Saturday, February 02, 2013
Novelist, poet, and playwright, James Joyce, was born 131 years ago today in Dublin. His parents would
have preferred Bethlehem, but they couldn't find a parking space.
For more than a decade, I've worked on bringing to the big screen the great story of his relationship with his American publisher, Sylvia Beach, who was to be the first to stand up to censors, and publish the complete version of "Ulysses," a book widely regarded as the greatest novel in the English language.
I know, it's a tough item to get a major studio to move on--a New Jersey woman, daughter of Presbyterian minister, who moves to Paris to pursue her dream of opening up a bookstore, fights off the naysayers, goes running around in the snow, can't find a printer, has typists quit rather than type the manuscript, and ends up being the original publisher of a book banned in the U.S. for eleven years under the Tariff Act until December, 1933, Judge Woolsey verdict.
If a movie can be made about Abraham Lincoln's epic struggle to pass the 13th Amendment, why not one about the heroic efforts of this American expatriate and the Chaplinesque genius whose work was shunned, and confiscated by the post office in New York?
And, more important than the court scenes is the connection between this unlikely pairing of personalities: Beach and Joyce.
Who cares about James Joyce? Well, somebody in China does, apparently. As The Independent reported last week, the first print run of the Chinese translation of "Finnegan's Wake" sold out in China. That's right, sold out. The Chinese know a good story when they hear one, and they recognize a good character when they see one. James Joyce is such a character.
The impetus for the character of Joyce in the script came, of course, from much research, and the reading of
many biographies including "Dear Miss Weaver," an anthology of correspondence between Mr. Joyce and his mentor, and lifelong friend, Harriet Weaver, a book that was recommended by Stephen James Joyce, the author's grandson.
Even more than the formal research, the inspiration for the character came from what Poe might have called the imp of the perverse, and the awareness that art is the insistence on blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction.
Virginia Woolf has found her way to the big screen, (and don't get me started on how it could happen that a movie could be made about Virginia Woolf and not James Joyce), it remains my obstinate hope that Mr. Joyce's story will yet be told, and in my words, too, for it takes not only art, but courage to bring a story like this to the big screen. The dream lives on.