On this day…12 December

On 12 December 1936 Harriet Weaver left Paris after seeing Joyce for the last time.

Relations between Joyce and his patron Harriet Weaver had been strained for some time, and it was hoped that this meeting in Paris would help iron out some of the problems. After a fortnight in Paris, Weaver returned to England on 12 December, and she and Joyce never saw each other again.

Though Harriet Weaver had never failed to support Joyce financially, she had become increasingly worried that he was wasting his talent on Work in Progress, and that his concerns about his children, particularly Lucia, were distracting him from completing the book he’d already been working on for more than thirteen years.

Joyce had been ill with suspected colitis from the time he returned from Copenhagen in mid-September 1936, though his doctors assured him there was nothing wrong with him. When Paul Léon wrote to Weaver on 3 November 1936, he reported that Joyce had become reclusive, hardly going out or seeing anybody. Léon claimed Joyce was in ‘very bad shape and I really do not foresee what this will all end with.’

Joyce’s finances were not good either. Of the capital sum that Weaver had originally settled on him, three-quarters had been spent even though Joyce was supposed to be living on the interest and not using up the capital. Much of the money had been spent on Lucia’s treatment, and Joyce felt that Weaver had been ‘poisoned’ against Lucia and failed to see the need for such expenses.

Weaver, who hadn’t seen Joyce since February 1934, tentatively suggested that she might visit Paris. Léon replied on 18 November welcoming the proposed visit and deploring the fact that she had not visited Joyce for so long. He felt that many little problems that had been allowed to fester because of communication by letter alone would have been quickly sorted out by personal contact. He said Joyce’s only concern was that he was in such a black humour that no one would want to visit him.

Weaver visited Paris for a fortnight from 27 November to 12 December. As her biographers put it, ‘Not a word, not a syllable survives to cast light on their meeting. But their relationship, though desperately strained, had remained intact.’ It seems clear that Weaver assured Joyce of her continued financial support at least until Work in Progress was completed and published, and Joyce accepted this. But it is also clear that the old relations between them had not been restored. Though neither of them could have realised it at the time, this was to be their last meeting.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Lidderdale, Jane, & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.