If any one of the hundreds of Joyce fans who’ll flock to the Dublin’s streets for Bloomsday next week could have met the man himself what would they have encountered?
The dandyish, cane-leaning street-stroller immortalised in a statue on Talbot Street?
The aloof, slightly imperious scholar who wed Greek myth to modernism?
Or the earnest, lovestruck young man who was stood up on a Dublin street corner on his first date with his future wife?
Perhaps none of the above, if they were to meet the man Djuna Barnes did. The French-based American writer, no small modernist talent herself, profiled the Irish writer for the March 1922 issue of Vanity Fair.
The Joyce of Paris 1922 bore “an orderly distemper of red and black hair”, wore a blue coat “too young it seemed”, a waistcoat made by his grandmother and sat with his head “turned farther away than disgust and not so far as death”.
He drank a “thin, cool wine with lips almost hidden”, and smoked an “eternal cigar”.
“We have talked of rivers and religion,” Barnes writes. “The instinctive genius of the church…of women…we have talked of death, of rats, of horses, the sea; languages, climates and offerings,” Barnes writes.
Most surprisingly of all, for a man who propelled the novel into the twentieth century, the Dubliner wished to talk of “anything that is not “artistic” or “flashy” or “new””.
Were today’s Joyceans to meet the man himself then, they would likely encounter a “heavy man yet thin”, reading a book of saints (“he is never without it”) and “muttering to himself that this particular day’s saint was “a devil of a fellow for bringing on the rain, and we wanting to go for stroll””.
Let’s hope the weather holds for on Tuesday then.