This conversation brings together two novelists who thread the needle between fiction and biography. Nuala O’Connor’s Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce (HarperCollins) and Eibhear Walshe’s The Last Day at Bowen’s Court (Somerville Press) are told from the point of view of two very different Irishwomen—Nora Barnacle and Elizabeth Bowen—and draw from biographical material but are not beholden to it. In this discussion moderated by Heather Bryant Jordan, the authors will consider the relationship between history and fiction, writing writer’s lives, and writing women’s lives.
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Co-Sponsors: NYC Irish Studies Consortium, SOF/Heyman, NYU Glucksman Ireland House, The Wellesley College Writing Program, and Columbia University Seminar in Irish Studies.
Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce
For a video of Nuala O’Connor reading from Nora, please see the following link: https://youtu.be/7OSO5Wb815c
Acclaimed Irish novelist Nuala O’Connor’s bold reimagining of the life of James Joyce’s wife, muse, and the model for Molly Bloom in Ulysses is a “lively and loving paean to the indomitable Nora Barnacle” (Edna O’Brien).
Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. Despite his hesitation to marry, Nora follows Joyce in pursuit of a life beyond Ireland, and they surround themselves with a buoyant group of friends that grows to include Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sylvia Beach.
But as their life unfolds, Nora finds herself in conflict between their intense desire for each other and the constant anxiety of living in poverty throughout Europe. She desperately wants literary success for Jim, believing in his singular gift and knowing that he thrives on being the toast of the town, and it eventually provides her with a security long lacking in her life and his work. So even when Jim writes, drinks, and gambles his way to literary acclaim, Nora provides unflinching support and inspiration, but at a cost to her own happiness and that of their children.
With gorgeous and emotionally resonant prose, Nora is a heartfelt portrayal of love, ambition, and the quiet power of an ordinary woman who was, in fact, extraordinary.
The Last Day at Bowen’s Court
“A subtle, compelling and detailed reimagining of one of the great enduring love affairs of the literary twentieth century. Eibhear Walshe has brought a vanished time back to life.”
This remarkable novel explores the life of the Irish novelist, Elizabeth Bowen, her time in London during the Second World War and her ‘reporting’ on Irish neutrality for the Ministry of Information. At the centre of the novel is her Blitz love affair with the Canadian diplomat, Charles Ritchie, a wartime romance that inspired her most famous novel, The Heat of the Day, a gripping story about espionage and loyalty that became a best-seller. The story is told from the point of view of Bowen herself, and also from that of her lover Charles Ritchie, her husband Alan Cameron and Ritchie’s wife Sylvia. It is set in wartime London, Dublin and North Cork, and deals with the private and public conflicts of love and of national identity in a time of upheaval and liberation. At the centre of the novel is a portrait of Elizabeth Bowen, one of Ireland’s most influential writers.
Heather Corbally Bryant teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College; she is the author of the prize-winning book, Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of War, and ten books of poetry. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook, James Joyce’s Water Closet, won honorable mention in the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition. She is currently at work on a book of essays, A Memoir in Snapshots.
Nuala O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, she is a novelist and short story writer, and lives in County Galway with her husband and three children. Nuala has won many prizes for her short fiction including the Short Story Prize in the UK and Ireland’s Francis MacManus Award. She is editor at flash e-zine Splonk.
Eibhear Walshe was born in Waterford, studied in Dublin, and now lives in Cork, where he lectures in the School of English at University College Cork and is Director of Creative Writing. He has published in the area of memoir, literary criticism and biography, and his books include Kate O’Brien: a Writing Life (2006), Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde and Ireland (2012), and A Different Story: The Writings of Colm Tóbín (2013). His childhood memoir, Cissie’s Abattoir (2009) was broadcast on RTE’s Book on One. His novel, The Diary of Mary Travers (2014) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Novel of the Year in 2015 and longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award. He was associate editor, with Catherine Marshall, of Modern Ireland in 100 Art Works, edited by Fintan O’Toole and shortlisted for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award. His novel on Handel, The Trumpet Shall Sound was published in 2019 was described as ‘fascinating, deep and utterly absorbing’ by the Irish Times and ‘a plausible, sensuous coming-of-age story about a genius wrestling with love and ambition across eighteenth century Europe’ by Emma Donoghue