James Joyce and Dublin, a love-hate relationship

Ireland today marks the 90th anniversary of the death of James Joyceone of the most celebrated and perhaps least read writers in this country, whose remains finally rest in peace in the tomb of a Zurich cemetery, where he is buried next to his wife Nora and their son Giorgio.

In recent years, various initiatives have campaigned to get the Swiss authorities to return his body to Dublin, the city with which he had an intense love-hate relationship and which he portrayed in such classics as “Ulises“, “Portrait of the adolescent artist”, “finnegans wake” or “Dubliners”.

Among those efforts, the one of two councilors of the City Council of the Irish capital who in 2019 raised the possibility of “repatriating” Joyce and Nora through diplomatic channels almost took flight.

Paddy McCartan (Christian Democrat) and Demot Lacy (Labour) came to promote a motion in this regard, claiming that it responded to the last wishes expressed by the writer and his wife, who died 10 years later.

The gauntlet thrown by the councilors was picked up by the academician Fritz Senn, director of the “James Joyce Foundation“, which he himself established in Zurich more than 30 years ago.

“The Battle of the Bones”

Although he has acknowledged on several occasions that it is not clear what his last wishes were in this regard, Senn recalls that the author never wanted to acquire Irish nationality when the Irish Free State was created in 1922, after independence from the United Kingdom.

In fact, Joyce (1882-1941) twice turned down the opportunity to obtain a “green” passport, as confirmed by his biographers. He died being British.

Senn has pointed out that this affair, which he humorously dubbed the “Battle of the Bones,” poses other difficulties.

Alongside the graves of Joyce, Nora and Giorgio, the latter’s second wife, Asta Osterwalder, who has no connection to Ireland, is also buried in Friedhof Fluntern Cemetery.

“The city is very proud to have this tomb. It’s a normal reaction. Zurich was Joyce’s last refuge,” Senn said recently.

Also read: James Joyce, the writer who disintegrated language

At the moment, the “Battle of the Bones” is won by the Swiss, after the two councilors have definitively stopped the aforementioned motion.

“In the end we have withdrawn it because it was an error on our part,” Dermot Lacy explains to EFE, in an unexpected, surreal and even comic twist in the script, typical of Joyce himself in, for example, “Finnegans Wake”, a of the strangest novels of world literature.

“Someone close to the family” of the writer, he continues, “led us to believe” that “among his last wishes” was the desire to return to Ireland with Nora Barnacles.

“We later found out that this was not the case. A person from our constituency, who I will not name, had contacted us to raise the issue. When we presented the project, that same person later criticized us publicly and, after obtaining more information , we let it be”, exposes the politician.

conflicting ties

Be that as it may, “there is still division on the matter”, because different experts, Lacy specifies, “maintain that it was Nora who declared that her husband wanted to be buried here”, with his Dublin relatives.

In Irish cultural environments, these and other attempts by the authorities to strengthen (or perhaps force) the writer’s ties with Dublin have been criticized, considering them “opportunistic and mercantilist”, according to an editorial in the newspaper “Irish Times”.

The reality is that Joyce had a complex relationship with his country, which he left in 1904 to settle in Trieste (Italy), in Paris and, finally, in Zurich, and to which he returned for the last time in 1912.

Prophet far from his land

He was not always a prophet in his land, because the book “Ulysses”, published in 1922, did not begin to be sold freely in the country’s bookstores until the 1960s, due to the obstacles imposed by the authorities of that hand-controlled Ireland. iron by the Catholic Church, who branded the text “obscene” and “anti-Irish”.

An essay by Jessica Traynor, curator of the Irish Immigration Museum, recalls that Joyce “condemned the pietism and conservatism of Irish society” as well as its “blind nationalism.”

In equal measure, he hated and loved Dublin, a city with which he “maintained a spiritual and artistic commitment” until “the end of his life”, to the point that, when he lived in Paris, Traynor writes, “his favorite pastime was looking for tourists”. Dubliners to “remind him of the names of shops and pubs” on his favorite streets.

Gordon Bowker, author of a biography published in 2011, adds more: “The thing about Joyce is that she always loved the Dublin of her youth, even when the British were in charge, and was never really comfortable with the new Ireland that emerged. later”.

Joyce died on January 13, 1941 in Zurich after suffering a duodenal ulcerative perforation. The two Irish diplomats based in Switzerland did not attend his funeral. They had another assignment.

The Foreign Office asked them to cable “details of Joyce’s death” and, if possible, to find out if she “died a Catholic.”

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James Joyce and Dublin, a love-hate relationship


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