James Joyce’s Dirty Love Letters

This post is EXTEMELY NSFW. It contains graphic language of a sexual nature. So unless your boss is awesome, don't read this at work today.

In 1904, author James Joyce met a chambermaid named Nora Barnacle, whom he started dating and then ran off with very shortly thereafter. Their romantic affair finally ended in marriage 25 years later, and the marriage lasted until Joyce's death.

During the course of their relationship (especially in their early passionate years), they wrote each other a series of pornographic letters whenever they were separated by travel. Nora's letters to Joyce have been lost, but Joyce's remain and were published in the Selected Letters of James Joyce (1975). The below letters are all just from one specific trip Joyce took to Dublin in 1909, but my understanding is that there were many, many more over the years.

I won't give you each letter in its entirety, but rather just some excerpts. If you would like to read these letters more in full, some transcriptions of them can be found here. What I find unusual about Joyce is how seamlessly he melds profoundly dirty, lascivious language with tender and loving sentiments, making for some strange and sometimes beautiful erotic poetry. I just feel bad for Nora, since he often seemingly insults her even as he praises her.

"Dublin   2 December 1909
[…] My love for you allows me to pray to the spirit of eternal beauty and tenderness mirrored in your eyes or fling you down under me on that softy belly of yours and fuck you up behind, like a hog riding a sow, glorying in the very stink and sweat that rises from your arse [….] 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 [aka, to defacate in front of him]. You remember the day you pulled up your clothes and let me lie under you looking up at you while you did it? Then you were ashamed even to meet my eyes.

[….]

Nora, my faithful darling, my seet-eyed blackguard schoolgirl, be my whore, my mistress, as much as you like (my little frigging mistress! My little fucking whore!) you are always my beautiful wild flower of the hedges, my dark-blue rain-drenched flower.

JIM"

"Dublin  3 December 1909
[…] you seem to turn me into a beast. It was you yourself, you naughty shameless girl who first led the way [….] You stuck my prick into your cunt 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 me face and murmured tenderly 'Fuck up, love! Fuck up, love!'"

"Dublin 6 December 1909
[…] 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 fuck between your two rosy-tipped bubbies, to come on your face and squirt it over your hot cheeks and eyes, to stick it 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 anxious to get your reply, darling!

 JIM"

"Dublin  8 December 1909

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 fucked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I fucked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest fucking I ever gave you, darling. My prick was stuck in you for hours, fucking 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 fuck I gave you your shameless tongue came bursting out through your lips and if a gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual, fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked 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 fuck a farting woman when every fuck 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."

"Dublin  9 December 1909

My sweet naughty little fuckbird, Here is another note to buy pretty drawers or stockings or garters. Buy whorish drawers, love, and be sure you sprinkle the legs of them with some nice sent and also discolour them just a little behind.

[…]

Goodnight, my little cuntie I am going to lie down and pull at myself until I come. Write more and dirtier, darling. Tickle your little cockey while you write to make you say worse and worse. Write the dirty words big and underline them and kiss them and hold them for a moment to your sweet hot cunt, darling, and also pull up your dress a moment and hold them under your dear little farting bum. Do more if you wish and send the letter then to me, my darling brown-arsed fuckbird.

JIM"

Dublin  15 December 1909
[…]
No letter! Now I am sure my girlie is offended at my filthy words. Are you offended, dear, as what I said about your drawers? That is all nonsense, darling. I know they are spotless as your hearth. I know I could lick them all over, frills, legs and bottom. Only I love in my dirty way to think that in a certain part they are soiled. It is all nonsense, too, dear, about buggering you. It is only the dirty sound of the word I like, the idea if a shy beautiful young girl like Nora pulling up her clothes behind and revealing her sweet white girlish drawers in order to excite the dirty fellow she is so fond of; and then letting him stick his dirty red lumpy pole in through the split of her drawers and up up up in the darling little hole between her plump fresh buttocks.

Darling, I came off just now in my trousers so that I am utterly played out. I cannot go to the G.P.O. though I have three letters to post.

To bed – to bed!
Goodnight, Nora mia!

JIM"

"Dublin   16 December 1909
My sweet darling girl At last you write to me! You must have given that naughty little cunt of yours a most ferocious frigging to write me such a disjointed letter. As for me, darling, I am so played out that you would have to lick me for a good hour before I could get a horn stiff enough even to put into you […] Darling, please don't fuck me too much when I go back.

[…]

Basta! Basta per Dio!

I have come now and the foolery is over.  Now for your questions!"

I've actually cut out huge sections of his letters that go on and on like this for quite some time, but you guys all get the idea. What's odd is not so much that he wrote pornographic letters, nor how freely and unselfconsciously he vocalised his kinks, but rather that these letters, written at the turn of the century, are SO at odds with the common notion of Victorian and Edwardian sexual prudery.

If anyone ever tells you that the Victorians were uptight and barely knew what sex was, show them these letters. Joyce might be fairly adventurous with what he says to his intimate partner, but he was most certainly not the only person of his day to be sexually explicit and knowledgable. And before anyone throws out the whole, "Well, he's a man, and we can't see what Nora wrote, and only men would have dared to write something like this," please keep in mind the love letters of Mrs. Alice Baldwin, who not only may be my favorite person I've ever written about on this blog, but also wrote filthy letters to her husband a good 40 years before Joyce wrote his epistles.

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