To resume again...

Kant and Sade: The Ideal Couple

The Nora Whom Joyce "Knew"

The Desire of Lacan


The Diary of Kotpotus

From Two Small Notebooks

Benita Canova

Ronald Jones


The Nora Whom Joyce "Knew" as She Is Revealed by the Manuscript Record 


David Hayman

James Joyce began using his companion, Nora Barnacle, as a veiled subject in 1914, when he wrote his play, Exiles. It is in the notebook for that work that we find a longish list of associations made by Nora and collected by Joyce as background for the development of Bertha Rowan, his semi-biographical hero, Richard's beleaguered wife. As is well-known, the play has deep roots in Joyce's own jealousy of and fascination with men whom he suspected of coveting (and even bedding) his wife.

When writing Ulysses, Joyce went further, recording Nora's dreams, hazarding interpretations, one of which is used to express his own anxieties about the reception of that book's franker utterances. This too is known, though not well-analyzed. Also for Ulysses, specifically for Molly Bloom's chapters, "Calypso" and "Penelope," Joyce took voluminous notes, many of which record what are probably the words of Nora.

Brenda Maddox, in her biography of Nora, has claimed that Molly Bloom was based on Nora. She believes that Joyce took inspiration for Molly's candid sexual musings from Nora's side of the famous pornographic epistolary exchange of 1909. Even in the absence of her letters, this seems possible, though Joyce would hardly have needed such documents as a source, given the fact that he was in intimate contact with her all along. What Maddox did not know, and what the manuscript record tells us is precisely how many of her expressions he actually recorded and added to his notesheets when he was writing Molly's chapter.

The Ulysses epoch notes, most of which were actually used, are put in the shadow by those I have found in a far more graphic cluster of notes collected when Joyce was preparing to write Finnegans Wake, probably in the summer of 1922 or perhaps shortly after the publication of Ulysses in February of that year.

These notes are found in the oversized notebook that has been published by Thomas Connolly as Scribbledehobble (reproduced in The James Joyce Archive as Buffalo Notebook VI.A 1). In that notebook, the only one of its kind among nearly fifty others, Joyce's procedure was to transcribe (and occasionally take) notes under headings drawn from his previous books and arranged chronologically. While some of those entries refer directly to the content of the designated story, chapter or scene, most of them constitute musings on issues raised by rather the heading rather then the original subject. For example, under the title of the first story in Dubliners, rather than notes on the action of "The Sisters" we find allusions to and thoughts on the craft and traditions of story telling. Under Exiles most of the notes relate to one of that play's sources, the romance of Tristan and Isolde.

The precise circumstances under which he filled VI.A are cloudy: when, where, why, by what means? But I suggest that these tightly-written and unusually uniform (in both hand and content) entries are mainly transcriptions of notes randomly accumulated earlier on loose sheets. Thus, the Nora-related notes under 'Penelope' were written and transcribed over what may have been a considerable number of months after the book's publication. They were then more or less systematically regrouped under the heading.

Joyce had long been notorious for serpticiously recording the behavior of his friends, some of whom dreaded being immortalized in his novels. However, we have few records of his Nora-related observations. The exceptionally evocative Scribbledehobble annotations are, therefore, especially engrossing. Today, their function along with the writer's motivation seems at least as enigmatic as their content.

Joyce appears to have observed his wife extremely closely and in an objective and doubtless bemused manner jotting down typical, original, humorous remarks and/or suggestive behavior. Thanks to their immediacy, some of them surely qualify as snapshots which, when gathered could contribute to a portrait of Nora and her relations with Joyce in the early 20s.

An extraordinary number of these enigmatic and disparate items can be characterized as either belated "epiphanies" or what am calling "epiphanoids." As we know, the original "Epiphanies" are were systematically collected memorable moments, revealing social behavior, and dreams, many of which Joyce adapted for inclusion in the novels.2 The Epiphanies were not precisely raw experience, however. Indeed, there was never anything random about his procedure. Before he included them in his numbered sequence, Joyce was careful to shape them and arrange them chronologically. The true "Epiphanies" tend, therefore, to be coherent vignettes arranged in such a way as to constitute an armature for the autobiographical work he was yet to write.

