Willis E. McNelly

Twenty Years in Search of a Footnote

The Joyce Industry is famous for its ability to create work for itself. Scholars like Richard Ellmann and Robert Scholes beget Ph.D. candidates who in turn inflict their enthusiasms upon undergraduates in courses in the Modern British Novel. This writer - henceforth referred to as "I" - is as guilty as the rest of his fellow Joyceans. Perhaps guiltier than the rest; I've spent twenty years in search of a footnote.

In the early 1950's, a student of Ellmann's at Northwestern University, I was writing a dissertation about Catholicism as an important artistic source in Ulysses. Naturally interested in what anyone had to say on the subject-pro or con-I searched, usually in vain, for Catholic praise of Joyce or Ulysses. I soon discovered Three Great Irishmen in which on page 123 Arland Ussher comments that Joyce can be-and has been-hailed both as a great Christian and a great anti-Christian writer." A footnote to this comment cites the attack on Ulys9es made by the summer 1922 Dublin Review in which the critic, maintaining that to read the book is to commit the "sin against the Holy Ghost," urges that its reading be deemed a reserved sin' and that the book itself be placed on the Index Expurgatorius [sic]. Ussher adds: "This fulmination may be contrasted with the pronouncement of T. S. Eliot that Joyce is the most orthodox of writers, with the Osservatore Romano's praise of his work, and with the statement of Thomas Merton . . . that Joyce's writings contributed to his own conversion.

That L'Osservatore Romano - henceforth referred to as OR had once praised Joyce was a major discovery for me at that time. Indeed, I reasoned that the context might well show that prejudiced attacks by Catholics on Joyce were ill-founded at best; at the least the newspaper might provide me with valuable material for the dissertation. I called Ellmann's attention to the Osservatore Romano reference immediately. He said that he had heard the same thing and suggested that I run it down. Of course, I said, dutifully, and proceeded to embark on a twenty-year search.

I soon discovered that there was no file of the OR anywhere in the Chicago area; Northwestern, Newberry, The University of Chicago, Loyola, DePaul, or the Catholic major seminary at Mundelein-r~one of these libraries had file copies of OR. I wrote to Mr. Ussher in care of his paperback publisher but received no answer. The letter was probably mislaid. A search of the Slocum collection proved negative, and I despaired of finding anything which might corroborate Ussher's statement and supply the entire text of the cited comment. Eventually both Ellmann and I decided that the material was not vital for completion of the dissertation. Thus while the OR research was a dead end, the provocative nature of Ussher's reference lingered in my mind long after my graduate work was completed. The topic remained with me, I am sure, because I had more than once been warned by a Jesuit English department chairman at a Catholic university where I had once taught that Joyce was, "after all, both a heretic and an apostate, and we know that no good can come from someone like that." Perhaps I wanted to fling a favorable citation from OR in that department chairman's teeth, even long after I had left the school, using the gentleman's means of the scholarly article as my method of revenge.

Over a period of years I wrote to Joyceans all over the country; I buttonholed them at MLA; I kept reviewing the literature to see if someone else had discovered the reference. During this time I sought the aid of other Joyceans through the pages of the James Joyce Review, but the journal expired before my query was printed. I later wrote a simiiar'letter to the James Joyce Quarterly but when it turned up a year later in an inner coat pocket, unposted, I tore it up. Even the fates seemed to conspire against me!

The reaction of my correspondents was quite uniform. True Joyceans all, they were familiar with Ussher's assertion, but none of them knew the source of his information. At one MLA meeting a few years ago, I made a minor pest of myself asking every Joyce scholar present the same question. Did they know the source of any praise of Joyce by OR? Inevitably I received the same answer: no. Ellmann hadn't found it in the research on his biography; Fr. Noon wanted further information if I discovered any, and the late Fredrick J. Hoffman suggested, perhaps more than half jocularly, that Ussher might have made the whole thing up as an Irish prank, citing mythical, hence untraceable, evidence to silence a critic. Thomas Staley was fascinated by the idea and wanted an article for the JJQ as soon as the research was finished.

In 1967 1 met the late Irish poet W. R. Rodgers, then writer in residence at the Claremont Colleges. He did not know the source either, but had some vague recollection of the information. He assured me that Mr. Ussher was an honorable gentleman who would never simply "create" information, although Rodgers indicated he wouldn't put it past some other unnamed Irish writers. He suggested that I try writing to Ussher once more, this time using his home address in Dublin which Rodgers very kindly supplied me; indeed, Rodgers wrote to Ussher on my behalf. My letter to Ussher traced my search, and indicated simply that I wished to check the context of his original statement. Ussher replied very promptly and very generously:

I am sorry that I cannot be of much help in your inquiry. I haven't, alas the faintest recollection of where I read, or heard, that Osservatore Romano had praised Joyce. I certainly never had a number of that journal in my hand. And it is now 10 years since I wrote my somewhat wild and undocumented book. Nor do I know any one here in Dublin who would be likely to, have the information.

