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Love's Bitter Mystery: The Year That Made James Joyce

Where: Villa Alba, 44 Walmer Street, Kew, Victoria

Restrictions: 15+

Ticket Information:

  • General Admission: $45.00 ea
  • Concession: $42.00 ea
  • Additional fees may apply

  • Buy Tickets – 0423793887
  • Additional fees may apply

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Listed by: francesdevlinglass

'Love's Bitter Mystery', written by Steve Carey and directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean, is a biographical play, reflecting on ways James Joyce mined his own early twenties for his fiction; and fictionalised it, too. Is what we’re watching fiction? Memory? Biographical fact? Speculation? Or something else entirely?

We remember Joyce as an exile, a citizen of Europe who died with Ireland written on his heart. But Joyce had a failed first attempt, too, a few months in Paris that ended when he was summoned back to Dublin because his mother was dying. The year that followed – 1903-1904 – was miserable, not just because he was witnessing his mother’s life ebbing away, but also because he felt his own freedom and potential ebbing, too. Excluded because of his poverty and his bad manners from literary circles, unable to make significant progress with his own writings and increasingly alienated from his hearty medical chum Oliver St John Gogarty (immortalised and calumnified in Ulysses as Buck Mulligan), he kicked around town.

Well, that’s one interpretation. Another is that this was a crucial period in his development, as a writer but more importantly as a man. He and his mother had a very close relationship, but he felt trapped by everything she represented: family, conventional morality, religion, duty. She taught him what it is to love – but in a cruel way, it took her death to free him to love her without being bound by everything she demanded from him.

Miserable with grief, poverty and the lack of any apparent future, Joyce’s fortunes took a turn for the better when in June 1904 he met a young woman on the streets of Dublin. Nora Barnacle had achieved so much that Joyce had failed to achieve: exile – for her, from Galway, and escape to the big city – and not only financial independence but an independence of behaviour, too. Joyce knew plenty of virginal women, such as his sisters and the unattainable young women at university. And he knew sexually experienced women, in the form of the prostitutes he was visiting. What he didn’t know was anyone like Nora, sexually confident, experienced and free of hang ups. His mother taught him what it is to love; his Nora showed him how.

The play is set in the lavishly decorated atmospheric boom mansion, Villa Alba in Kew, and offers a an immersive foray into some of the key events of the young writer's youth, before he became the celebrated literary genius. For more information, see the Bloomsday website. This play marks the 99th year of its existence, but readers are still catching up with the precocious James Joyce.