Like all widows Nora had barely time to grieve. There was so much to be done. Both she and Giorgio and her grandson Stephen, were in a state of shock at Joyce’s sudden death. Joyce suffered indifferent health all his adult life, and endured a series of painful eye operations which had little effect on his looming blindness.
It was less than a month since the family arrived in Zurich exhausted from their journey out of German occupied France. Permission to take their daughter Lucia, safe in a clinic in Brittany, was withdrawn at the last moment.
Nevertheless, Joyce hoped that once in Switzerland he could use all his influence to get her to join them. But severe stomach pains in recent days were diagnosed as a perforated ulcer, which led to complications and his death just short of his 59th birthday.*
Nora’s main problem was that she had no money. All Joyce’s revenues from his English and American publishers were unavailable due to the war. Nora had to keep borrowing for their day-to-day expenses. Nevertheless she arranged a fine funeral, one that she knew Jim would have liked. Luckily Harriet Shaw Weaver, Joyce’s loyal supporter through the years, learned of Joyce’s death on the BBC news that morning. She immediately cabled £250 to Nora who replied ‘Money received many thanks your wonderful help in our great sorrow kindest regards Nora.’
On January 15, a cold, snowy morning, a small congregation gathered in the chapel at Fulturn Cemetery, overlooking the city. Nora took great care at having her wreath made of green leaves in the shape of a harp ‘because Jim so loved music’.
Professor Straumann, university of Zurich, gave a short account of Joyce’s literary achievements, and as Nora and Jim loved opera, she arranged for the Swiss tenor, Max Meili, to sing the aria: ‘Tu se morta’ from Monteverdi’s ‘Orfeo’.
Lord Derwent, the British minister in Bern, came forward, and, as if speaking his thoughts aloud, said: “George Moore is gone, Yeats is gone and now Joyce. But one thing I am sure - whatever the rights and wrongs of the relations between England and Ireland, I know that Ireland will continue to take the finest and most ironical revenge on us: she will go on giving us great men of letters…”
During the war years Nora never complained about her fall from five-star living. While waiting for the war to end, and for the royalties from her husband’s books to come through, her new life in Zurich was passed in a succession of small rooms in austere pensions, with their low-watt lightbulbs, smell of soap, and the all-seeing proprietresses. Yet to her Swiss friends, of whom she had many, Nora did not appear gloomy. Her arthritis became severe with the years, but, as a writer form Dublin who met her remarked: ‘Even that had not affected her serenity, her impeccable poise, her almost regal appearance.’
In 1948, however, with the great surge of post-war interest in Joyce’s work, the money began to roll in and Nora’s financial worries were soon over.
Guard of honour
Loyal to her husband, she too remained an exile from her Irish home. She was not going to leave him in Zurich; but if she was to leave could he be brought with her?
In September 1948 the Irish government brought the body of WB Yeats back to Ireland from the south of France where he died in just before the war. Yeats had expressed a wish to be buried in Drumcliff churchyard in Sligo, and his removal from a French grave was done with great ceremony, and a military guard of honour when he arrived at the graveside in Ireland.
Nora asked Harriet Shaw Weaver to make inquiries if the same honour would be done for her Jim. Miss Weaver approached Count Gerald O’Kelly, the de facto Irish government presence in Paris during the war. He made inquiries and reported that such a proposal would receive little popular support. Certain sections of Irish society, he reported, had not forgiven James Joyce. Much of the Catholic academic world would be as implacable in its resistance to such a proposal, as would the government, and needless to say, so would the Church.
Later when Miss Weaver, who had the manuscripts of both Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and as Joyce’s literary executor, suggested that the Finnegan Wake manuscript should go to the National Library of Ireland. Nora, however, smarting at the O’Kelly sting, insisted it went to the British Library.**
A practical woman
Nora returned briefly to Paris twice. Once to gather memorabilia from their apartment, and once to attend an exhibition of Joyce’s letters which Sylvia Beach had copied for him in her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. She gave the proceeds to Nora, but after the incident with the Nazi officer demanding a copy of Finnegan’s Wake, never opened her famous bookshop again***
While in Paris Nora had an opportunity to visit Lucia, who had survived the war at the Delmas clinic, but Giorgio advised against it owing to Lucia’s violent schizophrenic episodes. **** Nora never saw her again.
For 10 years Nora lived on in Zurich, visiting Joyce’s grave practically every day. A girl from the laneways in Galway was the muse, lover and wife of the greatest writer of the 20th century. Time magazine accorded Nora some rare public credit for her part in her husband’s achievement:
- Died, April 10 1951: Mrs James Joyce (Nora Barnacle ), 65, longtime confidante and literary midwife to her famed author husband; of a heart attack; in Zurich, Switzerland, where Joyce died 10 years before. A practical woman, she helped him settle down and get his work done, sighed after reading Ulysses: ‘ I guess the man’s a genius, but what a dirty mind he has surely…’
She had torn up many of her letters, but one she kept was written by Joyce on the kitchen table of her Galway home at Bowling Green, on an August evening 1909:
‘My dear little runaway Nora, I am writing this to you sitting at the kitchen table in your mother’s house! I have been here all day talking with her and I see that she is my darling’s mother and I like her very much. She sang for me The Lass of Aughrim, but she does not like to sing me the last verses in which the lovers exchange their tokens. I shall stay in Galway overnight…..’
‘Who knows darling but next year you and I may come here. You will take me from place to place and the image of your girlhood will purify my life again…’
NOTES: * Two death masks of Joyce’s face were taken. They show a kind and humorous face. One is displayed in the Joyce Institute in Zurich, the other at the Joyce Museum ay Sandycove, Co Dublin. ** Miss Weaver gave the manuscript of A Portrait of the Artist to the NLI without telling Nora.*** On June 16 1962 Sylvia was invited to Dublin to open the Joyce Museum at Sandycove. She died later that year. **** After Nora’s death the amazing and generous Miss Weaver had Lucia brought to St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, England. Lucia passed away December 12 1982.
