The Dirty Letters of James Joyce
May 5, 2003 6:23 PM   Subscribe

"1909. James Joyce lives in Trieste (Italy) with his family. End of October, he leaves alone for Dublin on a business trip, and stays there until the end of December. He makes a pact with his wife to write to each other erotic letters. The letters of his wife disappeared, but the ones he wrote were published in 1975, the "dirty" letters of Joyce to [his] wife." {Very rude language, probably NSFW}
posted by mr_crash_davis (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Frigging genius, that man.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:24 PM on May 5, 2003

"When that person (Vincent Cosgrave) whose heart I long to stop with the click of a revolver put his hand or hands under your skirts did he only tickle you outside or did he put his finger or fingers up into you?"

I don't think Vincent Cosgrave was related to me :-)
They are really interesting letters to read - they put the idea that the Irish were holy, Catholic and terrified of sex in the shade.
posted by tomcosgrave at 6:30 PM on May 5, 2003

What a dirty bird!
posted by Hildago at 6:36 PM on May 5, 2003

awwww... he's dreamy
posted by muckster at 7:05 PM on May 5, 2003

posted by ronv at 7:05 PM on May 5, 2003

They are really interesting letters to read - they put the idea that the Irish were holy, Catholic and terrified of sex in the shade.

Well, it might be a mistake to class Joyce as a typical Irishman... He's an outsider, and doesn't feel too much kinship with his countrymen. This vibe runs through all the works I've read. (Portrait, Dubliners, and half of Ulysses. Eventually I decided that finishing the damned thing wasn't worth the six months of reading it was going to cost me.)
posted by kaibutsu at 7:11 PM on May 5, 2003

In the context of Ulysses these letters are actually pretty amazing. Speaking of context, my favorite sentences (given what precedes them) are:

"I cannot go to the G.P.O. though I have three letters to post."


"No use continuing! You can guess why!"

though I'll give a shiny twenty-five-cent piece to the first MeFi reader to actually say this to someone:

I have come now and the foolery is over. Now for your questions!
posted by Prospero at 7:26 PM on May 5, 2003 [2 favorites]

I'm actually writing on Joyce's treatment of waste in Ulysses. Freaking amazing book, that. Absolutely beautiful. I'd come across a few of these letters during my research, but it's nice to see them all together. Oh, James, you so crazy! And kaibutsu, the book is definitely worth the time it takes. Pick up something like Gifford's annotations, which will help immensely... Anyway, back to the paper.
posted by UKnowForKids at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2003
posted by FormlessOne at 8:02 PM on May 5, 2003

Why Mr Joyce, how you do go on, you naughty, dirty boy!

Perhaps this thread should be cross referenced here.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:24 PM on May 5, 2003

In high school, this was our library's most requested book.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:18 PM on May 5, 2003

Are these letters actually for real, or am I completely missing a grand literary joke? The whole "dirty fart" business is what made me question it (not that I can't see Joyce writing that; more like I can't see anyone writing that with an erotic intent).
posted by Zosia Blue at 9:35 PM on May 5, 2003

posted by eateneye at 9:57 PM on May 5, 2003

No, I think the last letter takes the cake; this is Joycean eroticism parceled out in top form.

Stand aside Henry Miller, as you've been unceremoniously dethroned.
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:02 PM on May 5, 2003

I remember reading (I think it was in this book) that Joyce's family or estate tried to block publication of these letters for quite a long time apparently. Interesting to see them available.
posted by Vidiot at 11:19 PM on May 5, 2003

"[...] and my true love for you, the love of my verses, the love of my eyes for your strange luring eyes, comes blowing over my soul like a wind of spices."

and later:
"[...] all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes. It was your lips too which first uttered an obscene word. I remember well that night in bed in Pola."

Just because its erotic doesn't mean its poorly written. This is something fanfic authors would do well to learn.

It is, however, nice to discover that the author of Finnegans Wake likes to get down and have a good time like the rest of us. Sort of humanizing the Canon, if you will.
posted by mmcg at 11:34 PM on May 5, 2003

Wow. This is great stuff!

You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:09 AM on May 6, 2003 [4 favorites]

I vaguely remember Richard Ellman speculating, in his biography of Joyce, that this correspondence was initiated by Nora, as a means of keeping James' sexual attention focussed on her during their separation.
posted by misteraitch at 4:41 AM on May 6, 2003

I still remember a professor reading some of the choicest bits from these letters out loud in a Joyce seminar in college. Best day of class I can remember.
posted by fluffy1984 at 6:11 AM on May 6, 2003

wow.. that is raunchy.. that's the guy who wrote araby?

btw, this is what nora looks like...
posted by lotsofno at 10:05 AM on May 6, 2003

Nora Joyce, nee Barnacle, is a heroine of mine, simply because she was so aggressively unliterary. Go Nora! And what a swoonfest those letters are ... good lord. Question: Do people still write love letters, or erotic letters as a genre, or has email rendered such letters mostly redundant? Would anyone take as much trouble over an email as Joyce did in these letters (not really a fair question, as being a literary genius I doubt that Joyce could compose a laundry list without being too clever for his own good)?
posted by jokeefe at 12:43 PM on May 6, 2003

Whenever I think of Joyce, I think about Brother Aquinas, my junior year English teacher. He was Irish, in the Order of St. Patrick, always wore a black cassock with a big, green belt. Imposing like you wouldn't believe. He'd walk up and down the aisles of our classroom, berating us for not memorizing this poem or not knowing what Bobby Burns was talking about. He'd throw erasers at us to get our attention. He made us read "Portrait of the Artist," and kept talking about how Joyce "forged in the smithy of his soul the unborn consciousness of his race."

Now I really know what oul' Jimmy was forging. Woof.
posted by RakDaddy at 3:21 PM on May 6, 2003

Brother Aquinas = Father Jack?

Arse! Gerls! Feck!
posted by tomcosgrave at 6:55 AM on May 7, 2003

Jokeefe, have you never sent or gotten an erotic and/or love email? Writing is writing, regardless of the medium, and love letters will always exist in some form or other.
posted by orange swan at 10:54 AM on May 7, 2003

orange, although it's not for the same reason as Jokeefe's, I see a big difference between erotic letters and erotic e-mails. The former can be reasonably kept private and safe from the eyes of the rest of the world (at least until you die or in the absence of something catastrophic like your house being robbed) and the other is going into a system where it exists in perpetuity, for all practical purposes, and might at any moment be accessed by easy cyber-tricks or forwarded on to god-knows-who and made public. Claire Swire et al can tell you all about that. So no, while I've written an erotic letter or two, I don't see any time I would commit something like that - or something like this -to an e-mail.
posted by soyjoy at 8:04 AM on May 8, 2003

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