25 Pieces of Advice from a 19th Century Etiquette Book

For unsolicited, antiquated advice, you can’t do much better than 1883’s American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness by Walter R. Houghton. It covers everything from which colors are harmonious to proper wedding anniversary gifts to how to behave at the White House, and (as you’ll read below) what to do when in the presence of an inferior human being. Completely unrelated: it’s also terribly sexist. Read on for a glimpse of society life was like 130 years ago.

1. DON'T GOSSIP. 

This bit of advice is actually pretty sensible. "Be free from tattling," Houghton urges. "Do not inflict upon society another member of that despicable and dangerous species called gossipers. That tongue that carries slander and defames the character of others is as black as sin itself. Always be careful in your conversation not to dwell on what you heard somebody say about somebody else."

2. KNOW WHEN TO SHOOT AN ICY GLARE. 

Turns out, cutting a badly behaved individual is a time-honored tradition.  "The 'cut' is given by a continued stare at a person," Houghton instructs. "This can only be justified at all by extraordinary and notoriously bad conduct on the part of the one 'cut,' and it is very seldom called for. Should any one desire to avoid a bowing acquaintance with another, it may be done by turning aside or dropping the eyes."

It's also important to know who you can cut: "Good society will not allow a gentleman to give a lady the 'cut' under any circumstances; yet there may be circumstances in which he would be excused for persisting in not meeting her eyes, for should their eyes meet he must bow, even though she fail to grant him a decided recognition," Houghton writes.

3. DON'T KISS A WOMAN (IF YOU'RE A WOMAN). 

This piece of etiquette is not just outdated, it's become the offender: "The practice of women kissing each other in public is decidedly vulgar, and is avoided entirely by ladies of delicacy and true refinement."

4. WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE.

"Such exclamations as 'The Dickens,' or 'Mercy,' or 'Good Gracious,' should never be used," Houghton writes. "If you are surprised or astonished, suppress the fact. Such expressions border closely on profanity."

5. HEY, DON'T TALK DOWN TO WOMEN.

This piece of advice manages an impressive feat: being disrespectful when it thinks it's being respectful. "A gentleman should never lower the intellectual standard in conversing with ladies," Houghton says. "He should consider them as equal in understanding with himself. A lady of intelligence will not feel compliments by any means, if, when you talk to her, you 'come down' to common-place topics."

6. LOOK AROUND—BUT NOT TOO INTENTLY.

Houghton's instruction here seems practical at first, then veers into preemptive creeper-prevention: "Look in the way you are going, both to avoid collisions and because it is bad manners to stare in any other direction. If you chance to see an acquaintance at a window you show bow; but, by all means, do not stare into houses. Avoid looking full into the faces of strangers whom you meet, especially of ladies."

7. DON'T PLAY IN TRAFFIC.

It's not just risky, it's uncouth: "For a lady to run across the street before a carriage is inelegant and dangerous."

8. MEN, KNOW HOW TO PICK YOUR WOMAN'S HORSE.

Who knew that a horseback riding date contained so much responsibility? "When a gentleman has an engagement to go riding with a lady, he should be very careful in selecting her horse, and should procure one that she can easily manage," Houghton writes. "It is his duty to see that her saddle and bridle are perfectly secure; trust nothing to the stable men, without personal examination. He must not keep the lady waiting, clad in her riding costume."

9. BE PUNCTUAL, LADIES.

After all, men are just trying to please you. Let them do so in a timely manner. "Ladies who are invited to drive with gentlemen, at a certain hour, should be ready exactly at that moment. It is neither well-bred nor dignified to keep any one waiting who has made an appointment conducive to your pleasure," Houghton lectures. "Have everything ready, gloves on and buttoned up, and all arrangements of the toilet complete."

