On 2 November 1921 Joyce queried his Aunt Josephine about 7 Eccles Street.
Though Joyce had already finished writing the ‘Ithaca’ episode, he wrote to his Aunt Josephine on 2 November 1921 with several queries about details he wanted for the book. One question was about details of the house at 7 Eccles Street.
What Joyce wanted to know in November 1921 was whether or not it was possible for an ordinary person to climb over the railings at 7 Eccles Street, either from the steps of the house or from the pavement, lower himself down along the railings until he reached two or three feet from the ground, and drop the remaining distance unhurt. Joyce claimed he needed this information in detail in order to determine the wording of a paragraph in Ulysses.
The paragraph occurs near the beginning of the ‘Ithaca’ episode when Bloom and Stephen arrive at the house at 7 Eccles Street and Bloom discovers that he doesn’t have his front door key with him. Deciding that he doesn’t want to disturb Molly by knocking at the door, Bloom proceeds to climb over the railings and jump into the area below in order to enter the house through the basement kitchen door.
Joyce, as he mentioned in his letter to Aunt Josephine, had seen this done. When Joyce was in Dublin during the summer of 1909, his friend John Francis Byrne was living at 7 Eccles Street. According to Byrne, the pair went on a long walk around the city, returning to 7 Eccles Street where Byrne discovered he hadn’t got his front door key. He climbed over the railings and entered through the basement kitchen, and opened the front door from within in order to admit Joyce to the house.
Though Joyce had seen this done by Byrne, he was sceptical of the possibility of Bloom doing it. According to Byrne, Joyce gave Bloom the same weight as Byrne in 1909, but Bloom is thirty-eight years old while Byrne was only twenty-nine, and Byrne was a bit more athletic than Bloom.
Quite how Joyce expected Aunt Josephine to deal with this query is not clear. It’s unlikely that she’d have gone to 7 Eccles Street to have a look and gauge it for herself, let alone commandeer a passing ‘ordinary man’ to undertake the experiment. But it does show Joyce’s concern to get the details of the city of his book as true to real-life Dublin as possible.
Sources & Further Reading:
Byrne, John Francis: Silent Years – An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland, New York: Octagon Books, 1975.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957.