Hundreds of Closely Guarded Letters of James Joyce Donated to UK Uni by Author’s Late Grandson

© Henry Kellner; Wikimedia CommonsGraffito of Irish author James Joyce in Opatija, Croatia
Graffito of Irish author James Joyce in Opatija, Croatia - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.02.2022
In the centennial year of the publication of James Joyce’s epic modernist novel “Ulysses,” a trove of his highly-guarded personal letters is slated to be handed over to academics at a British university.
In February 2020, Stephen James Joyce, the Irish author’s last surviving direct descendant, passed away. His 1932 birth was the subject of a poem by his grandfather, the author of “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake,” titled, “Ecce Puer” (“behold, the young boy,” in Latin). Whether out of gratitude or simply a desire to protect his family’s affairs, Stephen ensured that the world remained largely aloof about his grandfather’s private life.
“I am not only protecting and preserving the purity of my grandfather’s work, but also what remains of the much abused privacy of the Joyce family,” he told The New Yorker in 2006.
That is, until his own death, when in his will he bequeathed a trove of some 800 of the author’s personal letters, telegrams, and even Christmas gifts to the University of Reading. According to the UK Telegraph, the documents will enter the university’s public collection this year, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of “Ulysses,” an irreverent and iconoclastic novel that is widely considered one of the best in the Western canon.
Guy Baxter, the head of archives at the University of Reading, told the paper he was pleased at Stephen’s change of heart after spending much of his life blocking his grandfather’s work from being quoted or celebrated, even by the Irish government.
“We were approached by Stephen Joyce a few years ago. He was getting into his 80s then and was looking at making arrangements for this material. He made what some would call controversial decisions during his life. He was focused on the family side. He wasn’t interested in the Joyce of academia. I think it’s great that in the end, he wanted that stuff to go to a public collection. It’s material that has never been seen before,” the archivist told the Telegraph.
Wednesday was the author’s 140th birthday.
According to the paper, the documents primarily come from the 1920s and 30s, between the success of “Ulysses” and the publication of the surreal “Finnegan’s Wake” in 1939, including when he and his wife Nora were married and when his two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were born. He died in 1941 from complications of a severe stomach ulcer.
The trove includes manuscripts of poems written for his family members, including “Ecce Puer,” but also one written for his wife, Nora, for Christmas in 1909. It also includes correspondences between him and other modernist authors of his day, such as Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, and between Joyce and his benefactor, the wealthy heiress-turned-communist Harriet Weaver Shaw.
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