Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Opposite of Despair: St. Anthony Meets St. Patrick

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

The Opposite of Despair: St. Anthony Meets St. Patrick

Article excerpt

In Finnegans Wake notebook VLB. 8 Joyce wrote down the following brief but evocative notes on his relationship with Flaubert:

Flaub. treatment

of language as a kind

of despair

J J. contrary (JJA 30:315)

J[ohn] S[tanislaus] J[oyce] can rest having made me

G[ustave]. Flaubert can rest having made me] (JJA 30:329)

Larbaud result of

J[ames] J[oyce] + G[ustave] F[laubert] (JJA 30:338)

One must be careful in dealing with these notes because of their evident irony. In speaking of himself in the third person, Joyce assumes the role of literary critic and, as the theories of Stephen Dedalus in Portrait and Ulysses and the analyses of Mamalujo in the Wake all suggest, one must be wary of literary critics. The third note, in particular, is so simple and reductive that it must be considered satirical to some degree. But this is not to say that these notes are not interesting in their own right. What makes the first particularly fascinating is that, while the second and third point to the relationship between Joyce and Flaubert in very general terms, the first puts forward a specific point of difference between these two writers. While such a brief observation could be applied in any number of ways to the works of two such diverse writers, it is perhaps most easily understood, at least on Flaubert's part, if related to the conclusion of his unfinished final work, Bouvard and P?cuchet. According to Flaubert's plan, at the end to the novel the two protagonists, having grown weary of their search for truth, would have decided to "become copyists."1 Instead of fighting or attempting to escape from the stupidity they perceived around them, Bouvard and P?cuchet were to have ended their story by choosing to replicate that stupidity. This scene might be considered to present language as "a kind of despair" insofar as it suggests that one cannot use language to express oneself or to say anything original. For a Joycean contrary to this viewpoint, one might look to one of his grandest declarations of his own artistic ability: "I have discovered I can do anything with language I want" (JJIl 702). But, of course, this statement is as laced with irony as the above notes.

My intention is not to disagree with Joyce's own judgment of how his treatment of language differed from that of Flaubert. It is simply to argue, in the manner of Joyce's response to Wyndham Lewis's criticisms of Ulysses, that, while this observation may be true, one must ask whether it is more than fifty per cent of the truth.2 Flaubert's treatment of language is no more entirely despairing than Joyce's is entirely hopeful. If one examines all the works of those two writers one finds that both include hopeful and despairing treatments of language and that both position themselves between these two treatments. In Joyce's case, one can see this in each of his three finished novels, but to understand Flaubert's attitude, it is important that one considers La Tentation de Saint Antoine alongside his better known works. To find a hopeful treatment of language within Flaubert's oeuvre one must look there.

In this essay I will argue that Joyce recognised both the negative and the positive sides of Flaubert's treatment of language. In each of his last two novels, Joyce was influenced by both La Tentation de Saint Antoine and Bouvard and P?cuchet. While the influence of the latter has received a great deal of critical attention, the influence of the former has all too often been overlooked. Consequently, this essay will focus on how Joyce drew on the words and ideas of the Tentation. This essay contains three sections. The first will look at how critical assessments of Flaubert's influence on Joyce have repeatedly emphasised the importance of Bouvard and P?cuchet. The second will consider Joyce's use of the Tentation in Ulysses. The third will point out the conceptual parallels between the Tentation and the Wake. This section will focus on how Joyce's presentation of St. …

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