James Joyce: 1904-1906

Joyce’s dissolute mode of life had reached an advanced stage when on 10 June, 1904, walking in Nassau Street, he was struck by the auburn hair of Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid in Finn’s Hotel at the junction with Lincoln Place. In a short conversation Joyce persuaded her to meet him outside 1 Merrion Square -the former home of Oscar Wilde’s parents-on the following evening. Joyce and Nora walked out in the neighbourhoood of the Botanical Gardens in Ballsbridge and in the privacy of that location by the Dodder she appears to have offered him the ‘a kind of satisfaction’ that filled him with ‘amazed joy’ to recollect, as he told her in a letter. Evidently he experienced relief at her knowing hands, but there was no sexual penetration-that came after, as a letter home to Stanislaus shows. In Nora, Joyce had met a girl who, though still a church-going Catholic, was free from the restraints of his own educational class in regard to sexuality, and unillusioned about men’s desires, notably those of the uncle and a local priest in Galway from whom she had fled, as she later told him. Joyce supplemented his physical and emotional passion for her with a good deal of intellectual fancy that led him to regard her as his ‘soul’ and his ‘Ireland’ - a portable Ireland, as the event would prove. He promptly told her about his religious apostasy and his general attitude of disdain towards Irish society and his contemporaries, as well as his limitless faith in his own genius. For a while he doubted her response but in the wake of an anguished letter from him on 29 August 1904 their unlikely relationship grew closer. When, in late June, the McKernans suggested to Joyce that he pay the rent or leave as they were shutting the house for holidays, he sheltered with James and Margaret Cousins in their small house at Dromard Terrace in Sandymount before moving on after two nights to stay with a medical student called Maurice O’Callaghan for one night, and then with his aunt Josephine at 103 North Strand for some nights more before taking up residence in that most eccentric domicile, the Martello Tower at Sandycove. Joyce’s sojourn there lasted from 9 to 15 September 1904. The tower (one of many gun-emplacements raised in granite along the Irish coast during the Napoleonic War) had been for the War Department at £8 per annum by Oliver St. John Gogarty - and not, as Ulysses implies, by Stephen. When Joyce arrived, Samuel Chenevix Trench, an Anglo-Irishman who had gone native to the extent of calling himself ‘Diarmuid Trench’ was lodging there. He appears to have been much as Joyce describes him in the character of Haines, down to the dream of panthers which provided Gogarty with a pretext to rattle off some shots from his .22 rifle in the main chamber of the tower. Joyce took this as his notice to quit, returning to the the Murrays at North Strand for rather more than a month before returning to the family home in Cabra at the end of September 1904. He later borrowed the rifle on a pretext of some derring-do and took it to a pawnshop. Such are the elements of the opening scene of Joyce’s epic of Dublin in 1904.

Before returning to the Murrays at North Strand - or perhaps on another evening in late September - Joyce met up with medical friends at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street as the novel relates and proceeded to the kips Montgomery Street area (‘Monto’) along with Vincent Cosgrave. There he appears to have encountered the model for Leopold Bloom who rescued him ‘orthodox Samaritan fashion’ after he had been beaten by two irritable soldiers. In Ulysses Lynch tells Bloom, ‘Get him away, you. He won’t listen to me’, causing Stephen to call out bitterly: ‘Exit Judas. Et laqueo se suspendit’ in a reference to the fate of Judas in the New Testament. The man to whom Cosgrave handed over his drunken friend was Alfred Hunter, an Ulster Presbyterian and commercial traveller living nearby on Ballybough Road who had converted to Catholicism at marriage, but was nevertheless an outsider - though not a Jew as represented in the novel. It considerably reinforced Joyce’s conception of the magical power of the written word that the model for Lynch later drowned himself in the Thames. Ironically - though Joyce never knew it - Mr. Hunter, aged sixty and living in poverty on North Great Charles Street off Mountjoy Square, died within weeks of Cosgrave in early September 1926.

