It is with great pleasure that I bring this Joycean kidlit post on St. Patrick's Day, spotlighting a little known work by the Irish icon of literary iconoclasm. Somewhere between The House That Jack Built and "the hoax that jokes bilked" lies James Joyce's children's book The Cat and the Devil.
Written in 1936 as a letter to his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, The Cat and the Devil reveals Joyce as an endearing "Nonno." It begins, "My dear Stevie: I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency."
Based on an "old French story," according to the James Joyce Centre, The Cat and the Devil bubbles forth in Joysprick now and then, but otherwise reads like Joyce "the Grandpa," having fun spinning a yarn.
[The most Joycean word we find is "Bellsybabble" (see photo excerpt below), which, incidentally, is misspelled in the Schocken edition as "Bellybabble."]
The Cat and the Devil recounts the origins of the bridge over the Loire River in Beaugency, France, built in one night by the Devil after striking a deal with the Lord Mayor. The Devil built the bridge on the condition that he could keep the first soul to cross it.
The Lord Mayor, Monsieur Alfred Byrne (named after an Irish nationalist politician), ultimately outwits the Devil with the aid of an unwitting cat. No spoilers here. You're going to have to visit a library, or buy your own copy, to read the rest.
Joyce had a wonderful sense of humor, although that fact is sometimes lost on readers who writhe in the rhythms of the Wake. Nevertheless, behold the biting humor in the photo above (be Joyce the devil himself?), which concludes the story of The Cat and the Devil. Enjoyce!
P.S. For extra fun, check out this link to see super-cool illustrations of The Cat and the Devil for a Croatian edition of the book by illustrator and painter Tomislav Torjanac.
I wonder how one translates "Bellsybabble" in Croatian? Comment away if you have any idea. Thanks!