Love's Bitter Mystery: The Year that made James Joyce

Published by: Frances Devlin-Glass | 13-Jul-2021
Love's Bitter Mystery is a biographical piece, reflecting on ways James Joyce mined his own life for his fiction; and fictionalised it, too. Is what we're watching fiction? Memory? Biographical fact? Speculation? Or something else entirely?
Venue: Villa Alba
Address: 44 Walmer St., Kew
Date: 14-26 September 2021
Time: 22 sessions at various times
Ticket: $42-45
Buy / Ticket:
Call: 419004762
In 1903, Joyce witnessed his mother's life ebbing away, and also feared his own freedom and potential were on the ebb, too. Excluded because of his poverty and his bad manners from literary circles, unable to make significant progress with his own writings and increasingly alienated from his hearty medical chum Oliver St John Gogarty (immortalised and calumnified in Ulysses as Buck Mulligan), he kicked around town.

Well, that's one interpretation. Another is that this was a crucial period in his development, as a writer but more importantly as a man. He and his mother had a very close relationship, but he felt trapped by everything she represented: family, conventional morality, religion, duty. She taught him what it is to love “ but in a cruel way, it took her death to free him to love her without being bound by everything she demanded from him.

Miserable with grief, poverty and the lack of any apparent future, Joyce's fortunes took a turn for the better when in June 1904 he met a young woman on the streets of Dublin. Nora Barnacle had achieved so much that Joyce had failed to achieve: exile “ for her, from Galway, and escape to the big city “ and not only financial independence but an independence of behaviour, too. Joyce knew plenty of virginal women. And he knew sexually experienced women, in the form of the prostitutes he was visiting. What he didn't know was anyone like Nora, sexually confident, experienced and free of hang ups.

His mother taught him what it is to love; his Nora showed him how.

This play, presented by Bloomsday in Melbourne as a late Bloomsday offering (it had to be postponed in June because of lockdown), is directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean and written by Steve Carey.

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