‘An historical novel but one that pays scrupulous attention to biographically accurate detail, Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by author Nuala O’Connor deftly blends elements of love, ambition, and extraordinary people with extraordinary talents with the kind of narrative storytelling style that creates great and enduringly memorable fiction.’
Thanks to Publishers Weekly for having #NoraNovel in their ’10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know…’ feature. You can read it here and I have also pasted the text in below.
10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About James and Nora Joyce
By Nuala O’Connor | Jan 19, 2021
Nuala O’Connor’s new novel, Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce, is a poignant, comprehensive portrait of James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, as a young woman, mother, and literary inspiration for the Molly Bloom character in Ulysses. Narrating the story in Nora’s robust voice, O’Connor traces the couple’s nomadic life from Ireland to Trieste, Paris, and Zürich, adding to the abundant Joyceana with a moving portrait of an unforgettable family. Here she explains ten little-known facts about the Joyces.
Dubliner James Joyce gained international fame with the publication of his novel Ulysses in 1922. Joyce enjoyed a lifelong partnership with Nora Barnacle—an earthy, pragmatic Galway woman with little interest in literature. The pair met in Dublin, where Nora worked in Finn’s Hotel, and first went out together on the June 16, 1904, later immortalized as Bloomsday, the day the events in Ulysses take place. Joyce and Nora left Ireland for Europe in October 1904 and settled in Trieste, then an Austro-Hungarian port town. They had two children—Giorgio and Lucia—and lived in various cities, including Paris. Both died in Zürich, Switzerland.
1. Joyce and Nora were not married when they eloped in 1904 and didn’t marry until 1931. Though bohemian in some attitudes, the Joyces lived a fairly conventional life. They pretended to be married but, after 27 years, made their union legal to ensure their children’s inheritances. The pair hoped to marry quietly in a London register office, but were found out by the paparazzi. Their annoyance is palpable in the photographs–Joyce looks grim and Nora tries to hide her face with her cloche hat.
2. Nora and Joyce moved relentlessly throughout their lives: sometimes evicted, sometimes living in borrowed accommodation, sometimes having to flee to keep safe. They stayed in Zürich during WWI and returned there at the start of WWII. In Paris alone, they lived at 19 different addresses. This peripatetic existence may have been a hangover from Joyce’s youth—his large family often moved clandestinely at night when his profligate father left their rent unpaid.
3. James Joyce was an English teacher. He taught at the Berlitz schools in Trieste and the Italian province of Pola, but found the work tiresome, and often spoke to his students about the faults of Ireland and the joys of drinking, rather than verbs and vocabulary. He gave up teaching when several benefactresses—Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Sylvia Beach, and Harriet Weaver—eased his financial strains.
4. In the great Irish emigrant tradition, Joyce and Nora “brought over” three of Joyce’s siblings to Trieste. His favorite brother, Stannie, worked alongside Joyce in the Berlitz School. Joyce’s motives were not benign—poverty-struck, the household needed another earner. Stannie was often bitter about propping up his genius brother and family. “He used me as a butcher uses his steel,” Stannie wrote. Still, he named his only son James and, in another twist, Stannie died on Bloomsday 1955.
5. James Joyce opened Ireland’s first dedicated cinema. The Volta Electric Theatre opened on Dublin’s Mary Street in September 1909. Joyce set up the cinema with backing from business people he befriended in Trieste, but Dubliners didn’t much like the program of Italian and French films, and the venture failed.
6. Nora and Joyce exchanged steamy, erotic letters when Joyce was in Ireland setting up his cinema and Nora was home in Trieste. Joyce’s letters, which can be read online, are frank, explicit, and obscene, but they also spill over into intimate, tender, poetic trances. Naturally we should not be privy to these wild imaginings, but it’s hard not to read them when they are there.
7. James Joyce was from a musical family and once contemplated a career as a singer. He had a sweet tenor voice and loved music. Nora was enchanted when she heard Joyce sing in Dublin’s Antient Concert Rooms, early in their courtship. The previous year, Joyce won a bronze medal at a national singing contest, only failing to win gold as he couldn’t sight-read. He gifted his medal to his Aunt Josephine; it was later bought at auction by dancer Michael Flatley.
8. The Joyce children were creatively talented. Lucia was a dancer and performed in Paris, and Giorgio, like his father, had a fine singing voice. Sadly, Lucia’s mental illness prevented her developing a career in dance, and Giorgio was, apparently, too nervous to take to the stage very often.
