On 1 November 1924 Joyce heard that his Aunt Josephine was dying.
On the evening of Saturday 1 November 1924 Joyce received a letter from his brother Charles in Dublin telling him that his Aunt Josephine was dying. Joyce immediately sent her a telegram and the following day wrote her a long letter. She died on 15 November.
Josephine Murray (nee Giltrap) was married to William Murray, one of Joyce’s maternal uncles. Joyce had kept in touch with her after leaving Ireland, and she was his source for information about Dublin and about his own family and childhood. She supplied him with a lot of material used in writing Ulysses, but was not entirely proud of her nephew’s book. When he met his cousins Kathleen and Alice in London in 1922, they told him their mother had said Ulysses wasn’t fit to read. Aunt Josephine also appeared in Ulysses disguised as the character Sara Goulding, Stephen Dedalus’ aunt.
As soon as he received the letter from his brother, Joyce sent a telegram to Aunt Josephine, expressing his deep grief at hearing of her illness and hoping that she would come through it safely. The following day he wrote her a long letter in which he again expressed their shock at the news of her ill health, and added his hope that things were not as serious as Charlie made them out to be.
Joyce had become somewhat estranged from his aunt in the wake of the publication of Ulysses. Joyce had been annoyed at a letter she had sent him complaining that Nora and the children had not visited her when they were in Dublin in 1922. For his part, Joyce complained that she didn’t seem to be at all grateful for the copy of Ulysses he had sent her, which he valued at £40.
However, in the letter he wrote on 2 November, Joyce was in a conciliatory mood, and told her that he had wanted to meet her in London, and that he still hoped to do so. He reminded her of his affection for her, saying that he had become attached to her in his youth because of her kindness, and because of the help, advice and sympathy she gave him, especially after his mother’s death. He told her that he was still attached to her by gratitude, affection and respect.
Charlie’s news of the seriousness of Aunt Josephine’s illness was accurate, and she died just a fortnight later on 15 November 1924. Apparently, before she went into hospital, Aunt Josephine destroyed some of the letters she had received from her nephew James, though other letters survive.
Sources & Further Reading:
Jackson, John Wyse, with Peter Costello: John Stanislaus Joyce – The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father, London: Fourth Estate, 1997.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.