On this day…22 November

On 22 November 1902 Joyce wrote to Lady Gregory about his plans.

Only a week after he’d met Lady Gregory to discuss his future, Joyce wrote to her at Coole Park to say that he had decided to go to Paris to study medicine and to ask for her assistance.

Joyce had dined with Lady Gregory on 4 November, and met her again on 14 November when he discussed his future with her. Now on 22 November, Joyce had resolved to leave Ireland and go to Paris, and he wrote to Lady Gregory to ask for her assistance.

In his four-page letter, Joyce told Lady Gregory that he had broken off his medical studies in Ireland, claiming that the college authorities were determined to keep him from studying medicine and gaining ‘a position of ease’ from which he could speak his heart. Joyce was unable to pay his college fees and claimed he was being denied tutoring and other posts that might have given him an income and allowed him to continue his studies.

Joyce’s interest in medicine and becoming a doctor seems to have had little to do either with an interest in a career as a doctor or with an ability or enthusiasm for medical science. In the letter he says that he wants a degree in medicine ‘for then I can build up my work securely,’ that is, that medicine will offer him a position of ease and security from which he could undertake his writing.

Joyce told Gregory that he had decided to go to Paris to study medicine and to support himself by teaching English at the same time. In asking her for any assistance she could provide, he paints a vivid picture of himself going ‘alone and friendless’ into a country he doesn’t know and where he has no contacts, saying that, however bad it might be, Paris could not be any worse than Dublin. That said, he told her he was not in the least bit despondent, and if the Paris experiment failed, it would prove nothing.

He provided her with the details of his itinerary, saying that he planned to leave on Monday 1 December via London for Newhaven. He ended his letter by saying that he was being driven out of his country like a misbeliever, and yet he knew no one who had his strength of faith, meaning the strength of his own faith in himself.

For some time, the only known copy of this letter was a typewritten copy made by Lady Gregory and found among papers belonging to WB Yeats. The original surfaced again among papers in the estate of Lady Gregory’s son and was sold in 1982. The letter came up for sale again at Sotheby’s in 2013. One of the curiosities of the letter is that it is written on mourning stationery, with a heavy black border on the envelope and the first page of the letter.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1957.


An image of the letter can be seen on the Sotheby’s website here.