New York American on June 26th, 1906. // Wikimedia Commons
New York American on June 26th, 1906. // Wikimedia Commons

10 Facts About the Original 'Trial of the Century'

New York American on June 26th, 1906. // Wikimedia Commons
New York American on June 26th, 1906. // Wikimedia Commons

On the balmy evening of June 25, 1906, during the performance of a musical at Madison Square Garden, railroad heir Harry K. Thaw walked up to the table of architect Stanford White and shot him in the head. This led to what the newspapers dubbed “the Trial of Century.” The 20th century was young, and the media frenzy would arguably be eclipsed by other "trials of the century"—Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson—but it did introduce the public to many of the concepts that would become well-known to tabloid readers and Court TV viewers, including the insanity plea, the media circus, the sequestering of jurors, and the buying of a better judicial outcome by the rich. At the heart of the matter was the era’s concept of a woman’s honor.

1. THAW HAD A HISTORY OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND LIVED A DECADENT LIFE OF LEISURE.

The son of Pittsburgh railroad baron William Thaw, Harry K. Thaw was born in 1871. As a child, he was prone to screaming tantrums and outbursts of bodily flailing that exhausted his mother, Mary, and their household staff. Author Michael Macdonald Mooney writes in Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age that a teacher from his boarding school described Thaw as “sullen, unreasonable, and unhappy” and “absolutely unintelligible.” In his mid-teens, he performed a prank at his school, Wooster College, where he paid a burlesque troupe visiting town to wear leggings of the school colors.

Because of his son’s temperament, Thaw’s father decided against a giving his son full control of his inheritance and instead assigned a trust to dole out $2400 a year to him in his will. After William died in 1889, his indulgent mother made sure her son's annual allowance was $80,000.

Thaw briefly enrolled at Harvard, where he hosted all-night poker games and chased a cab driver with a shotgun for allegedly shorting him change. He was expelled for “moral turpitude,” according to Mooney. Soon after, the stone-faced and bug-eyed young man gave up all pretense of work or study and instead traveled the U.S. and Europe, mingling in high society, visiting brothels, getting into skirmishes, and using cocaine. He threw lavish parties, giving away jewelry pieces worth thousands as party favors to attract women. He was also a sadist and abused his partners.

2. WHITE WAS A PROMINENT ARCHITECT AND LADIES MAN.

The victim of the crime, Stanford White, was one partner of the New York City architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, which came to prominence designing country and seaside mansions. From there, the company produced several neoclassical landmarks, including the Boston Library, the Washington Square Arch, Manhattan’s original Pennsylvania Station, the Brooklyn Museum, the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University, and the original Madison Square Garden, where White would be murdered.

The firm’s success allowed White, unmistakable for his tall build and red hair and mustache, to hobnob with the city’s business, artistic, and government elite. By the late 1890s, he “was the city’s leading architect,” according to Mooney, and relished his role as man about town. “He was the leader of its leading artists, promoter of its best institutions, impresario of its most colorful entertainments, founder and organizer of its most colorful clubs, and often architect of them as well,” wrote Mooney. “His immense energies were spent day and night in an attempt to give character to the city’s wealth.”

White kept an elaborately decorated tower residence on West 24th Street, which he stocked with exotic foods and wines and furnished with such novelties as a red velvet swing extending from a ceiling. Though married at 31, he frequently entertained and seduced models and chorus girls there.

3. THOUGH THE TWO BARELY KNEW EACH OTHER, THAW BLAMED WHITE FOR HIS SOCIAL FAILINGS.

Thaw was a frequent visitor to New York City and sought entry into the elite social circles. He felt White blocked his entry due to a perceived faux pas.

