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My encounters with Joyce's difficult, devoted grandson

David Blake Knox


The last direct descendant of James Joyce could be frustrating to deal with, writes David Blake Knox

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James Joyce and his wife Nora with their son Giorgio, daughter-in-law Helen and two-year-old grandson Stephen James Joyce in Paris in 1934. Photo: Bettmann Archive

James Joyce and his wife Nora with their son Giorgio, daughter-in-law Helen and two-year-old grandson Stephen James Joyce in Paris in 1934. Photo: Bettmann Archive

James Joyce and his wife Nora with their son Giorgio, daughter-in-law Helen and two-year-old grandson Stephen James Joyce in Paris in 1934. Photo: Bettmann Archive

I first made contact with Stephen James Joyce, who died recently, when I was making a documentary about his grandfather for RTE. Stephen was living with his wife, Solange, on the Ile de Re, a fashionable French island resort close to La Rochelle that is popular with French celebrities. For decades, a succession of requests had been made to Stephen, seeking his permission to use quotes from James Joyce's published or unpublished works. It was Stephen's common practice either to refuse such requests or to demand an exorbitant amount of money in return for his agreement.

When I first approached him, he quoted a figure of "one million pounds sterling" for any copyrighted material that I might want to use in our film. That figure was so far from what I could afford to pay, it seemed outside the realm of sanity. Despite that, I kept in touch with Stephen for most of the following year.

He was born in Paris soon after the death of Joyce's beloved father, and Joyce connected the two events in his poem Ecce Puer. "With joy and grief," he wrote, "my heart is torn."


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