On this day…22 December

On 22 December 1909 sent a handmade copy of Chamber Music to Nora for Christmas.

Joyce, who was in Dublin in connection with setting up the Volta cinema, took some pains to design and make the manuscript copy of Chamber Music that he sent Nora as a Christmas gift.

Not long after he arrived in Dublin to set up the Volta cinema, Joyce started working on a handmade gift to send to Nora for Christmas. In a letter to her on 1 November 1909, after inquiring about the gloves and yards of tweed he had sent her, he announced that he was preparing a special Christmas present for her.

He had bought specially cut sheets of parchment and was copying the poems of Chamber Music on them in indelible India ink. Joyce admitted that it was hard to write on parchment but he persisted because he hoped it would give Nora pleasure. As he wrote the letter, it was two o’clock in the morning and he’d been copying out the poems at the kitchen table in Fontenoy Street since the rest of the family had gone to bed.

Joyce told Nora that he intended to have the sheets of parchment ‘bound in a curious way I like myself and this book will last hundreds of years.’ It seems that this ‘curious way’ would be to have his and Nora’s initials intertwined on the front cover along with the Joyce family crest, and on 10 November Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus asking him to send the family crest to him so he could give it to the binder. In order to make the book even more unique, Joyce promised to burn all other manuscript copies of his poems so that Nora would have the only one in existence.

On 22 December Joyce sent the finished book to Nora, ‘registered, express and insured,’ to reach her in time for Christmas. He told her it was the best thing he could offer her in return for her love. His idea, it seems, was that the book would outlast both of them: ‘Perhaps this book that I send you now will outlive both you and me. Perhaps the fingers of some young man or girl (our children’s children) may turn over its parchment leaves reverently when the two lovers whose initials are interlaced on the cover have long vanished from the earth.’

According to Richard Ellmann, Nora cherished this book and it remained in the family after her death.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

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