On this day…20 June

On 20 June 1904 Joyce collapsed, drunk, at a National Theatre Society rehearsal.

On Monday 20 June 1904 Joyce turned up very drunk to attend a rehearsal of the National Theatre Society at the Camden Hall and collapsed in a passageway, after which some of the actors took him home.

The National Theatre Society had taken over the premises at 34 Camden Street and held their first performances there in December 1902 in a makeshift theatre that held an audience of about fifty. Joyce sometimes visited during rehearsals, and he had been there on 10 June 1904 when Synge announced to the company that he had a new play, The Well of the Saints, ready for them. The company was already rehearsing two Synge plays, In the Shadow of the Glen, and Riders to the Sea.

The so-called Camden Hall was behind a grocer’s shop and once the shop was closed it could only be reached through a dark narrow passage. When Joyce arrived very drunk on 20 June, he collapsed in the passageway. Vera Esposito, one of the actors, was leaving the rehearsal with her mother when she stumbled over Joyce. She went back into the hall, and the Fay brothers, William and Frank, came to investigate. When they discovered the drunken Joyce, they threw him out and bolted the door so he couldn’t re-enter. Joyce banged loudly on the door with his cane and shouted at the Fays to let him in.

The door was opened again and Joyce was embarrassed to discover that it was Vera Esposito who had stumbled over him in the dark. George Roberts and one of the actors, Dossie Wright, took Joyce home. Afterwards, Joyce wrote a poem, ‘Satire on the Brothers Fay,’ in which Joyce depicts the anger of the Fays at finding him lying in his own urine while the ladies looked down on him. Later, in the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode of Ulysses, Mulligan reminds Stephen of “the night in the Camden hall when the daughters of Erin had to lift their skirts to step over you as you lay in your mulberrycoloured, multicoloured, multitudinous vomit!”

Vera Esposito was a daughter of Michele Esposito, an Italian-born professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and his Russian-born wife, who had come to Dublin in 1882. The Espositos lived in Sandymount, and Joyce had met them at James and Gretta Cousins’ house on the evening of 15 June 1904. Vera recorded in her diary that he sang several songs to his own accompaniment that evening, and Michele Esposito, impressed by Joyce, invited him to call on them.

Vera’s sister, Bianca Esposito, later taught Italian at the Berlitz school in Dublin where one of her students was Samuel Beckett. She was the model for the character Adriana Ottolenghi in Beckett’s More Pricks than Kicks.


Sources & Further Reading:

Dibble, Jeremy: Michele Esposito, Dublin: Field Day Publications, 2010.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Poems & Exiles, edited with an Introduction by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.

– -: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Knowlson, James: Damned to Fame – The Life of Samuel Beckett, London: Bloomsbury, 1997.