In my last posting I quoted a letter by the famous Irish novelist James Joyce when he, his wife Nora and his daughter Lucia visited The Hague for a short vacation. His companion for life Nora Barnacle (1884-1951) was not as good a writer as her Jimmy was. When Joyce wrote the last episode in ‘Ulysses’ (1922), he imitated the way she wrote letters. Apparently she was not very good at punctuation. Her writing rolled on the way she spoke and sang. Unfortunately few of her writings have been preserved.
Here is one of the letters that she wrote to her son Giorgio. In this letter (which was edited by Ruud Hisgen and published for the first time in the book ‘The Hague, City without Walls’, 2012) she also mentions the attack of the ferocious dog while she was entertaining her favourite pastime, having tea and cakes. But in this unique letter she also mentions their visit to the wonderful little art museum The Mauritshuis in The Hague with the exquisite Vermeers.
By the way, in a couple of weeks the Mauritshuis will be open again after an intensive renovatiom and we’ll be able to see the great Vermeers and Rembrandt in their own home again.
The Hague Friday 27 May 1927
your father Jim is also writing a letter in our hotel room in The Hague and so am I because I have nothing else to do and I miss you and your sister Lucia is well fortunately she sends her love and we have been here since Saturday so almost a week and we have a room in a decent hotel called Grand Hotel Restaurant Victoria La Haye in the middle of a street full of shops near a beautiful arcade with elegant shops and tearooms
it is dear here but the people are very civil and polite and not at all miserly says your father who is thinking only about his new book which he is writing in his own new language which contains all the languages of the world including growling Dutch with crazy words like schouwburg which means showborough but is actually just a theatre for operas and plays just like his last book it will be just as incomprehensible and unsellable I fear but let your father have his way there is nothing we can do anyhow
it is not so warm here about eight degrees celsius very cold for the time of year and so we don’t take the tram to the beach at scheveningen aan zee so often it’s a lovely seaside resort with a wooden pier your father calls the strand wild and endless and it is I love the sea and that is of course because I grew up in Galway which is on the ocean and is also a seaside resort I think that if you were born by the sea you always have a connection with the sea funny to think that it is the same water here as at home back then
Wednesday Lucia and I were drinking tea as your father took a walk along the beach because he wanted to see if he could follow the coastline with his bad eye when a dreadful dog came running up to him and attacked him four times you know how scared your father is of dogs the ordeal lasted at least a quarter of an hour and to make matters worse his spectacles received a wallop that caused one of the lenses to fall in the sand and after a long search he found the lens again but your father was out of sorts for the rest of the day
yesterday we went to look at paintings at a small yet beautiful museum by a pond that they call the mauritshuis there is a very big painting there of an old man with a cow by a tree in a meadow very lovely but your father thought another painting the most beautiful and that is the view of Delft your father says it is the most beautiful painting in the world because you can stare at it for hours and still see new things Lucia thinks it is boring and she cares more for another painting by Johan Vermeer and that is a lovely girl with a pearl we will send you a postcard of it she looks a bit like Lucia
so Giorgio now we are going to eat in the hotel and it costs one guilder and fifty cents not cheap let us hope this evening your father does not drink too much as always and greetings from La Haye from your mother Nora