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Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce

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Nora was twenty years old and penniless when she eloped from Ireland with Joyce, a man of brilliant promise but few accomplishments whom she'd known but three months. She remained with him until his death thirty-seven years later, bearing him two children, governing a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through Nora was twenty years old and penniless when she eloped from Ireland with Joyce, a man of brilliant promise but few accomplishments whom she'd known but three months. She remained with him until his death thirty-seven years later, bearing him two children, governing a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through the force of her own formidable pluck. Most importantly for Joyce's work, Nora served as his "portable Ireland," his living link to the homeland he used as the basis for his masterpieces.


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Nora was twenty years old and penniless when she eloped from Ireland with Joyce, a man of brilliant promise but few accomplishments whom she'd known but three months. She remained with him until his death thirty-seven years later, bearing him two children, governing a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through Nora was twenty years old and penniless when she eloped from Ireland with Joyce, a man of brilliant promise but few accomplishments whom she'd known but three months. She remained with him until his death thirty-seven years later, bearing him two children, governing a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through the force of her own formidable pluck. Most importantly for Joyce's work, Nora served as his "portable Ireland," his living link to the homeland he used as the basis for his masterpieces.

30 review for Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ce Ce

    I did not finish this book. I read to page 110. I stopped because I was plagued with what I now know...and could never UN-know...and needed to contemplate if I wanted to know any more. What is the responsibility of a biographer? Where do you draw the line when revealing the personal? Reading "Nora"...I do not know how one could not help but feel a moral qualm with being a voyeur of things no reasonable human being would want others to contemplate. Especially since this is Nora's bio...and she did I did not finish this book. I read to page 110. I stopped because I was plagued with what I now know...and could never UN-know...and needed to contemplate if I wanted to know any more. What is the responsibility of a biographer? Where do you draw the line when revealing the personal? Reading "Nora"...I do not know how one could not help but feel a moral qualm with being a voyeur of things no reasonable human being would want others to contemplate. Especially since this is Nora's bio...and she did not mine her own life for public consumption. I decided not to continue with "Nora"...out of respect for her.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    This is an outstanding read providing one is interested in James Joyce and the Irish in general. In this book Molly Bloom comes alive as Nora, the wife of James Joyce. A fascinating woman who lived beside Joyce and supported him in her own way. A side of James Joyce I had never read about came to light as well. It is a great read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Terry Wheeler

    This is the missing link from all those books about Joyce the genius. Here we meet the woman that allowed Joyce the environment where his genius could flourish. This is the book I would give to people who have never read Joyce and may think he is some foul nutter. Here they will find the portrait of an incredibly strong woman and the man who loved and was inspired by her.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Andrews Cummin

