The irony of these celebrations is that many of the people involved will never read Ulysses; fewer still will progress to Joyce's notoriously inaccessible Finnegan's Wake. Academic Declan Kiberd in his book Ulysses and Us* makes the claim that Ulysses is a book for the common reader as much as the educated elite. His thesis, while appealing, is utopian. Whatever the author's intended audience may have been, Joyce's writing is commonly perceived as "difficult" and/or the literary preserve of the dedicated scholar.
It is surprising then, to think of Joyce as a children's author. And yet this is the case. Joyce wrote two children's stories, The Devil and his Cat and The Cats of Copenhagen, both of which were first written in letters to his four-year-old grandson, Stephen James Joyce. On the 10th of August, 1936, Joyce would write in a letter to his grandson that began with the words:
I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency.
The cat filled with sweets was a Trojan cat designed to outwit the grownups. The subsequent letter, which contains Joyce's version of the French fable would later be published as an English picture book. The story is as follows: the people of Beaugency desperately need to build a bridge to cross the Loire River. In order to achieve this, the Mayor of Beaugency makes a pact with the devil. The devil agrees to build the bridge in one night on the condition that he gets to keep the first soul that crosses it. The mayor agrees and, when the bridge is completed, sends a cat across it; he thus fulfills his side of the bargain while foiling the devil's plan to acquire human soul.
Of course, Joyce couldn't resist the opportunity for self-reference and allusion. The devil is said to speak "bad French" with a "strong Dublin accent" and is known to invent his own languages, which he makes up as he goes along.
In case we didn't make the connection between Joyce and his devil, the 1965 Faber edition with illustrations by Gerard Rose removes all traces of ambiguity.
The Cats of Copenhagen has been published for the first time this year amid some controversy. Written as a "younger twin sister" of The Cat and the Devil, The Cats of Copenhagen begins once again in a letter to young Stephen: "Alas! I cannot send you a Copenhagen cat because there are no cats in Copenhagen." Publisher Anastasia Herbert has said of story:
For an adult reader (and no doubt for a very clever child) 'Cats' reads as an anti-establishment text, critical of fat-cats and some authority figures, and it champions the exercise of common sense, individuality and free will.
The controversy stems from a disagreement between the publishers and the Zurich James Joyce Foundation as to whether or not previously non-published materials are to be considered out of copyright. Herbert states that the:
The book was conceived not as a commercial venture but as a carefully crafted tribute to a rather different Joyce, the family man and grandfather who was a fine storyteller.
Ithys has printed a limited run of 200 illustrated copies with a price range running from €300 to €1,200 each. Rather pricey for a "non-commercial venture" to my mind.
*While Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us is a very worthwhile text, the problem with his thesis is illustrated in the very poor choice of cover illustration for the book. We see that well known photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, the joke being that this quintessential "dumb blonde" could be reading Joyce's modernist masterpiece. Ulysses has been selected as Monroe's ironic reading text precisely because of its perceived difficulty, which somewhat undermines Kiberd's calls for more democratic readings of Ulysses beyond the walls of academic institutions. This choice of cover art is a pity as it mars an otherwise fine scholarly text.