On this day…24 May

On 24 May 1924 Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver complaining about the conditions in which he was trying to write.

One of the main problems was with accommodation. The Joyces had lived in a furnished flat at 26 Avenue Charles Floquet, Paris, from November 1922 until June 1923 when Joyce left to holiday in Bognor. Giorgio was left behind in Paris to find a new apartment but had found nothing by the time Joyce returned in August. They then stayed at the Victoria Palace Hôtel at 6 rue Blaise Desgoffe until they moved into an apartment at 8 Avenue Charles Floquet in October 1924.

In May 1924, Joyce was working on the ‘Shaun the post’ episode of Finnegans Wake which he describes to Weaver as being a kind of stations of the cross of Shaun the postman as he goes back over the events already recounted. Joyce had started this episode in March 1924 and continued working on it for the rest of the year. However, in May the hotel became impossible to work in.

According to Joyce in his letter to Weaver, the weather had become very hot and the hotel’s residents opened their windows into the courtyard and began chatting and shouting in many languages. Loudest of all were two American ladies who held loud discussions about self-consciousness! With the heat and all of this disruption Joyce found that his memory, his attention, and his already troublesome eyesight quickly worsened.

After enduring the disruption for four days, Joyce decided he couldn’t work any longer in such conditions. Figuring that if the manuscripts and other materials were at hand he would keep trying to write on, he went out and bought a suitcase and packed everything up. He phoned Sylvia Beach and had her come to the hotel to collect everything and take it away.

He told Weaver that he needed a study of his own with all the necessary materials close at hand, otherwise the work would be impossible. He complained that Nora too was suffering from her nerves and that he would like to go away – but he thought it would be useless to go anywhere until he had somewhere to come back to.

Finishing the letter, he tells Weaver that he is going to go out for a walk to get some fresh air: fresh air full of dust, tar, benzene, and noise!


Sources & Further Reading:

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