Tag Archives: Ulysses

James Joyce’s Knocker.Here’s the story that started it…from my piece in The Irish Times

As Bloomsday approaches, Mary Russell goes on a transatlantic odyssey to solve the mystery of No 7 Eccles Street’s multiple door knockers

We met in Manhattan, Fred and I, in a small cafe near where I was then living, not far from the Bowery. Third Avenue, to be precise. The number three would turn out to have some significance, as would the number seven, though I didn’t yet know it.

Fred was part of an international organisation I belonged to, which helped you to meet local people wherever you were staying.
We had lunch, chatted and then he took a metal object from his bag and placed it on the table between us.
“What’s this?” I asked, though I could clearly see it was an old, black door knocker.
“It’s the door knocker,” he said and paused dramatically, “from No 7, Eccles Street, Dublin.”

The table shuddered slightly as if an earthquake were on the way. No 7 Eccles Street, after all, was the fictional home of Ulysses’ Leopold and Molly Bloom. When James Joyce discovered the house was empty in 1904, he conveniently installed the Blooms in it without so much as a by-your-leave.
And then along came Fred Seiden. In July 1966, he was an eager young American doing a sort of odyssey on wheels around Europe. Arriving in Dublin, he immediately pedalled off to retrace some of Bloom’s steps. In Eccles Street he found No 7 dilapidated and certainly not celebrated as home to the most well-used marital bed in literary history. Then – and put your hands over your ears now if you don’t want to be an accessory after the crime – he wrenched the door knocker from the door, believing he was saving at least one small part of a house that clearly would not survive much longer.
Thirty-eight years later, he looked gobsmacked when I told him that, in fact, the door was alive and well, its knocker in situ, and on display at the James Joyce Centre.
We eyeballed each other, neither flinching from these two versions of the truth, but as soon as I got back to Dublin I hightailed it to the James Joyce Centre to examine the knocker. I saw from the marks on the door that, yes, there had been a number of previous ones.
In New York last year, I met up with Fred again and compared notes and drawings. His knocker could have come from the door, as he says, though its shape didn’t seem to fit the fading outline of previous ones.
The thing is, Joycean scholars, understandably, are not overly interested in the door knocker. Austin Briggs of Hamilton College, New York, however, wrote in a short innuendo piece (knockers, geddit?) that he thought he must have seen the door in Eccles Street before the house was demolished, but felt sure the knocker now on the door in the James Joyce Centre was not the same one as he had seen.
David Butler, the centre’s education officer, isn’t overly surprised: “A lady gave us another one only last year, ” he says.
Famous Joycean David Norris was able to reveal the identity of “the lady” – none other than Mary Maher, one-time women’s editor of The Irish Times and “a fierce union woman”, as a colleague described her.
“Yes,” Mary says, “a friend gave it to me years ago. I can’t say how he came by it or who he was but I decided to donate it to the centre last year.” It’s on display upstairs in a glass case.
Which means we have three No 7 door knockers, and you can’t get a better magical mix than that, so don’t anyone even think of finding a fourth one.
Back at the James Joyce Centre, as I talk to David Butler, a visitor approaches the door and reverently strokes its knocker. Politely, I avert my eyes during this sacred moment so I am not able to tell if the pilgrim is Japanese or American or from another of the many far-flung outposts of Joycean culture. Naturally, I don’t tell him about my discoveries.
We’ve managed to deal with the fact that St Patrick was a fictitious person, but how awful it would be to learn that, when it comes to the door knocker, we’ve all been rubbing the wrong relic.

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Lucia Joyce lies alone but not forgotten. My Diary piece from The Irish Times

An Irishwoman’s Diary

Mary Russell

The town of Northampton, in England’s southern midlands, is an unlikely place to find a Joyce connection. Yet one of its cemeteries – Kingsthorpe – is the final resting place of Lucia Joyce, the tragic daughter of James and Nora.

Postwar Trieste, Lucia’s birthplace, had been claimed by Yugoslavia which is why her grave is located in the eastern Europe section of the cemetery and surrounding  headstones are inscribed in many of the Slav languages. Lucia’s says, simply: “Lucia Anna Joyce, Trieste 1907, Northampton 1982.”

Her mental disturbance, thought to have been schizophrenic (one doctor noted she was neurotic rather than lunatic) started to manifest itself when she was in her early twenties and the resultant erratic behaviour and violent outbursts made her difficult to live with. She severed the phone lines in her parents’ apartment at a most inopportune moment – just when the momentous news came through that a US judge had given permission for Ulysses to be published there and when newspapers were hungry for interviews.

In her book To Dance in the Wake, Carol Loeb Schloss notes that Lucia always felt that the many young men who came calling showed more interest in her father than in her – which understandably gave some cause for grievance, for she was an attractive twenty-something with a passion for the fad of the day, creative dance.

On her father’s 50th birthday, she threw a chair at the mother she felt favoured her brother Giorgio more than her, though this outburst seemed also related to the fact that Sam Beckett had been invited to the party.

Lucia and Beckett had previously been something of an item, albeit a one-sided one, for the busy young Beckett – he was two years older than Lucia – had seed to sow in other places.

