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Thinking God Knows What: James Joyce and Trieste

JamesJoyceTriesteJanuary 15, 1941 dawned as a bleak, cold, snow day in Zurich, Switzerland. A scantily attended funeral procession made its way from the Fluntern Cemetery chapel to the burial plot. In the chapel, the few attending dignitaries had made their funeral speeches: Lord Derwent, the British Minister at the Legation in Zurich, University of Zurich English professor Heinrich Straumann, poet Max Geilinger, and Swiss tenor Max Meili, who sang the aria Addio terra, addio ciel (Goodbye earth, goodbye sky) from Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. As the deceased had not liked flowers, there were none – only a green plant and a wreath with a lyre, the symbol of Ireland woven into it. When the coffin holding the earthly remains of Irish novelist James Joyce was being lowered into the grave, his wife Nora stretched out her arms to say goodbye; an old man going by asked the undertaker who was being buried and was told “Herr Joyce.” The man was a little deaf and asked again. The undertaker shouted: “Herr Joyce!

Ireland, where James was born, was not represented at the funeral. Irish president Eamon de Valera, after inquiring whether Joyce had died a Catholic and being informed to the contrary, had ordered that no Irish diplomatic official be present.

Ironically, in May 2002 the granddaughter of the late President de Valera, Irish Minister of Arts and Heritage Síle de Valera stepped off the government jet in Dublin carrying a suitcase containing about 500 pages of Joyce’s original early drafts of parts of Ulysses and some of the corrected proofs of Finnegans Wake. The Irish Government had purchased the papers in Paris from Alexis Leon, whose father Paul had rescued them from the Joyce apartment in Paris, where they were in danger of being auctioned off by the landlord who had not been paid before the Joyces left Paris for Zurich, or in peril of being looted by the occupying Nazis. The papers for which the government had paid €12.6 million (about $15.5 million), were destined to the Irish National Library and the proud minister, on stepping on Irish soil, declared that the return of the papers home was a “monumental event in Ireland’s literary and cultural history.”

Joyce had abandoned his beloved Dublin for Paris first, then for Zurich, where he had been promised a language instructor position. When this mirage evaporated, he went to Trieste, and from there to Pola (now Pula, Croatia), where he taught English at the local branch of the Berlitz Language School. Joyce, who was accompanied by his lover Nora Barnacle, did not stay long in Pola, but returned to Trieste, a larger more cosmopolitan city and the major port for the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. He lived there from 1904 to 1915, returning briefly in 1919-20, after the end of World War I.

Joyce’s affinity with Italy and Italian went back to 1894, when he was twelve and required proficiency in a third foreign language for admission to Dublin’s Belvedere College. He already knew French and Latin, and as he later wrote to a friend, “ My father wanted me to take Greek, my mother German, and my friends Irish. Result I took Italian.” At University College, he continued his study of Italian and of Dante and D’Annunzio with Father Carlo Ghezzi and became known to his friends as “Dublin’s Dante.” Although at one point he was in danger of flunking his Italian exams, his intimate knowledge of the works of Gabriele D’Annunzio impressed his examiners and he passed with high grades.

Even before graduating from University College, Joyce decided he wanted to be a doctor and in April 1902 registered to attend medical school in Dublin. In October 1902, he began medical studies and met poet and dramatist Yeats, who recognized the younger man’s literary talent and recommended his writing to several literary reivews. Irish Dramatist Isabella Augusta Persse, known as Lady Gregory also helped him both with money, encouragement, and advice.

Medical school in Dublin did not appeal to Joyce. He decided to go to school in Paris and, with money provided by friends and acquaintances, he left Ireland in December 1902. Although he had applied for admission to medical school in Paris, he had left Dublin before he knew whether he had been admitted and spent a month there before returning to Dublin for the holidays. On January 13, 1903 he took off again for Paris, where he had been provisionally admitted to medical school. However, he had again changed his mind and spent time in literary pursuits, attending the opera, and engaging in discussions in the many cafés. While in Paris, he also became acquainted with fellow Irish protégés of Yeats, poet and playwright John Millington Singe and critic and poet Arthur W. Symons.

In April 1903, he received a telegram from his father that his mother was seriously sick with cancer, and he left Paris and hastened back to Dublin. His mother got progressively worse and died on August 13,1903.

