On this day…23 October

On 23 October 1922 Joyce wrote to his Aunt Josephine in Dublin.

It seems that Joyce had received a letter from Aunt Josephine a couple of weeks before in which she complained about him and his family. Joyce’s reply answered her complaints and explained what had been going on over the last few months.

It seems that Aunt Josephine’s first complaint was that she had heard that Nora, accompanied by Giorgio and Lucia, had visited Ireland but had not gone to see her. Joyce explained that he had been opposed the visit because of the growing unrest in Ireland, but Nora had wanted to see her family. Joyce told Aunt Josephine that Nora and the children had spent a night in Dublin so they could visit Joyce’s father who cursed the present state of affairs in Ireland much to the delight of the children.

After that they had gone to Galway where they got caught up in fighting between pro- and anti-Treaty forces. The rebel anti-Treaty forces took over the room where the Joyces were lodging to use it as a machine gun post, and as they were leaving Galway their train was caught for an hour in crossfire between opposing forces, and Nora and Lucia had been obliged to lie on the floor to avoid getting shot. Despite that, Joyce told his aunt that Nora was sure to visit her ‘native dunghill’ again in the future!

Another cause of annoyance for his aunt had been something to do with Ulysses, but in his reply Joyce riposted by pointing out that he had sent her a copy of the book that was worth £40 and that in years to come would be worth over £100. He points this out, he claimed, because he has heard that she has lent the book to someone and might never get it back. Whatever her complaint was, he claimed that getting a gift of a book like Ulysses is not the same thing as getting a gift of a pound of chops, and he resented the fact that she had barely acknowledged receipt of the book.

A final annoyance was that Joyce had not acknowledged his cousin Mabel’s marriage. Joyce told her that he had received a piece of wedding cake in the post at a time when his eyesight left him unable to write, and that he had asked someone else to reply and thank them for the cake. Apparently this hadn’t been done, and he apologised for that.

Continuing the theme of his poor eyesight, he told her he should not be obliged to write such long letters and that in future, if she wants to make complaints, she should address her letters to Nora. Joyce sent his reply from Nice where he had already been staying for about ten days. Years later, he claimed that it was during these weeks in Nice that he started writing what became Finnegans Wake.


Sources & Further Reading:

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.