Happy Birthday!

Joyce’s birthday, 2 February, is also Candlemas Day and Ground Hog Day, making his birthday part religious festival, part popular festival. Joyce claimed to have been born on the same day as Irish author and friend James Stephens. However, it seems that Stephens was actually born in 1880 though he claimed to have been born on 2 February 1882. The coincidence of names was also important for Joyce who believed that names were signs (nomen est omen). Joyce had chosen Stephen, the name of the first Christian martyr, for his character and alter ego Stephen Dedalus, and the fact that James Stephens shared the names James and Stephen seemed a particularly good omen. Given these coincidences, Joyce even considered handing over the work onFinnegans Wake to Stephens.

Joyce was born in the same year as Wyndham Lewis, Frank Budgen and Eamon de Valera. Like Joyce, de Valera had very poor eyesight, and Joyce was delighted to discover that he and de Valera shared the same eye specialist, Dr Vogt in Zurich. Joyce thought it funny that Vogt, who never charged Joyce for any of his treatments or consultations, charged de Valera a great deal.

When Joyce’s names were recorded on his birth certificate, his middle name was misspelled, and so he was registered as James Augusta Joyce (rather than James Augustine Joyce). Joyce later uses a similar slip for Bloom’s name in Ulysses: Bloom’s name is recorded as Leopold Paula Bloom rather than Leopold Paul Bloom on his birth certificate. When Joyce met Paul Léon in the 1920’s he considered it a good omen that Léon’s names were Bloom’s names in reverse. Léon was Paul Leopoldovitch Léon.

Throughout his life, Joyce considered his birthday to be an auspicious day, and he often contrived to make it particularly special. In 1904, for instance, he spent that day at home suffering from a cold, but started work on converting his essay ‘A Portrait of the Artist’ into his first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero. Later, his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses were both published on 2 February. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which began to appear in serial form in the Egoist magazine from 2nd February 1914. On 15 June 1914, Grant Richards finally published Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, and the following day, the 16th June 1914, Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus to say that he had already written the first chapter ofUlysses.

While still working on Ulysses, Joyce’s original intention was that the book would appear in the autumn of 1921. 1 + 9 + 2 + 1 = 13 which Joyce considered to be a lucky number – but he wasn’t sure, and in any case his extensive revisions and additions to the book delayed publication. Besides, his forthcoming 40th birthday seemed a more auspicious date: the 2nd February 1922 (2.2.22)!

Another name that was significant for Joyce was that of Harriet Weaver, editor of the Egoist magazine and one of Joyce’s patrons. The fact that Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey was also a weaver (of tapestries) seemed to Joyce to be an auspicious sign. In a letter of 1st Novmeber 1921, Joyce told Weaver that there was a coincidence of birthdays in connection with his books. He pointed out that the serialisation of A Portrait of the Artist had begun in her magazine on his thirty-second birthday, and finished 25 instalments later with the issue dated 1 September, Harriet Weaver’s own birthday. He then went on to claim that he had started writing Ulysses on 1 March 1914, Frank Budgen’s birthday, and finished writing it on 30 October 1921, Ezra Pound’s birthday. Somewhat wryly, he then wonders on whose birthday it might be published. However, Joyce had already announced the completion of the book on 29th not 30th of October in a letter to Robert McAlmon and a letter to Valery Larbaud, so it seems that he was bending the facts slightly to fit a neat coincidence.

Joyce’s final corrections to the proofs of Ulysses reached the printer, Maurice Danartiere, on 31 January, and Darantiere managed to get two copies, numbered 901 and 902, printed on 1 February. They were sent by train from Dijon to Paris where they arrived in the early hours of the morning of the 2nd. Sylvia Beach was waiting for the train and took the two copies by taxi to Joyce’s apartment as his birthday present. She gave one copy to him and placed the other copy on display in the window of her bookshop to announce its publication.