It's a pity. I would be most interested to read the results of your researches....

My hopes were dashed only to be raised once more by a P.S.: "You might try Niall Montgomery, 27 Merrion Square (mentioning my name). I would contact him myself, only that I am leaving for the Continent tomorrow, for several weeks, and don't want to keep you waiting for a reply."

I wrote to Montgomery immediately, enclosing copies of all the information then assembled. His answer was terse but immensely helpful:

I acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of 8 June, together with the enclosures, which I return herewith, with compliments. I referred to the Osservatore Romano critique in an article published in the New Mexico Quarterly in 1953: 1 had already used the reference in an essay published in an Irish magazine called ENVOY in 1951. 1 can't find my source, but believe it to be in an article by Eugene Jolas, published in an issue of Transition - in 1938, 1 think -, in which they printed two of my poems. I lent the magazine some years ago to someone who failed to return it to me. I'm sorry I can't give you the information you seek.

Cheered by this lead, I continued my research. Envoy proved impossible to locate, but the New Mexico Quarterly (Volume 23, 1953, pp. 437-472) had this provocative comment:

. . . it is, perhaps, permitted to suggest that the private Joyce was an ordinary anti-clerical Irishman, no heretic. Certainly there is no heresy in Ulysses-every schoolboy knows that it was praised in the Osservatore Romano- no hint in Finnegans Wake that the human condition is not attributable to Original Sin (p. 438).

Perhaps Irish schoolboys did indeed know that OR had once praised Joyce, and American scholars had heard of that praise, but everyone seemed in the position of knowing that it was true because it was true: Montgomery to Ussher to Joyce scholar. But who was pitching? Jolas?

Transition helped give me part of the answer, via microfilm. The 1938 issue carried a long exegetical paeon by Eugene Jolas entitled "Homage to the Mythmaker" (pp. 169-175). And there, finally, after nearly twenty years, the answer stared at me from pages 172 and 173.

"The opposition of Catholic puritans is not shared by the highest ecclesiastical authorities, and it might ' be of interest to hear what the Osservatore Romano, world-organ of the Vatican, has to say about James Joyce. In a recenf issue of that famous newpaper (Oct. 22, 1937), we find the following reference to him in an essay on modern Irish literature:

. . e infine James Joyce, di fama europea, iconoclasta e rebelle, che dopo aver cercato di ringiovanire il vecchio naturalismo, tenta nell' Ulyxes di tradurre plasticamente las realtl' interiore, e nell' Opera in Corso attraverse una esperienza onerica e insieme linguistica si sforza di aprire altre vie all' espressione del sentimento umano."

Jolas even provided a translation:

And finally James Joyce, of European fame, iconoclast and rebel, who after having sought to renovate the old naturalism, attempted in Ulysses, to translate plastically the inner reality, and, who, in Work in Progress, in an experiment, both oneiric and linguistic, is seeking to open up new paths for the expression of human sentiments (p. 173).

Jolas concludes his remarks positively, with a statement which many Joyce scholars might have wished directed at adverse criticism by some individual Catholics: "The Catholic Church is apparently far removed from the philistinism and hypocrisy of some of the orthodox literary critics of Dublin, London, and New York" (p. 173).

Here was Mecca at last! And how Joyce would have loved the Italian name, Opera in Corso! One can even visualize him modifying it to Opera in Recorso. Unfortunately Jolas does not record whether or not Joyce was aware of what OR had to say about him, although it seems highly unlikely that he should not have known of such a significant statement. And how ironic! James Joyce, labelled as apostate, heretic, heresiarch-now praised by the voice of the Vatican.

Yet my joy over finding this citation was tempered by other considerations. What did the ellipsis portend? What was the context from which this extract was taken? Had OR said anything else? Was there adverse comment? These and similar questions crowded my mind, but I was certain the original could be simply checked. A phone call to the Roman Catholic Major Seminary or Archdiocesan office would certainly locate the actual text. So I embarked on a further search, for the OR of October 22, 1937, how fruitless a search I could not at that time foretell.

The Los Angeles Major Seminary did not have OR for 1937. Neither did the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Chancery office or any of the Catholic universities on the west coast. Union lists were of no help. UCLA, Huntington, Berkeley, Stanford-none of them had the Vatican journal. Several librarians suggested consulting the library at the Catholic University of America in Washington D. C. or obtaining a microfilm copy from the Catholic Microfilm Center at Alma College in Los Gatos, California. I wrote to Alma immediately but soon discovered that they had only very recent issues. They kindly forwarded my request to the famous Jesuit seminary at Woodstock, Maryland, but Woodstock also carried only recent issues.