    As I close the final page of any biography I usually feel a little melancholy, sometimes awe and gladness to have gotten to know a remarkable person. Sometimes too I wish I hadn't learned so much. In the case of the Joyces it was mostly the latter two, in an even mix of awe and dismay. I was glad to know Nora better, less glad to know Joyce (the person, not the writer). The two of them as a couple? Maddox builds a strong case that no one except Nora really had a clue about the man -- which he we As I close the final page of any biography I usually feel a little melancholy, sometimes awe and gladness to have gotten to know a remarkable person. Sometimes too I wish I hadn't learned so much. In the case of the Joyces it was mostly the latter two, in an even mix of awe and dismay. I was glad to know Nora better, less glad to know Joyce (the person, not the writer). The two of them as a couple? Maddox builds a strong case that no one except Nora really had a clue about the man -- which he well knew and which, in some ways formed the bedrock basis of their marriage, that is, she knew he was a remarkable genius with language as well as who he was as a man. As well, he knew who Nora was and to him, she wasn't what other people saw (Nora was from Galway! Western Ireland was the back of beyond in a country that was already the back of beyond therefore she had to be rough and stupid.) Nor was Nora Molly Bloom. For one, she was utterly faithful to Joyce. She was intelligent albeit not well educated, a big difference. Joyce loved her voice, and loved the way she put words together, listened intently to her cadences but the most remarkable thing was that she was Herself. Grounded. Solid. Steady. After ten years on the continent, she spoke fluent Italian and German and later in life learned passable French, knew countless operas (which she adored) by heart. She dressed elegantly, could cook perfectly well --- a good deal of the time they lived in horrible rooms in mediocre hotels with no kitchen and so had to eat out -- others assumed they ate out because she couldn't cook. Not so. Joyce found her presence necessary to him to keep him from flying apart and Nora obliged because he never ceased to surprise her with his own wit and observations and she loved his singing voice and, as I said, agreed with him that he was something special. They loved each other. Ah well -- they were also spendthrifts and dreadful parents, really abominable, but clearly loved their children. Once the two reached young adulthood the Joyces couldn't accept it and made bad decision after bad decision to keep them both too close, tough reading. Through it all Joyce wrote and wrote. He died not long after finishing Finnegan's Wake as if once he had emptied himself, he had no further reason to live. Nora went on for another ten years or so, in part to care for her grandchild. I have to say that my vision of the Joyces is one of unrelieved chaos, disturbing and sad overall, but out of which, somehow, came the most remarkable literary work of the 20th century. ****

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.W.D. Nicolello

    In my year of studying Joyce this book wasn't mentioned once. I wouldn't go straight into this work after Ellmann, but it's also worth noting that Ellmann's biography of Joyce is considered by many the greatest literary biography of all time. While I'm always looking to break away from, or shed new light on the normal, I'm yet to read a literary biography which comes to close in impacting my personal and artistic life through such structure and erudition as the Ellmann book. So this book is a cou In my year of studying Joyce this book wasn't mentioned once. I wouldn't go straight into this work after Ellmann, but it's also worth noting that Ellmann's biography of Joyce is considered by many the greatest literary biography of all time. While I'm always looking to break away from, or shed new light on the normal, I'm yet to read a literary biography which comes to close in impacting my personal and artistic life through such structure and erudition as the Ellmann book. So this book is a couple of notches down. I suggest reading some of Joyce's more outrageous letters as an interlude if you're going to pick this one up after the Joyce biography, especially the ones about 'My little fuckbird' and the farts. Poor Lucia. Finally cracking after being rejected by Beckett, then another Joyce acolyte (Though I do believe he'd published his little book on Proust by then, which is very interesting), going so far as to model his eating and drinking habits after Joyce. In Beckett's biography it is also put another way: That until 23, he was 'Emotionally retarded.' It is a good, under-rated area of study; to allow himself to love Lucia at the risk of his future literary ambitions, forever in Joyce's shadow, or to reject her, leading to mania - either way it was strange how much time they spent together for all to amount to nothing. Less strange than common though, sadly. While Beckett went on carve out his legacy, it was interesting to find this bit out. I am not one to talk, though, as Nora's grandmother was a member of my grandmother's lineage, the Healys, in Ireland, derivative of Healey, the latter of which means, 'Ingenious.' One question I'll always consider, using herein Nora Joyce as a stand-in vehicle, is whether the sacrifice is worth it. In such a, for the most part, astonishingly difficult life, to in the end stand like a rock, and allow at last the books their due recognition - Stranger still is that Nora never read one of Joyce's books. I'm sure many-a feminist will look at a lot of what she let go on with disgust, but I am not a feminist, so I don't really know. I see it as a portrait in time. I'm positive that if I treated my wife the way Joyce treated Nora in instances I would be abandoned at best, castrated at worst, and either way I'd be in the wrong. Regardless, she stuck it out, success came, there were many moments of true love, success and sanity in Georgio, and in the words of Lucia at Joyce's death bed while Nora wept, 'Why are you crying? He's looking over us all the time forever anyway.'

