On this day…15 January

On 15 January 1941 Joyce was buried in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich.

After Joyce’s death at 2.15am on Monday 13 January 1941, his widow Nora and his son Giorgio stayed at the hospital for a while before returning to the Pension Delphin at 3.30am. But there was an air-raid alert and they had to take Giorgio’s son Stephen and sit on the steps of the cellar until the all-clear. They didn’t tell Stephen that his grandfather was already dead.

News of Joyce’s death began to filter into the outside world. Joyce’s benefactor, Harriet Weaver, heard about it on the 8am BBC news that morning and wired money to Nora straight away to help with the funeral costs. At the clinic at Pornichet, outside Paris, where she had remained when the rest of the family moved to Zurich, Joyce’s daughter Lucia read about his death in a newspaper before a letter from Giorgio could reach her.

Nora and Giorgio, with help from Joyce’s Zurich friends, began making preparations for the funeral. Stephen was taken to a playground by Klara Heyland, a favourite waitress of the Joyce’s from the Kronenhalle restaurant, and later he was taken to stay with relatives of his mother. Giorgio phoned Joyce’s friend Ruggiero with the news and Ruggiero tried to convince Nora to have a priest give a final blessing at the graveside. Nora decided she couldn’t do that.

Heinrich Straumann, recently appointed Professor of English at Zurich University, was enlisted to give a speech at the funeral, and Nora supplied him with biographical information to use in his speech. Carola Giedion-Welcker got Nora’s permission to have a death mask made and she commissioned the sculptor Paul Speck to make two casts from Joyce’s face on 13 or 14 January. She also prepared an obituary of Joyce that appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 16 January.

The funeral took place on the afternoon of Wednesday 15 January 1941 at the Friedhofkapelle at Fluntern cemetery. Lord Derwent, the British Minister to Bern, spoke of Joyce as part of a great tradition of Irish writers in English, and finished by saying: “George Moore is gone; Yeats is gone; and now Joyce. But of one thing I am sure – whatever be the rights and wrongs of the relations between England and Ireland, I know Ireland will continue to take the finest and most ironical of revenges on us: she will go on giving us great men of letters…”

Derwent was followed by the poet Max Geilinger from the Swiss Society of Authors, and by Professor Straumann. The Swiss tenor Max Meili sang the aria ‘Tu se’ morta’ from Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. In the opera, Orpheus, having heard of the death of his wife Eurydice, decides to descend into the underworld to win her back with the beauty of his verses. The aria ends with the line: ‘Addio terra, addio cielo, e sole, addio’ – Farewell earth, farewell sky, and sun, farewell. It was a particularly fitting ending, given that Nora had had a wreath made of green leaves in the shape of a harp because Joyce had loved music so much.

Later that year, Carola Giedion-Welcker organised the publication of a memorial booklet that included the speeches given at the cemetery and some poems by Joyce, as well as a photograph of the death mask she had commissioned. One of the death masks is now at the Joyce Museum at Sandycove, and another is at the Zurich James Joyce Foundation.

Nora visited the cemetery frequently until her arthritis made it difficult to get about. After the repatriation of WB Yeats’ remains to Ireland in 1948, there was an effort to interest Sean MacBride, Irish Minister for External Affairs, in bringing Joyce’s body home, but nothing came of it. When she died in 1951, Nora was buried in another part of the cemetery as there wasn’t room next to Joyce. On 16 June 1966, they were both reinterred in a permanent ‘grave of honour’ in the cemetery. Their son Giorgio was also buried there in 1976, as was his second wife Asta Jahnke-Osterwald in 1993.

 

Sources:

Edel, Leon: James Joyce – The Last Journey, New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1947.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, London: Faber & Faber, 1982.

Giedion-Welcker, Carola (ed.): In Memoriam James Joyce, Zürich: Fretz & Wamuth Verlag, 1941.

Lidderdale, Jane & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.

Maddox, Brenda: Nora – A Biography of Nora Joyce, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.

Ruggiero, Paul: ‘James Joyce’s Last Days in Zurich,’ in Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, Willard Potts (ed.), Dublin: Wolfhound Press (in association with University of Washington Press), 1979.

 

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