Finally I queried the Catholic University of America only to receive a most disheartening reply: "First of all, we do own a copy of Osservatore Romano for 1937. However, I attempted to locate the statement on Joyce, reportedly in the October 22 issue, and failed. You might want to verify that the information we received was correct according to your sources. - The author of the letter, Thomas V. Schmidt of the reference department, very courteously offered to copy the entire issue for me for a mere $1.50. 1 hesitated, gradually aware that purchasing microfilms for a number of alternate dates, months, or years might prove impossible even at the very nominal cost quoted. Indeed, any researcher would want the complete files of the journal in front of him, to browse through as he wished, checking all possible alternate dates within a matter of a few hours.

A query to University Microfilms by my college library indicated that 82 years of backfiles of the Vatican newspaper were available for a mere $1,875.00, plus handling and shipping. The reels for 1937 would cost $60.00. Again I hesitated, aware that a possible typographical error in transition might cost me several hundred dollars to purchase alternate years. Besides, I was due for a sabbatical in 1970, and additional research at the National Library in Dublin could be one more sabbatical project. After all, in Catholic Ireland there should be no problem locating files of the Vatican newspaper.

So in April 1970 1 strode into the National Library with its fading memories of Greek statuary, now, alas, removed, and its echoes of a purring Quaker librarian! I filled out several of the famous request slips, including one confidently inscribed "Osservatore Romano, 22 October 1937." Deep in other research, I did not notice until several hours later that OR had not arrived at my desk. A polite query brought only an equally polite "We're searching in the basement, sir." At closing time the clerk asked me to return the next day, assuring me that one of the senior clerks would continue the search in the morning. Three days later the clerks apologized for the delay, but they had finally ascertained that the desired copies were not owned by the National Library; and with unfailing Irish courtesy they hadn't told me earlier because they didn't wish to disappoint me and had I tried at Trinity College? I hadn't, but the answer there was immediate, and not unexpected. No files of OR that far back. The great Catholic seminary at Maynooth was apologetic as well as somewhat embarrassed; they didn't have it either. A few phone calls over the uncertain Irish telephone system (it sometimes acts as if it were steamdriven) soon revealed that no library, seminary, church, or diocesan office in all of Roman Catholic Ireland possessed any extensive back files of the semi-official Vatican newspaper, and none had 1937 issues.

But surely files would be available in one of the many libraries at Oxford or Cambridge. A few letters dashed that hope, one respondent from Oxford remarking somewhat loftilythat OR was good for sermon material and not much else, but had I tried the British Museum? In London a few weeks later I learned that the British Museum itself in central London has no newspapers; they are maintained in the new British Museum Newspaper Library in Colindale, so far from downtown London that it costs a full three shillings (fifteen new pence) on London's very inexpensive subway. At the library, after a bare minimum of formalities, I boldly requested the OR for 1937, found a vacant carrel, and waited. Three minutes later, the thick bound volume was on my desk, and I was almost afraid to open it to the issue for 22 October. In the end was this twenty years of sporadic search to be largely wasted?

OR is a handsomely printed, attractively edited, full-sized newspaper, written in Italian save for an occasional article or leader in Latin. My Latin is passible' (sic) and my Italian nonexistent but I had no doubts that I would be able to recognize the name "Joyce" in almost any language. Ten minutes later after a most careful line-byline examination, I sadly realized that the information given me by Schmidt was true: there was no mention of Joyce on the date cited by Jolas in transition.

Then began the slow search to find the original of what was, hopefully, a simple typographical error. My eyes tired of Italian references to the Sino-Japanese war and other topical events of 1937 as I looked, again line-by-line, in every issue for the remainder of October. No Joyce. Methodically I began with the October I issue, working toward the 22nd. Several aspirins, lunch, and two pints of bitter later, my eye was caught by the headline "Letteratura irlandese contemporanea" in the issue of October 20. And there, on page three, right hand column, unmistakably, were the words -e infine James Joyce, di fama europea." (See following reproduction from OR.)

I couldn't read the rest; that could wait until I got home with a photocopy and had it translated. I have no memory of how I got back to London. I probably levitated, hiccuping and belching and emitting purplish-black fumes.

Yet the column posed more questions. Was the "E. F." whose initials preceded the column the author? If so, who was he? What was his scholarly background? And could the authorship possibly be traced nearly 25 years later? A letter to Rome brought a quick reply: "Concerning the article which -was signed 'E. F.' The name of the writer is Monsignor Ennio Francia, a collaborator of L'Osservatore Romano." Nothing more.

But at least one part of the research was completed. OR once did praise Joyce, in perspicacious terms that deserve wider dissemination even many years later. And if Msgr. Ennio Francia is alive, and if he remembers writing about Joyce, and if he has the time to answer my questions about his commentary, perhaps there may even be a footnote to this saga of twenty years in search of a footnote.

California State University, Fullerton


1. A reserved sin is one which can be forgiven only by a bishop.

2. This adjective is derived from a base formed from the deponent verb "patior" "I suffer."