Our James Joyce in 100 Objects series continues this week with a copy of the scorching broadside, Gas from a Burner, written by Joyce as he left Ireland for the final time. In the late summer of 1912, he had traveled to his home city in an attempt to negotiate the publication of his beleaguered story collection, Dubliners. His efforts came to nothing, and he left believing that the editor George Roberts and the printer John Falconer had conspired to destroy the unbound sheets after growing concerned about potential charges of libel and obscenity.
A furious Joyce stopped over in the Dutch city of Flushing and composed this 98-line screed aimed at those he felt had betrayed him. He printed 1,000 of the poem in Trieste and then sent him to his brother Charles in Dublin, with orders to distribute them to friends and enemies alike. The language used is graphic; indeed, it contains all the kind of obscenity that had so worried the various publishers who expressed interest in Dubliners, only to later drop it. The poem memorably concludes with Roberts burning Joyce’s book and using the ashes to “sign crisscross with reverent thumb/Mememto mori upon my bum.” It served as Joyce’s final farewell to a city he would afterward only visit in his fiction.
Images courtesy of McFarlin Library’s Department of Special Collections and Mason Whitehorn Powell.