Famous Death Masks Irish Author James Joyce

About the history of the plastar death mask made of Irish author James Joyce.


JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941), Irish author

Joyce had been living in Paris for years when W.W. II began. After months of negotiations in 1940, he finally secured permission to leave. He and his wife, Nora, arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, where he had lived 20 years before and written much of Ulysses, in December. An uncertain future lay ahead. The Europe he had known was disintegrating before his failing eyesight. Constant anxiety over his adored schizophrenic daughter and his long struggle to achieve literary recognition had worn him down and exhausted his emotional resources.

Stricken with severe abdominal pain in January, 1941, he was taken from his flat by ambulance to a Zurich hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery, not for the cancer he dreaded would be discovered, but for a perforated duodenal ulcer. (See "Postmortems" in this chapter.) Two days later, at 2:15 A.M. on Jan. 13, he died. Art critic Carola Giedion-Welcker, a longtime Swiss friend, obtained permission from Nora Joyce for a death mask. Arrangements were completed with sculptor Paul Speck, and under his direction "the stuccoer" Victor Dallo took the mask. Joyce's face, its smile resembling an undertaker's composition (which it may well be), shows little sign of the pain and exhaustion evident in photos taken late in his life.

Ex-Catholic Joyce was buried with brief ceremony in the Fluntern Cemetery at Zurich. A priest had offered his services, but Nora Joyce declined, saying, "I couldn't do that to him."

Joyce scholar Alan Cohn of Southern Illinois University believes that two casts of the mask were made, and that both remain in private hands. One is probably owned by the family, and Dr. Giedion-Welcker, still living in Zurich, may own the cast shown in the photo.

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