[It was written during my time as a Visiting Scholar at the American University of Paris.]
I am sitting on the terrace of a café in Paris—in Place de la Contrascarpe, to be exact. In 1921, when James Joyce was putting the finishing touches on Ulysses, he lived just around the corner, in a flat loaned to him by French author Valery Larbaud on a courtyard at number 71, rue Cardinal Lemoine. What better place to thumb through the French novel that purportedly gave Joyce the idea for what is known as “the interior monologue,” the predominant narrative strategy of Ulysses? According to his preeminent biographer, Richard Ellmann, Joyce picked up Les lauriers sont coupés by Édouard Dujardin at a railway kiosk in Paris in 1903—and the rest is literary history: “in later life, no matter how diligently the critics worked to demonstrate that he had borrowed the interior monologue from Freud, Joyce always made it a point of honor that he had it from Dujardin.”
After the publication of Ulysses in 1922, Joyce and Dujardin exchanged compliments and tributes, each praising the other over their literary achievements involving “le monologue intérieur.” Privately, though, Joyce acknowledged, in a letter to his patron Harriet Weaver, that he was giving Dujardin “cake for bread.” Reading Dujardin in Joyce’s old quartier, I feel that both writers go down well with a café allongé.