In 1904, with the assistance of poet and editor George W. Russell, Joyce placed three stories, later to appear in Dubliners, in the Irish Homestead; he was, however getting discouraged with what he considered the small-town atmosphere of Dublin and started thinking about going abroad. Through a Mrs. Gilford, whom he had paid to start a job search on his behalf, he was told that the Berlitz School of Languages had vacancies both in London and in Amsterdam, but he was not interested in jobs in those cities. He really wanted to return to Paris, and started pestering his various supporters for money for the fare. Mrs. Gilford then informed him that she had located another language teacher opening in Zurich and on October 6, he and Nora started on their adventure. They did not embark on the boat going to England together, and only a few friends but no one in their respective families knew they were eloping.

ulyssesjamesjoyceFrom London, they proceeded to Paris and again Joyce called on acquaintances for money to get to Zurich, where they arrived on October 11. Alas, the Berlitz School had no openings, but its director thought an opening was available in Trieste, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Joyce and Nora were thus again on the move and, after getting off the train in Ljubljana (Slovenia) by mistake, reboarded it and arrived in Trieste on the night of October 20, 1904. Leaving Nora on a bench in the square facing the train station, Joyce went to seek temporary lodgings but did not return until morning. While scouting for a pensione, he met three drunken English sailors who were getting arrested for disorderly conduct, tried to intercede and translate on their behalf and ended up in jail with them until the British consul, highly suspicious of Joyce’s story, got him released. Joyce biographer John McCourt writes:

… as soon as he was released Joyce hurried back to a worried Nora, whom he had left alone and penniless with their paltry luggage in a strange park in a foreign city where few people would have understood a word she said. The only thing that might have cheered her was the pleasant weather: the temperature was a balmy twenty degrees by lunchtime. Together they set off and found accommodation in the Hotel Central where they spent a few nights before moving to a room on the Piazza Ponterosso…

When Joyce checked at the Berlitz School, the deputy director Giuseppe Bertelli informed him that they had no openings, but that the owner of the school Almidano Artifoni (Joyce later gave Artifoni’s name to Stephen’s voice teacher in Ulysses) was opening a new Berlitz school in the city of Pola and might have a position for him there. Pola, a city 58 miles to the east of Trieste on the Istrian peninsula was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s main naval base. When Artifoni returned from Pola, he interviewed Joyce and offered him a position in the new school he was opening. He then set off again for Pola, and put an advertisement in Il Giornaletto di Pola, announcing the arrival of the new college graduate, native speaker, teacher of English.

James Joyce and Nora Barnacle on the day of their marriage in 1931James Joyce and Nora Barnacle arrived in Pola on October 31, 1904. The school, which had about 200 students, the great majority naval officers, was located adjacent to the ancient Roman city gate, the Porta Aurea. Joyce and Nora lodged in a flat across from the school.

In January 1905, they moved to a better apartment above that of the Pola school director, Alessandro Francini Bruni. Bruni, who was from Siena, taught Joyce Italian and German, while Joyce helped him improve his English. In their spare time the two also started to translate into Italian an excerpt from Celibate, a work by Irish writer George Moore.

Joyce did not like living in Pola and, perhaps due to the fact that the winter of 1904-05 was very cold, called the city, “a naval Siberia.” Nora agreed with him and referred to Pola as “a queer old place… a back-of-God-speed-place.” Nevertheless, because apart from teaching and working on his relationship with Nora, he had no other diversions, Joyce had time to write a number of short stories.

Their stay in Pola was comparatively short. The Austrian authorities had apparently discovered a spy ring in the city and decided to expel all foreigners. This may not have been the real reason for Joyce’s departure back to Trieste, as it is likely that Artifoni wanted him back to attract more students to the larger Trieste school. In any case, James and Nora left Pola and arrived back in Trieste on March 5, 1905.

Settling in Trieste, always short of money, Joyce was a sought-after English teacher and his students, some of whom he taught individually, included prominent personalities such as Count Francesco Sordina, the director of public transport in Trieste and a fencing master, Baron Ambrogio di Stefano Ralli, the majority stockholder in an insurance company, and Baron Leonidas Andreas Economo. He apparently also taught English to some prominent persons’ wives and daughters, who found the lanky bespectacled Irishman attractive.