After his trial, Thaw authored a memoir entitled The Traitor, its title a reference to White, who is called that word throughout. Thaw recounted what he said was his first encounter with the architect. A mutual acquaintance invited Thaw to a party at White’s 24th Street residence, where Thaw claimed White mistakenly associated his group with a drunk party-goer who declared the food and wine “rotten.” After that, Thaw applied to several New York gentlemen’s clubs and was rejected or soon kicked out for erratic behavior. The Union League Club of New York revoked his membership after he rode a horse up the club’s entranceway to herald his arrival. According to Paula Uruburu in her book American Eve, in Thaw’s mind, every denial, ejection, and snub was due to the hidden influence of the offended White, who was everything Thaw was not but wanted to be: successful, liked, influential.

Then, at one of Thaw’s parties for playboys and showgirls, an actress took his nervousness in her presence as embarrassment to be seen with her. She retaliated by convincing the women to vacate the party for one at White’s. According to Uruburu, “a livid Harry blamed White for yet another public indignity.” The slight and the actress’s exodus made it into the society pages, humiliating Thaw.

4. THAW AND WHITE WERE INVOLVED WITH THE SAME WOMAN.

Known for the way her long hair draped down her back in a shape like a question mark, Evelyn Nesbit began working as a model in her early teens. First in Philadelphia and then New York City, she spent hundreds of hours in front of illustrators and photographers, while chaperoned by her mother. Her face appeared on an endless array of postcards, magazine covers, fine art pieces, and advertisements. Some have dubbed her the first supermodel.

By age 16, Nesbit had already become bored of this work and started a career as a chorus girl on Broadway. Inevitably, she made the acquaintance of Stanford White.

According to American Eve, after a few lunches, White managed to get her to his West 24th Street residence without her mother’s company. She would later testify that he charmed her with the intricacies of his home (the detail of Nesbit trying the red velvet swing would become infamous in tabloid lore), plied her with champagne, and assaulted her while she was passed out.

Soon after, a mysterious “Mr. Monroe” (sometimes Munroe) began sending gigantic bouquets of flowers to Nesbit at the theater hosting the show The Wild Rose, but they weren’t from White—they were from Harry Thaw, who had attended 40 performances of the show. A mutual friend introduced the two at a restaurant. In her 1914 memoir, Nesbit recalls he tried to compliment her by favorably comparing her to another chorus girl, which put her off. She “had no desire to meet him again,” but Thaw continued to shower her with gifts and money.

According to American Eve, Nesbit refused marriage proposals from Thaw for years as she drifted through romantic relationships, including an on-again-off-again fling with White. In 1903, after undoing surgery for appendicitis (which has long been rumored to have been an illegal abortion), she accepted an invitation from Thaw to tour Europe. Thaw questioned her a few times about her relationship with White, and even signed a visitors book at the birthplace of Joan of Arc with, “She would not have been a virgin if Stanford White had been around.” After he interrogated Nesbit in a Paris hotel room, she told him about the assault in White's 24th Street home. For the remainder of the trip, Thaw was both physically and emotionally abusive towards Nesbit.

Nesbit and Thaw married soon after and took residence in his family estate in Pittsburgh. The marriage only increased Thaw’s obsession with White. He became convinced that White had hired the Eastman Gang to kill him and began to carry a gun.

5. THE MURDER HAPPENED DURING A MUSICAL, WHICH DIDN’T STOP AFTER THE SHOOTING.

In June 1906, the Thaws returned to New York and saw the show Mam'zelle Champagne at Madison Square Garden, which was then an open-air rooftop theater and bar.

The account of the murder in Mooney's Love and Death in the Gilded Age can be summarized like so: Thaw knew that White had a usual table at the venue. During a number titled “I Could Love a Thousand Girls,” he walked up to White, took out a revolver concealed in his overcoat, and shot him three times. White stood and then fell over the table in a pool of blood. The music stopped and silence overtook the room. Then someone laughed, mistaking the act as part of the show (two of the characters in the play had talked about a “burlesque duel” moments before). The stage manager ordered the orchestra and dancers to continue as Thaw stood over his victim. Only when women began fainting did the stage manager announce that “a most serious accident has occurred” and ordered the audience to “quietly” leave. Thaw rode the elevator with others, muttering, “He deserved it. I can prove it.” A police officer waited for him on the ground floor.

