On this day…23 January

On 23 January 1903 Joyce arrived back in Paris.

At the beginning of November 1902, Joyce planned to study medicine in Paris and he contacted the Faculté de Medicine about admission. With assistance from Lady Gregory, Yeats and others, Joyce left Dublin in December. He travelled via London where Yeats introduced him to Arthur Symons, and stayed at the Hôtel Corneille when he arrived in Paris. His plan to study medicine fell through, however, and he returned to Dublin after just three miserable weeks.

He spent December 1902 and early January 1903 catching up with his friends and visiting the National Library, where he met Oliver St John Gogarty for the first time. Once back in Dublin on ‘holiday,’ Joyce didn’t seem to be in any hurry to return to Paris, and it’s not clear what he intended to do. In a letter to his mother he seems to indicate that he wanted to split his time between Dublin and Paris, and perhaps he meant to earn a living by giving English lessons and writing reviews for magazines and newspapers.

He finally arrived back in Paris again on 23 January. He took out a reader’s ticket at the Bibliothèque Nationale the following day, and read there and at the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève over the next few months. He continued making notes on aesthetics in his notebook, and continued his creative writing, sending epiphanies and poems back to his brother Stanislaus in Dublin.

Between January and April 1903 five of his book reviews appear in the Dublin Daily Express, the newspaper that Gabriel Conroy writes for in ‘The Dead,’ and another appeared in the London Speaker. For the Irish Times, he interviewed the French racing driver, Henri Fournier, who was to have participated in the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland in July 1903. This interview later provided material for his story ‘After the Race.’

In March, Joyce met JM Synge for the first time. Synge was also staying at the Hôtel Corneille but only for a week. Joyce had heard high praise of Synge’s play Riders to the Sea from Yeats in January, and now Synge lent him the manuscript to read. Joyce didn’t think much of it and proceeded to point out its faults to Synge, but even so, Joyce memorised some of the speeches in it.

Joyce kept detailed accounts in his notebook of the small sums of money he had and how he was spending it, and his letters to his impoverished family in Dublin are full of complaints about his lack of money and long fasting. He had been hoping to get money for his twenty-first birthday on 2 February, but all he got was a “budget of cards” from home and a cigarette case from his aunt Josephine. Joyce complains in one letter about not having enough money to send his clothes to the laundry, but in the next line he happily borrows money to take the train to Saint-Cloud and a steamer back to Paris where he then attended the theatre!

In addition to the money he begged from home, Joyce also begged money from Gogarty in Dublin, from the Caseys in Paris, and even from the few private students he gave English lessons to. One wonders how this precarious existence was to be sustained, but his Paris career for the moment came to an end on Good Friday, 10 April 1903, when he received a telegram from his father saying that his mother was dying. Joyce, inevitably, had to borrow money to pay his fare home.



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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.