On 3 May 1902 George Joyce died.
The youngest boy in the family, George was born on his father’s birthday, 4 July 1887. According to Richard Ellmann, he showed signs of his elder brother’s wit and intelligence, and he was popular not only at home but also at Belvedere College where he went to school.
George fell ill in mid-March 1902 with enteric fever (also known as typhoid) and his parents, not wanting him to be taken to the Mater Hospital, engaged a local doctor, Dr Tuohy. Tuohy, from County Mayo, was the son of a reporter for the Freeman’s Journal and father of the painter Patrick Tuohy who later painted portraits of Joyce and of John Stanislaus Joyce.
While George was ill, the family did all they could to keep his spirits up. His father and his brother Stanislaus read to him, and Joyce sang and played the piano to keep him entertained. George seemed to be making a recovery and, following the doctor’s advice, May Joyce began to feed him. It seems that George suffered a perforated intestine as a result, and he died of peritonitis some days later on 3 May 1902. Stanislaus reported George’s last words as ‘I am very young to die.’ The Rector at Belvedere College apparently insisted on giving him a public funeral at the College, and George was buried in the family plot at Glasnevin Cemetery where other children who had died as infants were already buried.
George’s death seems to have had a powerful effect on the family. In part, it may have been George’s illness that led Joyce to enrol in medical school in April 1902, and Joyce later named his son Giorgio after his younger brother. George’s death may also have influenced Charles to leave Belvedere College and enrol at Clonliffe College to study for the priesthood, though he soon changed his mind and returned home. Later, Charles named his second son George Alfred after his younger brother. It seems that May Joyce never quite got over the death of her son and she blamed herself for his death. She died of cancer in August 1903.
George’s death provided Joyce with material for his writing. At least three extant epiphanies seem to relate to George’s death. In one, set in the house at Glengariff Parade where the family were living at the time, Joyce is playing piano in the parlour at the moment his mother realises that George is dead. Another epiphany relates how George has been laid out, covered with a sheet and with pennies on his eyes, on the bed where Joyce had slept the night before. Joyce writes that he is sorry his brother died, but says he cannot pray for him. A third concerns Skeffington’s apologies for not having been able to attend George’s funeral. George was also the model for the character Isabel in Stephen Hero.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Jackson, John Wyse, & Peter Costello: John Stanislaus Joyce – The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father, London: Fourth Estate, 1997.
Joyce, James: Poems & Shorter Writings, edited by Richard Ellmann, A Walton Litz, and John Whittier-Ferguson, London: Faber & Faber, 1991.
Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, edited with and Introduction by Richard Ellmann, & Preface by TS Eliot, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.