James Joyce's Trieste

James Joyce's Trieste

Length: 3004 words (8.6 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓

"And trieste ah trieste ate I my liver" -- Finnegan's Wake

"The average traveler would not make a point of staying long in Trieste" -- Cook's Handbook

The idea was born underground, one February morning in the Paris Metro. Weaving through tunnels the color of fluorescent light, we halted, stumbling over ourselves, before a yellowing tourism poster that was strangely symbolic amongst perfume advertisements and scrawled graffiti: a photograph of a violent fairy-tale, a photograph of a castle white and turreted, balanced upon a jagged cliff and reaching sharply towards the limits of a fierce, dark body of water, at the depths of which was inscribed once simple and mysterious word: Trieste.

We knew the word. We stopped short not for the incongruous beauty of a faded poster, but for the faded beauty of a fabled city: James Joyce's Trieste, where he wrote most of Dubliners, all of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and much of Ulysses. Still I could see the stark outline of his words in my mind, still I could remember reading them for the first time in the white stillness of my bedroom, bound for Oxford the very next day, eyes squeezed tight in desperate gratitude, and yes, ecstasy, and above all, physical relief that as it turned out, reading is like this:

...and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
And then, nearly inseparable, simply, and in italics:

Trieste-Zürich-Paris, 1914-2
So that the word Trieste, gently italicized and right on the tail of Molly's final affirmation, becomes a part of the text: an unknown place and an unknown noise, hissed sound silently, meditatively, a word that rests dream-like on the floor of one's mind, giving space, pause, to the nothingness that floods before thought: somewhere that must be somewhere in this world, but perhaps not as one has known it.
"Yes. Trieste", I said, and we went.

It was not our first literary pilgrimage, or even our first Joycean pilgrimage. If you ask Jon why he decided to spend his junior year abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, he will first joke about his trouble with foreign languages, and next tell you about the excellent English department.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"James Joyce's Trieste." 123HelpMe.com. 14 Dec 2019

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay about James Joyce's Life and Accomplishments

- James Joyce was a renowned Irish author and poet, most known for writing the book Ulysses, which parallels the events of The Odyssey in a variety of writing styles. Although Ulysses is considered his magnum opus, his other works including Dubliners, A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegans Wake are held in high esteem by many. Joyce was born in the Irish city of Dublin on the second of February, 1882 and was baptized by the order of his catholic mother and father three days later. By the age of five he had moved to the town of Bray, 12 miles outside of Dublin, there he was attacked by a dog and this sparked his lifelong cynophobia which may be suggested in Ulysses in episode 12...   [tags: ulysses, the odyssey, james joyce]

Research Papers
2828 words (8.1 pages)

An Irish Quandary in James Joyce's Dubliners Essay

- An Irish Quandary in James Joyce's Dubliners James Joyce's "Eveline" is one of fifteen short stories in her novel, Dubliners. It was written during the British oppression of Ireland and therefore was not published until nine years after its completion. "Eveline" tells the story of a young adult named Eveline, who is having difficulty choosing between: leaving her family for a new life and staying, to protect her younger siblings and keep the household together. This story depicts the inner turmoil felt by anyone making a similar decision....   [tags: Dubliners Joyce]

Free Essays
1427 words (4.1 pages)

Essay about The Life and Works of James Joyce

- Ulysses James Joyce was a renowned Irish author and poet most known for writing the book Ulysses which parallels the events of The Odyssey in a variety of writing styles. Although Ulysses is considered his magnum opus his other works including Dubliners, A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegans Wake are held in high esteem by many. Joyce was born in the Irish city of Dublin on the second of February, 1882 and was baptized by the order of his catholic mother and father three days later....   [tags: drinking, family, characters]

Research Papers
997 words (2.8 pages)

The Life And Times Of James Joyce Essay

- Life and Times of James Joyce James Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, whose psychological views opened up a whole New World to twentieth century writers. He is still known as one of the most influential writers not only in Ireland, but all throughout Ireland. Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2, 1882, into the care of his mother and father, both poverty-stricken. He attended only Jesuit-run schools, first the boarding school, Clongowes, then the day school, Belvedere, and finally the Royal University, which was better known as the University College (Litz 8)....   [tags: essays research papers]

