Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Law of Unintended Consequences

This morning's paper mentioned in passing that today is James Joyce's birthday. Well happy birthday, a Sheumais, wherever you are. There was a five minute piece on the radio about him, too. The bit I remember was a quote from a friend of his who recalled that he, Joyce, loved to drink and loved to dance: "Ah, the drink went straight to his feet."

I never read Ulysses and I'm never likely to, either. ("Why call it Ulysses?" he was once asked. He loved, so he said, the thought of legions of Dublin schoolboys asking in bookstores for "James Joyce's Useless".) And Finnegan's Wake? Not a chance.

But I did have a go at Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Not by choice, mind you. It was assigned to be sure. And I am grateful to it for two things. The first is one of the great hell-fire and brimstone sermons in print. Short, but a powerful piece of work and worthy of the Jesuits of the turn of the last century. The second is a permanent love for the Little Office of Our Lady. It's not dwelt on in the book but the mention of it in the "Portrait" fascinated me. I got a copy immediately. (They were still available in those days, but disappearing fast.) I have a small collection now of various versions. (My friend Carlo has one in Greek, which I would envy him if I had the Greek, but I don't, so I don't.) And I still love the Little Office.

And if that last isn't an unintended consequence, I don't know what is.