By contrast, the personal reflections and dreams included in the notebooks for the radically unnarrative Finnegans Wake are at once extremely heterogeneous, random, and unedited. They tend to be brief, enigmatic, relatively raw and spontaneous. In the ordinary notebooks, though they are often found in clusters, having been collected for harvesting, these "epiphanoids"3 tend not to stand out. In fact, I had been working on Joyce's notebooks for years before I began to see them for what they are: spontaneous notations of descriptive details, remarks, reactions, memorable behavior, dreams and salient memories. It was their immediacy, originality and intimate quality that led me to begin collecting them from the notebooks I was inspecting and transcribing. (Though I now have well over 400 of them, I know that there are more.)

As it happens, I have found the greatest concentration of epiphanoids in Scribbledehobble and most of those under the "Penelope" heading, where Nora and Molly and the "heroine" of the Wake were (hypothetically) joined in Joyce's imagination. Even now, focused by the need to rationalize them for this essay, I am discovering that what I had assumed were discrete entries were actually clusters recording aspects of single and complex sequences of events. The latter constitute records of experiences that, at an earlier time, might have been turned into epiphanies or dramatic vignettes. Parenthetically, not all of the female-oriented notes under 'Penelope' in Scribbledehobble refer to or cite Nora. Some are certainly inspired by the words and/or behavior of the Joyce's female friends, a few relate to Joyce's daughter Lucia, and at least one records a remark made by Joyce's sister, Eileen4. I will discuss only those that I believe relate to the situation of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle.

The behaviors are various and often funny. We'll begin with language usage. Nora, who had come late to Paris and French5, apparently made errors like "boydobelong" for Bois Du Boulogne, "poother" for poudre, and "il cause anglais" for il parle. This last error is explained, perhaps by Nora herself, by a reference to "on vous cause (teleph)" clearly a reference to telephone conversations. Such distortions seem to prefigure Wakean word-play. The same may be said of notes inspired by her misuse of English and her pronunciation: "mystery of a handsome cad: (cab): home on furlong", "ejicated: the sewer's canal," "gave her a hit across the face," "talk Spanish," "had just woken," "Ah sure I was only funning, I just wanted to see," "'mustache of hair," and, "without her dictation" (for direction)6 Such entries may reflect in the note-taker a combination of affection, embarrassment and wry amusement. Nora was, after all the wife of a language-sensitive literary man who had just finished using her expressions in his astonishing portrait of a recumbent Molly Bloom. How fitting that he should portray Nora in "repose on couch hand on ham."

Her observations are another matter. Today some of the wittiest would be objectionable: "black (negro) always dressed," followed by "made a map of Africa (piss)" were very likely associated in Nora's mind as well as Joyce's. Others are hilariously coarse: "catch man by prick & balls and sling over shoulder," "pull him over spikes, gut him," "shift get taste of her body," "music fucks me: always to imagine smthg else," "bowels of the earth: Heavenly God," and the caustic observation "H-the like: fart out of window: and he so affected."

One exceptionally long note was probably Nora-derived but shaped for possible inclusion of the already-published Ulysses: "as nice as ever I look out the window I declare I see that fellow Worthing's fat backside they ought to have made a woman out of him the Lord knows he has material enough, left sleeve first." Significantly, it is followed by the conceptual note, "L[eopold] B[loom, acted as a] tout for B[lazes] B[oylan]" where "tout" could mean publicity man but more likely, given the context, it means pimp.7 Since a good number of these notes could have been refashioned for use in Ulysses, I suspect that, in 1922, only months after its publication, Joyce thought he might still be able to revise his book for a new edition.