Once banished from the Martello, Joyce asked James Starkey (who went by the literary pseudonym of ‘Seamus O’Sullivan’) to effect the removal of his possessions in a trunk. By the end of September, he was convinced of the hopelessness of staying on in Dublin. Besides his lack of resources and opportunities to accrue them, the strain of his passionate relationship with Nora in an unsympathetic milieu and his increasingly rocky friendships with Curran and Byrne precipitated a paranoid sense of isolation which was to be a recurring note in his dealings with Dublin acquaintances and with publishers. Once he formulated the plan of leaving he accepted Byrne’s advice to ask Nora to come with him, rather as Eveline is asked by her untrustworthy lover ‘Frank’ in the Dubliners story that bears her name. Joyce now made enquires about English-teaching posts on the continent from a Miss Gilford based in Lincolnshire. Pausing only to send Chamber Music to the English publisher Grant Richards on the day before he left, he took the mailboat with Nora from the North Wall, travelling to London by train and onwards to Paris, which they reached on 9 October 1904. There he met up with Curran, on a study-visit at the time, and borrowed money from him, leaving Nora in a park to wait for him (as he had also done during their few hours in London). He and Nora next entrained for Zürich to take up the appointment promised by Miss Gilford. On arrival there they lodged at Gasthaus Hoffnung on Reiterstrasse and that - as Joyce wrote to Nora in a letter of 1909 - was the first time they actually slept together. (To his brother he wrote, ‘Alors elle est touchée’). On reporting to the Berlitz School, Joyce found no job awaiting him and was sent onwards Trieste by the director Herr Malcrida. The Joyces - as it is just to call them though marriage came much later - arrived in the Austio-Hungarian seaport on 12 October 1904 and, finding no post there either, were redirected to the new establishment at Pola on the Istrian Peninsula in Yugoslavia. Arriving by ferry on 20 October 1904, they faced another disappointment of the same kind but luckily were saved by the Trieste director Almidano Artifoni who had authority over the new school and placed Joyce under his deputy-director Allessandro Francini in Pola. Acclimatisation was not easy. Joyce began by getting locked up when he tried to help three drunken British sailors with a language problem. The reluctance and disdain of the British consul in arranging his release alienated him from that profession. Difficulties with money were such they often moved accommodation before settling at Via Giulia 2, near the school. In spite of their initial poverty and the occasionally strain of passing as man and wife with benefit of papers, Joyce and Nora there established a domestic pattern which would characterise their family life for years to come: intense bouts of literary work on his part alternating with conviviality among colleagues; for Nora, loneliness exacerbated by her lack of languages, resulting in fits of tears, and a wide gulf of intellectual interests that cut her off from his writing and a profound if unillusioned pleasure in his company and person; again, on his side, a fascination with her ‘untrained’ mind and delight in her body, along with intermittent bouts of drunkenness when he could afford the local wine.

With 16 hours of teaching a week (remunerated at £2), Joyce managed to do much writing and reading at home. By early January 1905, when the Joyces moved to a second-storey at via Medolino 7, at the invitation of the Francini’s, he had brought Stephen Hero up to Chapter XIII and by February had reached Chapter XVIII, immersing his alter ego in events at UCD identical to those that he himself had experienced five years before. (Stanislaus received a parcel of manuscript for strictly limited circulation among relatives in mid-January 1905.) New poems were also added to the collection that would appear as Chamber Music while, he read George Moore, Henry James and Strauss’s Vie de Jèsu among many other works. In November he penned the carefully meditated aesthetic entries of the “Pola Notebook” in which turns St. Thomas’s sentences bonum est quod tendit appetitus and pulchra sunt quae visa placent into an ingenious account of the ‘act of apprehension’ (that is, perception), while dismantling the conventional distinction between aesthetically ‘beautiful’ and the aesthetically ‘ugly’ in the light of his belief that anything which is distinctly perceived in its ‘whatness’ affords ‘aesthetic satisfaction’ and to that extent satisfies the scholastic definition of the beautiful. He also had “The Holy Office” printed for circulation in Dublin but was unfortunately unable to pay for it at this time, returning successfully to the plan the following summer. His friendship with Francini flourished to the extent that they embarked together on a translation of George Moore’s Celibates in autumn 1905 while Francini taught Joyce his superior Tuscan in place of the classical Italian that Joyce had learnt from Dante (as he put it). Shortly after he had broached the idea of Stanislaus joining him in Pola in a letter, his own sojourn in that ‘queer old place’ was abruptly terminated when the Austrian authorities imposed an immediate expulsion order on all aliens in response to the discovery of an Italian spy-ring in the city. Fortunately Artifoni was in a position to offer Joyce work at the Berlitz school in Trieste where, on arriving, he found accommodation at Piazza Ponterosso 3, remaining there until the landlady discerned that Nora was pregnant a month later, and request them to leave. They then settled at 31 via San Nicolò, next door to Scuola Berlitz and it was at this address that their son Giorgio was born.