Free Essays
960 words (2.7 pages)

Ulysses Essay: William Blake’s Influence on Joyce’s Ulysses

- William Blake’s Influence on Joyce’s Ulysses        Stephen Dedalus is a poor schoolteacher.  Poor in the sense that he lives in a one-room tower and eats nothing all day, sure, but poor mainly in the sense that he is a rotten instructor. You, Cochrane, what city sent for him. Tarentum, sir. Very good.  Well. There was a battle, sir. Very good.  Where. The boy's blank face asked the blank window. [1]    He grills his students in much the same way his first teachers drilled him; stands before them inspiring fear and boredom.  He understands the schoolroom and its small miseries.  The form is tried and true: the catechism, call and response.  Cochrane replies automatically to Stephen's...   [tags: Joyce Ulysses Essays]

Research Papers
1849 words (5.3 pages)

James Joyce Essay

- James Joyce James Joyce, an Irish novelist and poet, grew up near Dublin. James Joyce is one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century. In each of his prose works he used symbols to experience what he called an "epiphany", the revelation of certain revealing qualities about himself. His early writings reveal individual moods and characters and the plight of Ireland and the Irish artist in the 1900's. Later works, reveal a man in all his complexity as an artist and in family aspects....   [tags: essays research papers]

Research Papers
1720 words (4.9 pages)

Essay about The Honorable Life and Death of James Joyce

- The Honorable Life and Death of James Joyce          The coat of arms which James Joyce inherited from his family bears the motto, "Mors aut honorabilis vita," meaning, "An honorable life or death." But was Joyce loyal to the creed of his more noble ancestors. Many would argue that he was not. After a Catholic education all the way through his undergraduate degree he denounced Catholicism. In the middle of a time of growing nationalism in which the role of bard was elevated to national importance Joyce abandoned his native Ireland in search of less constrictive lands....   [tags: Biography Biographies Essays]

Research Papers
1753 words (5 pages)

James Joyce’s Dubliners Essay

- James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short stories that aims to portray middle class life in Dublin, Ireland in the early twentieth century. Most of the stories are written with themes such as entrapment, paralysis, and epiphany, which are central to the flow of the collection of stories as a whole. Characters are usually limited financially, socially, and/or by their environment; they realize near the end of each story that they cannot escape their unfortunate situation in Dublin. These stories show Joyce’s negative opinion of the ancient Irish city .The final story, “The Dead,” was added later than the others; consequently, “The Dead” has a more positive tone and is often an exceptio...   [tags: James Joyce]

Research Papers
1506 words (4.3 pages)

James Joyce's Eveline and Araby Essay

- James Joyce's Eveline and Araby James Joyce uses similar themes and language devices in both 'Araby' and 'Eveline.' Although this is so, there are also important differences to be noted. Joyce wrote these stories over one hundred years ago but yet we can still relate to the issues covered in the modern world today. James Joyce could have written these short stories as an inspiration from his own background or based them on the events happening in Dublin at that time. These stories were written as a new century was beginning....   [tags: Papers James Joyce]

Research Papers
1630 words (4.7 pages)

Essay James Joyce's The Dead

- James Joyce's The Dead In The Dead, James Joyce lets symbolism flow freely throughout his short story. James Joyce utilizes his main characters and objects in The Dead to impress upon his readers his view of Dublin’s crippled condition. Not only does this apply to just The Dead, Joyce’s symbolic themes also exude from his fourteen other short stories that make up the rest of Joyce’s book, Dubliners, to describe his hometown’s other issues of corruption and death that fuel Dublin’s paralysis. After painting this grim picture of Dublin, James Joyce uses it to express his frustration and to explain his realistic view that the only solution to the issues with Dublin depends on a move to the W...   [tags: James Joyce Dead Essays]

Research Papers
3151 words (9 pages)

Related Searches

But then he will pause and quietly mutter something about how he is, well, kind of obsessed with James Joyce. And if you ask me why I decided to spend my junior year abroad at Oxford University, chances are I will not say it was to live in a room which once belonged to Samuel Johnson, nor will I admit my secret wish for each and every male undergraduate to drown himself for love of me as they did Zulieka Dobson. But surely it was that incomparable experience of visiting a place that has already been visited by writing that was at the root of my decision; that profound feeling of wonder and intimacy that comes from the body's arrival at a destination already explored by the mind.

