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

  • J. Mark Knowles


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.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Calef, V., & Weinshel, E.M. (1972). On certain neurotic equivalents of necrophilia. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53, 67-75.

Ellmann, R. (1983). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fenichel, O. (1996). The psychoanalytic theory of neurosis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (Original work published 1945)

Fitch, L. E. (1999). Bloom bewitched: Fear of female sexuality in "Circe": How rampant witch allusions reveal an inherent Joycean misogyny. Dissertation.

Freud, S. (1963a). The passing of the Oedipus complex. In P. Rieff (Ed.), Sexuality and the psychology of love (pp. 166-172). New York: Simon & Schuster. (Original work published 1924)

Freud, S. (1963b). Fetishism. In R. Rieff (Ed.), Sexuality and the psychology of love (pp. 204-209). New York: Simon & Schuster. (Original work published 1927)

Freud, S. (1963c). Splitting of the ego in the defensive process. In P. Rieff (Ed.), Sexuality and the psychology of love (pp. 210-213). New York: Simon & Schuster. (Original work published 1940)

Freud, S. (1963d). On the transformation of instincts with special reference to anal erotism. In P. Rieff (Ed.), Character and culture (pp. 202-209). New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. (Original work published 1917)

Freud, S. (1966). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (Original work published 1916-1917)

Freud, S. (1975). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. New York: Basic Books. (Original work published 1905)

Joyce, J. (1975). Selected letters of James Joyce. R. Ellmann (Ed.), New York: Viking Press.

Joyce, J. (1986). Ulysses. New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1922)

Laws, D.R., & O'Donohue, W. (Eds.). (1997). Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment. New York: The Guilford Press.

Maddox, B. (1988). Nora: The real life of Molly Bloom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Reber, A.S. (1995). The penguin dictionary of psychology. London: Penguin Books.

Restuccia, F. L. (1985). Molly in furs: Deleuzean/Masochian masochism in the writing of James Joyce. Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 18, 101-116.

Shechner, M. (1974). Joyce in nighttown: A psychoanalytic inquiry into "Ulysses." Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Smith, R.S. (1976). Voyeurism: A review of the literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 5, 585-608.