10. FAKE OBLIVIOUSNESS.

Another piece of etiquette that generally holds true to this day. "A visitor should not appear to notice any unpleasant family affairs that fall under his observation. He should never comment upon them to strangers, or to the host himself, unless his friend should first broach the subject," Houghton instructs. "Also, if you do not find your friend in as high a state of prosperity as you had anticipated do not take too evident notice of the fact. Your observations may be cruel as well as impolite."

11. DON'T GET ENGAGED TOO QUICKLY.

Another bit of common sense that's stood the test of time. "It is very unwise, not to say presumptuous, for a gentleman to make a proposal to a young lady on a too brief acquaintance," Houghton explains, elaborating:

Such hasty proposals generally come from mere adventurers, or else from mere novices in love, so that in either case they are to be rejected. A lady who would accept a gentleman at first sight can hardly possess the discretion needed to make a good wife.

12. EXERCISE.

But only do so in very particular, gender-specific ways:

To every well-bred man and woman physical education is indispensable. It is the duty of a gentleman to know how to ride, to shoot, to fence, to box, to swim, to row, and to dance. He should be graceful. If attacked by ruffians, a man should be able to defend himself, and also to defend women from their insults. Dancing, skating, swimming, archery, games of lawn tennis, riding and driving, and croquet, all aid in developing and strengthening the muscles, and should be practiced by ladies. The better the physical training, the more self-possessed and graceful she will be. Open-air exercise is essential to good health and a perfect physical development.

13. PERFORM WHEN ASKED, BUT DON'T OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME.

"If a lady is requested to sing or play, she should do so at once, if she intends to comply, without waiting to be urged," Houghton mandates. "In refusing, she should do it in a manner that shall make her decision final. A lady should not monopolize the evening with her performances, but return to make room for others. It is a mark of vanity for a lady to exhibit any anxiety to sing or play."

14. SUPPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS.

One might say this is the primary tenet of good manners: "It is a mark of good breeding to suppress undue emotion, whether of disappointment, of mortification, or laughter, of anger, or of selfishness in any form."

15. DON'T ACT SUPERIOR (EVEN IF YOU OBVIOUSLY ARE).

"Never affect superiority," Houghton writes. "If you chance to be in the company of an inferior, do not let him feel his inferiority. When you invite an inferior as your guest, treat him with all the politeness and consideration you would show an equal."

16. KEEP VERBAL WITTICISMS TO A MINIMUM.

I think we can all agree that Houghton's moratorium on puns is indeed for the best. "Avoid bringing anecdotes into the conversation," he counsels. "Do not exhibit vulgarity by 'making puns.' Indulge with moderation in repartees, as they degenerate into the vulgarity of altercation."

17. REMOVE YOUR MOLES.

And do so in a terrifying manner:

Moles may be removed by moistening a stick of nitrate of silver, and touching them: they turn black, become sore, dry up, and fall off. If they do not go by first application, repeat. They are generally a great disfigurement to the face and should be removed, but it is better and safer to consult a surgeon before taking any steps to remove them.

18. DON'T MESS WITH YOUR EYES.

This intense bit of instruction on keeping the eyes unadorned is both nice in its sentiment, and probably wise health advice. "Beautiful eyes are always admired. Nothing lends so much to the beauty of the eyes as an honest, intelligent, benevolent expression of the face," Houghton writes. "They eyes are the index of the soul, and many traits of character may be read in them; therefore, it should be remembered, that to have pleasing eyes, pleasing traits of character should be cultivated, and a clear conscience preserved. Their beauty is independent of all arts of the toilet. Nothing is more foolish and vulgar than painting or coloring the lids or lashes. The eyes are very delicate and should never be tampered with. They are easily destroyed."

19. PUT THE BLING AWAY, BOYS.

"No well-bred gentleman will load himself with jewelry," Houghton asserts. "He may wear one ring, a watch chain, studs and cuff buttons."

20. LADIES, MAKE YOUR GIFTS LADYLIKE.

Any gift made by a lady "should be of a delicate nature, usually some dainty product of their own taste and skill," Houghton writes. "If a married lady makes a present to a gentleman she should give it in the name of both herself and her husband."

