On 11 April 1903 Joyce left Paris for Dublin.
Having attended the Good Friday Tenebrae services, Joyce returned to his hotel late at night. Waiting for him was a telegram from his father informing him that his mother was dying. Joyce started on his journey home on Saturday 11 April 1903.
It seems from the surviving letters that Joyce had little idea of his mother’s ill health. As recently as 20 March 1903 he had written to her to say that she had never looked as well as when he last saw her in January, just before he returned to Paris. He had written to her on 4 April with requests for a suit and other things, but her reply must have indicated something wrong, and on Good Friday morning he sent her a postcard asking that she write and tell him what was wrong.
Joyce had obviously intended going to the Tenebrae services on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week and had asked Stanislaus to send him out a book with the services. On Good Friday he attended the services at Notre Dame and then went walking through the city, so he did not return to his hotel until late that night. His father’s telegram was waiting for him, telling him to come home as his mother was dying.
Not surprisingly, Joyce had no money to pay his way home, but he decided to borrow some from Joseph Douce, a champagne dealer to whom he was giving English lessons. Joyce arrived at Douce’s home after midnight, and showed him the telegram from his father. Douce gave him 375 francs to cover the cost of getting home.
On Saturday morning, 11 April, Joyce sent a telegram to his father announcing that he would arrive back in Dublin on the Sunday morning, and he set out from Paris to Dieppe. From there he took the boat to Newhaven, travelling through England before making the ferry crossing to Dublin, where he arrived on Easter Sunday morning. An epiphany from this time describes the boat leaving Dieppe as he sets out on his way.
On 24 April, Joyce’s father took out another mortgage of £50 on the house at St Peter’s Terrace to cover his wife’s medical expenses. John Joyce sent £3 of this to Joseph Douce in Paris to repay the money Joyce had borrowed for the journey home. Joyce did not return to Paris again until October 1904 when he and Nora Barnacle were on their way to Zurich and Trieste.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.