  6. 4 out of 5

    Belinda

    I see that some people felt this biography overstepped the mark when revealing Nora's life with Joyce. I can see why. There's many intimate details about their sex life, their daughter, Lucia, the fact that Joyce was a drunk and so was their son, the way they went through life bludging off brother Stani and many others who had more money than them. It really does not paint Joyce in a very good light. You could throw Nora into the above mix since she also lived off the kindness of others and happ I see that some people felt this biography overstepped the mark when revealing Nora's life with Joyce. I can see why. There's many intimate details about their sex life, their daughter, Lucia, the fact that Joyce was a drunk and so was their son, the way they went through life bludging off brother Stani and many others who had more money than them. It really does not paint Joyce in a very good light. You could throw Nora into the above mix since she also lived off the kindness of others and happily spent their money on clothes and shoes, but somehow I felt as if she was less culpable. Possibly because she was reliant on the husband to provide, as most women were, and had children she nurtured while Joyce wrote. She was the heart and the muscle in the home, he was the brain and the provider, but he didn't do very well at the latter. It sounded as if Nora found Joyce massively frustrating, often completely impossible, but she loved him and relied on him. He'd taken her out of Ireland and they had become, especially when the children were little, a kind of island where they had to fall back on one another. I personally think that to reveal someone's sexual predilections and financial failings is the responsibility of a biographer. If the information is there then let it be revealed so that we can see why Joyce wrote as he did, spoke and lived as he did. I guess Nora is an innocent passenger in the long train ride called "beingwithJoyce", but since their own friends labelled Nora as dirty, stupid, plain, dull and a burden, could she have come off any worse? I don't think she has. In fact I think Maddox has given her back her dignity, her flair and sophistication, her intelligence and wit, her charm and her strong backbone. Stephen Joyce said of Nora, "Nonna was so strong, she was a rock. I would venture to say that he could have done none of it, written not one of the books without her." I think Maddox makes it clear that without Nora in Joyce's life he would have used his literary prowess to sign cheques for more booze and died of alcoholism at a much younger age than 59. Without his muse Joyce may have written a good book, but it'd not have been the great modern novel. Viva Nora!

  7. 4 out of 5

    James

    Maddox's bio is generally well written and well organized with some flaws, but if you read it after reading Ellmann's biography of James you'll feel like Maddox's bio would be best reduced to a longish essay worked in as a single chapter in Ellmann's bio. Where the two biographies cover the same ground Maddox's bio seems shallow and lacking in detail: Maddox's bio is most useful for providing insight into Norah's early days (and yes, her name was spelled with an "h" back then...). Maddox's bio is generally well written and well organized with some flaws, but if you read it after reading Ellmann's biography of James you'll feel like Maddox's bio would be best reduced to a longish essay worked in as a single chapter in Ellmann's bio. Where the two biographies cover the same ground Maddox's bio seems shallow and lacking in detail: Maddox's bio is most useful for providing insight into Norah's early days (and yes, her name was spelled with an "h" back then...).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Albert

    A remarkable biography of a truly remarkable life. The biographer has taken great pains to reconstruct a historically accurate account of Nora from years of correspondence and first hand accounts. This is no easy task as they seemed to have moved every year and were displaced by wars. She also does a good job reconciling this information with the mythology surrounding Joyce and the very memorable female characters in Joyce's fiction who persist as reflections of Nora. A remarkable biography of a truly remarkable life. The biographer has taken great pains to reconstruct a historically accurate account of Nora from years of correspondence and first hand accounts. This is no easy task as they seemed to have moved every year and were displaced by wars. She also does a good job reconciling this information with the mythology surrounding Joyce and the very memorable female characters in Joyce's fiction who persist as reflections of Nora.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Clarissa