On June 26 1905, Nora gave birth to a son, whom the couple named Giorgio Joyce. In October, Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus urging him to join his household in Trieste, where he had secured a position for him as teacher of English at the Berlitz School. In the letter he told him that the school’s owner, Artifoni, “is very friendly with me because one of my pupils Count Sordina has praised me very highly and brought several real live ladies and gentlemen of his acquaintance to the school.” James was also hoping that his brother’s earnings would help in the running of the household.

Stanislaus moved to Trieste toward the end of October, got the teaching job, and lived with James and Nora for close to two years. He also became “his brother’s keeper,” often going out at night to bring him back home in a drunken stupor and helping him when he got into financial difficulties – which was all the time, since James spent money he often did not have on things he did not need. Although the faithful Nora waited home with the child, Joyce was out and about often, visiting bars and frequenting brothels bearing such names as “The Golden Key” and ” The Cubic Meter.”

Stanislaus was not as well educated as James, and he often disagreed with his brother and with Nora, but the brothers shared a common literary philosophy and James frequently used Stanislaus to test his ideas and critique his writing. Stanislaus wrote in his memoirs, “It seems to me little short of a miracle that anyone should have striven to cultivate poetry or cared to get in touch with the current of European thought while living in a household such as ours, typical as it was of the squalor of a drunken generation. Some inner purpose transfigured him.”

On December 28, 1914, the Austrian police arrested Stanislaus as an Italian sympathizer and interned him near Linz. He returned to Trieste when he was released at end of World War I and in 1920 started teaching in the Superior School of Commerce; when this entity became part of the University of Trieste, he continued to teach as a non-tenured professor of English. In 1941, he moved temporarily to Florence but then returned to Trieste, where he died and is buried. He wrote several books: Recollections of James Joyce (1950), My Brother’s Keeper (1957), and Dublin Diary (1962).

Although Joyce liked living in Trieste, he thought that his pay at the school was not commensurate with his work, and he started to look for another job. He had completed his book of short stories, Dubliners, but was having problems with his Irish publisher, who demanded editorial changes and excisions he was not willing to make. Additionally, the Berlitz School deputy director absconded with some of the school’s funds, and Artifoni informed the Joyce brothers that during the slow summer months he would have to let one of them go.

finneganswakeThus, James decided to move on. In May, he applied for a position at the Nast-Kolb and Schumacher Bank in Rome and was hired on a trial basis for $62.50 a month. He, Nora, and Giorgio arrived in Rome on July 31, 1906 and found lodgings in a house in Via Frattina, near the Spanish steps. Rome was not to his liking, and he wrote to his brother, “Rome reminds me of a man who lives exhibiting to travelers his grandmother’s corpse.”

The job was boring and a dead end. Working in the correspondence department, he was expected to write about 250 letters a day, but things got a little better when he was transferred to the reception desk and dealt with customers. The bank paid him the salary once a month and right from the first month the improvident Joyce was out of money within two weeks. Picturing himself, Nora, and Giorgio starving, he finagled a loan from the British consul; he also got a part-time job teaching English, which left him no time to write at all.

In March 1907, less than nine months after he had left Trieste to seek fame and fortune in Rome, he was back there, admitting that his Roman interlude had been a “coglioneria” (a load of balls – a stupid move). In July 1907, Nora gave birth to their second child, Lucia Anna Joyce in the charity ward of Trieste’s Ospedale Maggiore. As Joyce was still ill with a bout of rheumatic fever caught in Rome, Stanislaus had to provide for James’ family.

While Nora adored Giorgio, an easy and adaptable baby, she cared less for Lucia, who was often sick and born with strabismus (cross-eyed), a condition Nora had but which was more noticeable in Lucia. While James loved the little girl, the family’s life was, to say the least, disordered; they kept getting evicted from place to place for not being able to pay the rent. By the time Lucia was seven, the family had moved five times, and by age 13 she had lived in three different countries: the Austrian Hungarian Empire (Trieste), Switzerland (Zurich), and France (Paris)! Her formal education appeared to have suffered, and a friend of the family described her, when she was in her twenties, as “illiterate in three languages.”

