On this day…25 December

On 25 December 1940 Joyce spent his last Christmas in Zurich.

The Joyces had finally arrived in Zurich on 17 January 1940 on the last leg of their journey from France. They spent Christmas Day with Carola Giedion-Welcker and her husband.

As Christmas approached, Joyce bought his grandson Stephen a small artificial Christmas tree with artificial snow on it. On Christmas Day they went to celebrate at the Giedions’ house at 7 Doldertal. Joyce sat at the head of the table wearing the waistcoat embroidered with the heads of dogs and stags that he had inherited from his great grand-father and that he wore only on special occasions.

Joyce and his son sang some secular and religious songs in Irish and Latin, and they listened to a recording of John McCormack singing ‘Moon of My Delight’ from the Rogers and Hart musical Chee Chee. According to Carola Giedion-Welcker, ‘It was a gentle song, dreamy and twi-lit, reminiscent of Joyce’s early lyrics.’ It was also one of Joyce’s favourites and he had given her this recording of it some years before.

Joyce invited them to a restaurant on Kreuzplatz where, according to Giedion-Welcker, ‘in this rustic wood-paneled room the old wanderer, sitting in front of a carafe of golden Fendant, seemed to inhale Swiss stability from the locale and climate, while outside was the chaos of world events.’

In thinking on this Swiss peacefulness and security, Joyce turned his attention sarcastically to the Swiss preoccupation with cleanliness and orderliness, which he associated with a certain self-complacency. As if to put an end to the subject, Joyce declared, ‘You have no idea how wonderful dirt is.’ By this time they were already standing in the street. Giedion-Welcker wrote afterwards: ‘These strangely burlesque words were the last that I heard directly from him. Already they issued like a murmur out of the darkness.’


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Giedion-Welcker, Carola: ‘Meetings with Joyce,’ in Portraits of the Artist in Exile – Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, edited by Willard Potts, Dublin: Wolfhound Press in association with University of Washington Press, Seattle: 1979.