‘Yours heroically’: James Joyce and the Curran/Laird Letter Collection

Constantine Curran and James Joyce first meet in 1899, when they were both students in University College, then located at 87 St. Stephen’s Green. This was the beginning of a life-long friendship between the two men, as Curran remained a close confidant of the writer after he moved away from Ireland.

Photograph of James Joyce with his wife Nora, son Giorgio and daughter Lucia, Curran Collection Photographs, UCD Digital Library.

The friendship between Joyce and Curran, along with Helen Laird (Curran’s wife), and figures such as Stainslaus Joyce, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Paul Léon, and Sylvia Beech, are all represented in a collection of letters from the Constantine Curran/Helen Laird Collection in UCD Special Collections. As part of the centenary celebrations marking the publication of Ulysses in 1922, 133 letters from this archive have now been made available on the UCD Digital Library. All of these relate in some way to Joyce and his work, revealing the social network that supported the writer and his family through the first half of the twentieth century.

The earliest letter in this collection dates to 23 June 1904, with Joyce writing to Curran with news of his precarious financial situation and a rejection from the ‘Saturday Review’. Joyce also enclosed with this letter a manuscript for Curran to review, noting that if Curran is ‘too busy to read the novel now, no harm. But as soon as you have read it send me word to meet you on some altitude where we can utter our souls unmolested’. The letter is signed ‘Yours heroically, Stephen Deadalus’, in reference to Joyce’s literary ego and protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.

Page from a letter from James Joyce to Constantine Curran, UCD Digital Library.

A further undated letter from 1904 also refers to Joyce’s progress with Dubliners, introducing another figure that was part of his and Curran’s circle of friends: George Russell, known as Æ. A journalist, writer and artist, Russell was a central figure in the Literary Revival: Laird knew him through the Abbey Theatre, where she designed costumes for the first performance of his play, Deirdre. Russell features again in this collection of letters: in 1936, Paul Léon wrote to Curran on Joyce’s behalf with a contribution towards a memorial fund, established after Russell’s death in 1935.

Letters between Curran and Harriet Shaw Weaver, an important patron of Joyce’s work and a confidant, range from the professional to the personal, including how the wider circle of Joyce’s friends tried to assist with the care of Lucia Joyce, and the first attempts to collate Joyce’s letters in the 1950s. This latter theme is echoed in letters from Stuart Gilbert, an early Joyce scholar and editor of Letters of James Joyce (Faber and Faber, 1957). In one of his letters, Gilbert asks Curran to send further details of an article he had written for Vogue, and if Curran had any further plans to write about Joyce.

This plan would come to fruition with the publication of James Joyce Remembered (Oxford University Press, 1968, recently reissued by UCD Press) a review of which, by Richard M. Cain, closes out the digitised collection. These latter letters demonstrate the legacy of Joyce, and how his network of family and friends remembered the author and his work in the decades after his death. This is evocatively captured in a postcard sent to Curran from Trieste on Bloomsday (16 June) 1951, signed by those who had gathered to mark the day.

This cluster of Joyce related letters is just one part of the Curran/Laird Collection: the wider archive includes letters from Tom Kettle, George William Russell (AE), Jack B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats and others – totalling around 400 items. In time, these letters will also be digitised and made available but in the meantime, a full listing can be found on the UCD Library Catalogue and they can be consulted by all in our reading room.

This post was written by Katy Milligan, Library Assistant, UCD Special Collections.

Leave a Reply