In The Traitor, Thaw wrote, “The agony of Evelyn in the years of her girlhood formed the prelude to a long continuous drama of sorrow, the murk and gloom of which was never illuminated by a ray of sunshine until what occurred on the roof of Madison Square Garden and Stanford White fell dead.”

6. THE TRIAL WAS AN INSTANT MEDIA CIRCUS.

Newspapers had a segment of reporters dismissively called “sob sisters” or “the pity patrol.” These were female journalists whose only career path in a male-dominated field was reporting stories of wronged women for female readers, the more melodramatic the better. The story of the deadly love triangle with an abused starlet at one corner was exactly what they sought. According to American Eve, Hearst and Pulitzer both assigned sob sisters to the story. Papers in Pittsburgh, home of the Thaw family, also ran daily coverage. According to Lloyd Chiasson in his book The Press on Trial, a Western Union office was opened in the courthouse just to help reporters wire dispatches.

Soon, reporters uncovered past exploits of the man they dubbed “Bathtub Harry” for his habit of scalding women (and apparently, once, a bellboy whom the Thaws paid hush money). There was a counter-effort, financed by Mary Thaw, to portray her son as a defender of womanly virtue. Letters to the editor praising Thaw as such started appearing in newspapers. According to The Press on Trial, Mary Thaw even commissioned the writing of a three-character play based on the events (two of the characters were named Harold Daw and Stanford Black), portraying White as a perverted hedonist.

7. THE TRIAL WAS ONCE OF THE FIRST INSTANCES OF JURY SEQUESTRATION.

Due to the intense interest in the case, the judge ordered the jury to abstain from all media and interacting with reporters, according to The Press on Trial. It was one of the first instances of jury sequestration in American history.

8. THOMAS EDISON ORDERED A QUICKLY-PRODUCED MOVIE ADAPTATION.

One week after the murder, Thomas Edison's studio commissioned a film entitled Rooftop Murder to be shown at nickelodeons.

9. THAW’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TEMPORARY INSANITY.

Mary Thaw committed $1 million to her son’s defense. They both feared he’d be locked up indefinitely if he simply pled insanity, and they couldn’t stomach the idea of him being dubbed an incurable madman. So their legal team came up with a peculiar defense: temporary insanity. Learning about White’s assault of the woman who was now his wife stirred a state of insanity in Thaw. Even though he lived with the knowledge for three years beforehand, he was insane when he pulled the trigger but sane both before and after.

They eventually settled on Delphin Delmas of San Francisco (who had never lost a case) as lead attorney. The trial started on January 23, 1907, and Delmas brought in a stream of doctors and psychiatrists to testify to Thaw’s mindset. A reluctant Nesbit, still financially supported by the Thaws, testified about White’s abuse.

In his closing statements, Delmas memorably coined a new phrase, declaring, “if you desire a name for this species of insanity let me suggest it—call it Dementia Americana. That is the species of insanity which makes every American man believe his home to be sacred; that is the species of insanity which makes him believe the honor of his daughter is sacred; that is the species of insanity which makes him believe the honor of his wife is sacred.” He implied any decent man would become homicidally insane in response to an act like White’s. Prosecutor William Jerome shot back that the murder was “a common, vulgar, everyday, tenderloin homicide.”

10. THAW WAS FOUND NOT GUILTY BUT DIDN’T WALK FREE IMMEDIATELY.

In the first trial, the jury was deadlocked, with seven in favor of conviction and five voting to acquit. In the second trial, Thaw’s new attorney, Martin W. Littleton went a new direction, claiming that his client was completely insane. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity, and the judge confined him to the Matteawan State Hospital “until thence discharged by due course of law.” Expected to be set free, Thaw seethed with anger.

According to American Eve, Thaw was released in 1915, the same year Evelyn Nesbit filed for divorce. Two years later, Thaw kidnapped and assaulted a male 19-year-old acquaintance and was returned to an asylum until 1924. Afterwards, Thaw avoided legal trouble—save a lawsuit from partners in a short-lived film production business for nonpayment—and lived until the age of 76.

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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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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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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