Is Georgie my son?


    At the time that I used to meet you at the corner of Merrion Square and walk with you and feel your hand touch me in the dark and hear your voice (O, Nora! I will never hear that music again because I can never believe again) at the time I used to meet you, every second night you kept an appointment with a friend of mine outside the Museum, you went with him along the same streets, down by the canal, past the ‘house with the upstairs in it’, down to the bank of the Dodder. You stood with him: he put his arm around you and you lifted your face and kissed him. What else did you do together? And the next night you met me!

Richard Ellmann. Selected Letters of James Joyce (Page 158)

This letter was written to Nora Barnacle on 6th August 1909 from 44 Fontenoy Street, the latest of John Joyce’s homes. It was here that James Joyce stayed from late July until early September of 1909, when he brought his son Georgio back to Dublin to meet his family. Nora Barnacle remained in Trieste. The letters are amongst the most sensational words that Joyce wrote, and the quote above is from the first.

Shortly after his arrival in Dublin he met his friend Vincent Cosgrave who told him that he had been with Nora in 1904. The claims were false but they were to lead to many of the themes that appear in later works that Joyce wrote, including the play Exiles and of course Ulysses.

On the morning of 7th August Joyce wrote again following a sleepless night.

    Is Georgie my son? The first night I slept with you in Zurich was October 11th and he was born on July 27th. That is nine months and 16 days. I remember that there was very little blood that night. Were you fucked by anyone before you came to me? You told me that a gentleman named Holohan ( a good Catholic, of course, who makes his Easter duty regularly) wanted to fuck you when you were in that hotel, using what they call a ‘French letter[’]. Did he do so? Or did you allow him only to fondle you and feel you with his hands?

Richard Ellmann. Selected Letters of James Joyce (Page 158)

According to Gordon Bowker in his recent biography, Joyce visited his friend Byrne that same August day and was told that Cosgrave had lied, and was probably in cahoots with Gogarty to destroy Joyce’s marriage. John Francis Byrne lived at 7 Eccles Street, soon to be the home of Leopold Bloom and the place where Bloom is cuckolded. As ever Joyce was to weave people and places, fact and fiction together into his works.

Joyce returned to Trieste but came back to Dublin in October to set up the Cinematograph Volta in Mary Street which opened in December 1909. His jealousy did not abate and the letters he wrote to Nora got progressively more salacious.


Joyce, J. (1992) Selected Letters of James Joyce. Edited by Richard Ellmann. London, England: Faber & Faber.

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