Oklahoma, James Joyce and 'The Book of Days'

Posted on: 14 June 2018 by Liss Farrell in 2018 posts

Oklahoma sign

16 June is Bloomsday, celebrating 16 June 1904, the date depicted in James Joyce’s novel, 'Ulysses'. PhD student, Liss Farrell is researching the brother relationship in James Joyce’s 'Finnegans Wake'. Interested in the interplay between Joyce’s real-life relationship with his brother Stanislaus and the Wake, Liss travelled to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma to read his diary: ‘The Book of Days’.

Thirty-six hours from Tulsa

The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a bus, a train, two planes, three coaches, and two taxis away from Liverpool, England. Around thirty-six hours, door to door, it houses the papers of the eminent biographer Richard Ellmann (‘if anybody asks, it’s because we paid the most money’), including the 1904-1907 diaries of Stanislaus Joyce, younger brother to James.

The university is in mid-town, making for a particularly alien feeling away from Penny Lane, cornershops, and rain – to Route 66, white pick-up trucks and the beating sun. I worked 9-5 in the library, then went home to write up my notes. I chatted to a friend in New York City (only one and a half thousand miles and one time-zone away) on Twitter, smoked cigarettes, looked out at the ‘Right Wing Restaurant’ across the road.

James Joyce's diary - 'The Book of Days'

As for the diaries themselves, entitled ‘The Book of Days,’ I can tell you little. If I say that Stephen Joyce (James’s grandson; Stanislaus’s nephew) can be rather litigious about publishing from the personal lives of his family, you might venture a guess at their content. I couldn’t possibly comment.

They reveal what critics such as Michael Begnal have previously suspected – that the relationship mirrors fraternal relationships in 'Finnegans Wake', typified by conflict and envy.

While Joyce’s father, wife, and daughter each have biographies written about them, none has been written on Stanislaus. (I call dibs).

Bloomsday is a refreshing change from the barriers that stand in the way of approaching other aspects of Joyce. With 'Ulysses' as your only guide, Joyce’s life is made accessible, writ large across Dublin.

Complications such as America’s public transit system and apprehensive family members can be exchanged for an imagined walk on Sandymount Strand and a real-life gorgonzola sandwich.

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