    Didn't know much about James Joyce or his wife, Nora. But boy howdy do I ever after reading this book! Didn't know much about James Joyce or his wife, Nora. But boy howdy do I ever after reading this book!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    A very readable although now somewhat dated biography of the wife of James Joyce. Of particular interest to me were the details of the tortuously ambivalent relationship between the Joyces and their Irish homeland, to which they never returned except for brief and unsatisfying visits early in their relationship. Much is made in the annals of the humanities about how the artist suffers for her/his art, but this is a tale of how much Nora Barnacle put up with and suffered for the sake of her husba A very readable although now somewhat dated biography of the wife of James Joyce. Of particular interest to me were the details of the tortuously ambivalent relationship between the Joyces and their Irish homeland, to which they never returned except for brief and unsatisfying visits early in their relationship. Much is made in the annals of the humanities about how the artist suffers for her/his art, but this is a tale of how much Nora Barnacle put up with and suffered for the sake of her husband's genius, a genius she accepted and defended with dignity and courage. The depth and level of their devotion to each other is as moving as their constant struggles with financial uncertainty and Joyce's physical afflictions (eye problems, alcoholism) are depressing. Saddest of all is the fate of their daughter Lucia, who went mad at a fairly early age and lived the bulk of her long life in institutions. To readers of Joyce, particularly of Finnegans Wake, the specter of madness looms large just behind every page, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that is was only owing to the devotion of Nora that the author did not suffer the same fate as his daughter.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dona Krueger

    I've heard so much about James Joyce's works, but have never read them. they sounded far too difficult to even try. This biography of his wife, Nora, filled in a great deal of just why I would never understand any of his works. Even Nora, his wife, found it impossible to read most of them. What an intense love and dependency they shared and what tragic lives their children lived - a great deal to do with their parents inadequate parenting. Nora was the strength that allowed Joyce to survive and I've heard so much about James Joyce's works, but have never read them. they sounded far too difficult to even try. This biography of his wife, Nora, filled in a great deal of just why I would never understand any of his works. Even Nora, his wife, found it impossible to read most of them. What an intense love and dependency they shared and what tragic lives their children lived - a great deal to do with their parents inadequate parenting. Nora was the strength that allowed Joyce to survive and write. She gave up much of who she was to protect and provide James Joyce a strong base to create his art. I still will not read his books, but have a deep appreciation for what he and Nora accomplished.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This is an exceptional biography and read. This woman,Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid from Dublin, had a huge influence on James Joyce the literary giant who was her husband. To understand Nora is to get a glimpse into his psyche. Her biographer, Brenda Maddox, is a first rate writer and reserarcher. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but you may still be able to find it at the library, or as a used book on Amazon or Alibris.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Victor Young

    Lots of facts and dates, but also Maddox allowed the personalities to come through. Found this an engaging portrait of Nora and through her, a more intimate portrait of Joyce himself. Which I am sure was at least a little bit the point.

  14. 5 out of 5

    belva hullp

    (3 1/2*) Just a few thoughts: I found this to be a fascinating peek into the personal life of the writer James Joyce and his wife Nora, who was also his muse. A lot of passion is to be found and a lot of quirkiness. A side of Joyce I had never thought to read about. I liked the book and found it quite interesting. Some Joyce quotes: "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery." "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some pass (3 1/2*) Just a few thoughts: I found this to be a fascinating peek into the personal life of the writer James Joyce and his wife Nora, who was also his muse. A lot of passion is to be found and a lot of quirkiness. A side of Joyce I had never thought to read about. I liked the book and found it quite interesting. Some Joyce quotes: "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery." "Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age." "Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    My book club read this book. It is long and detailed and not for the beach or a crowded plane, but it is well worth the time, especially if you like James Joyce and the turn century and bohemian time period. There is some Irish history also.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I learned from this book that Nora did not have a very interesting life. But, the big thing that I learned was that - contrary to popular belief and regardless of the weak proof the book tried to convey - Nora had virtually no input/influence on Joyce at all. Case closed.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Great bio of Nora BarnacleJoyce. She was an ex-pat in Europe with lover later husband James Joyce. She was the inspiration for some of his stories and characters. She was also his “ Ireland “ on the Continent.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Makes me curious to see if I picked up any of Joyce's works again, would they be any easier for me to read...very interesting look at his wife and family life... Makes me curious to see if I picked up any of Joyce's works again, would they be any easier for me to read...very interesting look at his wife and family life...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Excellent bio of James Joyce's wife and best friend---and a must-read for any fan of Joyce--if for no other reason than to learn of their utterly bizarre sex life. :) Excellent bio of James Joyce's wife and best friend---and a must-read for any fan of Joyce--if for no other reason than to learn of their utterly bizarre sex life. :)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rakisha

