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LOUKOPOULOU Eleni, Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis

Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017 (356 p.). ISBN: 9780813062242
Sylvain Belluc
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Loukopoulou Eleni, Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017 (356 p.). ISBN 9780813062242

Texte intégral

  • 1 John McCourt, The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2000.
  • 2 Letters of James Joyce, Volume I, ed. Stuart Gilbert, New York: Viking, 1957, p. 394.
  • 3 Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce: New and Revised Edition, New York: OUP, 1982, p. 704.

1Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921’. ‘Paris, 1922-1939’. These famous dates and places with which Ulysses and Finnegans Wake respectively close tell a long story, and suggest the extent to which the composition of those two books is embedded in the social, historical and cultural life of the cities in which Joyce wrote them. The crucial role played by Paris’s literary movers and shakers in relation to the writing and, more importantly, to the publication of Ulysses is now amply documented, as is, thanks to John McCourt’s seminal The Years of Bloom,1 the lasting impact made on Joyce by the city of Trieste, where he lived almost uninterruptedly from 1915 to 1925. As to Zurich, Joyce’s slice of life there is given dramatic shape (with a non-negligible dose of poetic licence) in Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties. And then there is Dublin, which, more than a mere backdrop to Joyce’s stories or novels, can in many ways be described as their very flesh and bones. In a letter to C.P. Curran dated August 6, 1937, Joyce wrote: ‘[E]very day in every way I am walking along the streets of Dublin and along the strand. And “hearing voices”’.2 And to Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, a suffragette and Irish nationalist who, in the same period, asked Joyce if he planned to return to Ireland one day, the latter famously replied: ‘Have I ever left it?’3

2The sheer length of the time spent by Joyce in Paris, however, added to his proclaimed cosmopolitanism and to the fact that Ulysses was first published there after having been condemned for obscenity in the United States, have gone a great way towards creating the image of ‘Joyce the Parisian’, i.e. the idea that the central place occupied by Joyce in Paris’s literary circles, which was the product of eagerly sought after and carefully entertained relationships with the most prominent figures of the day, made him first and foremost a Parisian writer, at a time when the city was, to all extents and purposes, Europe’s cultural capital and a magnet for English-speaking writers from far and wide. In her first book, which is derived from her doctoral thesis, Eleni Loukopoulou sets about redressing what she perceives as a lamentable imbalance in the evaluation of the influence on Joyce of the different cities in which he lived, and makes a convincing case for the importance played not by the French but the British capital in his artistic career.

3The two-part structure of Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis, which can be slightly disconcerting at first to a French reader used to setting out the historical and cultural background of his study before buckling down to the nitty-gritty of textual analysis, is based on Aaron Jaffe’s distinction between ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ sites of modernist production, that is to say, between the composition of the literary works itself and the multiple, often collaborative strategies employed by writers to promote those works.

4In the first chapter, Loukopoulou delves into Stanislaus Joyce’s diary from the time he lived with his brother in Trieste to unearth valuable evidence about the latter’s youthful aspirations to be published in London and carve out a prominent place for himself on its literary scene, an ambition which, interestingly enough, is also harboured by Little Chandler in ‘A Little Cloud’ and formulated with no small dose of distance and irony by the narrator of the story.

5The second chapter of the book is both more substantial and more intriguing. It examines the way Joyce transforms the representations of London on which he drew to write the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode of Ulysses by adapting them to a Dublin context. Borrowing the twin concepts of ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘reterritorialization’ from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Loukopoulou argues that Joyce reclaims the representations of London he found in the anthologies of the time to blur the supposedly watertight barrier posited by contemporary political discourse between the centre of the Empire and its margins.

6A similar process of enmeshment is unveiled in the third and certainly most enlightening chapter of the study, which analyses the influence of H.M. Tomlinson’s ‘river prose’ in London River (1921) on Joyce’s attempt at rendering the flow and the movement of the river Liffey in the ‘ALP’ section of Finnegans Wake, which is known for its inclusion of hundreds of river names from across the world. The truly original and fascinating aspect of this chapter is the study of the way in which Joyce does not borrow from Tomlinson’s book to unpick its nationalist or imperialist pretentions—as he can do to some of his London sources in ‘Oxen of the Sun’, for instance—but draws on it precisely because it adopts an aesthetic and political strategy similar in many respects to his own. As Loukopoulou explains:

Tomlinson defamiliarized the Thames in ways similar to the means by which Joyce was deconstructing, with an eye on the world map, Dublin’s topography and the River Liffey. Tomlinson’s experience and writings about sailing along rivers such as the Amazon, as well as on the open sea, sharpened his critical stance and enabled him to represent in London River as many aspects of the river as possible, including its status as a site of labor. (98-9)