Joyce celebrated that evening with his friends at an Italian restaurant, sporting a new ring he had promised himself years before as a reward for finishing Ulysses. He ate nothing and kept the package containing the book under his chair until after dessert when he finally untied it and placed the book on the table. His friends gave a toast to him and to the new-born Ulysses.

Years later, Joyce hoped that Finnegans Wake would also be published on his birthday. First, he hoped it would appear in 1938, in time for his 56th birthday. When that didn’t happen, he hoped that it would appear on 4th July 1938, the anniversary of his father’s birth. On January 30th 1939, Faber & Faber sent a copy of the book (actually bound page proofs) to Joyce for his 57th birthday. On that 2nd of February, Joyce’s daughter-in-law Helen had a cake baked on top of which were replicas of his seven books in icing. The table was laid out to represent Paris and Dublin, and Nora wore an aquamarine ring that Joyce had given her as a symbol of the river Liffey. Despite this early launch of Finnegans Wake, the official publication date was not until 4th May 1939.

If Joyce’s own birthdays seemed to have particular significance, so also did the anniversaries of those closest to him. Joyce’s mother, May, died on 13th August 1903, and Joyce had an ambiguous attitude towards the number thirteen, thinking it sometimes lucky, though he wasn’t sure. His mother May had been born on 15th May and his parents had married in May 1880, so that month always seemed particularly lucky for Joyce. By coincidence, Joyce’s first short story, ‘The Sisters,’ was published in the Irish Homestead on 13 August 1904, exactly the first anniversary of his mother’s death.

Joyce’s father, John Joyce, had been born on 4th July 1849 and his younger brother George was buried on 4th July 1887. When Joyce’s son was born in July 1905, he named him Giorgio after his brother who died in 1902. When Joyce got married in 1931, he chose the 4th July as the date, perhaps because John Joyce had been grieved by Joyce and Nora’s elopement.

On his deathbed, John Joyce told his daughter May to tell Jim that he was born at 6 in the morning. At first, May thought her father was delirious, but apparently, Joyce had written to his father sometime before to find out the exact time of his birth because an astrologer was doing his horoscope. John Joyce died on 29 December 1931, just a month before Joyce’s 50th birthday. Joyce’s 50th birthday celebrations were somewhat muted because of Joyce’s depression, an atmosphere that was not helped when Joyce’s daughter Lucia, beginning to show signs of schizophrenia, threw a chair at Nora. Less than a fortnight later, Joyce’s grandson, Stephen James Joyce was born, and the coincidence of the birth of his grandson and the death of his father led him to write the poem ‘Ecce Puer.’

Joyce’s daughter Lucia was born on 26th July 1909 and Joyce picked the name Lucia after the patron saint of eyesight. He may have hoped that by naming his daughter in honour of St Lucy, it might help with his own eye problems. Lucia was given the middle name Anna since it was St Anne’s day and Nora’s mother’s name was Anne. Lucia’s increasing mental instability in later life caused Joyce a great deal of distress. He encouraged her to make a career for herself as a calligraphist and determined to see her bookChaucer ABC published on her birthday, 26th July 1936. With this in mind Joyce bought a moneybox to save in, and gave the key to his friend Paul Léon. He wrote to Harriet Weaver saying he hoped that, through publishing the book, Lucia would see that her whole past has not been a failure, and Harriet Weaver offered to share the costs of publication. Lucia died in England on 12 December 1982, the eve of St Lucy’s day.

Joyce died in Zurich of a perforated ulcer and generalised peritonitis on 13th January 1941, perhaps finally confirming that thirteen was an unlucky number for him. Nora died ten years later in 1951 and was also buried at Fluntern Cemetery, though initially she wasn’t buried in the same grave. They were reinterred together in a single plot in the cemetery on Bloomsday, the 16th June 1966. Their son Giorgio is also buried in the same plot. In a final coincidence, Joyce’s brother Stanislaus died in Trieste on Bloomsday, 16th June, 1955.

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To read more about significant dates in Joyce’s life please click on Significant Joycean Dates