On this day…5 January

On 5 January 1921 Joyce wrote to Svevo for help in recovering a briefcase of manuscripts.

By January 1921 Joyce, as he told Svevo, had finished work on the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses and was working on ‘Eumaeus.’ However, when he left Trieste for Paris in July 1920, Joyce had not intended to make the move permanent and had left many of his possessions behind in Trieste.

Now, he was desperate to get his hands on a briefcase containing notes that he needed for writing the final episodes of Ulysses. In the letter, he explained to Svevo that he would not be able to leave Paris until May and that he needed these notes soon. He described exactly where the briefcase was to be found. The apartment was on the fourth floor at 2 via della Sanità, the apartment that Joyce had shared with his brother and the Schaurek’s after his return to Trieste from Zurich.

The briefcase, he explained, was in the room occupied by his brother, ‘towards the back of the building…and overlooking the house of public insecurity.’ He described the briefcase as being made of oil-cloth, fastened with a rubber band, and ‘having the colour of a nun’s belly.’ ‘In this brief-case,’ he said, ‘I placed the written symbols of the languid lights which occasionally flashed across my soul.’

Joyce asked Svevo if he had any family member who might be coming to Paris who could bring him papers from this briefcase. He warned that the rubber band holding it all together should not be broken or the papers would fall into disorder, and he suggested that Svevo get a suitcase that could be locked and put the briefcase into it so that everything could be kept securely.


Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957.