James Joyce
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The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920

Book Summary

By Christine Northcott

In The Years of Bloom, John McCourt closely follows the life of Joyce during the years that he and Nora lived in Trieste. Throughout the book he describes in detail the places they lived, jobs Joyce held, friends they made and the various influences the city had on Joyce's writing. McCourt organized this book chronologically, from the day that Joyce and Nora left Dublin to the day they finally left Trieste, sixteen years later.


Heading East

1 1 Ten days in Trieste

2 Lady Gregory, George Russell and Stanislaus Joyce pulled together enough money to help send Joyce and Nora to Zurich in October 1904, where Joyce was expecting to have a position in the Berlitz school there. There was no opening there, or at the school in Trieste, and Joyce ended up at a new school in Pola. He was there for four months.

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3 2 A writer in Siberia

4 Joyce and Nora were disappointed with Pola. They found a small room in which to live close to the school, which had no heater or cooler. Soon after their arrival, it got very cold and many nights were 8 or 9 degrees below zero. They had very little money, but began living well beyond their means, a habit which they never broke. Joyce found Pola particularly boring, but it did give the new couple more time to get acquainted. As a teacher, Joyce adopted the Berlitz school method of speaking only English to the students. This, along with the drills he gave students, may have had an influence on his writing. In December, Nora discovered she was pregnant. A position finally opened at the Berlitz school in Trieste, so they left Pola.

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A portrait of a "tarry easty"

His "Italian warehouse"

McCourt gives a brief description of Trieste here. It was a port city, which became a vital link between Austria-Hungary, the Mediterranean and the East, when the free port was established. By the time Joyce arrived, Trieste was well on its way to becoming more cosmopolitan.

Settling down

In Trieste Joyce and Nora lived in another little room, this one without cooking facilities. It overlooked the Piazza Ponterosso and was near the school. Joyce was still poorly paid. The couple regularly borrowed money and Joyce often asked for advances on his paychecks. Although they were behind on bills and had no appropriate clothing, (Nora had no maternity clothes), Joyce would manage to buy many books and attend the theatre. McCourt lists every performance that happened during this season, from plays to operas, mentioning those that Joyce was known to have seen, and some that he may have seen.

Coping with "married life"

The couple was not doing well, and Nora was especially uncomfortable, being pregnant during the extremely hot summer of 1905. During this summer, Joyce worked on "The Boarding House" and "Counterparts" for Dubliners. Autumn came, and with it the Bora, a strong northeasterly wind which was unique in its sound and might. McCourt goes on to describe the appearance this wind later makes in Finnegan's Wake. Socially, Joyce and Nora are pressured to marry and were put out of three different apartments because of Nora's "condition." Their son Giorgio was born in July, not baptized, and now their financial problems were bigger.

Visions of the east

McCourt explores the idea of "Jewishness" and "Oriental-ness" Joyce brings into his writing. He then goes on to name some acquaintances in Trieste whose "Oriental" traits Joyce may have observed. Molly and Leopold Bloom were certainly examples of his exotic characters, whose backgrounds he drew from Hungary, Palestine and Spain. McCourt then pulls some examples from Ulysses where this exotic theme can be felt, such as Bloom's reverie when stopping at "the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company." Molly's exotic features are what attract Bloom to her, and McCourt goes on to talk about instances in Ulysses where Bloom goes from the images of exotic fruits, to thinking longingly about his wife. McCourt states that melons in particular are significant because in Italy they are a symbol of marriage.

Trieste and Triestino: into the cultural melting pot

Joyce soon invited his brother Stanislaus to Trieste, telling him he could also work teaching at the school. As soon as Stanislaus arrived, he began playing the role of the responsible adult. McCourt talks about the languages spoken in Trieste, and the dialect of Triestino, which was influenced by many other cultures, nations and languages in the city. Joyce had no problem picking up on the new language, and spoke many different languages already.

The Greeks - in the original

Trieste had a strong Greek community, and Joyce made many Greek friends. He also attended the local Greek churches to observe for his writing. These rituals, which were strange to him, made him feel even more detached from the Catholic Church. This is a feeling, which he shares with Bloom, particularly in "Lotus-Eaters" and "Hades".

His Bacchic indulgence

As Trieste was much like Dublin, in its abundance of bars, Joyce began drinking quite a bit. He usually went straight from the school and drank until late at night. This was no doubt frustrating for Nora and Stanislaus, but McCourt points out the use this had for Joyce when writing Ulysses, particularly the drunken and loud confusion of "Oxen of the Sun" and "Circe".

Socialistic tendencies

There were many opportunities for Joyce to be influenced by socialism, such as public lectures, newspapers, and his own students. He took interest in socialism for a brief time, and McCourt suggests that this is reflected in Bloom's character in Ulysses.

Waiting for a breakthrough

1906 - Joyce was still trying hard to get Dubliners published, and he knew this would bring an end to their financial problems. Joyce and Nora were getting along a bit better, and Joyce even began taking singing lessons. McCourt again goes extensively into the events in the theatre that season. In order to have more time for writing, and hopefully more money, Joyce took a job in a bank in Rome, and the family left in July. Stanislaus stayed behind and was again stuck with all of Joyce's debts.


Was ist eine Nation?

