On this day…27 October

On 27 October 1909 Joyce wrote to Nora of his love for her and his loathing for Ireland.

Joyce, back in Dublin to open the Volta cinema, wrote to tell Nora how much he loved her and missed her, but also told her how much he hates Ireland and the Irish.

Joyce had arrived back in Dublin on 21 October with a commission from a group of Triestine businessmen to open the first cinema in Dublin. After a week at home, living with his family at 44 Fontenoy Street, his sense of estrangement had returned along with his contempt for Ireland.

Joyce’s letter to Nora on 27 October starts out as a love letter in which he declared how much he missed her and how much he loved her. He then went on to mention that he had been to the theatre with his father and sister but that it had been a wretched play and the audience had been disgusting.

He went on to complain that he felt like a stranger in his own country, and claimed that he always felt like that. This sense of alienation was an essential component of Joyce’s view of the artist as someone standing outside and above society but who, from that vantage point, could better see society, and this ‘outsider’s’ view becomes an important element in of Joyce’s fiction. In the letter, Joyce told Nora that he was glad that their son would always be a foreigner in Ireland, alien to both its language and its traditions.

In declaring his loathing for Ireland and the Irish in this letter, Joyce wondered if he would feel different about it if Nora was there with him. But he added to this by wondering if she too might be against him. He reminded her of an incident in Trieste when, passing a priest on the street, he asked her if she felt disgusted or repulsed by priests and she answered that she didn’t. Hurt by this answer, he now asks her again if she is secretly against him.

Joyce’s misgivings about Nora in this letter seem to be aimed at arousing her sympathy, and Joyce went on to tell Nora how much he loved her and that his love was really a form of adoration. To finish, he said he wanted her to improve her health by eating more and by drinking more cocoa. He told her he was sending pattern books and several yards of Donegal tweed, and that he was looking for a set of furs for her as he would like to smother her in furs and dresses and cloaks!


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.