On this day…16 October

On 16 October 1919 Joyce and his family left Zurich for Trieste.


Joyce and his family left Trieste in June 1915 for Zurich where they remained until October 1919. The time in Zurich had proved very productive: eleven episodes of Ulysses had been completed there and had been appearing in serial form in the Little Review since the beginning of 1918. Just before leaving Zurich, Joyce had sent the twelfth episode, ‘Cyclops,’ to Ezra Pound.


Joyce, Nora, Giorgio and Lucia left Zurich on16 October and arrived in Trieste the following day where they joined an already cramped household at Via della Sanità 2 which Stanislaus Joyce was sharing with his sister Eileen and her husband, Frantisek Schaurek, and their two children. The building the Joyces had been living in in 1915 had been partly destroyed in aerial bombings and some of the family’s possessions had been requisitioned by the authorities and some by ‘uninvited visitors,’ as Joyce put it. But some things had been rescued, and Joyce was pleased to discover his writing desk untouched and the original manuscript of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man safe.


But the Trieste to which Joyce returned was much changed from 1915. Formerly a cosmopolitan metropolis, Trieste had been the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after Vienna, Budapest and Prague. Now, after five centuries of ties to Austria, it was destined to become a provincial Italian city. The city was taken by the Italian army on 3 November 1918 – the feast-day of Trieste’s patron saint, and the same day on which the armistice was signed that effectively marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and a military governor was put in place.


However, the annexation of Trieste was precarious. In 1915 the Italians had made a secret agreement to enter the war against Germany and Austro-Hungary in return for territorial gains, which were to include Trieste. After the war, the allies claimed the former agreement had been superseded by the Versailles treaties, a move which the Italians saw as a stab in the back and which led to the collapse of the Italian government in June 1919. It was not until the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920 that Italy’s claim over Trieste was legitimised, and on 21 March 1921 Triestines celebrated their union with Italy.


By June 1919, the military governor of Trieste had been replaced by a civilian, but conditions in the city remained poor. The influx of Italian soldiers was added to by hundreds of refugees pouring into the city every day, and all of this added to Joyce’s problems. Accommodation was impossible to find and goods were in short supply with high prices for everything. The Scuola Revoltella where Joyce had taught before the War had now been upgraded to a university and Joyce was eventually given an appointment there. The prospect of having to give lessons again was unpleasant as it would eat into his writing time, but he needed the money. Low on funds as usual, Joyce had to pay his brother-in-law half rent plus something towards coal and gas. After that, the Joyces also had to feed themselves. Life in the cramped apartment soon became tense and uncomfortable.


Another privation was that Joyce had ‘Not a soul to talk to about Bloom,’ as he complained to Frank Budgen with whom he had shared the development of Ulysses in Zurich. For six weeks after his return to Trieste, he said, he had not written or read or spoken, but then had recommenced work on the ‘Nausicaa’ episode. Desperate for someone with whom he could discuss his ideas for Ulysses, Joyce even offered to pay half of Budgen’s fare if he would come to Trieste. ‘Writing Ulysses,’ Joyce said, ‘is a tough job enough without all this.’


The stay in Trieste proved relatively short. At his first meeting with Ezra Pound in Sirmione in June 1920, Joyce agreed with Pound that he should go to Paris for a few days. The Joyces left Trieste for Paris three weeks later, and Joyce stayed there for the next twenty years.



Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Hametz, Maura: Making Trieste Italian, 1918-1954, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2005.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vols II & III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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