1 Roman interlude

Joyce hated Rome and his plan for more writing and more money was not working out. He was very inconsiderate of Stanislaus, and wrote him frequently to direct his financial affairs in Trieste. He continued to have problems with Dubliners. The couple found out that Nora was pregnant again. On 6 March, two men robbed Joyce, and the family left the very next day for Trieste.

2 Schmitz / Svevo

Ettore Schmitz, whose pseudonym was Italo Svevo, was a businessman, writer and student of Joyce's. The two men had much in common and were friends for a long time. Svevo was 46 at the time he met Joyce in 1907, and McCourt talks about his influence on the character of Bloom in Ulysses.

3 "old Auster and Hungrig"

Roberto Prezioso, editor of the paper Il Piccolo Della Sera, asked Joyce to "do a series of articles on the evils of empire as found in Ireland" (92). Joyce agrees to write the articles, and they are a success, making the front-page of the Il Piccolo Della Sera.

4 The nightmare of history

McCourt discusses more of Joyce's writing for Il Piccolo Della Sera, and in particular the piece "Home Rule Comes of Age."

5 The hardest years

In the summer of 1907 Lucia was born, Joyce was hospitalized for rheumatic fever, the couple fought more, Dubliners was still being rejected and Joyce quit the Berlitz school in a rage because it had been leased to the French and German teachers. Once again the financial burden was put on Stanislaus. In July of 1909 Joyce left with Giorgio for his first trip to Dublin in five years. He hoped to secure publication of Dubliners.


La nostra bella Trieste

1 The news from Dublin

During this trip Joyce met up with Cosgrave, who told him he had been intimate with Nora. Joyce's friend Byrne calmed him, (whose address was later to become the Bloom's address). Joyce hurried back to Trieste, bringing his sister Eva with him. One day, soon after he arrived back, Eva commented on the cinemas in Trieste and how Dublin had none. This inspired Joyce's next project.

2 Cinema pioneer

In 1909 Joyce enlisted a group of local cinema owners and they sent Joyce to Dublin to set up a new theatre. This ended up being a fiasco, and six months later they sold the theatre.

3 The Trieste branch

Nora again threatened to leave when Joyce went on his theatre adventure. He left her to take care of the two children and his sister, who spoke no Italian. Joyce returned, this time with his other sister Eileen. Stanislaus was again left with the financial burdens, and this time he refused.

4 Among the Futurists and the Vociani

Here McCourt talks about the two literary movements going on at this time, Marinetti's Futurist movement and the Florence-based Vociani. The Futurist movement was supported by many of the intellectuals Joyce knew. As Joyce felt that Dublin was the city of paralysis, Marinetti felt the same about his own country. Joyce was influenced stylistically by the Futurists. McCourt does not spend much time on the Vociani, but states that this group may have also influenced Joyce thematically.

5 Business as usual

Joyce was still having money problems, and Stanislaus would give-in every once in a while and help him out. Joyce was still having trouble publishing Dubliners and was making little progress with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

6 Joyce on English Literature

In February 1912 Joyce accepted the offer to deliver two well-paid lectures at the Universita Popolare. The lectures were called "Realism and Idealism in English Literature from Defoe to Blake." He tried to publish this essay, but without luck.

7 Betrayal

Joyce writes about two tales of betrayal in the summer of 1912. The first was an article titled "The Shade of Parnell" which talks about the destruction of the hero at the hands of his own people. This passed with little surprise from readers. The second was "Gas from a Burner" and was a response to the betrayal of his own publishers. In 1912 Joyce sent Nora to Dublin to see about the publishing of Dubliners, and he follows her there shortly after, angry because she neglected to write him on her arrival. They both left Dublin soon after, never to return again.


Success in the shadow of war

1 Return to exile, and "Exiles"

Joyce's friend Prezioso, editor of Il Piccolo, was spending a lot of time with Nora while Joyce was not there. At one point he told Nora "The sun shines for you." She told Joyce about this and he publicly confronted Prezioso. Joyce would later use this event in Ulysses and Exiles.

2 Giacomo Joyce

Giacomo Joyce was a novelette written between 1911 and 1914. It consists of 16 hand-written pages. Joyce had never tried, and probably never intended to publish it. McCourt suggests that this work marked a transition in Joyce's view of women from offensive to accepting. He also names a few of the girls Joyce knew that could have been an influence for the one that appears in Giacomo Joyce. At this time there was also finally an agreement to publish Dubliners and shortly thereafter the Egoist agreed to publish Portrait in 15-page installments.

3 "the society of jewses"

Here McCourt suggests that Joyce would have thought of Jews very stereotypically if he had not moved to Trieste. The population of Jews in Trieste had an obvious influence in the character of Bloom. "It is not that the Jewish community in Trieste was unique…but it was the only one that Joyce came to know intimately and at first hand before he planned and wrote Ulysses" (218). McCourt also talks briefly about the conversion to Catholicism among the Jews at this time, and the problem of suicide in this community.

4 In the shadow of war

1914 - Tensions were rising between the European nations, and the relationship between the Italian majority and Austrian minority had almost completely broken down. The school where Joyce was working had to shut down because of the dwindling population of students. On 23 May 1915 Italy entered the war. On 27 June 1915 Joyce and his family left the city for Zurich.

Afterword: Tergestis Exul

Joyce tried to return to Trieste after the war, but did not feel at ease there and left for Paris with Nora and the children, unsure again of their future.


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Created: Saturday, February 11, 2006; Last Updated: Thursday, August 06, 2015
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