February 2 means different things to different people. The weather watchers among us will be focused on Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog that indicates each year on this day whether winter will be long or short. Want an early spring? Pray that Phil doesn’t see his shadow.
This year the date is important to football fans. There’s apparently an important game being played on Groundhog Day. (Go Seahawks!)
As for me, February 2 is the day I will hoist a pint of Guinness to drink to the memory of the great Irish writer, James Joyce, who was born on this day in 1882. In keeping with the mission of Portland Living on the Cheap, there is a tie-in with frugality, though sort of a backwards tie-in. James Joyce and frugality is an oxymoron. In fact, Joyce’s example might be seen as a cautionary tale for those who aspire to frugality.
Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, was published on his birthday in 1922. In 1998 the Modern Library named it the best English-language novel of the twentieth century. In spite of that recognition, the great novel’s great author was almost always broke.
A few get-rich-quick schemes, including his plan to become a cinema magnate, came to naught. For much of his life as a writer his main source of income was from teaching English, mostly in the city of Trieste, and from wheedling money out of friends.
Joyce was once asked what he was thinking when, in Dublin in 1904, a family friend took this photo of him. He replied, “I wondered would he lend me five shillings.”
In 1915, after moving his young family to Zurich, Joyce had a change in fortune after meeting an English feminist and publisher, Harriet Shaw Weaver. She became Joyce’s patron, offering him large sums of money so that he could devote his time to writing. But Joyce loved to drink and entertain, so a lot of Miss Weaver’s funds were squandered.
Joyce kept his family in a constant state of uncertainty and worry about his incessant money and health problems. He wouldn’t even commit to marrying the mother of his two children until 1931, just 10 years before his death from a perforated ulcer. Her name was Nora Barnacle. Joyce liked to relate what his father’s reaction was to the name of his sweetie. “She’ll stick to you, son,” said John Joyce, who also was known for drinking and spending too much.
I can still admire the man’s fine writing, while not his profligate habits. So, in the spirit of frugality, when I offer a toast to James Joyce’s 132nd birthday, I’ll stop after one pint.