As it turns out, Trieste is a part of Italy, but only as of 1954. For it is a city that has been snapped up and tossed aside at the world's convenience, enjoying its best years as one of the world's most important ports, and falling in 1919 with the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy. In the twentieth-century alone it has been juggled between Austria, Italy, the rival occupying armies of Britain and Yugoslavia, the United Nations, and Italy once more. And yet to travel to Trieste is to enter the eye of the storm: silently, calmly, seemingly oblivious to its strange story, Trieste survives.

We approach it from the south and from above, for the surrounding land swells high and slanted above the water. Our train is a secret kept from winterworn farmland and trees the color of dying sage, until, suddenly, a flash - it is Italy's ardent sun playing roughly with the sea, and I think: oh, so it is the absence of this which drives one to distraction. I return to my book - Virginia Woolf's Orlando - and when I look up next it is to see the castle sitting small and serene upon its craggy cliff. But my mind is in England with Queen Elizabeth and polished silver; so that the castle I see is Orlando's Knole; so that my book, despite being closed now, is inscribed forever upon my memory of that view. I watch the little castle until the end: it comes and goes as the train curves back and forth along the wave of the water's edge. One final curve and we are beyond it, dropping into the rusting tangle of tracks that is Trieste Centrale.

The curious tenderness I feel towards the castle is not unique. Richard Ellman writes in his biography of Joyce that he "came to share the sentimental feeling of native Triestines who see the white marble castle as their train brings them home along the coast," and that "his master Ibsen, too, recalled in old age the moment when, after passing through dark Alpine tunnels, he suddenly encountered at [Castle] Miramare 'the beauty of the South, a wonderful soft brightness,' which, he said 'was destined to set its stamp on all my later productions, even if that production was not all beauty'". It is a compelling idea, this notion of an environment's capacity to set its stamp on the writer's productions. For surely the concept of a literary pilgrimage is the inverse of this relationship: I was traveling to Trieste precisely because of my interest in the stamp that a writer's production had set on the city. But still the question remains: what exactly was I hoping to find?

It is a question that I was forced to ask myself as Jon and I walked from the train station to the city center looking for a place to stay. For imagining Trieste is quite different from actually being there, particularly if one is imagining a fantastical city by the sea which lives and breathes James Joyce. Absurdly, I was disappointed to find that people did not carry with them dog-eared copies of Ulysses, disillusioned that the few Triestines I asked about Joyce - a practice which I very quickly abandoned - did not even know he had once lived there. When I spotted a poster with a cartoon rendition of his face on it - advertising some exhibition that had already passed - I was overjoyed: it was justification, proof that I hadn't made a mistake.

But meanwhile, here was Trieste. At the outskirts it appeared ordinary: not beautiful, but containing beauty; not busy, but by no means deserted. But walk deeper, and all this changes: Trieste is falling down. Citrus-colored paint fades and peels on fractured walls; rust and dirt drip down damaged marble facades; and windows are either broken or boarded-over. Nevertheless, you can feel the flash, the brilliance, and then the end: the years of decay; once magnificent boulevards collecting cobwebs like a haunted house; the city abandoned until you alone disturb it, kicking up dust as you go. Because Trieste's strange history is told by its streets: walk down one road and you stumble upon a Roman amphitheater whose grassy benches glow brightly in an otherwise pale blue evening; walk down another and you reach the port which was once the center of trade in Central Europe. Eventually you will find yourself at the edge of Piazza Unità - a vast and glorious square purported to be the largest in Italy, whose white and elaborate buildings could be identical to the Habsburg Palace in Vienna, but whose fourth side opens to the ocean like Piazza San Marco in Venice. To face the Adriatic Sea from this square is to feel infinite promise and possibility; to walk a block north, east, or west is to return to the cramped and dilapidated streets of Italy from whence you came.

