Nora's Filthy Words: Scatology in the Letters of James Joyce

J. Mark Knowles

Abstract


The purpose of this analysis is to examine the ways in which the paraphilic sexual fantasies of James Joyce were expressed in his relationship with his common-law wife, Nora Barnacle. Although any definitive assertions regarding the inner workings of Joyce's sexual being must be conjectural insofar as the empirical evidence for such claims is nonexistent, it is possible for us to formulate certain conceptualizations owing to the fact that Joyce himself left for posterity a vast compilation of his sexual fantasies in the form of a written correspondence with Nora while he was visiting Dublin and she was in Trieste during the latter half of 1909. Through an examination of these letters and the extraordinary prurience of many of the fantasies contained therein, an attempt will be made to more clearly explicate the origins of Joyce's aberrant sexual predilections and their effects on the manner in which he came to view Nora as a sexual object. The contention of this essay is that Joyce and Nora's correspondence indicates that during the period in which these letters were exchanged, that is, from around 27 October through the end of December 1909, Joyce's sexual impulses were still clearly fixated at levels of libidinal development associated with infantile sexuality, the particular characteristics of which, in his case, were heavily influenced by a ubiquitous anal eroticism. Moreover, it is plausible to infer from his letters to Nora that Joyce was afflicted with unresolved castration anxiety that resulted in the paraphilic conditions most clearly evidenced in the correspondence, namely, fetishism and coprophilia based upon scatological impulses existing within the unconscious.


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