Joyce as Troubadour
I’ve been struggling to come up with ways to make
enough money via some side project so that I can
quit my job and just work on my writing. I find
myself thinking a lot about James Joyce’s struggles
to survive. We’re both good at coming up with ideas,
but not so good at the follow through or making our
One of his early ideas was to be a traveling minstrel,
sort of a 20th century O’Carolan. Here’s how he
explained it in a letter to Gogarty written June 3rd,
“My idea for July and August is this - to get
Dolmetsch to make me a lute and to coast the
south of England from Falmouth to Margate,
singing old English songs”
And he told Padraic Colum that the tour would be
“personally conducted, like the Emperor Nero’s
tour in Greece.”
The plan didn’t work out. Dolmetsch, who had
made a similar instrument for Yeats, was hesitant
to make another one. He told Joyce that making a
lute would be highly expensive and “I could hardly
say when it would be finished. The lute is moreover
extremely difficult to play and very troublesome to
keep in order.” He recommended Joyce use a spinet
or harpsichord. Joyce gave up on the idea instead.
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