The History of Dialogue (2): Joyce & Proust

Several Accounts of the Meeting Between James Joyce and Marcel Proust.

From Proust at the Majestic by Richard Davenport-Hines:
May 18, 1922. The Majestic, a grand hotel in Paris. A few months previously, Joyce publishes Ulysses, his masterpiece. A few months later, Proust will die, the edits of his manuscript for the final volumes of his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time on his desk. Great excitement surrounded the meeting of these two great modernists, facilitated by the English art-collectors Violet and Sydney Schiff, but no one can say for certain exactly what they said to each other.


The Duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre’s account: 
A bad joker put Joyce and Proust together. ‘I have never read your works, Mr. Joyce.’ ‘I have never read your works Mr. Proust.


Joyce’s account, as remembered by his friend Frank Budgen: 
Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’ Proust asked me if I knew the duc de-so-and-so. I said ‘No.’ Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of Ulysses. Proust said, ‘No.’ And so on. Of course the situation was impossible. Proust’s day was just beginning. Mine was at an end.


Joyce’s account, as remembered by his friend Padraic Colum: 

Proust: Ah, Monsieur Joyce, do you know the Princess…

Joyce: No, Monsieur.

Proust: Ah. You know the Countess…

Joyce: No, Monsieur.

Proust: Then you know Madame…

Joyce: No, Monsieur.


Violet Schiff’s account, as remembered by Ford Maddox Ford: 

Two stiff chairs were obtained and placed, facing the one the other, in the aperture of a folding doorway between two rooms. The faithful of Mr. Joyce disposed themselves in a half-circle in one room; those of M. Proust completed the circle in the other. Mr. Joyce and M. Proust sat upright, facing each other, and vertically parallel. They were invited to converse. They did.

Said M. Proust: ‘Comme j’ai dit, Monsieur, dans Du Cote de Chez Swann que sans doute vous avez lu…’

Mr. Joyce gave a tiny vertical jump on his chair seat and said: ‘Non, Monsieur…’

Then Mr. Joyce took up the conversation. He said: ‘As Mr. Blum [sic] says in my Ulysses, which you have doubtless read…’

M. Proust gave a slightly higher vertical jump on his chair seat. He said: ‘Mais non, monsieur.’

Service fell again to M. Proust. He apologized for the lateness of his arrival. He said it was due to a malady of the liver. He detailed clearly and with minuteness the symptoms of his illness.

‘Tiens Monsieur,’ Joyce interrupted. ‘I have almost the same symptoms. Only in my case the analysis…’

So, till eight next morning, in perfect amity and enthusiasm, surrounded by the awed faithful, they discussed their maladies.


A version of the story as heard and retold by William Carlos Williams in 1924:

‘I’ve headaches everyday. My eyes are terrible.’

Proust replied, ‘My poor stomach. What am I going to do?

It’s killing me. In

Fact, I must leave at once.’

‘I’m in the same situation,’ replied Joyce, ‘if I can find some-

one to take me

by the arm. Goodbye.’

‘Charmé,’ said Proust, ‘oh, my stomach, my stomach.’


Or, as Joyce is supposed to have remarked, about Proust, to Beckett:

‘If we had been allowed to meet and have a talk somewhere…’