Book Review: Patrick PARRINDER. 1984. James Joyce.
By C. George SANDULESCU, Monaco.
(This book Review by C. George SANDULESCU (Monaco) was published in Études Irlandaises, December 1985, No. 10 Nouvelle Série, pages 320-321. Université de Lille III, "Pont de bois", B.P. 149, F-59653 Villeneuve d'Asq, France.)
Patrick PARRINDER. 1984. James Joyce.
Cambridge University Press. 262 pp.
The careful analyst that he is, Patrick Parrinder of the University of Reading, is quite in the habit of making simple, but interesting and seminal points, such as the following one that we come across in the very Preface: "I have avoided referring to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake as 'novels', believing this to be largely unhelpful [ ... ]. Whether or not Joyce is a novelist he is, I believe, one of the greatest masters of modern prose".
The tone is casual, as it should be in a book which falls clearly within the category of the 250-page monographs of James Joyce, widely disseminated in paperback in the more remote tradition of William York Tindall's Reader's Guide to James Joyce (1959), and the more recent one of Matthew Hodgart, James Joyce, A Student's Guide (1978), passing through Armin Arnold (1969), and J. I. M. Stewart (1957, 1960, 1964, 1967, 1971 etc), etc. The most eloquent proof of didactic intent are the four full pages entitled "Guide to Further Reading", placed discreetly at the end of the book.
But the kick-off -- the above quoted sentence --, not only casual, but also highly informative, quite, quite accurate, and indicative of a whole trend of research in Joyce studies occurs as early as the first page of the preface. After this opening gambit, and nearly sandwiched between an interesting introductory essay devoted to "Joyce and the Grotesque" and an all too brief two-page conclusion ominously entitled "Recourse", containing several felicitous definition of Joyce, there are about ten most accessible and most orthodox chapters devoted severally to the author's early lie and tentative writings, Dubliners, the Portrait, Stephen in Ulysses, Bloom and Molly as bourgeois utopians, and then "The nightmare of history in the Wake".
The main quality of the book lies not so much in the original information that it puts across, though the discussion of the grotesque is quite remarkable, but rather in the fact that it is very readable indeed. The author's relatively long period of apprenticeship in the domain of science-fiction might have thus had its beneficial effects. For by the side of so much Joyce criticism which weighs the reader down with heavy allusion, cryptic reference, and bombastic phrasing, Parrinder's book is captivating largely on account of the facility with which a wide range of sources -- be it even the "splitting of the atom by Lord Rutherford" (page 228) -- are brought together in a way that comes most natural.
By a strange Joycean coincidence -- or was it deliberate ? --, this little book devotes 30 pages to Dubliners, 40 pages to the Portrait, 80 pages to Ulysses, and 50 pages to Finnegans Wake, thus numerically reinforcing the analogy I was pointing to in Zurich at the 1979 Joyce Symposium there, namely that Joyce's only four published prose works are quite reducible to the value judgments passed on in the so dearly beloved Swiss hotel industry: there is one-star to four-star Joyce, accompanied by the dilemma of deciding whether three-star is best (or better !). This important point comes out very neatly in Parrinder's monograph, numerically (as already pointed out) as well as axiologically. There is, technically speaking, no general conclusion to the book, for the Recourse chapter too is devoted to Finnegans Wake. On the other hand, there is far too much about Chamber Music and Stephen Hero and the Exiles, as if to provide circumstantial evidence that even well-equipped critics tend to get bogged down in that blind-alley area as much as Joyce himself did in his early years before he shook off both verse and drama, and embarked upon becoming "one of the greatest masters of modern prose", to quote Parrinder and his Preface again. And speaking of prose, Giacomo Joyce, once discovered by Ellmann, becomes far more relevant than Chamber Music in exactly and precisely understanding the JJ essence: it would only be natural to have more space assigned to it than has so far been the custom (JJ never published it precisely because it was too relevant !).
It is next to impossible to do justice to this excellent introductory critical study written by Patrick Parrinder. But as it is intended as a book of more permanent reference, and meant to instruct the novice by virtue mainly of its readability and accuracy, I wish perhaps to point out that the right spelling for "Joycean" is NOT "Joyceian" (page 28), and also that the right script for the Paris "Shakespeare and Company" is not at all the so very commercially British ( 'une nation des boutiquiers', said Napoleon ?!) (page 254, occurring twice !). In fact, this latter point is a mere triviality (sic !), which even the new 1984 (Gabler !) Ulysses can well afford to disregard . . .