Joyce’s popularity as a teacher inclined him to consider setting up privately with his best students but that was debarred by the Berlitz rules. As before in Pola, he now had much time to write and produced more nine stories for the Dubliners collection as well as a spate of letters to Stanislaus closely describing his life with Nora, his growing affinity with irredentism and socialism, his reading and literary progress - all scrupulously preserved by his brother. He was flush enough in June to have “The Holy Office” printed once again for distribution by Stanislaus in Dublin. The birth of Giorgio on 25 July 1905 brought domestic strains obliquely reflected in “A Little Cloud”, but the ‘legal fiction’ of paternity released in Joyce a new consciousness of self which would lead inevitably to the abandonment of the Dedalian persona and the adoption of a mentality more like that of Leopold Bloom. Giorgio was deceptively entered as ‘legittimi’ when a year old, the prescribed time for registration of births in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Not long after the delivery of her first child, Nora found herself taking in laundry while Joyce began to fall into drinking ways again, purportedly as a form of contraception. In this climate of increasing hardship, he embarked on a series of money-making schemes including a plan to extract Nora’s share of her grandmother’s legacy from her family in Galway, a concerted effort to win a multi-part puzzle contest in the London magazine Ideas, and a new attempt to make a living as a singer involving lessons with a Triestino teacher and composer Giuseppe Sinico (who remained unpaid and unwittingly bestowed his name on the tragic central figure of “A Painful Case” in Dubliners). In October the plan to bring Stanislaus to Trieste as a family support came to fruition. The tension that would inform the arrangement throughout its duration was apparent from the moment they met at the station when Joyce announced that he was broke and demanded the change from Stanislaus’s travel funds which he had ingeniously provided in instalments at the various way-stations on the journey. (Artifoni, his brother’s prospective employer, was the source of the money in the form of an ‘advance’.) In the years ahead the Joyces kept a strangely Irish household of two brothers and a wife, Stanislaus acting as his ‘brother’s keeper’ at endless sacrifice to himself until separated by the First World War, after which he turned into a resentful memorialist of this time of parti-servitude to literary genius in which he was content to be his brother’s ‘whetstone’ (as Joyce called him). In February 1906, the Joyce menage removed to an apartment at via Giovanni Boccaccio on the outskirts of the city, this time moving in with the Francinis, by then established in Trieste as well.

By the end of 1905, Joyce had completed nine short stories in addition to the three already published in The Irish Homestead and since revised - notably “Eveline” which greatly profited by familiarity with the mind and idiom of Nora. On 3 December 1905 he sent twelves stories to the English publisher Grant Richard who agreed to publish them as a collection in a letter of 17 February 1906, thus setting in motion an eight-year saga which Joyce later described as the ‘fiasco’ of Dubliners. Encouraged by the publisher’s undertaking, he quickly added two more stories, “Two Gallants” and “A Little Cloud”, while carefully revising “A Painful Case” and “After the Race”. On 23 April Richard wrote to say that his printer had red-pencilled the epithet ‘bloody’ in “Two Gallants”, and in ensuing exchanges further objectionable passages were noted including aspersions on the Prince of Wales and - more likely to offend the censor - sado-masochistic hints in “An Encounter”. Richards seems to have read this story with fresh eyes before revoking the agreement in September 1906. In letters to the publisher that summer, Joyce took the opportunity to vindicate his stories as a ‘first step towards the spiritual liberation of [his] country’ (20 May 1906), adverting to the civilising effect of the ‘nicely-polished mirror’ in which he had protrayed the ‘centre of paralysis’ that was Dublin. In the same spirit he disowned responsibility for the ‘odour of ashpits and rotting cabbages’ which hung about his stories on the grounds that no true artist dares ‘alter in the presentment what he has seen or heard’ (5 May 1906) while condemning the censorship laws of England. On 19 October 1906, Richards - who had recently re-establishd himself after bankruptcy - regretfully confirmed his decision not to proceed. In the interim, Joyce engaged an international lawyer who drew a blank from the Society of Authors on his account. Writing to inform Arthur Symons of Richards’ breach of contract, he was encouraged to submit his poetry collection to Elkin Mathews, as he did in early October 1906. Meanwhile, at the Berlitz School, Artifoni was obliged to tell his English teachers that there were no funds to support summer teaching as a result of embezzlement by his office manager Bertelli. After gleaning references from friends including his father’s friend Tim Harrington and his pupil Roberto Prezioso, the editor of Il Piccolo della Sera, Joyce applied successfully for a post in the international banking-house of Nast Kolb and Schumacher based in Rome. Abandoning their furniture to repossession and Stanislaus to his fate in Trieste, the Joyce’s reached Rome via Ancona on 1 August 1906, remaining there for a fraught seven months that would tax his resources, nerves, and marriage more than any other period of his self-styled ‘exile’ so far.
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