7With the opening of part II, the book changes track, as it were: it becomes a historical study of Joyce’s interactions with literary circles in London and Cambridge in the 1920s and 1930s, interactions whose significance is often downplayed by Joyce’s critics and biographers. Chapter 4 takes a close look at the wide array of networks of promotion, such as bookshops, anthologies, publisher’s series, popular political weeklies and BBC radio broadcasts, through which Joyce’s works were disseminated throughout Britain in that period. The reader thus learns, somewhat amusingly, that the last section of the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ episode of Ulysses, which tries to capture the flow of Stephen’s inebriated fellow medical students’ conversation through a mixture of different forms of slang and dialects, was first published in Britain as part of an anthology of drunken texts called Merry-Go-Down: A Gallery of Gorgeous Drunkards Through the Ages (1929), which also features texts by Rabelais and Byron.

8The following chapter focuses on Joyce’s interactions with the emerging avant-garde at Cambridge University, where the latest innovations in literature were forcefully debated in the magazine Experiment (1928-31), founded and run by William Empson and Jacob Bronowski. Its publication of the ‘Museyroom’ episode of Finnegans Wake was a milestone in the history of Joyce’s reception in Britain, not least because the Cambridge magazine, by endorsing artistic experimentalism while addressing itself mostly to the ruling class, was a powerful vector for the dissemination of modernist works. This success in turn smoothed the path towards the lifting of the ban on Ulysses in the United Kingdom, where censorship had been rampant since the end of the First World War.

9Chapter 6 finishes to dispel false assumptions about Joyce’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing contacts with the British literary establishment, and vice-versa. It broadens the scope of inquiry by examining the role played by newspaper articles, magazine reviews, gramophone records, advertisements, and even crossword puzzles in the publicization of Joyce’s works. It looks in particular at Joyce’s close collaborations with C.K. Ogden and T.S. Eliot in such promotional ventures, and shows the tireless efforts made by the latter to turn Joyce from an avant-garde peripheral writer to a central figure within the London literary establishment. Eleni Loukopoulou thus builds on the previous work of critics such as John Nash, who have shown how modernist authors took the lead in promoting their own works and were careful to shape up the way they were received.

10Up to Maughty London was obviously a labour of love, and great care went into writing it. It contains only one misprint (‘the follwing lines’, 30), and the Finnegans Wake quotes—bar one, page 118, where ‘cathcalot trouth subsidy’ should read ‘catchalot trouth subsidity’—are all accurate to the letter, an achievement which is no mean feat considering the number of passages she cites. More importantly, it is the fruit of very extensive and painstaking archival and contextual research. Loukopoulou, whose knowledge of British and Irish history forces admiration and whose affection for London transpires through every page, has combed through an impressive amount of often overlooked material and has, to a great extent, reshaped our appreciation of the importance of London’s history, geography and contemporary culture to Joyce’s career.

11In the main strength of the book, however, also lies its principal weakness. Its subject pertains much more to the field of cultural history than to literary criticism, and one wishes that Loukopoulou had been slightly clearer and more straightforward on that point from the outset. For in spite of the invocation of the New Modernist theoretical framework, which seems to promise much in the way of close analysis, one cannot help but feel that the textual dividends yielded by her study are rather meagre. In other words, one learns a tremendous lot about Joyce’s relationships with key literary or scientific figures of his day, his determination to make himself a name in Britain and the particularities of the dissemination of his works there, but comparatively little about those works themselves, with the possible exception of the chapter on Finnegans Wake. One may also lament her determination, which sometimes borders on obsession, to dispel the alleged myth of ‘Joyce the Parisian’, when her research is in fact complementary to rather than contradictory with this aspect of Joyce’s life. Joyce may have planned to set out on his ‘fifth hegira’ and live in London in the 1930s, but circumstances (in particular his daughter Lucia’s mental problems) forced him to stay in Paris, and it is that city, not London, which he called home until the outbreak of World War II, as is made clear by the words he appended to Finnegans Wake.

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1 John McCourt, The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2000.

2 Letters of James Joyce, Volume I, ed. Stuart Gilbert, New York: Viking, 1957, p. 394.

3 Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce: New and Revised Edition, New York: OUP, 1982, p. 704.

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Sylvain Belluc, « LOUKOPOULOU Eleni, Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 55 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2018, consulté le 17 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Sylvain Belluc

Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, EMMA EA741

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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