“ Why did you leave your father’s home? “
“To seek misfortune”
(James Joyce, Ulysses)Here we come to the most important of them all, the greatest Irishman since Jesus Christ. But what can I say of him that I did not say already in my
From 1904 until his death in 1941, Joyce never dared set foot in Ireland, not even for the death of his father, and inhis correspondence he frequently proclaimed he had a grudge against the place. But Joyce and Paris did not always get along either. Like W.B. Yeats and J.M. Synge, he stayed in the Hôtel Corneille beside the Odéon theatre (6th arrondissement) when he first arrived in Paris on December 10, 1902 to study medicine. But Joyce only lasted 12 days in the French capital before his parents sent him money and told him to come home for Christmas. Although he was back again at the Hôtel Corneille on January 23, 1903, there are indications that Joyce had difficulty adapting to life in Paris. In a letter, Synge comments on Joyce’s “rather indolent” and hungry existence. Joyce himself wrote at this time that “Paris amuses me very much, but I quite understand why there is no poetry in French literature, for to create poetry out of French life is impossible.”
Joyce left Paris again, penniless, on April 11, 1903 after receiving a telegram from Dublin that read "Mother dying come home father", and then passed through Paris, briefly, with Nora Barnacle on his way to a job that did not exist in Zurich in October 1904.
After living in Pola, Trieste and Zurich, Joyce arrived back in Paris on July 8, 1920. He originally planned simply to stay in the French capital for a few days before establishing himself in London. But destiny decided otherwise. As Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellmann puts it: “He came to Paris to stay a week and remained for twenty years.”
In that time, by some counts Joyce changed address 19 times (ncluding numerous short stays in hotels. Below is a list of those addresses including the periods of Joyce’s stay:
As can be seen from this list, Joyce remained faithful to the same areas—the most expensive in Paris—throughout his time there. Bar a four-month stay in the fifth arrondissement (when French writer Valéry Larbaud lent him his house), Joyce was very much a “Westsider”, moving between the 6th, 7th, 8th and 16th arondissements. He was able to live in these expensive areas largely thanks to the largesse and indulgence of a rich English widow called Harriet Shaw Weaver who gave Joyce the modern equivalent of more than GBP1 million over several years. And yet, excepting a plaque to commemorate the publication of Ulysses in rue de l'Odéon (5th arrondissement), Joyce’s peregrinations went uncommemorated for a long time, until local residents erected a plaque a couple of years ago in front of 71, rue Cardinal Lemoine (5th arrondissement). The longest he stayed put in one place was at 7, rue Edmond Valentin, but the only plaque at this address honours one Ricardo Güilades, an obscure Argentinean writer. Nothing either outside 8, ave. Floquet, while on a house directly opposite is a slab to commemorate the French writer Paul Morand who lived there from 1927 to 1976.
Of all these addresses, perhaps the most interesting is 9, rue de l’Université. For want of anything better, Joyce had recourse to furnished rooms there on three occasions. The first time round he found the place to his liking, since for some reason it recalled Dublin for him. But by his third and final stay he was calling it “this damned brothel”. Joyce, his wife and two children lived three in one room, one in the other. In the larger room, Joyce kept a series of potted phoenix palms, which he said reminded him of the Phoenix Park back in Dublin. Richard Ellmann describes thus the visit of one eye doctor to rue de l’Université in May 1922: "[The young doctor] was astonished by the disorder: trunks half empty, clothes hanging everywhere, toilet accessories spread on chairs, tables, and mantelpiece. Wrapped in a blanket and squatting on the floor was a man with dark glasses who proved to be Joyce, and facing him in the same posture was Nora. Between them stood a stewpan with a chicken carcass, and beside it a half empty bottle of wine.”
Like J.M. Synge before him, Joyce had a bad experience at the Café d’Harcourt on the Place de la Sorbonne (5th arrondissement, café no longer exists), suffering an attack of iritis there in July 1921. The Café d'Harcourt became the Libraire Rive Gauche during World War Two. This innocuous-sounding name disguised the bookshop's function as an outlet for German and Nazi literature. For this reacon, the Librairie was repeatedly attacked by the Resistance. The premises are now a Gap store. Enough!
James Joyce: A Biography (2011)
James Joyce (1983 edition)
A Little Circle of Kindred Minds: Joyce in Paris (2011)
Conor Fennell (also see interesting blog on Joyce in Paris at http://conorfennell.com)
James Joyce in Paris—His Final Years (1966)
Selected Letters of James Joyce (1992)
Ed. by Richard Ellmann