Guest Post: James Joyce's "Years of Bloom" in Trieste
Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder
I first heard of James Joyce's connection with Trieste more than a decade ago during a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum when I saw his piano on display, one he had bought in Trieste, a reflection of his priorities at a time when he and his family were living on a very small income. The 22-year-old Joyce arrived in Trieste in 1904, with Nora Barnacle, whom he had met only a few months earlier and who would become his wife in 1931. The story goes that the two moved there after hearing of a teaching post for Joyce which became unavailable once they arrived. Once in Trieste, Joyce left Nora in the gardens outside the train station to find an accommodation for the night but he was caught up in a brawl with drunken English sailors in a bar and was arrested. He was released a few hours later with the help of the English consul and rejoined Nora in the square outside the station. Joyce went to live in Trieste for a number of years and did a good amount of work, completing Dubliners and starting work on Ulysses. Both his children were born there.
Joyce's years in Trieste were not all rosy. He was forced to change houses a number of times--take a James Joyce walking tour and you will see the buildings where he had resided as well as the cafes and taverns where he loved to drink, which obviously didn't help in his health problems. His job as an English teacher at the Berlitz School paid little, so he had to take on other jobs to supplement his earnings. He tried his hand as a bank clerk, an opera singer, and a tweed merchant, and involved a group of Triestine investors in his unsuccessful attempt to run the first cinema in Dublin.
Two hours by train from Venice, Trieste is quieter, and a beauty all its own and even then was a hub for artists and philosophers, notably Joyce and his friend Italo Svevo who is regarded as one of Joyce's inspirations for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in Ulysses. During Joyce's time, Trieste was a center of European cosmopolitanism and there Joyce came into contact with characters, cultures, languages and religions far different from those to his native Dublin. In Trieste he associated with Jewish Triestines, feeding his knowledge of Irredentism and rekindling his own political biases. It is curious that Joyce left Trieste for good after the First World War, when the city became a part of Italy. Traveling to Trieste and walking its streets, visiting the James Joyce Museum, and doing further reading about the time he spent there gives one a glimpse, if not a complete understanding, of some of the influences in his literary works and how he came of age in this city.
At Via Roma 16 is a statue of Joyce by the Trieste-born sculptor Nino Spagnoli. It was erected on the bridge in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joyce's arrival there. On the ground by the statue is a plaque that partly reads "...la mia anima è a Trieste ..." my soul is in Trieste, from his letter to Nora dated October 27, 1909. For my part there was no epiphany; I only needed cups of gelato at the Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia overlooking the Adriatic to understand why he chose to live there as a young man and why his soul is in Trieste.
Images: Joyce statue at Via Roma 16; The James Joyce Museum in Trieste, Italy. Credit: Catherine Batac Walder.