The effect of walking Trieste's streets has caused centuries of self-inquiry, melancholy, and feelings of displacement. The stamp of which Ibsen wrote is one that has been set upon the production of many writers besides himself and Joyce. There is a legend that Dante visited the nearby castle of Duino, and Rilke's Duineser Elegian was written after his own extended visit. Italo Svevo's La Coscienza di Zeno is primarily about a protagonist who wanders the streets of Trieste, and after wandering these streets himself, Umberto Saba composed a lyric about his own "grave evasive life". While Proust never visited Trieste himself, his narrator remembers it as "a delicious place in which the people were pensive, the sunsets golden, the church bells melancholy", and Saba continues by describing one street as "mirror[ing] me in long days of closed sorrow". I like to think too that there is something of Trieste's streets in Leopold Bloom's odyssey in Dublin. But perhaps the Viennese playwright Hermann Bahr described the city best when he wrote that being in Trieste is like being "nowhere at all". It is this that Jon and I felt most acutely when, still homeless, we sat down to rest at the banks of the Canal Grande. Paling in the paling light, the evening washed boat and stone and building a gentle blue: we were being effaced.

Entering the world we halfopen our eyes and walk through warm yellow twilight towards a day. Getting up dressing sleepyeyed he turns.
- What will we do today?
The map from the train-station, imprecise, incomplete, incoherent to some. Words are tracks you do not understand. A café. Below the albergo we halt before the window of the beauty shop and read the bottles. His favorite white noxema a formula discontinued years ago and enter. The warmth of her blondeness rose on the air, mingling with the fragrance of the perfume.
-Buongiorno. Lei sa dové Via Della Lupa? Ho una pianta della cittá.
Teeth shinning she curls over the map, red nails scraping, digging along boulevards and into the new city. Triumphant: – La! Via Della Lupa. She has never been there. Ample flesh curves outwards and up. Five cans, that is too much. That fresh-faced feeling. The smell from childhood, like facewash clean as chemical violence. Into a bag and we turn into the morning noises of the street. Crossing Via Maggiore and by the grassy amphitheater. Glowed last night, like a phosphorescent sea monster. It’s too bad about the trash. Onwards, lost at star-shaped intersections and up and up. So this is Trieste too dirty and modern like any old city.

Enter from the street, not as I thought. Disappointment I imagine. Womb red seats are the origin of I was expecting. There is a difference between a café and a pasticceria. One smoky one bare. One small, curvingshining machine, she is white like a nurse wears. Must stand up to drink I expect.
- Buongiorno, si?
- Due caffe per favore.
Pineapple pastry, lemon meringue pie, butter scotch. A sugarsticky girl shoveling scoopfuls of cream into coffee for a Jewish boy. No school treat. It's bad for our tummies. Candy instead? Lozenges once made for the king we are where the king used to come. God. Save. Our. Standing by this counter, sucking black espresso porcelain white.
Two apple pies a penny. Two for a penny.
- E due tarte di mele.
Bought from the young applewoman two apple pies for a penny and broke the brittle paste. It is vienna the sun shines for you he said in vienna where they make heavenly things like this but this is not there. Bought two seats in the back Carmen it was and we drank coffee outside in the street. Happy, happier now. What is that word known to all men? Shane said the answer in class, that must be it. Lick it up, smoking hot, thick sugary. Famished ghosts. Sipslurping, oh! jam on the shelves. Angular, bespectacled, enigmatic: Jam essence of joy and celebration. Almost feel him by looking. Black and white and red all over. Questa Pasticceria di Scheglia di James Joyce it says, what does that mean again? Should I?
- James Joyce a bevuto qui?
Tour round the body, changing biliary duct, spleen squirting liver, gastric juice coils of intestines like pipes.
- Si, Si!
That smile again and here is another one. Young, dark, what will he become. Should I follow?
He came out into clearer air, pulling behind, grin talking misunderstood by us, something about the third floor and into the street, rushing past my hair lifted up in pieces, nearly gone altogether troisieme étage no that's french no oh I see, oh! oh!
- Jon, that's where he lived, there, on the third floor!
Orange rock, peppermint lampshade, green shutters, heavy light on the floor. And trieste ah trieste ate I my liver, he said. Trieste ate I my livre. Trieste était my livre. Trieste était mon livre. Trieste was my book what can that mean what can that room possibly mean?
- Uno, due, tre.
Click and that smile its forever.

