NORA: The Real Life of Molly Bloom by Brenda Maddox

NORA: The Real Life of Molly Bloom

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Joyceans remember June 16, 1904, as ""Bloomsday""--the date on which the events of James Joyce's Ulysses occur. For Joyce himself, that date had a deep personal significance. On that evening he ""walked out"" for the first time with Nora Barnacle, a girl from the West of Ireland who was employed as a chambermaid in a shabby Dublin hotel--and who would later marry him and bear his children. London journalist Brenda Maddox (Beyond Babel, 1972; The Half-Parent, 1975; Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor 1977; etc.) makes her first foray into literary biography in this carefully researched and detailed account of Nora Barnacle's fascinating influence on Joyce and his works. Maddox's persuasive thesis has Joyce's obsessive anxiety about Nora's previous affairs as the driving force behind his writing. She shows Nora as the model for both Lily and Gretta in ""The Dead,"" and demonstrates how her unpunctuated correspondence gave Joyce his stream-of, consciousness method for Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses. Nora again surfaces as Anna Livia Plurabel in Finnegan's Wake. She was, Maddox argues, Joyce's portable Ireland. But she also dealt with practical matters, managing the domestic side (money, living arrangements, raising children) of Joyce's life while coping with his heavy drinking. Maddox takes us into the peripatetic Joyce household, showing how Joyce selfishly manipulated those around him (especially his brother Stanislaus) in the name of his art. She also reveals the anguish of their daughter Lucia's mental illness. This book is not so much about Nora herself as it is about the way her and Joyce's relationship was necessary for Joyce's literary career. On her own, Nora Barnacle might have done worse than work as a chambermaid; but without Nora, James Joyce might have remained a minor figure. A valuable addition to the already rich literature on Joyce, then, and a neat complement to the late Richard Ellmann's definitive biography.

Pub Date: June 16th, 1988
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin