FIRST ENCOUNTERS : When James Joyce met TS Eliot

Illustration by Edward Sorel Text by Nancy Caldwell Sorel Next week: Greta Garbo and John Barrymore
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They met at the Hotel de l'Elysee, in Paris, on 15 August, 1920. Joyce, who had gone about that summer in dirty tennis shoes, to much comment, put on black patents for the occasion, and took his 15-year-old son, Giorgio, along. Eliot, tall, handsome, sartorially irreproachable, came over from London with Wyndham Lewis. After introductions, they sat around a small table on which lay a crumpled, intricately knotted brown parcel sent to Joyce through Eliot by their mutual friend Ezra Pound. Pound's motive was double-edged. A kind of literary missionary, he was sure that Eliot and Joyce had more in common than the fact that both were expatriates, had worked (Eliot still did) as bank clerks and were chronically short of funds.

Hence the package. The author of "Prufrock" waved a hand in its direction; he was unburdened, his mission accomplished. The author of Portrait was less pleased. Straw boater in hand, patents prominent, Joyce was clearly reluctant to claim anything so untidy. Besides, it was hopelessly knotted, and no one had a penknife. Nail scissors were produced. Finally the layers of swaddling were unwound to reveal... a pair of old brown shoes.

It was Eliot - tactful, Boston-mannered Eliot - who suggested dinner. Joyce would join them, would he not? He would. Joyce perceived but one way to regain his Irish dignity. Giorgio was packed off with the unhappy parcel, and Joyce conducted his new friends to his favourite restaurant, where he selected the table, ordered an excellent dinner, and picked up the tab.

Joyce repeated this hospitality several times during Eliot's stay. Their friendship remained cool, but two years later, when The Waste Land and Ulysses fell in a single burst upon the literary establishment, a rather grudging kinship emerged. Eliot looked to Joyce for support when he separated from his wife. Joyce, for his part, tried his hand at parodying The Waste Land with lines that began, "Rouen is the rainiest place getting/Inside all impermeables", and that concluded, significantly, "Hurry up, Joyce, it's time!"