Joyce's mother, May Murray Joyce


Unknown photographer
James Joyce with his mother, father, and maternal grandfather, 1888
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York


Music was really important in the Joyce family. Joyce's mother, May Murray, she came from a musical family, and a friend of her sons remembered her as a frail, sad faced, and gentle lady, whose skill at music suggested a sensitive, artistic temperament. She, from an early age, took piano and voice lessons at school, run by two of her mother sisters beside the River Liffey. And of course, this house became the house of the story, The Dead, and these women became the women who give the party in The Dead. In Ulysses, May appears as, in the Cersei episode, as the ghost of May Goulding. Between 1881, when she was twenty-two, and 1893, May Murray had ten children and three miscarriages. She died of cancer at the age of forty-four. Joyce was summoned back from Paris to her deathbed, an event that would haunt the early episodes of Ulysses.