year and this year’s programme led visitors “in James Joyce’s footsteps” around Saint-Gérand. Delighted by the landscape, moved by readings of passages - sometimes truculent, sometimes poetic - that represent the core of Joyce’s work, our visitors were also greatly appreciative of the repertoire sung spontaneously by the lively Irish personality Liam Healy. However, the Ulysses Day could never be reduced to a simple commemorative walk. Without its conference it would not achieve its primary goal which is to encourage the reading and discussion of Joyce’s work amongst Joyce fans in the strongest sense of the word. The fact that this faithful small group of listeners, of diverse origins, comes back to Saint-Gérand year after year proves to doubters and sceptics that a great work, even one reputed to be difficult, can conquer a public and satisfy its curiosity.
This year a national symposium was held in Vichy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Valery Larbaud and the organisers in Saint-Gérand decided to prolong this commemoration with a reflection on the relationship between Joyce and Larbaud. The responsibility of shedding light on this complex relationship which played a decisive role in the publication and distribution of Ulysses in France, was placed in the hands of Michel Brissaud*
In his clear, concise conference, Michel Brissaud began by reminding the audience of the historic conditions surrounding the meeting between Larbaud and Joyce, at the instigation of Sylvia Beach, on Christmas Eve 1920. Sylvia Beach knew to what extent among the French writers and literary critics, Larbaud stood out through his generous attention to the works of others and through his undisputed competence in the domain of foreign literature, above all English. The choice was not accidental and Joyce and Larbaud struck an instant rapport. Larbaud shut himself away with part of the manuscript of Ulysses and when he emerged after several days of reading he declared his admiration by stating that he was “crazy about Ulysses”. He even proposed translating a few pages in the “Nouvelle Revue Française” and did all he could to make Joyce’s work known in France. It would be appropriate at this point to recall the legendary presentation of Ulysses on 7th December 1923 which firmly established Joyce. Michel Brissaud emphasised that Larbaud, together with Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier made up the trio which was at the origin of Joyce’s reception and reputation in France.
However the talent and role played by Larbaud did not stop there. It is via the prefaces and articles that Larbaud dedicated to Joyce, in particular the preface to the first edition of “Dubliners” – first major critical presentation of the work in French – that we can measure his impact. Jacques Aubert, who insisted on keeping this preface for the publication of his translation of Dubliners in the Folio edition, shows that after the multitude of comments and studies that have since been made on Joyce this one could appear naïve or simplistic. But appearances can be deceptive: in presenting the man Larbaud shows himself to be “a great discoverer”. He opened perspectives on the work and he did it “simply but with admirable foresight”. Michel Brissaud provided vivid proof of this by painstakingly taking apart all the arguments put forwarded by Larbaud, by reconstructing the movement and the path of this work where the reader is thrown into the action and invited to take his place in the artistic creation. He also insisted on the choice and treatment of Odysseus by Joyce, to which Larbaud attached such importance, and on the role, essential but not exclusive, of the famous “interior monologue”. Finally he set about demonstrating to what extent Larbaud had been perspicacious by progressively moving his “literate reader” forward in a movement where a whole series of styles, analogies, agreements and correspondence compete to “make the reader see” what he had literally not seen. Just like the night – the image comes from Larbaud – when we look at the sky for a long time, the stars seem to grow in size. Our thanks go to Michel Brissaud for having illuminated our way along this starlit path that the first great French reader of Joyce’s work had indicated so well.
Following what has become the traditional Irish dinner at the Hotel de la Paix, the evening terminated with a very eclectic concert of Celtic music performed by Wild Geese. The 2008 Ulysses Day has been in the pipeline for two years. Both on a literary level and in the domain of welcoming overseas visitors it should be an exceptional vintage. It will also include top quality events available to everyone.
Gérard Colonna d’Istria ; Traduction Susan Papala
*Michel Brissaud : teacher of professional French ‘ foreign language ‘ in a European school.
Expertise: Valery Larbaud and Nathaniel Hawthorne; DEA of literature compared to one of the aspects of the works of Larbaud (years 1909-1910-1911) Conferences on Larbaud at various symposia.