The New York Times
ZURICH, Switzerland, Monday, Jan 13- 1941, James Joyce, Irish author whose "Ulysses" was the center of one of the most bitter literary controversies of modern times, died in a hospital here early today despite the efforts of doctors to save him by blood transfusions. He would have been 59 years old Feb. 2.
Joyce underwent an intestinal operation Saturday afternoon at the Schwesternhaus von Rotenkreuz Hospital. For a time he appeared to be recovering. Only yesterday his son reported him to have been cheerful and apparently out of danger.
During the afternoon, however, the writer suffered a sudden relapse and sank rapidly. He died at 2:15 A.M. (8:15 P.M., Eastern. standard time ).
His wife and son were at the hospital when he died.
Hailed and Belittled by Critics
The status of James Joyce as a writer never could be determined in his lifetime. In the opinion of some critics, notably Edmund Wilson, he deserved to rank with the great innovators of literature as one whose influence upon other writers of his time was incalculable. On the other hand, there were critics like Max Eastman who gave him a place with Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot among the "Unintelligibles" and there was Professor Irving Babbitt of Harvard who dismissed his most widely read novel, "Ulysses," as one which only could have been written "in an advanced stage of psychic disintegration."
Originally published in 1922, "Ulysses" was not legally available in the United States until eleven years later, when United States Judge John Monro Woolsey handed down his famous decision to the effect that the book was not obscene. Hitherto the book had been smuggled in and sold at high prices by "bookleggers" and a violent critical battle had raged around it.
Was Born in Dublin
The writer was born Feb. 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland, the son of John Stanislaus Joyce (The Simon Dedalus of "Ulysses" whom Bloom hears singing in the Ormond bar ) and Mary Murray Joyce. His father supposedly had one of the finest tenor voices in Ireland. James Joyce had an equally fine voice.
The Joyce family was not prosperous and it was large. James stood out among his brothers and sisters and, at the age of 9, is supposed to have written an attack on Tim Healy, the anti-Parnellite, which was printed but of which no known copy exists. Since he was literary it was decided to give him an education and he was sent first to Clongowes Wood College, then to Belvedere College, also in Ireland, and later he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Royal University in Dublin.
He was an amazing scholar, and an independent and solitary figure. When he was 17 he read Ibsen's plays and wrote an essay for the Fortnightly Review about the author of "The Doll's House." Dissatisfied with the English translations, Joyce learned Norwegian when he was 19 years old so that he might read his literary god in the original. At the same time he was reading and studying Dante, all the Elizabethan poets, St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle.
In those days, according to Padraic Colum, who knew him at the Royal University (later reorganized as the National University ), Joyce was a tall, slender young man with "a Dantesque face and steely blue eyes," who sauntered along the street in a peaked tennis cap, soiled tennis shoes, carrying an ashplant for a cane. Stephen Dedalus carries a similar cane in "Ulysses" and frequently talks with it! He loved to sing and recite poetry in his fine tenor voice.
Conceit and arrogance
When he first met Yeats he remarked:
"We have met too late; you are too old to be influenced by me.
Joyce was in continuous rebellion against Ireland and its life and said: "When the soul of a man is born in this country there are no nets flung at it to hold it back from flight."
The words are Stephen Dedalus's in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," but it was Joyce speaking, and, at the age of 20, he left Ireland for Paris where he intended, and for a time pretended, to study medicine.
At this time he started the stories that were eventually published as "Dubliners" (this book was later publicly burned in a Dublin public square ) and started his first novel. This, the "Portrait of the Artist," was ten years in the writing. His first published work- except for the forgotten attack on Tim Healy- was "Chamber Music," a collection of Elizabethan-like verse, which were printed in 1907.
It was at this time that he met Nora Barnacle, "a sleek blond beauty" from Galway, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Healy Barnacle. They soon went to the continent to live (their marriage was not regularized until twenty-seven years later, when they visited a London registry office to legalize the status of their two children, George and Lucia ). In Trieste, where they settled after some wandering, Joyce taught English at the Berlitz School and the Commercial Academy. He knew seventeen languages, ancient and modern, including Arabic, Sanskrit and Greek.
"Dubliners" Issued in 1914
In 1914 Dubliners was published in London. In the same year he also finished his novel "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
When war was declared Joyce and his wife, who were British citizens, were in Austria. He was forced out of his job as a teacher, and the couple moved to Zurich.
While living in Zurich Joyce began to suffer from severe ocular illness and eventually underwent at least ten operations on his eyes. For years he was almost totally blind and much of his later writing was done with red crayon on huge white sheets of paper.
In 1922 Joyce's greatest book, "Ulysses," was published in Paris. Great Britain, Ireland and the United States banned the book.
For many years after "Ulysses" was done Joyce worked on what he called "Work in Progress." Much of it appeared in Transition, the magazine published in the Nineteen Twenties in Paris by Eugene Jolas. In May, 1939, it was published as "Finnegan's Wake," a book "distinguished" by such "words" as Goragorridgeorballyedpuhkalsom, to name one of the simpler ones, and many puns. In it Mr. Joyce suggested the book was the work of "a too pained whitelwit laden with the loot of learning."
During all his years as a writer Joyce was carefully protected by his wife, who once said she cared for him despite "his necessity to write those books no one can understand." His conversation was clear, never anything like his writing, and his wit as keen.
Joyce's son, George Joyce, married the former Miss Helen Castor of Long Branch, N.J. They had one son, Stephen James Joyce.