Silent Years: An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland

Silent Years: An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland

Silent Years: An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland

Silent Years: An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland

Excerpt

In a world so specialized as the one we are living in today, it may cause surprise that "this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of a poor devil of a Sub-Sub" should be the author of a foreword to a book subtitled Memoirs of Joyce and Our Ireland. He never saw Joyce plain and the nearest he came to Dublin was London. Consider the staggering number of people who have made Joyce and Ireland their favorite subject, consider this Sub-Sub who knows so little of either that he cannot even be fanatic, and you have Justifiable Surprise. But there you also have J. F. Byrne.

Let it be said at the outset that Mr. Byrne is not an orthodox man. He does things in his own way. Even my meeting with him, a year ago, had its decisive quota of unorthodoxy. He came to the sedate and conservative offices of The New York Times a whitehaired man, unjacketed, his trousers held up by braces that ran over the shoulders of a short-sleeved, open-collar shirt. I was, from the outset, charmed by his appearance and touched by his conversation, and I am glad that I experienced these reactions before I knew that J. F. Byrne was Joyce Cranly.

Mr. Byrne left his manuscript with me on the very day that Frank O'Connor came by to take me off to lunch. I told him about my Irish adventure. Mr. O'Connor was delighted, amazed, excited. I remember that he said, "Don't tell the Joyce experts. They will tear you apart, and tear the book away from you." More significantly, he told me that Byrne was the last important bridge between the present and the schoolboy days of the author of Ulysses, that many interested hands had been after Byrne to do a book but that he had chosen to remain silent, that he had literally disappeared from the scene, and that Byrne had written a book, whatever kind of book, was sufficient cause for jubilance. Mr. O'Connor's parting words were: "Tell Byrne he has an admirer."

I know little enough about Mr. Byrne. My meetings with him, the telephone conversations I had with him, have without exception revealed to me that he is an honest man. Is it a basic criticism of experience to be forced to say how extraordinary a thing . . .

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