Some thoughts on James Joyce
Last weekend, I was quoted in this Philadelphia Inquirer article about James Joyce.
Ervin teaches a master class on the famous first sentence – “Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet” – which he thinks “may very well be the greatest opening line in literary history.” Lily’s name has overtones of purity. “So there’s a moral system put in place with the very first word.” Her father’s a caretaker, which suggests a social hierarchy of rich and poor. In the father and daughter we have overtones of family and gender.
“Then there’s the ‘literally run off her feet.’ Of course, she’s not literally run off her feet, otherwise she’d be on the floor, but the third-person narration comes from within her point of view, like she’s thinking that she’s run off her feet from working too hard. Those 10 words accomplish more than most novels. And then the story only gets better.”
Then I got this amazing copy of Finnegans Wake in the mail, and it bought me back to a particular time early in my writing life, which I wrote about briefly for Philadelphia Review of Books.
Finnegans Wake ($195, with glorious illustrations by John Vernan Lord) is a feast for the senses. Pulling it from its slipcover transported me right back to that bridge and that tram, to those days when I was just starting to think about writing the book that would become my first. Until I got my hands on this stunning new copy, I had all but forgotten how important Finnegans Wake was to me back then. That tram stop is vital to the world of my first book, Extraordinary Renditions. It’s where one character makes the biggest decision of his life. The pub where some others hang out, just at the base of the Pest side, is called Eve and Adam’s.
Joyce has been so central to my thinking–about literature, about writing, about just about everything–that I sometimes forget how about him entirely.