On this day…20 October

On 20 October 1904 Joyce arrived in Trieste for the first time.

Having accidentally left the train at Laibach (Ljubljana) on 19 October, Joyce and Nora finally arrived in Trieste on 20 October 1904. Joyce was expecting to find a job waiting for him at the Berlitz School there, but as it turned out there was no position available.

According to an account written by Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, Joyce, after arriving in Trieste on 20 October, left Nora Barnacle in a park while he went off to find somewhere for them to stay. This was the third time in less than two weeks that he had left her on her own in a park, and the third foreign city in which he’d done it.

Passing through the Piazza Grande Joyce encountered three drunken English sailors who were in the process of being arrested. Intervening on behalf of the sailors, Joyce agreed to accompany the policeman and the sailors to the police station on via San Nicolò to act as interpreter but, when he got there, he was locked up along with the three drunken sailors.

Joyce demanded to see the British consul, Harry L Churchill, who was sceptical of Joyce’s claims to be a university graduate who had come to Trieste to take up a post at the Berlitz School. There were reports in the Trieste newspapers at the time of British sailors who had jumped ship causing trouble in Trieste, and the consul was sure Joyce was just another one of these, even arguing that if he wasn’t, perhaps he had committed some offence in England and was running away from that.

After a few hours, the consul did manage to effect Joyce’s release from jail, and Joyce hurried back to the park where Nora was dutifully waiting for him and, to cap it all, when he presented himself at the Berlitz School to take up the post he’d been told about two days before in Zurich, he discovered that the job didn’t exist.

Joyce’s first day in Trieste, 20 October 1904, centred on the via San Nicolò: the Casa Castagna where he was taken by the policeman; no. 32 where the Berlitz School was located; and no. 15 where he and Nora stayed at the Hotel Central. The via San Nicolò thus provided Joyce with an introduction to the city that was to be his home for more than a decade.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

McCourt, John: The Years of Bloom – James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2001.