21. PRACTICE RESTRAINT IN YOUR LOVE LETTERS.

In the era of Snapchat, a caution to keep your wits about you when writing a love letter is downright sweet. Jane Austen readers will appreciate this one. "A love letter should be dignified in tone and expressive of esteem and affection," Houghton writes. "It should be free from silly and extravagant expressions, and contain nothing of which the writer would be ashamed were the letter to fall under the eyes of any person beside the one to whom it was written."

22. DON'T BE A BUZZKILL.

A rare instance in which Houghton makes allowances for fun. "At picnics, while ladies and gentlemen will not forget to be polite and courteous, forms and ceremonies are thrown aside," he writes. "Men and women engage in these days of pleasure that they may escape, for a time, the cares of business, and the restraints of formal society, so at such times it is the duty of all to make the occasion one of gayety and mirth."

23. ELIMINATE GRAY HAIRS WITH A HOMEMADE CONCOCTION.

Certainly this could not have smelled good.

One-half ounce sugar of lead, one half ounce lac sulphur, one ounce glycerine, one quart rain water. Saturate the hair and scalp with this two or three times per week and you will soon have a head free from gray hairs and dandruff, while the hair will be soft and glossy.

24. GET RID OF THOSE UNSIGHTLY BLACK TEETH.

Cream of tartar is still used as a common material to whiten teeth naturally. Though by the sound of things, it probably had to work a lot harder back then. "Pulverize equal parts of salt and cream of tartar, and mix them thoroughly," Houghton instructs. "After washing the teeth in the morning, rub them with this powder, and after a few such applications the blackness will disappear."

25. BANISH FLESH WORMS.

It's unclear what the cologne is doing here, but smelling nice is always in line with good etiquette: "Wash the face in tepid water, rub thoroughly with a towel, and apply a lotion made of half an ounce of liquor of potash, and three ounces of cologne. Make the application with a soft flannel rag."

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Marie Antoinette's Jewelry Is Up for Sale
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's

Rare jewelry that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and hasn't been seen in public for 200 years will be heading to the auction block this fall, according to The Adventurine.

A diamond parure (jewelry set), three-strand pearl necklace, and other gems that once adorned the last queen of France will be sold on November 12 in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Sotheby's "Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family" auction. The family in question is related by blood to some of Europe's most important rulers, including former kings of France and Spain and emperors of Austria.

A diamond jewelry set
Courtesy of Sotheby's

Although Marie Antoinette was known for her opulent fashion choices, her jewels have scarcely been seen since the French Revolution, The Adventurine reports. The Smithsonian owns a pair of earrings that are believed to contain diamonds from the queen's collection, and a diamond necklace that appeared at a Christie's auction in 1971 "hasn't been seen since." The jewelry magazine notes that many of Marie Antoinette's jewels were dismantled, but a few—like the ones featured in this latest collection—managed to survive.

A pearl necklace
Courtesy of Sotheby's

According to Sotheby's, Marie Antoinette placed all her jewels in a wooden chest in March 1791 and shipped them off to her nephew, the Austrian Emperor, for safekeeping [PDF]. That following year, the royal family was imprisoned, and in 1793 Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII were executed by guillotine. Their only surviving child, Marie Thérèse de France, retrieved the jewels and later passed them along to her niece, since she had no children of her own. They ultimately ended up with Robert I, the last ruling Duke of Parma in Italy.

The most valuable piece, a pearl pendant featuring a bow made of diamonds, is expected to fetch between $1 million and $2 million, according to the auction house's estimates. In the late 18th century, pearls were just as coveted as diamonds because of their rarity. Marie Antoinette, of course, wore them often.

A diamond and pearl pendant
Courtesy of Sotheby's

"It is one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history," Daniela Mascetti, of Sotheby's European jewelry division, said in a statement.

[h/t The Adventurine]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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