Samara O'Shea

Letter to Stephen Joyce

May 5, 2006

Dear Mr. Joyce,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have a request of you and I am almost certain you will not rule in my favor, but I hope you can appreciate my need to ask. I also hope you are willing to read this letter in its entirety.

I am currently writing a book about letter writing, and I plan to emphasize how this practice needs to be carried out well into the 21st century and beyond—lest we as early 21st century regulars risk leaving no evidence of our existence and practices. I am including a handful of historical letters in this book to create a live connection between yesterday and today. It gives people, myself especially, great comfort to know that the emotions that rule our lives—such as love, lust, anger, determination, and frustration—have ruled the lives of individuals since the beginning. We tend to forget this and convince ourselves that their lives were somehow easier and more ethical, when in many cases their lives were much more difficult and their ethics remarkably askew.

I have compiled a list of letters—including those written by John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln—and would very much like to include a letter by James Joyce. The letter I have in mind was written to Nora Barnacle on December 2, 1909. It is to my understanding that the letters written to Nora in December of that year are a sensitive subject as they are of an erotic nature. I find them to be a magnificent juxtaposition of love and passion. These letters serve to show how two people were able to keep their passion alive and well five and half years into their relationship. They also illustrate a man’s ability to project both his animal instincts and intellectual love onto one woman. And, obviously, they are remarkably well written.

I first came across these letters on the Internet and the site showed the letters in fragments. I wasn’t sure if they were real or not so I explored further and found that they were. To my disappointment, what the Web site had done was cut out all evidence of love and left only erotic sentiments. I fear that when the copyright on Joyce’s work expires in 2012 that that is how these letters will be passed around and perceived. It will go unmentioned that the woman he was writing to was the love of his life and the mother of his children. I can imagine it isn’t easy for you to think of your grandparents in such a way, but you’ve also had to make many concessions with their notoriety that the rest of us haven’t had to. I beseech you; please let me reintroduce these as the brilliant, brazen love letters that they are. I am more than willing to have you approve the text that will precede the December 2nd letter.

I know that the stance of the Estate is that this is not Joyce’s literary work and therefore is not a subject of general interest. If you’ll allow me to disagree—intimate human relations undoubtedly intrigues all people, and I think it certainly qualifies as general interest. The Selected Letters Of James Joyce was published based on the assumption that people craved a more personal look at this extraordinary writer.

I’m sure you’d rather these letters had never been published, which is understandable. But that is not the issue at hand as they already have been, and I believe abating their reproduction is in the same vein as banning Ulysses—as it once was both in the United States and the United Kingdom. James Joyce certainly let his life influence his literature and he let his literary style influence his letters. I believe that letters are literature and would very much like to see James Joyce live on uncensored. Please consider this. Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,
Samara O’Shea