Nora Blooms Beneath Nuala’s Hands
At the age of 20, three months after meeting James Joyce, Nora Barnacle left everything she knew behind to share the adventure of a lifetime with him.
She was a maid in Finn’s Hotel in Dublin when they met, and he was a clever and ambitious young man who wanted to be a writer.
In 1904, they shipped out for mainland Europe, at times living a hand-to-mouth existence, and at other times eating in the best restaurants. But through it all, Galway-born Nora stuck by Joyce, and in turn he treated her as his muse and immortalised her as Molly Bloom in Ulysses.
Writer Nuala O’Connor, who brings Nora vividly to life in her novel of the same name, discusses the famous literary couple in the latest City of Books podcast with Martina Devlin.
“He is in danger of looming too large and I wanted it to be her story,” she says.
“I didn’t want Nora to be a small fact in the larger fact of James Joyce’s genius. I wanted her to be very much her own person.
“He saw great nobility in Nora, he really trusted her, and they had a great bedroom life. They knew what each other wanted.”
Nuala made a point of including sex scenes in the novel because she believes their sexual rapport was an important part of the relationship.
“There’s a tendency for writers to close the doors as soon as the curtains close. I’d rather write it out and I’d rather have the reader have that,” she says.
Nora: A Love Story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor is published by New Island.