In Trieste, the perennially broke and spendthrift Joyce tried to earn more money by engaging in several dubious endeavors. One of these was working as a journalist for the newspaper Il Piccolo. The newspaper acting editor, a student of English with Joyce, was Roberto Prezioso, who suggested that Joyce write a series of articles on Irish topics. Joyce accepted, contributing articles from time to time, particularly when in 1909 he visited Ireland with his son Giorgio and was able to use calling cards indicating he was a newspaper correspondent from the Trieste paper to get gratuities, such as train tickets to go to Galway to meet Nora’s family for the first time. Silvio Benco, a journalist at Il Piccolo who was tasked to proof Joyce’s articles, written in Italian, stated later that the Irish writer’s Italian was almost perfect. Benco would later review favorably some of Joyce books and promote them in Italy.

Prezioso’s support for Joyce came to an end in 1911-12, when Prezioso, a married, suave man who is said to have been attractive to women, started to pay afternoon visits to Nora and at one point paid her the compliment, “Il sole si e` levato per Lei” (The sun has risen for you.) Nora, who rebuffed Prezioso’s advances, reported the matter to Joyce, who confronted and chastised the editor on the street, reducing him to tears of humiliation.

When he returned to Trieste in early September, Joyce took his sister Eva Joyce back with him, so that she could assist Nora in the household. Eva did not take either to Trieste, or to her sister in law, and in July 1911 returned to Dublin.

Another of Joyce’s failed moneymaking enterprises was to become a movie house tycoon in Dublin, going into business with Giuseppe Caris, a draper, Giovanni Rebez, a leather merchant, Antonio Machnich, an upholsterer, and one Francesco Novak, a bicycle mechanic who was the only one with technical skills to understand cinematography. The four ran two movie houses in Trieste, one named the Americano, and the other called Edison. They had also partnered to open a movie house in Bucharest, Romania, the Volta, and were looking for other opportunities in cities where no movie theaters existed.

A lawyer who was a pupil of Joyce then arranged a meeting with the budding cinema tycoons, and Joyce at their first meeting told them, “I know of a city of 500,000 inhabitants where there is not a single cinema.” He then pulled out a Joycetattered map of Ireland from his coat, laid it down on a table and pointed the cities of Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. None had yet a cinema and as Joyce asserted, “They’re all panting to see animated pictures.”

Suitably impressed, the entrepreneurs appointed Joyce their Irish agent, agreeing to pay him 10% of all monies made from the prospective Irish enterprise, and to give him an allowance of 10 Austrian crowns a day for expenses while he set up the operation in Dublin. After the parties signed a contract, on October 21, 1909, Joyce returned to Dublin. There he rented a building, hired an electrician, bought benches and chairs, hired staff, and obtained a temporary permit to operate a theater.

On November 19, two of the Italian partners arrived from Trieste to work out final details and to scout sites in Belfast and Cork, and by December 20, the cinema opened. Initially, the operation was successful and was run by Novak who had come from Trieste for this purpose. Soon, however the novelty wore off, attendance dwindled, and the operation was then sold at a loss in July 1910 to a British company. Thus, apart from his expenses while he was in Ireland, Joyce made no money from the venture.

While he had been in Ireland, two additional bright ideas occurred to him; one was to import skyrockets from Ireland to Trieste, a plan he soon abandoned as their transport was too dangerous; the other was to become the Trieste agent for Irish tweeds for the Dublin Woollen Company. He signed a contract to that effect, but very few tweeds saw the light of Trieste.

Going back to Trieste in February 1910, Joyce brought his sister Eileen with him.

Unlike her sister Eva, Eileen Joyce liked living in Trieste and wrote: “It was a new life opening out… those were the happiest years in my life… I did most of the housekeeping… they were an awfully happy couple…. Jim was so devoted to her… they had their rows of course… she was always at him to teach more and spend less time at the silly writing”. In 1913, Eileen met in Trieste a bank cashier from Prague, Frantisek Schaurek. The two got married in April 1914 and moved to Prague, where they spent the war years. Eileen returned to Trieste with her family in 1918 and became a widow in 1927, when her husband committed suicide.

