On this day…13 January

 On 13 January 1941 Joyce died in Zurich.

Joyce arrived in Zurich with his family on 13 December 1940 and was greeted at the railway station by Carola Giedion-Welcker and Paul Ruggiero. Ruggiero, a Zurich banker and a friend of Joyce’s since 1916, had helped to organise Joyce’s residence permit, and Giedion-Welcker had put up a large part of the bank deposit required by the Swiss authorities. Edmund Brauchbar, a former student of Joyce’s now living in America, also put up part of the deposit.

Ruggiero booked the Joyces into the Pension Delphin and visited them there every evening after work. On Thursday 9 January, Joyce invited him to join them at the Kronenhalle restaurant. The manager, Gustave Zumsteg, was a business associate of Edmund Brauchbar’s son, and the Joyces liked one of the waitresses, Klara Heyland. Despite the efforts of Mrs Zumsteg to persuade Joyce to eat, he only drank. As they left at 11.30, Nora stumbled and almost fell at the entrance. Joyce told Ruggiero he was looking forward to having a couple of rums when he got home.

Early on the morning of Friday 10 January, Joyce awoke with severe stomach cramps. The local doctor was summoned and administered morphine, but it didn’t ease the pain, and later that morning Joyce was taken to the Rotenkreuz Hospital on Gloriastrasse.

Giorgio Joyce phoned Ruggiero with the news, and Ruggiero visited the hospital on the Saturday morning. At that stage the x-rays showed a perforated duodenal ulcer and the doctors decided to operate. Joyce’s first concern was that he might have cancer but Giorgio assured him he didn’t. His next concern was how they were going to pay for the operation. Ruggiero realised that if anything happened to Joyce, his family would not be able to access Joyce’s account at Ruggiero’s bank, so he drew up a power of attorney for Giorgio and got Joyce to sign it.

Dr Freysz, a specialist suggested by Carola Giedion-Welcker, operated at 10 o’clock that morning. Joyce was worried that, because they were going to give him a general anaesthetic, he might never wake up. Despite all the operations on his eyes, Joyce had never been under general anaesthetic before. Joyce regained consciousness that afternoon and spoke a little to Nora. The operation seemed to have been successful, but by Sunday morning Joyce had begun to weaken and needed blood transfusions. Ruggiero stayed at the hospital with Giorgio and Nora until evening as Joyce passed in and out of consciousness.

Joyce wanted Nora to stay overnight in the hospital with him, but the doctors persuaded Nora and Giorgio to go home, promising to ring if there was any news. Early on Monday 13 January, Joyce woke and asked for Nora before losing consciousness again. Nora and Giorgio were summoned, but Joyce died at 2.15am before they arrived. A post-mortem was carried out at 4.30 that afternoon by Dr Zollinger. The cause of death was peritonitis & a second perforated ulcer.



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

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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.