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James and Nora

Edna O'Brien

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Biography: literary

A portrait of the relationship between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle

It was June 10th, Barnacle Day. He saw her in Nassau Street and they stopped to talk. She thought his blue eyes were those of a Norseman. He was twenty-two, and she, Nora Barnacle, was twenty and employed as a chambermaid in Finn's Hotel. They agreed to meet on June 14th, outside No. 1 Merrion Square, the home of Sir William Wilde, but Nora did not turn up. After a dejected letter from Joyce they met on June 16th, a date which came to be immortalized in literature as Bloomsday.

Edna O'Brien paints a miniature portrait of an artist, idealist, insurgent and filled with a secret loneliness. In Nora, he was to find accomplice, collaborator and muse. For all their sexual escalations, Joyce considered their relationship 'a kind of sacrament'. Their life was one of wandering, emotional upheaval and poverty. It was also one that was binding and mysterious, and defied all the mores of intimacy.

In prose brimming with life and energy, Edna O'Brien resurrects a relationship of magnificent intensity on the page, and in doing so shows herself to be touched by the genius of the writer she loves above all others.

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Edna O'Brien

Since her debut novel THE COUNTRY GIRLS, Edna O'Brien has written over twenty works of fiction along with a biography of James Joyce and Lord Byron. She is the recipient of many awards including the Irish Pen Lifetime Achievement Award, the American National Art's Gold Medal, the Ulysses Medal and the Pen Nabokov Award. She also received the David Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Born and raised in the west of Ireland she has lived in London for many years.

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