WHAT do we want to find when we read a dead man’s letters? Humanity? Treasure? Revelation? Confession? And what if that person were famous?
What do we make of James Joyce’s porno letters to his wife, Nora?
Alistair Gentry notes:
I definitely don’t think that people with disabilities are funny or that Stephen Hawking is laughable.
However, hearing James Joyce’s sexy, obscene letters to his Mrs read out in a robot/Hawking voice is hilarious. Try it. If you have a Mac I suggest using the voice called Fred, AKA the Radiohead ‘Paranoid Android’ voice. Select the text you want to hear, go to the Services menu and choose Speech>Start speaking text.
(You can hear Joyce’s voice here.)
These letter were not meant for us to read. They were for Nora’s eyes only. He was in Dublin. She was in Trieste with their two children. And we don’t see her letters, only his. In sex chat lines punters are invited to pay up and listen in to both sides of the narrative. Is one side enough?
Does anyone have the right to read things that were clearly meant only for two specific people…? Now that they have been exposed to the world’s gaze, albeit in a fairly limited fashion, does anybody except these two (who are dead) have any right to make objections about or exercise control over the manner in which these private documents and records of intimacy are used?
But they are cracking read:
“These letters stand on their own as brilliant and, dare I say, arousing Joycean writing. In my opinion they’re definitely worth reading.”
So. Here they are. And they are NSFW:
2 December 1909: 44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin.
I ought to begin by begging your pardon, perhaps, for the extraordinary letter I wrote you last night. While I was writing it your letter was lying in front of me and my eyes were fixed, as they are even now, on a certain word of it. There is something obscene and lecherous in the very look of the letters. The sound of it too is like the act itself, brief, brutal, irresistible and devilish.
Darling, do not be offended at what I wrote. You thank me for the beautiful name I gave you. Yes, dear, it is a nice name ‘My beautiful wild flower of the hedges! My dark-blue, rain-drenched flower!’. You see I am a little of the poet still. I am giving you a lovely book for a present too: and it is a poet’s present for the woman he loves. But, side by side and inside this spiritual love I have for you there is also a wild beast-like craving for every inch of your body, for every secret and shameful part of it, for every odour and act of it. My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or to fling you down under me on that soft belly of yours and f**k you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the open shame of your upturned dress and white girlish drawers and in the confusion of your flushed cheeks and tangled hair. It allows me to burst into tears of pity and love at some slight word, to tremble with love for you at the sounding of some chord or cadence of music or to lie heads and tails with you feeling your fingers fondling and tickling my ballocks or stuck up in me behind and your hot lips sucking off my cock while my head is wedged in between your fat thighs, my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red c**t. I have taught you almost to swoon at the hearing of my voice singing or murmuring to your soul the passion and sorrow and mystery of life and at the same time have taught you to make filthy signs to me with your lips and tongue, to provoke me by obscene touches and noises, and even to do in my presence the most shameful and filthy act of the body. You remember the day you pulled up your clothes and let me lie under you looking up at you as you did it? Then you were ashamed even to meet my eyes.
You are mine, darling, mine! I love you. All I have written above is only a moment or two of brutal madness. The last drop of seed has hardly been squirted up your c**t before it is over and my true love for you, the love of my verses, the love of my eyes for your strange luring eyes, comes blowing over my soul like a wind of spices. My pr**k is still hot and stiff and quivering from the last brutal drive it has given you when a faint hymn is heard rising in tender pitiful worship of you from the dim cloisters of my heart.
Nora, my faithful darling, my sweet-eyed blackguard schoolgirl, be my whore, my mistress, as much as you like (my little fr**ging mistress! my little f**king whore!) you are always my beautiful wild flower of the hedges, my dark-blue rain-drenched flower.
3 December 1909: 44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin.
My darling little convent-girl,
There is some star too near the earth for I am still in a fever-fit of animal desire. Today I stopped short often in the street with an exclamation whenever I thought of the letters I wrote you last night and the night before. They must read awful in the cold light of day. Perhaps their coarseness has disgusted you. I know you are a much finer nature than your extraordinary lover and though it was you yourself, you hot little girl, who first wrote to me saying that you were longing to be f**ked by me yet I suppose the wild filth and obscenity of my reply went beyond all bounds of modesty. When I got your express letter this morning and saw how careful you are of your worthless Jim I felt ashamed of what I had written. Yet now, night, secret sinful night, has come down again on the world and I am alone again writing to you and your letter is again folded before me on the table. Do not ask me to go to bed, dear. Let me write to you, dear.
As you know, dearest, I never use obscene phrases in speaking. You have never heard me, have you, utter an unfit word before others. When men tell in my presence here filthy or lecherous stories I hardly smile. Yet you seem to turn me into a beast. It was you yourself, you naughty shameless girl who first led the way. It was not I who first touched you long ago down at Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down inside my trousers and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my pr**k with your long tickling fingers, and gradually took it all, fat and stiff as it was, into your hand and f**gged 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. It was your lips too which first uttered an obscene word. I remember well that night in bed in Pola. Tired of lying under a man one night you tore off your chemise violently and began to ride me up and down. Perhaps the horn I had was not big enough for you for I remember that you bent down to my face and murmured tenderly ‘F**k up, love! f**k up, love!’
