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What happened in Ringsend Park

July 1, 2012

The first Bloomsday

This week’s (July 2nd 2012) New Yorker review of Gordon Bowker’s James Joyce: A New Biography reveals a snippett left out of Richard Ellman’s biography. June 16th, 1904, the day on which Joyce later set Ulysses, was the day he first walked out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. He had approached her in the street, arranged to meet, she’d stood him up, he’d asked again, and they’d walked to Ringsend, a small park on the south bank of the Liffey near Dublin Harbour. We learn in the new biography, that they didn’t just walk. Nora tossed him off – the first woman he’d met who engaged in a sexual act without shame or guilt. Joyce took her glove home and wrote:

“Your glove lay beside me all night – unbuttoned – but otherwise conducted itself very properly.”

Some years later he wrote to her:

“It was not I who first touched you long ago down in Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down inside my trousers [and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my prick with your long tickling fingers and gradually took it all, fat and stiff as it was, into your hand*]  and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes.”

A nice thought that the thousands who celebrate Bloomsday every year are celebrating a hand job.

*Omitted from the New Yorker. Full text in Richard Ellmann’s Selected letters of James Joyce (Faber and Faber, London 1972, p. 182). A selection of the most sexually explicit letters are available here.

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