And what if that were the world thought through your eyes, I wonder. Could it ever disappoint? Because suddenly a couple of exceptional pastries, a newspaper article, and an innocuous orange apartment building are enough.

* * *
Choosing a tiny street behind the grassy amphitheater at random, we ascend. In a cobblestone clearing, little boys belonging to black and white photography kick us a soccer ball. In a gloomy alley, light opens momentarily upon a tumbling church - a soft green valley of moss and broken stone. It is dark, winding this way between the houses, but at the very top darkness ceases altogether, and the hot sun shines down upon a historical freak-show. Brawny marble men wrestle atop a pedestal, forever remembering the first world war. In the near distance is the fifth-century Cathedral San Guisto, and next to it a small and well-protected fourteenth-century castle. But between us and them is the cracked marble floor of an old Roman court; some columns remain upright, but most are scarred and broken stumps strewn across the stone. It creates space, and smoothness in one's mind; the broken, white flatness a platform on which to spend the afternoon. Far beyond are the hills, gray and gray and industrialized, and at our backs, the sea.

It is like velvet today: it no longer glints or shines, but rather rolls densely outwards, consuming and carrying away secrets the way that black consumes the light. And the city of Trieste tumbles to its edges, asking why, why; and I too, ask why, why. Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. The sea takes and takes, and eyes are merely lenses: yellow, peach, terra-cotta, wire, dirt, and decay. I would not call it beautiful.

Joining Jon on the marble floor of the court, I close my eyes to the sun; in March it is already heavy on my face. I sleep, and I sleep and I wake to the rhythm of why.

I went out yesterday for a walk in a big wood outside Trieste. The damned monotonous summer was over and the rain and soft air made me think of the beautiful (I am serious) climate of Ireland. I hate a damn silly sun that makes men into butter. I sat down miles away from everybody on a bench surrounded by tall trees. The Bora (the Trieste Wind) was ro-aring through the tops of the trees. I sniffed up all the fragrance of the earth and offered up the following prayer (not identical with that which Renan offered upon the Acropolis)
O Vague Something behind Everything!
Joyce wrote this letter to his brother Stanislaus in 1905; the day of the hilltop I may have offered up a similar - if less eloquent - prayer. I woke to the constancy of a damn silly sun, and felt what I almost never feel - on all sides, ineluctable and unavoidable: the very mettle of environment and the spirit of life itself. It was neither exhilaration nor magnificence, but rather a sense of the depth which encircles, unknown and untapped, a great deal of the time.

Still I suspect of Trieste a certain enigmatic grace and mystery; Joyce was not alone when he said "they call it a ramshackle empire...I wish to God there were more such empires". But I would never recommend Trieste to my friends, and have already told my parents not to bother. Indeed, even Nora Barnacle was bored with the city; in a letter home she wrote "now I suppose you will think I am very difficult but one cant live only for the sun and the blue Mediterranean sea". For I will never understand Trieste's Vague Something, nor will I ever read the secret sea, but it was Joyce and his Ulysses which led me to its edges; it was Joyce who made me care so deeply about this secret in the first place. One could argue, as I myself have argued, that literary pilgrimages are a cheap trick - a fail-safe solution for finding authenticity. And at their worst, this is true. But if travel-writing is a genre which gives meaning through language to one's journey after the journey has occurred, then literary pilgrimages are the opposite: they are journeys steeped in language from the very beginning; journeys which carry meaning even before they are begun. Still I wake to why, and still I wonder whether it was Joyce I found in Trieste or Trieste itself. But I got there in the end, and ultimately I suspect the distinction doesn't much matter.
Return to 123HelpMe.com