On 6 August 1909 Vincent Cosgrave told Joyce he had been seeing Nora in the summer of 1904.
Devastated by Cosgrave’s claims, and feeling that Nora had betrayed him, Joyce wrote to her just an hour after Cosgrave made his announcement. Joyce, who was supposed to be going to Galway with his son Giorgio, wrote that he was not going after all, and that he was giving up what he had come to Dublin to do.
Joyce claimed that while he had been honest with her, telling her frankly about his sexual life, she had not been honest with him. During the summer of 1904, Joyce had only been able to go out with Nora on certain nights; on the other nights, she claimed she was working at the hotel. Now, Cosgrave claimed that on those nights, Nora was going out with him.
According to Nora’s biographer Brenda Maddox, Cosgrave, of all Joyce’s friends, was closest to Nora. Joyce didn’t even mention Cosgrave’s name in the letter of 6 August, perhaps because he felt he didn’t need to, that it was obvious who was meant. Apparently, Cosgrave was the only one who called her by her first name, and Cosgrave and Nora had kept up a correspondence after she left Dublin with Joyce in 1904. Cosgrave had even tried to persuade Nora not to elope with Joyce. The fact that Nora and Cosgrave were close meant that everything Cosgrave now told Joyce had a ring of truth about it.
Cosgrave’s claims were added to by Joyce’s own imagination. Cosgrave claimed he used to meet Nora outside the Museum and that they went along the canal and down the bank of the Dodder. There he would put his arms around her and she would lift up her face and kiss him. But Joyce imagined Cosgrave walking the same streets he had walked with her, visiting the same places and doing the same things that he had done with Nora. In his imagination, Joyce could now only see Nora’s face lifted up to Cosgrave’s.
Feeling betrayed by the only person he believed in, he asked Nora to have pity on him in his sad and bitter state, and he implored her repeatedly to write to him. Then at 6:30 on the morning of 7 August, Joyce wrote to her again. Unable to sleep, he now wondered if Giorgio was his son or someone else’s, and he imagined that all of Dublin had been laughing at him as he went about parading “his” son. He ended by saying that he would leave for Trieste as soon as Stanislaus sent on the money, and then they will decide what to do.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Maddox, Brenda: Nora – A Biography of Nora Joyce, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.