Lucia’s parents found her behaviour more than they could cope with and eventually committed her to a sanitorium – an action which, in those days, was the equivalent of a life sentence. Her first incarceration was in 1932 when she was 25; and though she survived the Nazi occupation in a French sanitorium she was finally brought to St Andrew’s Institution in Northampton by a London-based doctor who had been treating her and who had connections there. She arrived in 1951 and remained until her death, 31 years later, at the age of 75.

On Bloomsday last year, a bunch of flowers was placed on her grave by a nurse from Saint Andrew’s who remembered her. The story goes that the grave was visited by Beckett himself and that he left a card inscribed to his one-time friend. The nurse was in two minds: should she rescue the card and preserve it for posterity or leave it in place? She chose the latter course, but the ink, as you’ll guess, slowly faded and the card blew away in the wind. A fanciful ending, but one in keeping with Lucia’s own self-image.

The leading light of the Northampton Connolly Association is Dublin-born Peter Mulligan and his Iranian wife Golnar. With Peter I crossed the cemetery to visit another Irish grave, that of a one-time member of the Connolly Association and author of the marvellous Diary of an Irish Navvy; he was known to his friends as Danny, though the inscription reads: “Donaill MacAmhlaigh. Scríbhneoir. 1927-1989.”

But the literary trail doesn’t end here. If you take a walk down through the town – once famous as a centre of shoemaking – to the church of All Saints, you’ll find the circle closing. Here, in a small niche set into the outside wall, is where the poet John Clare used to sit (“A shiny seat well sat on, ” says Peter Mulligan), taking his ease and writing off-the-cuff poems for anyone who might come up to him and request one.

Like Lucia Joyce, Clare, who died in 1864, was a long-term resident of St Andrew’s but had a better deal than she had: each day he was allowed out to take up his poet’s position by the church, on condition he was back in time for tea.

Those were more kindly times. Lucia now lies alone, though not forgotten thanks to the Connolly Association, in her English grave, far from her father, mother and brother who are all buried in a cemetery in Zurich.

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Joyce is the name. James Joyce – and his knocker.

Rubbing the Wrong Relic

We met in Manhattan, Fred and I, in a small café near where I was then living, not far from the Bowery. Third Avenue, to be precise. The number three would turn out to have some significance here as would the number seven though I didn’t yet know it.
Fred was part of an international organisation I belonged to, one where you could meet up with local people wherever you were staying.
We had lunch, chatted and then he did it: he took a metal object from his bag and placed it on the table between us.
“ What’s this,” I asked, playing for time though I could see clearly it was an old, black door knocker.
“ It’s the door knocker,” he said and paused dramatically, “ from Number Seven, Eccles Street, Dublin.”
The table shuddered slightly as if an earthquake were on the way. Number Seven Eccles Street, after all, had seen some comings and goings in its time though not, strangely, in 1904 when Joyce, discovering it had been empty that year, conveniently installed Molly and Leopold in it without as much as a by your leave.
And then along comes Fred Seiden, who, in July 1966, was an eager young American doing a sort of odyssey on wheels around Europe. Arriving in Dublin, he immediately pedalled off to retrace some of Bloom’s steps. In Eccles Street he found Number Seven dilapidated and certainly not celebrated as home to the most well-used marital bed in literary history. Then – and put your hands over your ears for the next bit if you don’t want to be an accessory after the crime – he wrenched the door knocker from the door believing he was saving at least one small part of a house that clearly would not survive much longer.
38 years later, he looked gobsmacked when I told that, in fact, the door was alive and well, its knocker in situ, and on display at the James Joyce Centre. We eyeballed each other, neither flinching from these two versions of the truth but I have to say that as soon as I got back to Dublin I hightailed it to the JJ Centre to examine the knocker where I saw that, yes, there had been a number of previous ones.
In New York last year, I met up with Fred again and compared notes and drawings. His knocker could have come from the door, as he says, though its shape didn’t seem to fit the fading outline of previous ones.
The thing is, none of the Joycean scholars, understandably, are interested in the door knocker though Austin Briggs of Hamilton College, New York, in a short innuendo piece (knockers, geddit?) thought he must have seen the door in Eccles Street before the house was demolished but felt sure the knocker on the door in the JJ Centre was not the same one. David Butler, the Centre’s education officer wasn’t overly surprised: “A lady gave us another one only last year, ” he told me.
It was Joyce supremo David Norris who revealed the identity of “the lady” – none other than Mary Maher, one-time women’s editor of The Irish Times and “a fierce union woman” as a colleague described her. “Yes,” Mary said, “a friend gave it to me years ago. I can’t say how he came by it or who he was but I decided to donate it to the Centre last year.” Which means we have three Number Seven door knockers and you can’t get a better magical mix than that so don’t anyone even think of finding a fourth one.
Back at the JJ Centre, as I talked to David Butler, a visitor approached the door and reverently stroked its knocker. Politely, I averted my eyes during this sacred moment so I wasn’t able to tell if the pilgrim was Japanese or American or from another of the many far-flung outposts of Joycean culture. Naturally, I didn’t tell him about my discoveries. We’ve managed to deal with the fact that St Patrick was a fictive person but how awful it would be to learn that, when it comes to the door knocker, we’ve all been rubbing the wrong relic.

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