Nora dear, I am dying all day to ask you one or two questions. Let me, dear, for I have told you everything I ever did and so I can ask you in turn. I wonder will you answer them. When that person whose heart I long to stop with the click of a revolver put his hand or hands under your skirts did he only tickle you outside or did he put his finger or fingers up into you? If he did, did they go far enough to touch that little cock at the end of your c*nt? Did he touch you behind? Was he a long time tickling you and did you come? Did he ask you to touch him and did you do so? If you did not touch him did he come against you and did you feel it?
Another question, Nora. I know that I was the first man that blocked you but did any man ever fr*g you? Did that boy you were fond of ever do it? Tell me now, Nora, truth for truth, honesty for honesty. When you were with him in the dark at night did your fingers never, never unbutton his trousers and slip inside like mice? Did you ever fr*g him, dear, tell me truly or anyone else? Did you never never, never feel a man’s or a boy’s pr**k in your fingers until you unbuttoned me? If you are not offended do not be afraid to tell me the truth. Darling, darling, tonight I have such a wild lust for your body that if you were here beside me and even if you told me with your own lips that half the red-headed louts of Galway had had a f**k at you before me I would still rush at you with desire.
God Almighty, what kind of language is this I am writing to my proud blue-eyed queen! Will she refuse to answer my coarse insulting questions? I know I am risking a good deal in writing this way, but if she loves me really she will feel that I am mad with lust and that I must be told all.
Sweetheart, answer me. Even if I learn that you too have sinned perhaps it would bind me closer to you. In any case I love you. I have written and said things to you that my pride would never again allow me to say to any woman.
My darling Nora, I am panting with eagerness to get your replies to these filthy letters of mine. I write to you openly because I feel now that I can keep my word with you.
Don’t be angry, dear, dear, Nora, my little wild-flower of the hedges. I love your body, long for it, dream of it.
Speak to me, dear lips that I have kissed in tears. If this filth I have written insults you bring me to my senses again with the lash as you have done before. God help me!
I love you, Nora, and it seems that this too is part of my love. Forgive me! forgive me!
6 December 1909: 44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin.
I got your pitiful letter this evening telling me you were going about without underclothes. I did not get 200 crowns on the 25th but only 50 crowns and 50 again on the 1st. Enough about money. I send you a little banknote and hope you may be able to buy a pretty frilly pair of drawers at least for yourself out of it and will send you more when I am paid again. I would like you to wear drawers with three or four frills one over the other at the knees and up the thighs and great crimson bows in them, I mean not the schoolgirls’ drawers with a thin shabby lace border, tight round the legs and so thin that the flesh shows between them but women’s (or if you prefer the word) ladies’ drawers will a full loose bottom and wide legs, all frills and lace and ribbons, and heavy with perfume so that whenever you show them, whether in pulling up your clothes hastily to do something or in cuddling yourself up prettily to be blocked, I can see only a swelling mass of white stuff and frills and so that when I bend down over you to open them and give you a burning lustful kiss on your naughty bare bum I can smell the perfume of your drawers as well as the warm odour of your c*nt and the heavy smell of your behind.
Have I shocked you by the dirty things I wrote to you. You think perhaps that my love is a filthy thing. It is, darling, at some moments. I dream of you in filthy poses sometimes. I imagine things so very dirty that I will not write them until I see how you write yourself. The smallest things give me a great cockstand- a whorish movement of your mouth, a little brown stain on the seat of your white drawers, a sudden dirty word spluttered out by your wet lips, a sudden immodest noise made by you behind and then a bad smell slowly curling up out of your backside. At such moments I feel mad to do it in some filthy way, to feel your hot lecherous lips sucking away at me, to f*ck between your two rosy-tipped bubbies, to come on your face and squirt it over your hot cheeks and eyes, to stick it up between the cheeks of your rump and bugger you.
Basta per stasera!
I hope you got my telegram and understood it.
Goodbye, my darling whom I am trying to degrade and deprave. How on God’s earth can you possibly love a thing like me?
O, I am so anxious to get your reply, darling!
8 December 1909: 44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin.
My sweet little whorish Nora
I did as you told me, you dirty little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I read your letter. I am delighted to see that you do like being f**ked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I f**ked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest f**king I ever gave you, darling. My pr**k was stuck up in you for hours, f**king in and out under your upturned rump. I felt your fat sweaty buttocks under my belly and saw your flushed face and mad eyes. At every f**k I gave you your shameless tongue come bursting out through your lips and if I gave you a bigger stronger f**k than usual fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I f**ked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to f**k a farting woman when every f**k drives one out of her. I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.
You say when I go back you will suck me off and you want me to lick your c*nt, you little depraved blackguard. I hope you will surprise me some time when I am asleep dressed, steal over me with a whore’s glow in your slumbrous eyes, gently undo button after button in the fly of my trousers and gently take out your lover’s fat mickey, lap it up in your moist mouth and suck away at it till it gets fatter and stiffer and comes off in your mouth. Sometime too I shall surprise you asleep, lift up your skirts and open your hot drawers gently, then lie down gently by you and begin to lick lazily round your bush. You will begin to stir uneasily then I will lick the lips of my darling’s c*nt. You will begin to groan and grunt and sigh and fart with lust in your sleep. Then I will lick up faster and faster like a ravenous dog until your c**t is a mass of slime and your body wriggling wildly.
Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty little f**kbird! There is one lovely word, darling, you have underlined to make me pull myself off better. Write me more about that and yourself, sweetly, dirtier, dirtier.
Photo: Author James Joyce is shown with his wife, daughter, and son in Paris, France, in 1924.