On this day…2 October

On 2 October 1902 Joyce was entered on the Register of the Medical School.

Having completed his studies at University College on St Stephen’s Green in 1902, Joyce decided to continue his studies at the University’s Medical School on Cecilia Street. Given his lack of interest in science subjects, his medical career was short-lived, but that didn’t stop him from making a start at studying medicine on another two occasions.

Joyce was following in his father’s footsteps by taking up medicine. John Joyce had been enrolled for three years as a student of medicine at Queen’s College, Cork, but made more of a name for himself as an athlete and actor at the College than as a student, and after failing his exams he gave up medicine.

If anything, Joyce’s career as a medical student was even less successful than his father’s. It seems that it was John Francis Byrne’s idea to sign up for medicine. In April 1902 he brought Joyce, Vincent Cosgrave, and John Bassett to see the Medical School’s Registrar, Ambrose Birmingham. Birmingham taught anatomy at the School, and made his anatomical drawings on the blackboard using blue chalk for veins and red for arteries, though sometimes he would have to ask a student which chalk was which as he was colour-blind.

Joyce enthusiastically signed up straight away, but this enthusiasm for medicine didn’t last beyond the first few lectures at the Medical School. The Dean of the Medical School from 1902 was Fr Darlington, already known to Joyce from his time as Dean of Studies at the University. Among the other staff were Professor of Biology George Sigerson, a Gaelic revival enthusiast; Professor of Chemistry Hugh Ryan; and Professor of Physics John Alexander McClelland.

During his time at the Medical School, Joyce attended lectures in physics and chemistry in the chemistry laboratory in what had formerly been the stable at the back of the building. Joyce, who had only managed to get 100 out of 500 in a chemistry exam at Belvedere in 1895, found himself quickly bored by the science lectures, and he decided to give up his medical studies.

Instead, he went to Paris – to study medicine, as if it could be any less boring in French than in English, and as if he stood any better chance of passing chemistry in French after having never passed it English. Though he attended a couple of lectures, he gave up his Paris medical studies once he discovered he would have to pay the fees in advance.

In autumn of 1903 Joyce made an effort to take up his medical studies at the Medical School again, but quickly gave up. His friend Tom Kettle suggested to him that he wait until the following year and enter the medical school at Trinity College, but nothing came of that plan. So Joyce’s three attempts at studying medicine, beginning on 2 October 1902, came to nothing.

Perhaps following the family tradition, Joyce’s son, Giorgio, also considered studying medicine in Paris in 1920, but since he spoke no French at that time, he didn’t go ahead with his plan.


Sources & Further Reading:

Byrne, JF: Silent Years – An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland, New York: Octagon Books, 1975.

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

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