The Nora/Joyce relationship is clearest in a handful of personal and touching references to their life together. Several contain mini-narratives like this seemingly objective but covertly very subjective record of a family dispute: "an accident: if anything happened to him: what would I do at all: had been fighting: dinner all spoiled: he never opened his mouth: she had forgotten his birthday." I am of course hypothesizing that the sequence is actually one entry despite the colons, but there is support for that view. If we pause to fill in gaps in the account, it is at least possible that Nora has forgotten James's birthday, a day to which he attached enormous, even superstitious, value. After all, he strove to have his books seen into print by that date. The scene evoked here is then both all too familiar and particularly poignant. Nora had feared that her husband had had an accident when he left the house after a quarrel. Beyond that, she has claimed that James never reminded her that it was a special day and pleaded innocent to neglecting the occasion. More importantly, perhaps, she has confessed to her dependence on him. If we string these entries together, therefore, they become something very close to a true, and startlingly spontaneous, epiphany, the record of an episode from their family life rather than a sequence of random jottings. I would suggest that the account may in fact have been that offered by one of Joyce's children to him after his return.

It is perhaps after yet another family fight that Nora said, "will I do as I am? kneedeep in gratitude: what else can I say." In a less conflictive vein, an especially poignant note reflects simultaneously Joyce's terror of thunder and his dependence on his Nora: "and you can trust me (answer to: does it mean that if a storm bursts you will not forsake me or leave me alone?)."

These epiphanoids are (for the most part) private; others record public behavior. Displaying her own musical ignorance and her typically dismissive attitude, Nora reacts publicly to her famous husband's opinions, "he said smthg about music, lots of good, but you know Jim." It is also in public that, probably to Joyce's indulgent amusement, she appears to have complained about his bedroom manners: "[He puts his] trousers on bed knob: God bless us & save us: never hear the end of it: are all Irishmen like him?." Joyce was doubtless even more amused by her sympathetic reaction to the stuffy Irish-American, Dr. Joseph Collins,8 "I suppose he'd like to throw (Dr Collins) the 1/2 of them [female patients?] out through the window." Another source of amusement and perhaps instruction is illustrated by a sequence relating to Nora's (and women's?) self-image, "clothes extend personality9: [when she sees the] photo [she says that], rouge splash gives [her a] double chin, stripe [or] checks [on clothing are] bad, hats outdate: [the photo makes her look] homely." Here the initial entry is a reflection, perhaps Joyce's, but it is followed by a sequence of comments in what is probably indirect discourse, Nora's reactions. In brackets I have attempted to reconstitute this dialogue by supplying syntactic context, turning it into a scene to which we might even add facial expressions and physical gestures.

The epiphanoids listed above are either citations in what I take to be Nora's register or reactions to something she has said. But Joyce was a keen observer as well as a good, if often bemused, listener. For example the following (Joycean?) cleverism about sexual arousal: "W[oman]'s cunt and S. Genaro's blood 1000 candles & invocation before they liquefy," seems to have elicited an observation about menstruation precautions: "silk drawers in case of an accident, a tint of wine." (I am reminded of the dramatic use of Molly's menstruation in Ulysses.) Perhaps some of the inspiration for Anna Livia Plurabelle's famous letter defending her erring husband came from his observation of Nora's epistolary manners: "Yrs as B4," "she always writes goodnight in letter."

Nora's social and verbal gestures were also noted: "W[oman] makes vows she doesn't mean to keep," (the clearly dismissive) "W[oman] and erudition[,] she ponders," (quarrel/reconciliation behavior: She would not let her anger last beyond the point of verbal recall ) "as far as come back", (reactions to pictures) "picture doesn't do you justice" and "W[oman] sees photo - she's old." There are also a variety of notes relating to behavior in the home together with some contrasting male and female behavior: "man proposes and woman disposes," "Man-who the hell took that bloody comb cf. Woman-now where on earth did that little brat of a comb disappear to" and "masc[uline] from fem[inine]: no abstract[ion]s."

