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James Joyce: The Years of Growth.

Peter Costello. Kyle Cathie. 17.99[pounds]. 185 626 0534.

There is a life after Ellmann. Of definitive biography there is no end. Let us go wild and rejoice! It would be an eejit who, viewing pages |damascened with flyblown faces of gone', argued with Mr. Costello's central tenent that the creative poetics of James Augustine's work took it origin from the recollection in intranquillity of emotion sustained in the Dublin of his pueritia and adulescentia.

Oh! the gaieties; the skellingtons at the feast! Wraiths of Ellmann, Gorman and Budgen rise in disputatious delight. Make no mistake: there is room for another historio-graphic-biography, for the Joyce industry has mitotically multiplied, morula upon blastula into so many industrious schisms that it is often impossible to see the true wood of the family tree for the Clongowes Wood. Mr. Costello zooms in like a close-focusing camcorder upon the first thirty-three years -- 1882-1915 -- of Joyce's being; the formation period; the precise life-span of Christ, his lost playmate.

Like old-fashioned magic lantern slides, the static, epiphanic scenes melt in ... Baby tuckoo, moo-cow coming down the urban bohereen where Betty Byrne had her little sweet-shop and sold lemon platt ... Mrs. Conway, young Jim's incarnation of R.L.S.'s Cummy', Dante' the Joyce children called her, installing God's wrath, instilling terror of thunder and millennial fears. Phobias symbolic and shambolic. Dante remembered ripping the green velvet back off her hairbrush named Parnell', lying in the press beside maroon-backed Michael Davitt', faith gone in Mr. Fox Parnell and his sinful shilly- shea-ing. The beast with two backs.

Dissolve into Clongowes Wood and the Jesuits. As Osbert Sitwell claimed to have been educated in the holidays from Eton, similarly Joyce set high store by reading encompassed in periods of freedom from the yoke of school.

Two more transformations: son up on the parapet of the Martello Tower, the snot green sea reminding him of the bowl of green bile torn from his mother's rotting liver; man and sea maid from Finn's, the Barnacle with the auburn byssus, swimming into mutual ken on Thor's day, Bloomsday, June 16th, 1904. One of the rubric days.

Here are well rehearsed, too, the sorrowful mysteries in the rosary of his days. The stations of his cross--the cross of his own cruel fiction. The few and fugitive glorious mysteries. Death was an all-pervading ingredient of the Irish experience. The long shadow of Glasnevin would, years into his exile, fall across the dividing seas. John, pare Joyce, made in the end a sort of compact with it--a hobby of attending funerals. This side of eternity was a forever matter of following corteges, black nodding ostrich plumes on black shining horses, to Glasnevin through soft-falling Irish rain. Bitter-pattering tears for the lordly dead riding in the stateliest, glass-walled ebony and crystal carriages of their lives, to the sexton's blank-ended cul-de-sac.

In a sense, Joyce fils was a spoilt priesteen, abandoning his altar ego when the rising artist de-catholicised him.

Mr. Costello does not always seem to distinguish between the Robbe-Grillet descriptive vignette and the Ur-Joycean epiphany, which may be descriptive but must embrace insight containing resonances of past, present and future encapsulated within a coruscant moment of eclaircissement. He has done fruitful research into the identity of E.C. aka Emma Clery. Happily, his conclusions are of a very diverse stamp from those of Virginia Moore which, in the 1930s, provided Emily Bronte with a lover, Louis Parensell', who upon closer inspection of the handwriting was dehumanised into Love's Farewell'.

Of considerable interest also is Mr. Costello's exposition of the possible link between Ulysses and Joyce's St. Stephen's Green days in the person of Father Henry Browne, S.J., and the publication in 1905 of his Handbook of Homeric Study. From it Joyce may well have derived the notion of the clash of Bloom, the Wandering Jew, the Phoenician with the intolerant Cyclopii of Irish Nationalism.

Mr. Costello parts company with Richard Ellmann on several issues. |Ellmann is', he says, |hopelessly confused', identifying the wrong O'Connell as the priest in The Sisters', and his proffering of Amalia Popper as possible original of the nubile girl in Giacamo Joyce provides a curious account of his research methods'.

This, the first completely new biography of James Joyce for a generation, will raise as many scholastic eyebrows as it raises scholarly points, but no serious student of the Great Irishman in absentia can afford to ignore it.
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Author:Whittington-Egan, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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