9. The Irish government refused to repatriate James’s body when died in Switzerland in 1941. He was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zürich, beside the zoo. Nora, who died ten years later in April 1951, was not initially buried in the same grave as her beloved Jim, but in 1966, her remains were exhumed and reburied with Joyce.
10. Nora and James’s last direct descendant died in January 2020. Stephen Joyce was the great defender of his family’s reputation and his grandfather’s writing. He said of Nora, “Nonna was so strong, she was a rock. I would venture to say that [Joyce] could have done none of it, not written one of the books, without her.”
Drew Gallagher has reviewed NORA for the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Big thanks to him. I pasted the whole text below as GDPR blocks the link to those of us in Europe.
Book review: ‘Nora’ a serene, worthy addition to Joyce canon By DREW GALLAGHER FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR Jan 9, 2021
What author Nuala O’Connor attempts in her novel “Nora” may be considered sacrilege by some. What she achieves is serene.
“Nora” is a literary biography of Nora Barnacle Joyce, the lover and wife of Irish author James Joyce and the inspiration for Molly Bloom in Joyce’s masterpiece “Ulysses.” Where the sacrilege might come in is in O’Connor’s first chapter, where she describes the first date of Nora and James in graphic and satisfying detail. To attempt to re-create the date that birthed its own holiday, Bloomsday, and was the impetus for what many consider to be the greatest novel of all time with the most salacious soliloquy of all-time is a fool’s errand, and for those who worship at the Joycean altar a form of heresy. And at the risk of upsetting the Joyceans further, I defy them to read the first chapter of “Nora” and not be enraptured and more than a little titillated.
O’Connor’s mastery is not limited to the first chapter, and she is able to tug emotion from the novel’s closing chapters where, in truth, there should be none. As with all literary biographies, we already know how the story ends, and it is unrealistic to want a biographical novel on the life of James Joyce to not end with his death, but when his sudden demise arrives, it is gut-wrenching through Nora’s loving eyes and leaves the reader staggered.
Nora and James are one of the great couples in literature, and this is underscored when Hemingway makes an appearance in Paris and quickly discards a wife for a new beau. The Joyces are not without trials and temptations, because before he was James Joyce, he was nothing more than a gifted writer trying to earn enough money from teaching to allow him to write on the side. Nora is jealous of James’ fondness for some of his students, but it is the statuesque Nora whose suitors, including James’ brother Stannie, are more direct in their intentions.
Following James’ peripatetic life through Europe and in search of money and drink can get tedious, but O’Connor elevates the reader above the mundane, which was the normal for the Joyces until the publication of “A Portrait of a Writer As a Young Man.” Ultimately, “Ulysses” freed them from having to stiff landlords for rent and opened them to Parisian society without concerns for food or dress. For the prodigal son of Ireland, Joyce spent most of his life elsewhere.
As with any work on Joyce, the ultimate question is whether or not “Nora” is a worthy addition to the Joyce canon. As Molly Bloom, the flower of the mountain, would say, “Yes.”
On 5th January 2021, to celebrate the USA launch day of NORA, I, along with fellow Irish author Eibhear Walshe – who wrote the wonderful The Last Days at Bowen’s Court about Elizabeth Bowen – did an online bio-fiction event with Columbia University, facilitated by scholar and author Heather Corbally Bryant.
The event is online now and you can view it on YouTube here.
All thanks to the gracious Emily Bloom of Columbia Uni for stellar organising.
This was a welcome surprise Christmas present from Vogue USA today!:
The Best Books to Read in 2021 – 25th Dec. 2020 – Vogue USA
In her fiction, Nuala O’Connor has often explored the private lives of historical figures; she did it in 2015’s Miss Emily, about Emily Dickinson, and in 2018’s Becoming Belle, about singer and dancer Belle Bilton. She takes the same approach in Nora, a long but lively portrait of James Joyce’s wife and muse, Nora Barnacle Joyce. His companion for 37 years (and the mother of both his children), Nora has long sat at the center of Joycian lore; she was the model for Ulysses’s Molly Bloom and, in her youthful trysts, inspired two characters in “The Dead.” With Nora, O’Connor leans into that context—as she does into Joyce’s famously filthy letters to his “wildflower of the hedges”—depicting a relationship as lousy with passion as it was with chaos. Joyce’s drinking and uselessness with money form a throughline, as do their constant moves between Italy, France, and Switzerland. (A poet as well as a novelist, O’Connor has a musical ear for language; Joyce and Nora never seem to lose their lilt.) Yes, literati like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, and Sylvia Beach make requisite appearances, but Nora is principally the story of a Galway girl and her “Jim,” eking out some semblance of an existence far from home. —Marley Marius