This account does not exhaust the suggestive entries taken under 'Penelope', their categories or their interest. Indeed, I can't claim to have satisfied my own curiosity about the process by which they were generated or their importance for the development of Finnegans Wake, to say nothing of Joyce's motivation. I should add that while this concentration of epiphanoids is the largest in the notebooks, there are many other Nora-related entries scattered throughout the other notebooks, notes taken haphazardly over a period of perhaps at least five years.

Some tentative conclusions: Though it proves nothing, this sampling suggests much about Joyce's interest in his wife's behavior, his respect for her sense of humor (a trait he shares with Leopold Bloom), his own dry wit in familial and social contexts, the couples's relationship and its staying power. It also illustrates once again Joyce's gift for succinctness. With a minimum of effort, we can reconstitute from these snapshots Joyce's reactions to a variety of family situations, the tone of the couple's relationship, and above all an image of Nora that, for all its male bias, is both credible and nuanced. Though still in a sense the girl from the West of Ireland whom Joyce transported to a cosmopolitan Europe, she has clearly retained much of her provincial vitality and innocence along with what were then perceived as "female" traits. Beyond that, the "country" woman seems to be very much attuned to liberated mores of the 20s. More importantly, she has remained an object of scrutiny but that arguably that scrutiny has taken on broader implications and further nuances.

I am referring especially to the notes collected when Joyce was working on "Penelope." (See Joyce's Ulysses Notesheets in the British Museum, ed. Phillip Herring, Virginia, 1972. For reproductions see The James Joyce Archive, general editor Michael Groden, New York: Garland Publishing, 1978.


1. Scribbledehobble: The Ur-Workbook for Finnegans Wake, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1961; see also The James Joyce Archive. back up

2. Much has been written on this topic since Robert Scholes published the full list of what remains of Joyce's original versions in The Workshop of Daedalus, eds. Scholes and Kain, Northwestern University Press, 1965. I have in press (James Joyce Quarterly) a long essay on the use Joyce put those and other related passages to in his pre-Wake writing. back up

3. To differentiate these jottings from the earlier, more polished items, I have coined this remarkably ugly term. I am still not certain of the categories under which epiphanoids can be listed. back up

4. "(Sister) Stanislaus: cleans and flushes WC before crap: won't dance or a blessed thing" clearly refers to Joyce's punctilious brother. back up

5. My transcriptions, taken from the manuscript reproductions in The James Joyce Archive, will occasionally differ from those in Scribbledehobble. Incidentally, when I collected materials for my first attempt to document, revise and extend the notion of the epiphany (Epifanias published with Julian Rios's essay "Epifanias sin fin" Barcelona: Montesinos, 1996). I did not include any of this material. When I compiled the list of previously unrecognized "epiphanoids," I simply had not recognized the importance of this material. back up

6. On the second page of Finnegans Wake we read "Ere were sewers!" for "Are you sure!" Note that Joyce tended in these notes to use colons even when a comma was indicated. back up

7. This is, of course a common critical position, one supported only partially by the text, where Bloom seems unwittingly or accidentally to have played that role. Incidentally, it is a role also played by the hero of his play. back up

8. Collins, who is characterized by Molly in her monologue, wrote one of the first American reviews of Joyce's book. For an analysis of the impact of his printed reactions to Joyce and his novel see my "Dr J. Collins Looks at J.J.: The Invention of a Shaun" in Joyce and Popular Culture, ed. R.B. Kershner, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996. back up

9. This note, or at least this concept, may well have inspired the hilarious paragraph in Chapter I.5 comparing an envelope to the clothing on a woman. (Finnegans Wake, p. 109.) Joyce made more explicit, but less elaborate use of it in the monologues of Issy, the young version of ALP. back up

Subscribe to Lacanian Ink click here.