Ulysses - and gun fire in Galway

Week III

 Nora Joyce and her two children Georgio and Lucia.

Nora Joyce and her two children Georgio and Lucia.

Nora’s last visit to Galway in April 1922 did not go well. Galway, as well as the country, was caught up in a deadly Civil War. The anti -Treaty forces had occupied the Connaught Rangers’ Barracks, Renmore, while the pro- Treaty forces occupied the Great Southern Hotel. The Galway to Dublin train was regularly fired upon from the barracks. There were sporadic gun fights around the Custom House, and the Masonic hall, as both sides struggled for possession. It was a dangerous time and people were fearful.

Nevertheless Nora was desperate to get home. Her father Tom Barnacle (her parents were separated ) had recently died, and she yearned to see her mother again. Her two sisters, Delia and Kathleen, with whom she had always enjoyed great times, were living with their mother. It would be a sad/happy visit reliving old days.

But perhaps the real reason for the visit was that Nora was exhausted. She and James were living in Paris, the centre of the European arts scene at that time, where James Joyce was becoming a celebrity, and where he and Nora were increasingly found among the circles of the international Café society. Intellectual friends gathered at their table or in their apartment, and talked, and drank, and discussed matters late into the night.

Joyce’s seminal work, Ulysses, had just been published weeks before her visit to Ireland. For years Joyce had been consumed by the demands of this extraordinary monster that he had created, with its stream of consciousness technique, careful structure, experimental prose, rich characterisation, and broad humour all taking place in Dublin on one day, June 16 - the day that Joyce and Nora walked out of Dublin on their first date. Now at last, after at least 20 years in gestation, it had just been launched on an expectant world.

Publishers in Europe were slow to rush Ulysses into print. Famously it was Sylvia Beach, the proprietor of a small bookshop, Shakespeare and Co, close to Notre Dame, where Joyce was a regular visitor, who bravely stepped in, and agreed to publish the book on Joyce’s 40th birthday February 2 1922.

Printing was problematic. There were at least 18 ‘first editions’ because Joyce fussed over, and irritably corrected texts, adding sections, and made changes which exhausted the printer’s patience, and the long suffering Ms Beach.

There was a further anxiety about censorship difficulties in America. It had been previously published piece-meal in the pioneering literary magazine The Little Review, which was seized upon by the American custom’s office, and declared obscene.

The magazine’s founder Margaret Anderson, along with her publishing partner and lover Jane Heap, were convicted of a crime for publishing ‘obscene’ extracts.* But the furore surrounding the banning of Ulysses only excited the public to read more (See Notes below ). Joyce followed the twists and turns as his book struggled for existence with agitation and stress. He must have been impossible to live with.

Smell of cabbage

Ironically, at this time the Joyce family was relatively well off. After years of scrimping and scrapping, money earned from the sale of his books began to arrive; while in addition Joyce attracted several admiring sponsors, who believed in his genius.** The Joyces now, at last, had enough money to support their spendthrift life-style.

Again Joyce protested at Nora’s planned departure, holding up Irish newspapers which described civil disturbances in Ireland. Nevertheless, unafraid and uninterested in politics, Nora and the children (Georgio 17 years and Lucia 15 years ) arrived in Dublin to be met by her uncle Michael Healy, who still worked in customs and excise, but now based in the capital.

In Galway Nora had booked to stay with Mrs O’Casey ’s boarding house at Nun’s Island, and went straight to see her mother Annie. This time however, ten years after their last visit, when Galway and the little house in Bowling Green was all a novelty, her Parisian teenage children were not impressed. ‘In fact they loathed the smell of boiling cabbage so much that they refused to go in, and lounged outside, sitting on the window ledge, in full view of all the neighbours. Nora had to take them to a café for their meals.’

‘The Zulus’

Nora enjoyed herself, however, and wrote to Joyce asking for an allowance to support her while she stayed for as long as she liked. She brought the children to visit the Presentation Convent where she had briefly worked in the gate lodge before leaving Galway for Dublin in 1904. She loved being home and the company of her sisters and mother. She sent a post card to her friend Helen Nutting praising the ‘bracing air’; and, always conscious of dressing fashionably, posed for a photograph with her good hat on.

Joyce, as ever, missed her greatly, and feared for their safety. He wrote saying he could barely get through the routine of living without her. He had fainted in Shakespeare and Co, and sought reassurance from friends that Nora and the children would be safe.

Gradually, however, the political situation began to invade Nora’s happiness. The children were frightened to see men with guns. Georgio could not sleep at night in fear of ‘the Zulus’, as he called them, would come for him. In fact armed men did call to Mrs O’Casey’s, and ran up the stairs and mounted a machine gun ready to fire on an occupied building near by.

That was the last straw for Nora. Packing up she and the children boarded the train for Dublin, only to be caught in a deadly crossfire between snipers at Renmore barracks and troops guarding the train. Nora and Lucia dived for the floor of the carriage, while Georgio, for all his talk, sat upright all through the fight. Arriving in Dublin later and telling their adventures to Michael Healy, ‘he laughed so hard that he nearly fell off his chair.’

Next week: A last Christmas in Zurich, and Joyce’s gift to Galway.

NOTES: * See The Ulysses Trials - Beauty and Truth Meet the Law, by Joseph M Hassett, published by The Lilliput Press, 2016.

* * Harriet Shaw Weaver, a wealthy English heiress, was convinced of Joyce’s genius and started to financially support him. She stood by him even when American customs censors initially banned Ulysses on the grounds that not only was it ‘obscene’, but that it may cause American readers to ‘harbour impure and lustful thoughts’. Once the customs ruling was overthrown by the US District Court in a celebrated case, Random House published Ulysses in January 1934, twelve years after the Paris edition.

The Shakespeare and Co edition was also banned in Britain because it was described by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Archibald Bodkin, as ‘a flithy book.’ British newspapers howled at the indignity of such censorship when it was widely available on the Continent and America. All this prompted Ms Shaw Weaver to establish the Egoist Press, and although no British printer would print it, Ms Weaver had it printed abroad, and successfully distributed Ulysses in Britain in 1936.

Surprisingly Ulysses was never banned in Ireland, but was certainly frowned upon. It was however, available in some bookshops. My father Frank O’Gorman had copies for sale but by request. He always had a modest supply of Ulysses in his office.

For this week’s Diary I am leaning on, and quoting from Nora - A Biography of Nora Joyce, by Brenda Maddox, published by Hamish Hamilton , 1988.


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