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 Barnacle was born. Her mother, Annie Honoria Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.

Between 1886 and 1889, Barnacle's parents sent her to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Mortimer Healy. During these years, she began studies at a convent, eventually graduating from a national school in 1891. In 1896, Barnacle 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. Barnacle went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at No.4 Bowling Green, Galway City.

In 1896, Barnacle fell in love with a teenager named Michael Feeney, who died soon after of typhoid and pneumonia. In a dramatic coincidence, another boy she loved, Michael Bodkin, died in 1900—causing some of her friends to call her "man-killer." Joyce later based the final short story in Dubliners, The Dead, on these incidents. It was rumoured that she sought comfort 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 friendship. She went to Dublin where she worked as a chambermaid at Finn's Hotel.

She met Joyce on 10 June 1904 while still in Dublin, and they had their first romantic liaison on 16 June. Joyce later chose this date as the setting for his novel Ulysses, and it 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]

Barnacle and Joyce's relationship was complex. They had different personalities, tastes, and cultural interests. The numerous pornographic letters they exchanged suggest they loved each other passionately at the beginning of their relationship. [2] Joyce seems to have admired and trusted her. Barnacle clearly loved Joyce, and trusted him enough to agree to leave Ireland with him for the Continent. In anticipation of the move to Paris, she began studying French. Barnacle cooked English puddings at Joyce's request during the travels.

In 1904, Barnacle and Joyce left Ireland for continental Europe, and the following year 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. Though 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.

Lucia's mental illness, which became acute in the early 1930s, posed another challenge to the couple's relationship. Barnacle believed the condition required hospitalisation, which Joyce opposed. They brought in many specialists, and Lucia was for a time the patient of Carl Jung. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to a clinic in 1936. Her father visited her there often, but not her mother. Barnacle would refuse to see her daughter ever again.

Barnacle and Joyce married in 1931. After 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. ^ Maddox, Brenda (1988). Nora: Biography of Nora Joyce. Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 9780241123850. 
  4. ^ "Joyce letter smashes sale record". BBC News. 2004-07-08. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 

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