Nora Barnacle’s Love Letters to James Joyce

Nuala O’Connor at The Paris Review:

When researching my bio-fictional novel about Emily Dickinson, I read the erotic letters between Emily’s brother, Austin, and his mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd. The letters were direct, steamy, and quite mad in parts—for their paranoia and plotting—and I thought uncomfortably, No one on earth should be privy to these kinds of intimacies! When I first read Joyce’s letters to Nora, I was similarly gobsmacked. I recognized the frank language and the explicit, obscene imaginings. I liked, too, the intimate, tender spillover into poetic trances. But I was made wide-eyed, particularly, by his obsession with defecation as an erotic act. There are numerous references to Joyce’s love for what he calls “the most shameful and filthy act of the body.” Over and over he refers to being turned on by “shit,” “farts,” and “brown stains.” Even now, more familiar with the letters, I squirm a bit when I read this from Joyce to Nora: “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.” This was an utterly private sharing between lovers, the things they traded to bind themselves together, and Joyce’s fetish ought not bother me at all, as I shouldn’t know about it. Although, anyone who has read Molly Bloom’s wondrous speech in the Penelope episode of Ulysses might reasonably guess at Joyce’s delight in the coprophilic. When Molly wants money, she plans to let Bloom kiss her bottom, saying he can “stick his tongue 7 miles up my hole as hes there my brown part then Ill tell him I want £1.”

more here.