Monday, April 19, 2010

JAMES JOYCE: THE CAT AND THE DEVIL

ON AUGUST 10, 1936, JAMES JOYCE started a letter to his grandson Stevie: "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."  So began what was to be Joyce's only known story written for children.  First published in Letters of James Joyce (1957) edited by Stuart Gilbert, this letter to Stevie has been subsequently published as a picture book in English two separate times: in 1964 by Dodd, Mead & Company, illustrated by Richard Erdoes, and in 1981 by Schocken Books (from a 1978 French edition), illustrated by Roger Blachon.


From the inside flap of the 1964 edition: "This charming little fable was written by James Joyce in a letter to his grandson "Stevie."  It is an incongruous but delicious mixture of Irish wit and French folklore that explains the magic overnight construction of an actual bridge across the Loire, a very old bridge over which any young reader who might doubt the tale may still walk or ride his bike this very day."


The story is a legend that has been applied to several bridges over the years.  In this version, it is the people of Beaugency who need a bridge to be built over the Loire River.


The lord mayor of Beaugency makes a deal with the Devil.  The Devil will build the much-needed bridge over the Loire River in one night on the condition that the first soul to cross the bridge will belong to the Devil.  Upon completion of the bridge the next morning, the mayor sends a cat across the bridge into the Devil's arms, fulfilling his end of the bargain but foiling the Devil's plans for acquiring a human soul.


The devil, needless to say, is quite perturbed, but he retires like a gentleman.

Joyce tells the story in a straightforward grandfatherly tone, but can not resist, in the end, a bit of word play and self reference.


In a similar moment of playfulness, Richard Erdoes made his own visual addition to the scene of the completed bridge.  Is that Madeline and her class on the bridge?


In 2005, a Croatian edition of Joyce's book came out, illustrated by Tomislav Torjanac (see below).  For more images from that edition, visit Tomislav Torjanac's website here.


9 comments:

  1. Had never seen that erdoes before.... GOT TO HAVE. Great idea for a blog! thanks for sharing!

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  2. This is great. I agree. A great idea for a blog.

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  3. This is amazing! I love the whole concept. Who knew James Joyce and Erdoes came together on such an interesting archetype. I think I have a new obsession for my collection. :)

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  4. Thank you for this site. I almost never make a comment on blogs and weary of the over abundance of information on the internet but reading We Too Were Children has been a complete treat. Never stop!

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  5. I found the Joyce version in a new print in the Istanbul Modern Art museum shop. Can't find it anywhere else! (lost it during the trip...)
    Any thoughts?

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  6. sorry- rushing- that should have been the *Gerald Rose* version of the Joyce

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    1. I got the copy I used in my post out of a library. I'm sure there are used ones floating around if you check Amazon or AbeBooks.

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    2. I was going to comment that the Gerald Rose version is probably the most interesting version since it depicts Joyce as the devil. I still have the hardback from my childhood and it is a real treasure!

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