    I'm pass my James Joyce phase. I will come back to this book though. I'm pass my James Joyce phase. I will come back to this book though.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gwen Harris

    This is an excellent examination of all matters related to Nora Barnacle: the families, Joyce and his writings, their continental life, their sorrows, their friends. Brenda Maddox has delivered a grand, sweeping and sympathetic account of Nora and husband James. Mind - I did not care for James Joyce through much of it. Maddox never really questions his genious but she does attribute much of his uniqueness to what he obtained - or took or learned - from his wife. One funny bit: "In 1904, when Jam This is an excellent examination of all matters related to Nora Barnacle: the families, Joyce and his writings, their continental life, their sorrows, their friends. Brenda Maddox has delivered a grand, sweeping and sympathetic account of Nora and husband James. Mind - I did not care for James Joyce through much of it. Maddox never really questions his genious but she does attribute much of his uniqueness to what he obtained - or took or learned - from his wife. One funny bit: "In 1904, when James Joyce's father heard the surname of the girl with whom his son had run away, he exclaimed, as unable as his son ever to resist a pun, "Barnacle? She'll never leave him." (p 9) I suggest that anyone who is looking to understand Joyce and his writing read this biography. Other reviewers have mentioned Richard Ellmann as having written the definitive work on Joyce. Perhaps so - but for now Maddox has satisfied my interest. Next stop - her biography of W B Yeats.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce (Paperback) by Brenda Maddox Extensive footnotes & Bibliography.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Olga Vannucci

    She dispensed with all punctuation, Joyce's Irish inspiration. She dispensed with all punctuation, Joyce's Irish inspiration.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joy H.

    Added 2/20/14. Adapted to film. Watched film only. I streamed "Nora" via Netflix. It's a film adaptation of the book: Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce by Brenda Maddox. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0158033/?... http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/Nora/6... It gives us a look into the personal life of James Joyce. Up to now, he's been just a name. But after watching the film, I feel I've learned a lot about him. The movie is very slow-paced but interesting because it's about James Joyce and his wife, Nora. Added 2/20/14. Adapted to film. Watched film only. I streamed "Nora" via Netflix. It's a film adaptation of the book: Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce by Brenda Maddox. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0158033/?... http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/Nora/6... It gives us a look into the personal life of James Joyce. Up to now, he's been just a name. But after watching the film, I feel I've learned a lot about him. The movie is very slow-paced but interesting because it's about James Joyce and his wife, Nora.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    Great insight into Joyce's family life and the woman who inspired him. Great insight into Joyce's family life and the woman who inspired him.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I remember loving this book, but then I was already interested in all things Irish.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    Follow me to LibraryThing, where this review now lives. I'm not an unpaid content provider for Amazon any more! My account is public, look up CSRodgers. Follow me to LibraryThing, where this review now lives. I'm not an unpaid content provider for Amazon any more! My account is public, look up CSRodgers.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Anderson

    Fascinating woman. Nora Barnacle Joyce. Life with James Joyce, totally interesting.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    Nice. Book. She. Did. It. Her. Way.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Garry Nixon

    The "dirty letters", Maddox went too far. If I were Stephen, I'd be hopping mad, as I believe he was. Interesting that the Joyces are a family one thinks one knows. The "dirty letters", Maddox went too far. If I were Stephen, I'd be hopping mad, as I believe he was. Interesting that the Joyces are a family one thinks one knows.

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