02 January, 2009


What if James Joyce had been born with a huge, pendulous nose? Has this thought never crossed your mind?

Celebrated Irish writer and expat, James Joyce, was a man of many words. Too many, I often thought, as I trudged through his ‘20th century Modernist masterpiece’ Ulysees, required reading in college.

Joyce had rather neat, Irish features, gathered in the middle of his unusually long face. And even if you didn’t like his writing, his majestic chin was the pride of Ireland.

If not exactly a matinee idol, the young Joyce was good-looking, in his way. (Later on, and even after failing basic seamanship and being rejected from the crew of a three-master heading for the Nicobar Islands and from there to pirate in the Indian ocean, Joyce indulgently continued to wear an eye-patch.)

But things could have been so different for Joyce. For example, if Oliver St John Gogarty had not merrily opened fire at Joyce, one morning, over breakfast. If Joyce had remained in Ireland, rather than exiling himself to the continent. Or if Joyce had possessed a nose of giant proportions.

Certainly, we all wonder how Joyce would have coped with such a pendulous, olfactory protuberance.

Things would have been different for this floppy-nosed Joyce. It might have led him deeper into labyrinthine Modernism; he might have revolutionised the literary potboiler. It might have caused Nora Barnacle (awesome name, by the way) to spurn him as a sausage-nosed freak.

Joyce would have been different. His life and his work have taken a radically different course. It would have been much funnier.