A Letter from Joyce to Nora

Joyce sought to explore every area of human activity in Ulysses. The reader is privy to Leopold Bloom’s thoughts as his mind wanders from subject to subject—and as he masturbates and even farts. Joyce was brought up in a society that was predominantly Catholic and, in its attitudes toward sex, fiercely Victorian and prudish. To write graphically about sex was to break a great taboo, and it was Ulysses’ sexual content that caused the book to be banned in the United States and United Kingdom. In a letter on view to Nora Barnacle, we see Joyce, open about his desires, as daring in his private correspondence as he is in his art.

Frank Budgen (1882–1971)
Portrait of Nora Barnacle, ca. 1919
Oil on board
Courtesy of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York