Returning from his 1909-10 trip to Ireland, Joyce went back to teaching at the Berlitz School, kept putting off creditors, and turned borrowing money and being a chiseler into an art form. He also made a stab at augmenting his meager income by taking private students of English and by giving a public series of lectures on Shakespeare’s Hamlet in November 1912- February 1913.

On their conclusion, on February 11, 1913 Il Piccolo reported: “Yesterday evening, Dr. James Joyce concluded his cycle of lectures in English on Hamlet. The hall was crowded for all of the twelve lectures. It was apparent that the English colony was quite poorly represented and so the assiduous attendance was firstly a tribute to the lecturer but also to his Italian audience who were capable of following this anything-but-easy text…”

In early 1913 Joyce had also found new employment as a professor of English at the local business college, the Revoltella. He kept this job until the family left Trieste in 1915, and resumed employment there when he returned to the city in 1919. His brother Stanislaus also got a position at the Revoltella in 1921 and taught there until 1955. Teaching one hour a day was not strenuous and left him plenty of time for writing and giving private English lessons to many of Trieste’s elite, from whom he often also borrowed money. While in Trieste, Joyce moved many times, unable to pay the rent since his income was meager and he spent a lot of money dining out, drinking to excess, and making extravagant purchases. The family was always in debt, borrowing from students and friends, and Nora was forced to take in laundry and ironing to augment the money he brought in.

The Trieste in which Joyce lived was a cosmopolitan Austrian imperial port in which ethnic communities of Italians, Slavs, and Austrians intermingled, mixed with a sprinkling of a wealthy Jewish intellectual and business class, a declining empire that produced great art and literature, from Mozart to Beethoven and Richard Strauss, to Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Klimt, Mahler, and many others. Although not a big city, Trieste was intellectually challenging, a melting pot of peoples and cultures, and a cauldron for the incubation of new ideas. University of Bologna professor Rosa Maria Bosinelli has written:

The intellectual climate of the city was particularly invigorating. Trieste was situated at a kind of cultural and linguistic crossroad of three civilizations and three great cultural traditions – the Mediterranean-Latin, the Slavonic and the Germanic. This Southern tip of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was thus a melting pot of the mid-European and Mediterranean cultures. In Joyce’s Trieste Freud’s work and psychoanalytical theory were discussed animatedly. Whilst in Italy Freud’s ideas met with considerable opposition, both in their scientific and cultural implications, in Trieste they took root with relative ease, on account of the particular social and political configuration of the city. As there was no local university, Triestine culture in those days gravitated, on the one hand, towards Vienna, where the majority of doctors, lawyers and scientists went for their studies, and, on the other hand, towards Florence, a centre for students of the arts.

Trieste had also another attraction for Joyce. As Leopold Bloom, his main character in Ulysses, says, “Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub”; the same thing applied to his new city. Trieste then had about 600 wine and beer bars and small restaurants, and Joyce frequented many of them picking up the Triestine dialect from dublinerscommon folks he met in them. These populist venues were the kind of places most of his students, the cultured and wealthy intelligentsia of Trieste, would not be caught dead visiting. These were the kind of places where he often got drunk and had to be dragged home in the wee hours by his brother Stanislaus or his friend Alessandro Francini Bruni. Although at times he railed against Trieste, in time he got to love the city, and in September 1909, writing to Nora from Dublin, said: “La nostra bella Trieste! I have often said that angrily but tonight I feel it true. I long to see the lights twinkling along the Riva as the train passes Miramar. After all, Nora, it is the city which has sheltered us. I came back to it jaded and moneyless after my folly in Rome and [will]now again after this absence.”

Again, in December 1909, still in Dublin, he wrote: “Oh how I shall enjoy the journey back! Every station will be bringing me nearer to my soul’s peace. O how I shall feel when I see the castle of Miramar among the trees and the long yellow quays of Trieste! Why is it I am destined to look so many times in my life with my eyes of longing on Trieste?”

Joyce, who was a gifted linguist and a keen observer, absorbed the linguistic variety and cultural variances, the feeling of exile and the searing pain of loneliness, the xenophobia and the anti-Semitism he saw in Trieste daily and incorporated them in his works. Thus although Ulysses was finished and published in Paris, it is as much the product of the culture of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire than of Irish culture. Ireland may be the locale and the characters may bear Irish names, but Trieste is as much part of it as anything. While living in Trieste Joyce wrote most of Dubliners, all of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, some episodes of Ulysses, as well as Giacomo Joyce, a novel whose locale was in Trieste.

