(Cartoon by the excellent Kate Beaton)
So, it's Bloomsday today, is it? Well! Fascinating James Joyce fact time!
Did you know that, charming man that he was, he had an enormous poo fetish, and devoted hours of his leisure time to writing great big dirty letters to his mistress Nora Barnacle? They are touching stuff, containing as they do heartbreaking and finely crafted sentences such as
I think I would know Nora's fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.That right there? That is true love. The Nora Barnacle letters are far and away my favourite things about James Joyce. They turned him, in my head, from simply being a monolithic asshole into being a monolithic asshole who knew and willingly used the word 'farties' in his correspondence.
As you may have guessed, I don't like James Joyce. I said so, once, in a seminar in my first year at university, and the professor looked at me as though I had just announced that I had licked a live chicken. However, I maintain that if you have read 900-odd pages of someone's writing, you can form a perfectly valid opinion about whether or not you personally like their style, and I disliked Ulysses intensely. I also, for the record, dislike mustard, Pearl Jam and fish and chips, and yet I sleep perfectly soundly at night.
In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath has her main character Esther's final descent into total depression happen when she tries to begin reading Finnegans Wake, which first of all says something about what Joyce's prose can do to people, and secondly makes me think that Sylvia Plath and I would have got on very well. It seems to me that Esther's crucial error was in choosing to read Joyce's fiction in the first place. If she had only read the Nora Barnacle letters instead, The Bell Jar would have probably been riotous fun and ended with Esther in Bimini drinking Mai Tais with a lion tamer named Frank. Probably.
Obviously, since taste is subjective and we do not live in a totalitarian state (imagine a totalitarian state where everyone was ordered to read James Joyce! Christ. We'd all better make sure Kim Jong-Il doesn't get hold of a copy of Dubliners) you are perfectly justified in thinking James Joyce was the literary second coming of Christ - and evidently people do, since today is the festival of his fictional character. But I maintain that it is my right to think that he was a tit, albeit a tit who wrote amazing dirty letters. On this day, let us give thanks for Nora Barnacle.