Letter from James Joyce, aged 18, about Ibsen, 28 April 1900


Though brief in length, this letter from a teenage James Joyce reveals something of the profound influence of Henrik Ibsen, the acclaimed Norwegian playwright. It reads, ‘I am a young Irishman, eighteen years old, and the words of Ibsen I shall keep in my heart all my life’.

The letter was written on 28 April 1900 in reply to William Archer, Ibsen’s English translator, who had passed on Ibsen’s gratitude for Joyce’s review of When We Dead Awaken. Joyce’s admiring review – his first published work, titled ‘Ibsen’s New Drama’ – had appeared in the 1 April 1900 issue of the prestigious Fortnightly Review. To be both recognised and complimented by a literary idol provided Joyce with a remarkable entry into the world of literature. As biographer Richard Ellmann wrote, ‘Before Ibsen’s letter Joyce was an Irishman; after it he was a European’.[1]

A year later in his 1901 essay, ‘The Day of the Rabblement’, Joyce spoke of the need for Irish writers to turn to continental drama and literature: ‘A nation which never advanced so far as a miracle-play affords no literary model to the artist, and he must look abroad’.

[1] Richard Ellmann, James Joyce: New and Revised Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 75

Full title:
Archer Correspondence: Correspondence and papers of William Archer. Vol. III (ff. 333)
28 April 1900; whole volume 1877–1924, Dublin, Ireland
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
James Joyce
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Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 45292

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