While each one of Joyce’s books, right to his last one, Finnegans Wake, are very different from each other in style, they share a commonality in depicting some traits of Joyce’s personality and values: pride in himself and the Irish conscience he expressed in his work, contempt for others whom he believed were inferior to him in either intellect or artistic sensibility, and ambition, the quality which drove him on during the exile years of near starvation, spurring him to continue writing, editing, elaborating, polishing until he was perfectly satisfied with his creations.

Finally, in June 1914, Joyce collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published. Because of its realistic and sometimes uncomplimentary picture of Dublin, it had been a hard sell and, as Joyce put it, it took “nine years of my life.” He had wanted to describe reality as he saw it and have the Irish take, “one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass,” continuing that he was not to be blamed if, “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories.”

During this time, Ezra Pound, who was always on the lookout for new literary sensations, got in touch with Joyce and started to organize financial subsidies so that Joyce could keep writing. From London, where he was foreign editor of several U.S. literary publications, Pound had helped T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, as well as Ernest Hemingway. “He defends [his friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. He loans them money. … He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying … he advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide…” wrote Hemingway (ironically enough) of Pound in 1925.

With the beginning of World War I, Joyce’s British nationality made him the citizen of a hostile power and when Italy in May 1915 entered the war against Austria- Hungary, Joyce thought it would be safer to leave Austrian Trieste. With the assistance of Baron Ralli and Count Sordina, he secured permission from the Austrian authorities and at the end of June 1915, about five weeks after the start of hostilities between Italy and Austria, the family was in Zurich, Switzerland. The cataclysmic events of World War I, turning the old world of the European continent upside down during the next three years, did not appear to have affected Joyce either personally or intellectually.

From June 1915 to October 1919 Joyce, Nora, and their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, lived in Zurich, where life was less hectic than in Trieste. Although they disliked the weather, the city was certainly interesting. Joyce frequented the Foreigners Club and made friend with an Italian banking clerk, Paolo Ruggiero, who was to help him with financial matters later. He also met Phillip Jarnach, a composer and assistant to composer-pianist Ferruccio Busoni who lived in an apartment across from him. He also went occasionally to the Café Voltaire, a hotbed of the surrealist movement espoused by Romanian poet Tristan Tzara and painter/sculptor/poet Hans Arp, and the Café` Odeon, where Vladimir Lenin was a regular customer and the two may have met.

In Zurich, Joyce also met writer Stefan Zweig, who later described Joyce as, “A young man, with a little brown beard, with keen eyes behind strikingly thick lenses… He was inclined to be testy, and I believe that just that irritation produced the power of his inner turmoil and productivity…His resentment… became converted into dynamic energy and actually found release in literary creation. But he seemed fond of his own asperity; I never saw him laugh or show high spirits.”

In Zurich, Joyce wrote the drafts of the first twelve episodes of Ulysses. In 1916 he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and in 1918 his play Exiles.

When the Joyce family returned to Trieste in October 1919, they found the city much changed from the pre-war days. What had once been the major port of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, full of life and bustling commerce, was now not only a city that had endured more than three years of war, but one of many Italian ports, competing with Venice, Ancona, Bari, Naples, Genoa and many others for business. Some of their friends had left the city for good or they too had changed. Joyce resumed teaching at the Revoltella, but his job no longer interested him. Thus, at the beginning of July 1920, the family was once again on the move, this time headed for Paris. Joyce remained in Paris from 1920 to 1940, but always considered “la bella Trieste” as his second home, continuing to use within the family the Triestine dialect.

In Paris, at last free from dire poverty, Joyce was preoccupied by his daughter’s descent into madness and by his failing eyesight caused by glaucoma, a condition for which he underwent surgery eleven times. But he continued to work at breakneck speed. Nora once complained to a friend that she had difficulty sleeping and explained: “I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing. And then I knock at the door, and I say, now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing.” But he would do neither, keeping her awake.

norabarnacleOn July 4, 1931 he got married to Nora in London and thus regularized their position after living together for 27 years.

