On this day…17 September

On 17 September 1904 Joyce heard of a vacancy at a Berlitz School on the continent.

Joyce had answered an advertisement from an agency that was offering to find places for teachers, and on 17 September he heard that there was a position waiting for him at a Berlitz School on the continent. Joyce made some inquiries, then paid the required fee, and set out for Zurich in October, only to find that the promised position did not exist.

Sometime earlier in September 1904 Joyce had answered an advertisement from Evelyn Gilford of the Midland Scholastic Agency in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. On 17 September, Gilford answered to say that he had reserved for Joyce a post as an English teacher at a Berlitz school on the continent, but requiring Joyce to pay commission of two guineas before he would reveal where the school was located.

Joyce was not fool enough to part with two guineas so easily, and he sent inquiries about Gilford’s bona fides to the Berlitz School in London and apparently to the police in Market Rasen. On 23 September Joyce had a reply from the Berlitz School on Oxford Street, London, to say that they had no official agents responsible for engaging teachers, but that only applied to schools in the United Kingdom, not the continent. However, they warned Joyce that he should check the bona fides of the person concerned, and they offered to find a place for him with a French Berlitz School without charging any fee.

Joyce also had a telegram from Market Rasen, presumably from the police, to say Gilford was well known and respectable. Joyce obviously managed to find the two guineas needed and on 4 October Gilford wrote to say that there was a position available immediately in Switzerland, if he could leave straight away. Joyce starting making his plans to leave, and wrote to friends asking them to help with money. On 6 October, Gilford informed him the vacancy was in Zurich, and on Saturday 8 October Joyce and Nora Barnacle left Dublin.

When he arrived at the Berlitz School in Zurich, he was surprised to find that he was not expected and there was no vacancy. Herr Malcrida, the director of the school, didn’t know why Joyce would have been sent there, and gave Joyce a letter to send to Evelyn Gilford to find out what was going on. Joyce thought the letter did not look like a letter to a stranger from a stranger, so he presumed Gilford was known to the Berlitz School and there was simply a mistake somewhere.

Gilford wrote again, enclosing a letter from the Director of the Vienna Berlitz School, the European Berlitz headquarters, promising a position in Zurich. But when the Vienna director was contacted, he claimed to know nothing about any such position. In the end, Malcrida heard about a position available in Trieste, and Joyce and Nora went there instead – only to find there was no position there either!


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

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