Monday, 22 July 2013

James & Nora: A Pornographic Love Story

Tell me now, Nora, truth for truth, honesty for honesty. When you were with him in the dark at night did your fingers never, never unbutton his trousers and slip inside like mice? Did you ever frig him, dear, tell me truly or anyone else? Did you never, never, never feel a man's or a boy's prick in your fingers until you unbuttoned me?
- Love letter from James Joyce to Nora Barnacle, 1909
Nora Barnacle & James Joyce
In June last year I blogged of ‘Bloomsday’, the celebration of James Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’ held in Dublin on 16th June each year. I intended a follow-on post for Bloomsday this year but found myself too immersed in ’mere reflections of her’ to concentrate on writing it. This is my belated ‘Bloomsday’ post!
Last year I concentrated mainly on the relationship between Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and the effect that the death of their son Rudy, aged only 11 days, had had on their sex life. I also observed that ‘Ulysses’ is a remarkable novel for its depiction of the ordinary.
For this post however I am interested in the relationship between Joyce himself and his wife Nora Barnacle. ‘Ulysses’ takes place on the 16th June because that is the date of Joyce’s and Nora’s first ever date, in 1904. They had been introduced six days before.
It is fair to say that Nora wasn’t particularly impressed with Joyce’s’ novels and found them incomprehensible. In letters to her sister, Nora describes Joyce as weak man and a neurotic artist. Nevertheless they had two children – in 1905 and 1907 – and finally married in 1931. They remained together until Joyce’s death in 1941 aged 53.
Their relationship was complex – tender, often strained but always passionate. Just how passionate was revealed in 1975 when a series of Joyce’s’ love letters to Nora from 1909 was published by Faber and Faber. These letters would certainly not look out of place in a copy of Penthouse Letters! That they come from 1909 was an eye opener for me. I am not quite sure why. It’s almost as if I unconsciously have some sort of belief that people of that era didn’t have pornographic thoughts, or if they did they certainly never admitted to it! It is similar to the phenomena of when thinking of any time before the 1950s some of us mentally see it in black and white - a totally incorrect perception of an era we do not have any direct experience of and know only from television period dramas and Hollywood films.
These love letters are interesting for numerous reasons. One is that the various reoccurring sexual themes within them also occur time and again within ‘Ulysses’ – underwear fetishism, cuckolding and adultery, voyeurism, anal and oral fixations, masturbation and others – arise throughout both the letters and the novel.
Of course I was already aware of many of the sexual references in ‘Ulysses’ – it is impossible to read it and not be! But I think I attributed them to the novel being modernist, or “cutting edge”, or Joyce trying to be controversial and provocative. Something like that. I don’t think I considered for a moment that they were anything but “fiction”.
Since being introduced to Joyce’s love letters to Nora a few weeks ago by Tutsy, I have discovered a wealth of fascinating literary studies regarding the sexual elements of ‘Ulysses’ - their symbolism and significance.  For example, I now understand the meaning behind the references to Bloom carrying a potato in his pocket all day. And also how baby Rudi’s untimely death symbolises Bloom’s proof to himself of his own lack of sexual prowess, as he has left no male heir. This has greatly enhanced my appreciation of the novel.
That much of the sexuality within the book is actually rooted in Joyce’s and Nora personal life only adds to my enhanced appreciation. I’ll re-read it – my third time – with a greater depth of understand.
You can read the full love letters here, but below are some quotations from them.
Pixie xx

My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or fling you down under me on that softy belly of yours and fuck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse, glorying in the open shape of your upturned dress and white girlish drawers…
Your hot lips sucking off my cock while my head is wedged in between your fat thighs, my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt…
The last drop of seed has hardly been squirted up your cunt before it is over 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…
When that person 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? If he did, did they go up far enough to touch that little cock at the end of your cunt? Did he touch you behind? Was he a long time tickling you and did you come? Did he ask you to touch him and did you do so? If you did not touch him did he come against you and did you feel it?
I would like you to wear drawers with three or four frills one over the other at the knees and up the thighs and great crimson bows in them, I mean not schoolgirls' drawers with a thin shabby lace border, thigh round the legs and so thin that the flesh shows with a full loose bottom and wide legs, all frills and lace and ribbons, and heavy with perfume so that whenever you show them, whether in pulling up your clothes hastily to do something or cuddling yourself up prettily to be blocked, I can see only a swelling mass of white stuff and frills and so that when I bend down over you to open them and give you a burning lustful kiss on your naughty bare bum I can smell the perfume of your drawers as well as the warm odour of your cunt and the heavy smell of your behind.
You say when I go back you will suck me off and you want me to lick your cunt, you little depraved blackguard. I hope you will surprise me some time when I am asleep dressed, steal over to me with a whore's glow in your slumberous eyes, gently undo button after button in the fly of my trousers and gently take out your lover's fat mickey, lap it up in your moist mouth and suck away at it till it gets fatter and stiffer and comes off in your mouth.
I got your hot letter tonight and have been trying to picture you frigging your cunt in the closet. How do you do it? Do you stand against the wall with your hand tickling up under your clothes or do you squat down on the hole with your skirts up and your hand hard at work in through the slit of your drawers? Does it give you the horn now to shit? I wonder how you can do it. Do you come in the act of shitting or do you frig yourself off first and then shit? It must be a fearfully lecherous thing to see a girl with her clothes up frigging furiously at her cunt, to see her pretty white drawers pulled open behind and her bum sticking out and a fat brown thing stuck half-way out of her hole. You say you will shit your drawers, dear, and let me fuck you then. I would like to hear you shit them, dear, first and then fuck you. Some night when we are somewhere in the dark and talking dirty and you feel your shite ready to fall put your arms round my neck in shame and shit it down softly.


Film of 'Ulysses' produced in 1967. This film was banned from general release in Ireland until year 2000!

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