When the Germans occupied Paris in December of 1940, the family traveled first to the south of France and then back to Zurich. After securing, not without difficulty, the appropriate exit and entry permits, they arrived in Zurich on December 17,1940.

Three weeks later, Joyce got seriously ill and underwent emergency surgery for peritonitis, caused by a perforated duodenal ulcer. The operation was not successful; Joyce fell into a coma, and died during the night of January 13, 1941.

Trieste, the adopted city he so loved, has also honored Joyce with a statue, a bronze bust, a museum of his mementos in the city, and 45 bronze plaques affixed to the buildings where he lived, the coffee shops and bars he frequented, and other Joycean haunts.

The bronze bust of Joyce was unveiled in the Public Gardens in Trieste on February 2, 1982 as part of the celebrations organized for the centenary of the writer’s birth; it stands between the busts of Joyce’s friend and student Italo Svevo and that of poet Umberto Saba.

A full size bronze statue of Joyce was unveiled in October 2004 on the bridge across the Canal Grande. A Triestino who has posted a photo of the statue on the web describes the statue thus: “James Joyce with a book under his arm and one hand in the pocket, walks quietly as one who is thinking God knows what, as a common passerby, going home across the Canale Grande.”

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Luciano Mangiafico was born in Italy and is a retired U.S. diplomat. Among his many foreign postings in several continents, he was U.S. Consul in Milan (Italy), and Consul General in Palermo (Italy), Bucharest (Romania), and Bridgetown (Barbados). This essay is an abridged portion of a book in progress.

27 Comments »

  • Patrick Smith says:

    Thank you for this lucid, informative and very human portrayal of Joyce and those around him. I’ll keep a look-out for your book.

  • Cap'n Dav says:

    1) I tried to read Ulysses in High School; it sailed right over my head …I quit about Chapter 2. You make me greatly want to take it up again!

    2) Ya gotta love a tag-along lover named “Barnacle.”

  • Steve King says:

    Most creative geniuses are difficult people. Mr. Mangiafico’s research and informative, well-written prose regarding James Joyce continues to support the axiom. Bring on the book!

  • Jack says:

    Just one little problem about this. Minister Sile de Valera was President De Valera’s granddaughter and not, as I am sure she would wish to stress, his nephew.

  • olm-admin says:

    Thanks for the correction, Jack, we have fixed the error.

  • Lewis Jones says:

    Thank you for an enjoyable essay. Please note, though, that there is no apostrophe in Finnegans Wake.

  • Gavin says:

    Finnegans Wake. Without the apostrophe.

  • Livia says:

    Just a small typo: in paragraph 3, it should read “before the Joyces left Paris for Zurich”.

    Also, I am not sure that Joyce, at that time, would have referred to Dublin, a city he considered the centre of paralysis, as his “beloved” (paragraph 4).

    Thank you.

  • Bernard McGinley says:

    . . . some of the corrected proofs of Finnegan’s Wake.

    Such as those rendering the title without an apostrophe?

    As the creation of another Dubliner might have said, twice looks like carelesness.

  • Denis C. says:

    Paragraph 4 : You wrote ‘He lived lived there…’

  • Rob T. says:

    Few writers would have benefited more from a good beating than James Joyce. It would have helped to give his ego perspective when, for example, he was tempted to complain that the advent of the Second World War diverted attention from the publication of Finnegan’s [sic] Wake.

    Signor Mangiafico’s infatuation with Joyce is as puzzling as it is unwarranted. A more overrated literary mountebank has never (dis)graced English literature.

  • Saksin says:

    Too bad that there is nothing to admire in the life of this modern culture hero. As to his elevation to literary genius, in 50 or 100 years our folly will – let us hope – inspire mirth and perhaps pity.

  • Peter says:

    A wonderful essay, specially welcome from a retired Foreign Service Officer like myself.

    Just one correction. You write that Pola is 58 miles to the east of Trieste. In fact, it is almost due south. I recently visited both cities and had my wife take my photo next to the two Joyce statues.

  • Peter K says:

    I admire Joyce’s early work but find that his later efforts parallel much modern art: short on technique and long on inscrutability. Such work is called genius by those afraid of being thought old fashioned. Not sure if genius lies behind the intentionally ugly or abstruse.

