Nora Barnacle

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Nora Barnacle
Paris 1924: Clockwise from top left - James Joyce, Giorgio Joyce, Nora Barnacle, Lucia Joyce
Born March 1884 (1884-03)
Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
Died April 10, 1951 (1951-04-11) (aged 67)
Zürich, Switzerland
Spouse(s) James Joyce (m. 1931–41)

Nora Barnacle (March 1884 – April 10, 1951) was the muse and wife of author James Joyce.

Early life[edit]

Nora Barnacle was born in the city of Galway, Ireland, but the day of her birth is uncertain. Depending on the source, it varies between 21 and 24 March 1884. Her birth certificate, which gives her first name as "Norah," is dated 21 March. Her father Thomas Barnacle, a baker in Connemara, was an illiterate man who was 38 years old when Nora was born. Her mother, Annie Honoria Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.

Between 1886 and 1889, Nora was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Mortimer Healy. During these years, she started her studies at a convent, eventually graduating from a national school in 1891. In 1896, Nora completed her schooling and began to work as a porteress and laundress. In the same year, her mother threw her father out for drinking and the couple separated. Nora went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at No.4 Bowling Green, Galway City.

In 1896, Nora fell in love with a teenager named Michael Feeney, who died soon after of typhoid and pneumonia. In a dramatic but unrelated coincidence, another boy loved by Nora, Michael Bodkin, died in 1900, bringing her the name of "man-killer" from her friends. Joyce later based the final short story in Dubliners, The Dead, on these incidents. It was rumoured that she sought solace from her friend, budding English theatre starlet, Laura London, who introduced her to a Protestant named Willie Mulvagh. In 1903, she left Galway after her uncle learned of the affair and dubious friendship. She went to Dublin where she worked as a chambermaid at Finn's Hotel.

While in Dublin, she met Joyce on 10 June 1904, but it was not until 16 June that they had their first romantic liaison. This date would later be chosen as the setting for Joyce's novel Ulysses, and has come to be known and celebrated around the world as Bloomsday. The 1904 rendezvous began a long relationship that eventually led to marriage in 1931[1] and continued until Joyce's death.

Relationship with Joyce[edit]

Nora and James's relationship was very complex. They had different personalities, tastes and cultural interests. At the beginning they loved each other passionately as evidenced by the numerous pornographic letters they exchanged.[2] James seems to have admired and trusted her totally. Nora clearly loved James, and she trusted him so much that she agreed to leave Ireland with him for the Continent. In anticipation of his move to Paris, Nora began studying French. Nora used to cook English puddings at Joyce's request and acquiesced in following him during his travels.

In 1904, Nora and James left Ireland for continental Europe, and in the following year they set up house in Trieste (at that time in Austria-Hungary). On 27 June 1905, Nora Barnacle gave birth to a son, Giorgio, and later to a daughter, Lucia, on 26 July 1907. A miscarriage in 1908 coincided with the beginning of a difficult time for both of them. Although she remained by his side, she complained to her sister both about his personal qualities and his writings.

In these letters to her sister, she says he drinks too much and wastes too much money. As for his literary activity, she laments that his writings are obscure and lacking in sense. She was always fiercely proud of him, although she occasionally expresses impatience at his meetings with other artists and admits she would have preferred him had he been a musician—in his youth, he was a talented singer—rather than a writer.

Another challenge to the couple's relationship was posed by Lucia's mental disease. Nora believed hospitalisation was required, but James was against it. They brought in many specialists and only in 1936 was she interned in a clinic. There, her father visited often, but not her mother; Nora would refuse to see her daughter ever again.

Nora and Joyce married in 1931. After living through Joyce's death in Zurich in 1941, Nora decided to remain there. She died in Zurich of acute renal failure in 1951, aged 67.

Maddox biography[edit]

Main article: Nora (2000 film)

In 1988, Nora Barnacle was the subject of a biography by Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom.[3]

This in turn was made into a film in 1999, directed by Pat Murphy and starring Susan Lynch and Ewan McGregor.

Nora's letter auction[edit]

In 2004, an erotic letter from Joyce to Barnacle sold at Sotheby's for £240,800 (US$445,000); a record amount for a modern-day letter at auction.[4]


  1. ^ "James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce Biography (1882–1941)". Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  2. ^ Maddox, Brenda (8 July 2004). "Ah yes - but what ever happened to Nora's side of the correspondence?". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  3. ^ * Brenda Maddox, Nora. Biography of Nora Joyce, Hamish Hamilton 1988
  4. ^ "Joyce letter smashes sale record". BBC News. 2004-07-08. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 

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