On 10 June 1904 Joyce met Nora Barnacle.
On Friday 10 June 1904 as he was walking along Nassau Street, Joyce met Nora Barnacle, the woman who was to become his lifelong partner. Despite the significance of this event, little is known about exactly what happened.
As Richard Ellmann describes it, Joyce was walking down Nassau Street when he saw a tall, auburn-haired young woman walking with a proud stride. They struck up a conversation and then made an arrangement to meet again on Tuesday 14 June outside Sir William Wilde’s house on the corner of Merrion Square.
Ellmann adds a little more detail: that Joyce was wearing a ‘yachting’ cap which made Nora think he was a sailor, and from his blue eyes she thought he might be Swedish. Joyce recognised her Galway accent, and managed to get her name and where she was working: Finn’s Hotel, only a short distance from Nassau Street.
Brenda Maddox, Nora’s biographer, has a slightly different view. Noting that Joyce wasn’t wearing glasses at the time (as he had been told that leaving them off would help strengthen his eyes), she says that he could have made out little enough of this woman other than her hair, her figure and her stride. And it seems that it was that sauntering, proud stride that attracted Joyce to her immediately, despite his poor sight. As Maddox puts it, “It was part of the genius of James Joyce myopically to pick from a crowd the woman essential to his art.”
Maddox says that Nora told the story of their first meeting several times but that the details were not always the same. In one account he was wearing a sailor’s cap which led her to think he was a Swedish sailor while in another account he was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and an overcoat that reached down to his feet. And apparently she never forgot the shabby shoes he was wearing. But, as Maddox claims, Joyce was well-mannered, well-spoken, amusing and unthreatening: why shouldn’t she agree to meet him again?
Sources & Further Reading:
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.