Joyce's grandson entertains crowd with his lyrical anger: David Lister enjoys an off-the-cuff speech at a ceremony celebrating the Irish novelist
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Thursday 03 February 1994
Yesterday, the best efforts of English Heritage to honour the Irish novelist with a plaque at the west London house where he married and lived for six months, were sabotaged in dramatic fashion.
A small orderly crowd watched and applauded lightly as Francis Carnforth, of English Heritage, spoke warmly of Joyce's 'four great works' and the writer Edna O'Brien read from Ulysses, told some anecdotes about his life, spoke movingly about a 'man who understood the psyche of men and women better than anyone else' and unveiled the plaque. 'James Joyce,' she declared, 'arrives as your living ghost in Kensington.'
Little did she know how nearly prophetic those words were to be. Out of the crowd a sandy-haired, bearded, middle-aged man leapt on to the Kensington terrace, took the microphone from Miss O'Brien and made an impromptu and decidedly angry speech.
'I,' he told a crowd as startled as Miss O'Brien looked, 'am James Joyce's grandson. No one saw fit to invite me and my wife here today. Yesterday in Zurich I stood beside my grandfather's grave and told him I was coming here. 'Good,' he said, 'you do that'.'
Warming to his theme and with no one daring to interrupt, he continued: 'I would take exception with what has been said that Joyce wrote four major works. I can count seven or eight, but maybe I can't count.' Then pointing to another, apparent, inaccuracy among Joyceans, he produced a bottle of Neuchatel saying that was his grandfather's favourite wine, not Fendant as was often written.
And then after one of the better plaque speeches of recent times, his anger spent, he stepped down.
Members of the James Joyce Society of London recognised the speaker as Stephen Joyce, a retired international civil servant who lives in Zurich and Paris.
After his speech, Mr Joyce, 62, said: 'I only learnt about this from the press. No one invited me but that seems to be the British and Irish way of doing things. I wanted to be here and drink my grandfather's health. I don't have to ask people if I can make a speech. I come to wherever a plaque is unveiled. We flew in from Zurich this morning for this and we will fly back tonight to celebrate in an authentic James Joyce pub.'
The plaque at 28 Campden Grove says: 'James Joyce 1882-1941 author lived here in 1931'.
Looking up at it afterwards, Edna O'Brien took a commendably diplomatic attitude to the days's unexpected events. 'Joyce would have liked the surprise,' she said, 'he would have thought it was droll.'
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