The Paris Review

James Joyce’s Love Letters to His “Dirty Little Fuckbird”

James Joyce and Nora Barnacle

On Nassau Street in Dublin, on June 10, 1904, twenty-two-year-old James Joyce saw (as clearly as he could see, since he was not wearing his glasses, and his vision was poor) the twenty-year-old Nora Barnacle, then a young chambermaid, sauntering by.  Nora would later tell the story of their first meeting often, though she often told it differently. Sometimes she said Joyce wore a sailor’s cap, and other times she said he wore a big white sombrero and a long overcoat that hung down to his feet.  Joyce proposed a date, and Barnacle agreed, but though Joyce went to the appointed place at the appointed time, she never showed. He wrote to her, “I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” A few days later, on what was likely June 16, 1904—the date on which Joyce would later set Ulysses—they had their first proper date, though it was far from proper. Joyce took Barnacle east, past the docks and the harbor, to the deserted area of Dublin known as Ringswald. There, to Joyce’s surprise and gratitude, Barnacle slipped her hand down his trousers and “made me a man.” By October, the couple had eloped to Zurich. Although the couple did not officially marryDubliners

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