    Aside from that, Mr. Mangiafico’s article is a marvelous look at the man and his family, as well as his environs. I have never thought of Joyce as a salesman of tweeds, a movie theater owner, a speaker of Italian, or a resident of Trieste. These facts are fine, humanizing threads in the fabric of a rather difficult man.

  • Duncan says:

    “On December 28, 1914, the Austrian police arrested Stanislaus as an Italian sympathizer at interned him near Linz.”

    On December 28, 1914, the Austrian police arrested Stanislaus as an Italian sympathizer AND interned him near Linz.

  • Jacob says:

    Great article, thank you! What a tumultuous, itinerant life he lead.

    I spotted one more minor, grammatical error: “He also make a stab at augmenting his meager income [...]“. Should be “made”.

  • James McCaffery says:

    Interesting piece. The photo of Joyce and Nora, by the way, was taken in London, not Trieste, in 1931. Cropped out of the picture (a little bit of his arm is visible on the right) is Fred Monroe, Joyce’s British lawyer, who had just served as witness to their marriage ceremony. Nora looks like she’s holding a cell phone to her ear, and Joyce, in the original composition, looks like someone who just happened to wander into the shot, five or six paces behind Nora and Fred, a stranger at his own wedding.

  • 50GreenDodge says:

    To Cap’n Dave: Have another go at Ulysses. And then another; and another, as many as it takes. God will not tax you for the amount of time.

    It may be a classic, but it is a stinky, starchy, drunken, cuckolding classic. Enjoy it as such. We make too much of the “classics” in literature, to the point where we discourage ourselves from the reading of them.

  • Abba D. Babba says:

    Cap’n Dav(e), if the Sublime and the Beautiful remain your standards for great art (as they probably are for most people) then Ulysses will disappoint you again. The experience can be more gratifying if likened to shoveling through a landfill for discarded items of value.

  • P. O'Hay says:

    As a fellow graduate of University College Dublin, I am very proud of Jimmy’s writings. His itinerant lifestyle, and that of Nora and their children, was a sad indictment of the income his writings generated during his life.
    Dublin has ppid homage to Joyce in many ways, particularly with the well-photographed statue off O’Connell Street, called colloqually by Dubliners as “The Prick with the Stick”.
    P.O’Hay, Toronto

  • Benjamin says:

    Excellent piece! Eh-yi! I look forward to reading more of your work.

  • fitz fitzgerald says:

    … not lyre: h a r p …

  • JB says:

    This is an excellent piece. Behind the dispassionate voice I sense an enormous affection – first for Joyce, and also for a place and time that have vanished. The best part of this is how he reminds that Trieste fed Joyce and also midwifed Ulysses, and that the confluence of cultures that met in Trieste married Vienna with Venice.

  • chasbo2 says:

    I think it’s too easy to say that all of Joyce’s books express “contempt for others whom he believed were inferior to him in intellect.” After all, Leopold Bloom is one of the few, great portraits of a bourgeois in modern literature which is affectionate. Bloom is limited, but he’s a generous, humane, gentle person. And Molly Bloom is not Einstein, but she’s portrayed as a witty, formidable personality. Joyce personally didn’t much hang out with intellectuals, but instead befriended the hoi polloi. He wasn’t a snob at all, but found humanity in surprising places. Dubliners is full of portraits which are not unsympathetic, even as they are diagnostic of what Joyce considered social ills. Joyce was a literary genius who probably considered everyone “inferior to him in intellect,” but if his writing didn’t also convey empathy for and beauty in others (as well as astringent criticism to be sure!) it probably wouldn’t be known today.

  • Edward Reilly says:

    many thanks for this article – this year’s Bloomsday in Melbourne is being staged this coming weekend – always an entertaining and informative event – but also useful to expand one’s web of readings & contacts – are you aware of “Joycian Worlds” 3 – 6 Oct. 2013 @ Irish Studies / Uni. of Otago (new Zealand)? – promises to be both serious & entertaining!

  • One correction: Joyce lived in Trieste from 1905, not 1904. He and Nora spent their six months in Pula from October of 1904 until March of 1905.

  • Umm says:

    Why is he more often ‘Joyce’ rather than ‘James’, whilst she is ‘Nora’ rather than ‘Barnacle’? This doesn’t seem fair. Consistency please.

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