Stephens: the Man, the Writer, the Enigma

  • Patricia McFate


James Stephens was in many ways the most engaging of the modern Irish writers. He was witty and sympathetic, a brilliant conversationalist, and a fascinating story-teller. Many of those who have written about him in the past have emphasized his tiny stature and elf-like appearance, conferring on him titles such as the “Leprechaun of Irish Literature.” This was not a totally unreasonable approach. Stories abound in which Stephens himself emphasized his physical imperfections; he often approached the world jokingly or ruefully displaying his wounds. Although he encouraged his identification with Seumas Beg (Little James), an anecdotal or impressionistic approach to his work is not adequate; Stephens is an artist deserving of precise study.


Short Story Street Vendor Literary Movement National Gallery Literary Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    “An Interview with Mr. James Stephens,” by James Esse. The Irish Statesman (22 Sep 1923) 48. Stephens used this pseudonym on more than one occasion.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Birgit Bramsbäck, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study (Uppsala: A. B. Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1959) pp. 16, 19;Google Scholar
  3. George Brandon Saul, “Withdrawn in Gold,” Arizona Quarterly, 9 (1953) 115. Mary Colum expressed doubts that Joyce and Stephens were born in the same year; Life and the Dream (Garden City: Doubleday, 1947) p. 392. Norah Hoult gave Stephens’ birth date as 1883; Hilde Poepping stated that it was 1884. “James Stephens,” Irish Writing, No. 27 (June 1954) 55; James Stephens: Eine Untersuchung über die Irische Erneuerungsbewegung in der Zeit von 1900–1930 (Halle/Saale: N. Niemeyer, 1940) p. 22.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Stanley Kunitz (ed.), Twentieth Century Authors, 1st supp. (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1955) p. 956. Stephens had made this remark about himself in a speech in 1935 published in a Royal Literary Fund pamphlet.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Hilary Pyle, James Stephens: His Work and an Account of His Life (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965) pp. 4–5;Google Scholar
  6. L. G. Wickham Legg and E. T. Williams (eds), Dictionary of National Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1959) p. 834.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Richard J. Finneran (ed.), Letters of James Stephens (London: Macmillan, 1974) pp. 417–19. Hereafter cited as Letters.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    George Moore, ‘Hail and Farewell!’: Vale (London: William Heinemann, 1914) p. 237.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    AE as quoted by Katharine Tynan in The Years of the Shadow (London: Constable, 1919) p. 24.Google Scholar
  10. According to MacKenna, the “three Giants of Dublin talk” were Ernest Boyd, Edmund Curtis, and James Stephens. E. R. Dodds (ed.), Journal and Letters of Stephen MacKenna (London: Constable, 1936) p. 148.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Preface written by Stephens to The Poetical Works of Thomas MacDonagh (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1916) pp. ix–x.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Alan Denson (ed.), Letters from AE (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1961) pp. 167, 171.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Quoted by Oliver St. John Gogarty in “James Stephens,” Colby Library Quarterly, 5 (Mar 1961) 211.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    B. L. Reid, The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968) offers details on the relationship between Quinn and Stephens. See, for example, pp. 70, 162–3, 197, 318, 319, 431–2, 489–90.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Resource books on the Irish Literary Revival include the following which are listed in the Selected Bibliography: Ernest Boyd, Ireland’s Literary Renaissance; Blanche Kelly, The Voice of the Irish; and Lloyd Morris, The Celtic Dawn. Also see Herbert Howarth, The Irish Writers (London: Rockliff, 1958)Google Scholar
  16. and Richard J. Loftus, Nationalism in Modern Anglo-Irish Poetry (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964).Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Yeats’s interest in Theosophy, the Hermetic Society, and other spiritual pursuits is recorded in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (New York: Macmillan, 1948) pp. 41–3, 56–69, 86–98, 121–2.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Letters from AE, p. 17. Russell stated that the two influences on his mystical thought and writing were Madame Blavatsky and the sacred books of the East. This contention is quoted twice in Abinash Chandra Bose, Three Mystic Poets (Kolhapur, India: Kolhapur School and College Bookstall, 1945) pp. 69, 79–80.Google Scholar
  19. For his contemporaries’ remarks on AE’s visions and occult interests, see W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1926) p. 299;Google Scholar
  20. Darrell Figgis, A. E. (George W. Russell) : A Study of a Man and a Nation (Dublin: Maunsel, 1916) p. 29;Google Scholar
  21. and James Stephens, “AE:I,” in Lloyd Frankenberg (ed.), James, Seumas and Jacques: Unpublished Writings of James Stephens (London: Macmillan, 1964) pp. 111–12.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    These quotations are taken from Edward Martyn, “A Plea for the Revival of the Irish Literary Theatre,” Irish Review, 4 (Apr 1914) 79, 83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 24.
    Stephens edited Moore’s drafts of the first three stories in A Story-Teller’s Holiday. In May 1917 Moore wrote Stephens: “I think that if you will correct my mistakes and sprinkle the idiom over the story … crossing out any of my sentences you like if the omission will help you in your editing, you will have accomplished the end I have in view.” Quoted in Joseph Hone, The Life of George Moore (London: Gollancz, 1936) p. 336.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Richard Ellmann (ed.), Letters of James Joyce (New York: Viking, 1966) 2, p. 260.Google Scholar
  25. 28.
    Stuart Gilbert (ed.), Letters of James Joyce (New York: Viking, 1957) 1, pp. 253–4, 282, 288.Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    James Joyce, “Continuation of a Work in Progress,” transition, 8 (Nov 1927) 30.Google Scholar
  27. 30.
    Letters of James Joyce, 1, p. 282; Stephens’ other remark is quoted by Padraic Colum in his Preface to Lloyd Frankenberg (ed.), A James Stephens Reader (New York: Macmillan, 1962) p. xix.Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    Beatrice, Lady Glenavy, Today We Will Only Gossip (London: Constable, 1964) pp. 180–1.Google Scholar
  29. 36.
    Austin Clarke, A Penny in the Clouds (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968) pp. 109–10. Birgit Bramsbäck, James Stephens: A Literary and Bibliographical Study, p. 15. James, Seumas and Jacques, pp. 28–33 (an autobiographical sketch).Google Scholar
  30. 37.
    Lennox Robinson (ed.), Lady Gregory’s Journals, 1916–1930, (Dublin: Putnam, 1946) p. 267. Letters from AE, p. 65; Moore’s remarks are in Vale and elsewhere; Robinson’s speculation is frequently heard in Dublin.Google Scholar
  31. 44.
    Quoted by Sir William Rothenstein in Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922–1938 (New York: Macmillan, 1940) pp. 86–7.Google Scholar
  32. 45.
    David Marcus, “One Afternoon with James Stephens,” Irish Writing, No. 14 (Mar 1951) 44; Arthur Moss, “James Stephens,” Bookman, 56 (Jan 1923) 596;Google Scholar
  33. Blanche Kelly, The Voice of the Irish (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952) p. 246;Google Scholar
  34. Ernest A. Boyd, Portraits: Real and Imaginary (New York: George H. Doran, 1924) p. 246.Google Scholar
  35. Also see George Brandon Saul, “On Mercury and Reason: The Criticism of James Stephens,” in Stephens, Yeats, and Other Irish Concerns (New York: New York Public Library, 1954) p. 37;Google Scholar
  36. and Edward Roberts, “An Evening with James Stephens,” Dalhousie Review, 32 (Spring 1952) 55.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Patricia McFate 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia McFate

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations