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Sylvia Beach and Joseph Campbell

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  • #72732

    Hello Everyone,

    I have been reading through Ulysses by James Joyce and remembered Joseph Campbell’s story of his meeting with Sylvia Beach in her bookstore in Paris. He was struggling to read Joyce and she kindly offered him several books to aid him in his understanding of it. I have always wondered what were the titles of the books she thought would help him.

    Does anyone know if he ever listed the books Sylvia Beach gave to him?

    Thank you for any insight!

    Here is the quote belove form  “Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce”

    I had gone over to Paris in 1927 to study medieval philology and Old French and Provençal, and here’s this Ulysses, Ulysses, Ulysses. So I buy the book and take it home, and when I get to chapter three, it starts out: 

    “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read . . .” 

    It had been published by Sylvia Beach, at Shakespeare & Co., at 12 rue de l’Odéon in Paris, so I went around there—you know, in high academic indignation: “What do you think of this!” And Sylvia Beach—I didn’t know who she was—just took me on and sold me the books that would sell me on Joyce. I took them back to my little room, and that was almost the end of my interest in medieval philology. 

    So Sylvia Beach gave me the clues about how to read Ulysses, and then she sold me this journal called transition, published by Eugène Jolas, in which sketches of the early chapters of Finnegans Wake were appearing under the title “Work in Progress.” That’s what taught me. And there you have it. It’s funny how it changed my career.



    I wish I knew! The reference to this incidence in the bio of Campbell by Stephen and Robin Larsen (A Fire in the Mind) just says the following (on p. 84):

    Beach, out of her own considerable understanding of Joyce, took the time to initiate Campbell; and heaped him with books that would help him understand the many-layered historical and mythological context of what he was reading. ‘That changed my career,’ he said.”

    Not a lot to go on there. Best we can do is speculate, which doesn’t get me very far.

    I would like to think Sylvia Beach pointed him toward Freud, Jung, Goethe, and such – but he first read Freud a few years before, in 1925, and his introduction to Carl Jung came the year after encountering Joyce, reading Jung’s seminal work, Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (later translated into English originally under the title of Psychology of the Unconscious, and today is known as Symbols of Transformation), while learning German and Sanskrit at the University of Heidelberg 1928-1929 (damn impressive – Jung is an ambitious read in any tongue; boggles my mind that Joe was able to read and absorb it in the original as he was just learning the language!). The same holds for Goethe’s work, some of which he also read that year in German.

    I thought I had stumbled across a clue on learning young Joe had given a copy of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough to Angela Gregory, his closest friend in Paris, when she left for the United States – but turns out Campbell had cited Frazer in his Master’s thesis, on the basis of which he earned that Proudfit scholarship that paid for his year at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then Heidelberg.

    At this point, it remains a mystery, at least to me . . .

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