On 30 March 1934 George Borach died.
George Borach had been a student of Joyce’s in Zurich during the First World War, but they also kept in touch occasionally after Joyce left Zurich. Borach, who was just 42, was killed in a car accident on Good Friday 30 March 1934 on a road that Joyce, on a motoring holiday, drove along just a few days later.
Borach was one of those students of Joyce’s who became a close friend. Joyce never knew exactly what Borach did for a living – he thought it was something to do with roads in Peru – but Joyce discussed his work and ideas with Borach during their time together in Zurich.
Borach recorded some of these conversations in his journal and they reveal apsects of Joyce’s thought while he was writing Ulysses. He told Borach that the theme of wandering in the Odyssey was one of the most significant themes in all literature, and they discussed the relationship of the artist to the state, and the musical structure of the ‘Sirens’ episode as well. In 1931 Borach published an article, ‘Gespräche mit James Joyce’ (‘Conversations with James Joyce’), in Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Borach had been concerned enough about Joyce’s health in 1933 to suggest to Paul Léon that a sort of ‘kidnapping’ would be necessary to force Joyce to get out of Paris and take a rest. Borach was also the one who recommended the Zurich eye specialist Dr Vogt to Joyce, and he made the arrangements for Joyce’s first visit to Vogt in April 1930. By coincidence, Joyce was also to get a check-up from Dr Vogt while he was in Zurich in 1934.
Towards the end of March 1934, Nora Joyce had just turned fifty, and Ulysses had finally been published legally in America, so it seemed an opportune time for a break away from Paris. The Joyces went on a motoring holiday with Kathleen and René Bailly and their nieces. Bailly was a wealthy businessman, and his wife Kathleen was from Galway, like Nora Joyce. The Joyce’s were such frequent visitors at the Bailly’s villa at Enghien that Joyce had his own study there.
They set out from Paris on a 2,500km drive through the south of France and Monaco and then on to Zurich, Joyce’s first motoring holiday. Joyce didn’t tell Nora the news of Borach’s death until they reached Zurich, as part of the road they were taking was the same road on which Borach had his accident. But as soon as she heard the news, Nora wanted to leave Zurich, claiming it was haunted by memories of Borach.
They visited Borach’s parents who were very upset by their son’s death. Nora said she had never seen such motherly love, but she also recalled that Borach’s mother used to bring broken biscuits with her in her handbag whenever she and Nora went for tea together.
While staying in Zurich in April 1934 Joyce wrote the poem ‘Epilogue to Ibsen’s Ghosts.’ Joyce claimed it was inspired by seeing Ginette Faccone in Ghosts just before leaving Paris, but it was probably also influenced by the ghostly associations the Zurich trip had with the recently dead George Borach. The Joyces returned to Paris by train around 20 April 1934.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Poems & Exiles, edited with an Introduction and Notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.
—: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I, edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Maddox, Brenda: Nora – A Biography of Nora Joyce, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
A translation of George Borach’s conversations with Joyce can be found in:
Potts, Willard (ed.): Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, Seattle: University of Washington Press, Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1979.