Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, September 9, 2016

What Did You Do in the Great War, Mr. Joyce?

What did you do in the Great War, Mr. Joyce?
I wrote Ulysses.  What did you do?
Tom Stoppard, Travesties

Having left his native Dublin in 1904, James Joyce (1882–1941) settled for a decade in picturesque Trieste on the periphery of the Austro-Hungarian Empire . He published his masterful short story collection Dubliners on the eve of war. When Italy joined the hostilities in 1915, however, Trieste was threatened with invasion, and the author abhorred the thought of any exposure to war. 

James Joyce in Zurich
He fled to Zurich for the duration, where he was highly productive — completing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916 and much  of Ulysses (published in 1922). In his free time in Zurich he managed to meet fellow author Stefan Zweig, cross paths with Vladimir Lenin, and observe the birth of Dada, the First World War's contribution to modern art. it was in Zurich, however, where his eye troubles became serious.  

Ulysses contains some war references, usually antiwar. It's set in 1904 so it predates the Great War and only the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars are mentioned. One apparent reference to the Battle of Tsushima seems a chronological error.  The battle occurred almost a year after Bloomsday (16 June 1904). It seems likely, though, that is was the current war that in any case was on the author's mind. A few of the shorter war references I've been able to track down in Ulysses include these:
  • Silly billies: mob of young cubs yelling their guts out. Vinegar hill. . . War comes on: into the army helterskelter: same fellows used to.  Whether on the scaffold high.
  • Peace and war depend on some fellow's digestion.  Religions.  Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents.  Eat drink and be merry.  Then casual wards full after.  Heads bandaged. . .
  • "British Beatitudes!. . . Beer, beef, business, bibles, bulldogs, battleships, buggery and bishops."
  • Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendicancy must now cease.
  • Father Conmee crossed to Mountjoy square.  He thought, but not for long, of soldiers and sailors, whose legs had been shot off by cannonballs, ending their days in some pauper ward, and of Cardinal Wolsey's words: If I had served my God as I served my king He would not have abandoned me in my old days.
After the Armistice, Joyce and his family returned to Trieste, but it had become a backwater —  no longer an imperial jewel.  It was on to Paris, but Zurich held a permanent place in his heart. Fleeing the Nazis, he returned in the Second World War and died there in January 1941.

Zurich retains a lasting affection for the Irish author. It is headquarters for the James Joyce Foundation and Library and in 2002 placed the statue shown below at his grave site.



  1. I'm afraid one of my life-long ambitions is to NEVER read Ulysses.

    1. I'm afraid you will have missed the most funny and amazing book ever written

  2. Very good post!

    I wonder if there are any WWI references in _Portrait_, or _Finnegan_.

  3. There is a reference in Ulysses to the Battle of Telissa, which was a land battle fought before Bloomsday. The naval battle references might also apply to the Battle of the Yellow Sea, which was also a Japanese naval victory fought several months before Bloomsday.