Edmund Epstein, 1931-2012 by jjqblog
April 3, 2012, 11:44 AM
Filed under: People

One of the Wake‘s strongest critics, Edmund Epstein, passed away over the weekend while in hospice care.  A member of the founding generation of American Joyce critics, he published dozens of essays on the author and his work as well as two widely influential studies: The Ordeal of Stephen Dedalus: The Conflict of the Generations in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Southern Illinois UP, 1971) and A Guide through Finnegans Wake (UP of Florida, 2009).  His first essay on Joyce appeared in the summer 1957 issue of the now largely forgotten James Joyce Review, itself an important precursor to JJQ.  That essay, “Cruxes in Ulysses: Notes toward an Edition and Annotation” helped set the stage for the creation of what we now think of as the Joyce industry and its importance has been recently affirmed by its inclusion in Foundational Essays in James Joyce Studies, edited by Michael Gillespie and just out in Florida’s Joyce series.  From that moment in 1957 forward, Professor Epstein helped shape the field for nearly two generations across a range of essays covering all of the Joyce canon.  He was a sharp and prolific reviewer as well and many articles that passed through JJQ’s offices were strengthened by his generous commentary.

Professor Epstein’s work extended beyond Joyce and included books on linguistics as well as African literature.  But it was perhaps his final book for which I think he will be best and longest remembered.  His Guide through Finnegans Wake is the product of a lifetime spent studying and teaching this most difficult and expansive of texts.  It offers Professor Epstein’s distinctive and definitive reading of Joyce’s final work, whose opening pages Sebastian Knowles calls “mandatory reading for all who embark” on a reading of the Wake.  Like few others, he manages to untangle the book’s complexity in order to uncover a story of pressing urgency that washes in and around a time profoundly out of joint.  I have used this book since its publication in my own Joyce courses, in large part so I can offer my students some sense of what it might be like to study the Wake with one of its master teachers.  This guide is a significant legacy left to all of us and looking through it again I am at once grateful for what we have been given and saddened at this loss.

A black box remembering Professor Epstein will appear in the next issue of JJQ alongside a memorial essay composed by one of his students, Jeff Drouin.  In addition, the comments section of this post will be opened so that anyone who wishes to offer their own memories may do so.  If you knew Professor Epstein or benefitted from his work, please feel free to add something.



5 Comments so far
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It is really sad. Prof Epstein’s Guide through Finnegans Wake is a treasure and a legacy. It helped me enormously to understand the Wake.

Comment by Eleni Loukopoulou

I loved my brother and we discussed Joyce many times. I asked him to write a book for the average reader explaining how to get into Finnegan’s Wake and he did ,but I still came to him ofter for his help and insights. I will miss him

Comment by Sherwood Epstein

I was a member of Ed Epstein’s literary group, held in his home and at member’s homes in the region of Port Washington, Long Island. For thirty years, Dr, Epstein sustained this group, reading to us in his beautiful mellow voice and sharing his insight on much of the world’s greatest writing, in a way that only he could.
Dr. Epstein’s knowledge of just about anything was truly remarkable.He could quote text or recall information better than any information system available today.
Yet, most of all, his humanity was what encircled those who knew him. He cared about the people he knew deeply and reached out to support and comfort all of us or to share in our joy.His was the most outstanding mind I ever knew, but his heart was even bigger.
Eddie, I will remember you forever, and hold your love of learning, of music,
and of people close in my heart. Thank you for your grace and humility and for sharing your great knowledge with us in a most down-to-earth way. I will miss you more than I can say on this page.
And to Tegwen, Ed’s wife, we know you shared your life with an extraordfinary,wonderful man, cared for him gracefully in these difficult times, and were the love of his life, as he was of you. I know your loving children will be here for you, but I want you to know that all who knew Ed hold you in great reagard as well.
With deep sympathy, Marian Cheris

Comment by Marian Cheris

I first read “Ulysses” (at least the rest of the book besides Molly’s soliloquy) about 25 years ago during a summer reading group conducted by Eddie Epstein, and I took an exhilarating journey with him through all of Joyce, including my last session of his writing group when we studied “Finnegans Wake” with the help of Eddie’s last, brilliantly explanatory book of this great puzzle. He once told me, “Once you get into Joyce you can never get out,” and that’s how I felt about his reading group. Once I got into it I never wanted to get out. His insights about some of the world’s greatest literature will stay with me forever. So will his delightful sense of humor. As an English major myself, I enjoyed his comment, “To be an English major you have to have a dirty mind.” For all his brilliance and his scholarship, Eddie was remarkably modest — and one of the nicest people I have ever met. His often expressed opinion about what a nice man Leopold Bloom was has stayed with me. Eddie, it takes one to know one. I send my deepest sympathies to my lovely friend Tegwen, and to Bronwen, Lucy, and Matthew, all of whom he obviously adored and who made him justifiably proud. Sally Olds

Comment by Sally Wendkos Olds

I wrote my own little Eddie obit, on my own blog:


Comment by magpiemusing

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