Death of Kathleen Bernard, "doyenne of Irish letters in Paris" (J.O'S.)
30 November 1917 - 14 July 2009
Kathleen (Kitty) Bernard, née Fitzpatrick paid her last visit to 5 rue des irlandais, Paris on 20 July 2009, when a moving funeral mass was held for her in the chapel of the Irish College.
Kitty and her husband Philippe were often seen at exhibitions, readings, and concerts organised by the Irish Cultural Centre at the same address. Well-read, well-informed, and one of the first-ever Joyceans, she could always be relied on to give a pithy assessment of whatever was on offer. She will be greatly missed by the Irish community.
The following article by Jean O'Sullivan appeared in Irish Eyes n° 45 (June 2000).
Kathleen Bernard, a lifelong Joycean
“It might come as a surprise… to know that for the rest of the world (England excepted) Joyce comes before, not after, Yeats, Synge, O’Casey and the rest. He is regarded as an Irishman who not only could write, but made literary history which puts Ireland back on the front page of European letters, and, in fact, did something with prose comparable to what Picasso is doing with paint.”
When Kathleen Fitzpatrick wrote those words in Paris for the Irish Times in 1947, Joyce had been dead for six years. She was later to learn that Jung, in his Ulysses, A Monologue (1949) had called Joyce Picasso’s “literary brother”.
Kathleen had come to the Sorbonne in 1945 on a scholarship to do a doctorate on Joyce and his influence on French literature. She already had an M.A.(Keats and Wordsworth) from University College Dublin under her belt. "No one talked of Joyce at UCD," she remembers, remarking that "the church was also responsible for the exclusion of Joyce". Nevertheless, by the time she left for France she had already fallen in love with the writer.
Why did she feel impelled to explain that Joyce was held in high esteem in Paris? His growing reputation was still a matter of indifference in Ireland, where, for many, (as she wrote in the same Irish Times article) Joyce cut “the sorry figure of a poor, misfortunate pervert, who left us in a temper and wrote a banned, but otherwise unreadable book called Ulysses and a thing, Finnegans Wake, which it is not necessary to ban since there is no head nor tail to it anyway.”
Living in a girl students’ hostel on boulevard St Michel, eating the “frightful food” of postwar Paris, where people still went hungry, Kathleen embarked on a series of meetings with Joyce's friends, including Maria Jolas and Samuel Beckett who told her that “You only meet a man like Joyce once in a lifetime”. She listened to recordings of Joyce’s voice with Lucie Léon whose husband Paul, Joyce’s friend and helper, had died in a concentration camp. Sylvia Beach was still living at 12 rue de l'Odeon although her famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Company had closed. She entertained Kathleen while “Joyce looked at us seriously from three photographs on a press.”
Like many another Irishwoman before her and since, Kathleen Fitzpatrick fell
for a Frenchman and stayed. While working in OECD in 1950, she met and married Philippe Bernard . While rearing their four children, Kathleen Bernard found time to continue her voracious reading, and, especially, her own writing -- poems with titles like Mad Maisie's Prayer for Women Whose Wires are Crossed and Putting the Mother Act in Mothballs. "I write about women for women,” she claims. “I'm a great admirer of Edna O'Brien; her books offered a breath of nonconformist air.” The thesis was never completed, but her lifelong interest in Joyce led to an invitation to co-organise a 1975 Joyce symposium. She also translated the last lines of Finnegans Wake into French (see below), which she considers, along with the Anna Livia part, “the most poetic prose in that disturbing book.”. Kathleen also wrote a Joyce cycle of poems which express an intensely personal relationship with the writer and his universe (see box). Her writings have been published in Ireland, France and the USA in such publications as The Salmon, Poetry Ireland, Etudes Irlandaises, l'Herne and the prestigious James Joyce Quarterly. She pities young writers labouring in Joyce’s shadow. “What a terrible thing to have to crawl out from under the image of Joyce…”
These days, Kathleen, the doyenne of Irish letters in Paris, no longer needs to explain the importance of Joyce to the Irish, now that every second souvenir shop in Dublin sells postcards, mugs and tea-towels in his image. “In a way it was the Americans who produced Joyce’s image in Ireland,” says Kathleen, who bemoans the marketing of Joyce. “Bloomsday in Dublin has become a trade now. All this business with kidneys… Of course it can be great crack but it’s just a business, like so much else nowadays.”
For the Joyce of Finnegan on his Hundredth Birthday
Ten thousand leafman
You are my golden
Your dream my discourse
Your metaphor my music
Your haunted night my haven
Darklaughtering the speech of dayness
You call and I hither
Paging my way to you
Through cornflowers and the duskrose
My only leafman
My missed messenger.
by Kathleen Bernard
Fousoul dans ma seulitude.
Faute de toutes leurs fautes.
Je meurenvais. Ô finamère!
Je m’éclipserai pendant qu’ils dorment.
Ils ne verront ne sauront ne s’apercevront de rien jamais.
Moi qui vieux si vieux
Si triste et vieux
Retourne vers vous, mon père froid,
Mon père froid et fou,
Mon froid et foupeureux père.
Translated by Kathleen Bernard
Obituary, Irish Times, 18 July 2009