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"James Joyce and 'Ulysses'" (2004)

Commentary No. 11 – Department of Foreign Affairs file from the Irish Embassy in Berne relating to Joyces’s death (1941)


James Joyce died in a Zurich hospital on 13 January 1941, as a result of a perforated duodenal ulcer. He and his family had recently left Vichy France for neutral Switzerland. He was buried in Fluntern cemetery; speeches were made by Lord Derwent, British Ambassador to Switzerland (Joyce remained a British subject), the poet Max Geilinger, and Professor Heinrich Straumann of Zurich University. His wife, Nora, lived on in Zurich until 1951, often complaining “Things are very dull now. There was always something doing when he was about.” She was buried in a separate grave to him, and remained there until 1966, when they were both exhumed and reunited in a permanent grave.

The documents reproduced here from the files of the Irish Embassy in Berne include two press cuttings from the time of Joyce’s death, one from the Irish Press for the day after his death, and one from the Irish Times a week later. The first finishes with the fiction that Joyce married Nora in 1904 (they didn’t marry until 1931), and refers to the ‘bitter controversy’ caused by the publication of Ulysses. The second is a letter from Joyce’s old friend, Constantine Curran, correcting certain inaccuracies which had appeared in a report in the newspaper. The other documents are letters from the Irish Ambassador to Switzerland, Sean Morrissey, to the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, to John Garvin and from Heinrich Straumann to the Ambassador. They date from November 1965 to June 1966, and concern the re-interment of Nora and James Joyce, the ceremonies surrounding this, and the delivery of a lecture on Joyce by Mr. Garvin, an eminent public servant and Joyce scholar. There is also a reference to Fritz Senn, the Joyce scholar responsible for establishing the annual Joyce symposium; the first one was held in Dublin in 1967.

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