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Bloomsday Stanislaus Joyce & Livia Svevo on this day 1949 - the story behind the photo

Clare McAfee’s grandfather John spent time with the Joyce family in Italy, she found out the story behind their friendships.

Screenshot 2024-06-14 at 11.29.35

THIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS taken exactly 75 years ago on Bloomsday in 1949, in Trieste, Italy, by my grandfather John McAfee. My grandad was an amazing records keeper and an avid photographer when it came to documenting his work and travels throughout his life, and just as well he was because this photo is a little bit of a gem.

I don’t profess myself to be in any way all that knowledgeable about the Joyce family, but finding this photo in one of several albums that my grandad had given to my Dad led me to try and find out a bit more about it. Namely who exactly are the people in the photograph, and how on earth did my grandad end up in Trieste, befriending the Joyces?

In the photo are the younger brother of James Joyce, Stanislaus; a Sir William John Sullivan who was a British diplomat and political advisor in Trieste between 1945-1950, and Mrs. Livia Italo Svevo, wife of Italo Svevo, a former pupil and good friend of Joyce.

(John) Stanislaus Joyce was born in Dublin in 1884 and passed away in Trieste six years after this photo was taken, in 1955. Again, not knowing much about the Joyces, I would wonder why Stanislaus left Ireland for Trieste in the first place. It is well documented that he was agnostic and not a fan of organised religion, as well as a radical liberal, and struggled in the political and religious climate of Ireland that was viewed by him as restrictive and stifling and not encouraging of creativity.

Escaping Ireland

Eager to leave all this behind, Stanislaus joined his brother in Trieste in October 1905 where he got a job teaching English at the Berlitz Language School. James Joyce had moved to Trieste in 1904, and left Ireland for similar reasons to Stanislaus, feeling oppression from societal norms and values that were also seen as a barrier to his writing. Trieste offered a far more relaxed atmosphere, encouraging the arts.

Although Joyce is undoubtedly associated with Dublin, it was in Trieste where he lived for a decade and worked on many of his famous novels including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, and Ulysses.

Livia Veneziani Svevo was born in 1874, into a middle-class family. She married Italo Svevo, born Ettore Schmitz, in Trieste in 1896. She would have met James Joyce through her husband who was taught English by Joyce at the Berlitz language school, where Stanislaus was also later employed. Under the pen name Italo Svevo, her husband had self-published two failed literary works – Una Vita (1893) and Senilità (1898), both of which disappeared into the ether. His writing career fell by the wayside in favour of his working as a businessman in the Veneziani family paint manufacturing business, and it wasn’t until James Joyce sent his works to two French literary critics, that Italo Svevo became a well-known writer in his own regard.

You may recognise Livia’s name in the character of Anna Livia Plurabelle from Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, and the Anna Livia statue previously located on O’Connell St., and currently residing in Croppies Acre Memorial Park. Joyce notably wrote to Italo Svevo: “Reassure your wife with regard to Anna Livia. I have taken no more than her hair from her and even that only on loan, to adorn the rivulet which runs through my city, the Anna Liffey…”. It’s difficult to tell from the photo just how long Livia’s hair was by 1949, but it looks as though she decided to keep some of her infamous long locks, pinned up in the style of the era.

Bloomsday 1949

Now having found out a little about Stanislaus and Livia, and how they ended up in Trieste on Bloomsday 1949, I was left with the question as to how my grandfather ended up there and how he came to know the Joyce family.

Two things influenced my grandad in the choice of his career as a marine engineer, that ultimately brought him to Trieste. One was an event in his life as a 7-year-old boy, that he recounted to me on several occasions when I was of a similar age, and that was his visit to the Titanic in dock before it set sail from Belfast. He would recall how a housekeeper arranged for him to have a tour of the Titanic, and his absolute shock in reading in the newspaper that it was now at the bottom of the sea.

Screenshot 2024-06-14 at 13.37.35 John McAfee. Clare McAfee Clare McAfee

Another big influence on my grandad’s choice of career was his aunt Jane, who accompanied her seafaring husband on all his voyages over a span of 15 years. On her death in 1931, the Belfast Telegraph recorded that she had sailed over a million miles, crossing the equator 108 times and rounding Cape Horn 17 times.

She was reckoned at the time of her death to be the most travelled woman in the world. So it’s not surprising that my grandad ultimately had a love of everything maritime. He started his career at Harland and Wolff working in their drawing office (now the bar at the Titanic Hotel, something I think my grandad would have approved of!), and later on went to work for Lloyd’s Shipping Register, being posted to their office in Trieste in 1939.

It was here that he attended the Berlitz language school, and thus, met Stanislaus Joyce. In an article my grandad wrote in 1989 for Lloyds Register News International magazine, he said “I had to find something to keep me occupied during dull evenings and weekends. To learn Italian at the Berlitz school was an obvious choice. James Joyce had once been a teacher there and I met his brother Stanislaus with whom I had many interesting conversations as he was writing a critical book about the other’s literary activities”.

I imagine they had many interesting chats over cups of coffee at the McAfee household in Via Rosetti – it’s one of those instances where you wish you could go back in time and be a fly on the wall.

Screenshot 2024-06-14 at 13.40.03 The McAfee household in Via Rosetti.

Finally, I asked my Dad if he has any particular memories of the Joyces from that time, given that he spent six years growing up in Trieste. He recalls being friends with Stanislaus’ son, James, known as Jimmy.

He said that the name “Jimmy Joyce” caused some linguistic problems for the locals since the letter J does not really appear in the Italian language – he was known, therefore, as “Yimmy Yawchay”.

So that’s the story behind the photograph, or at least as much of it as I can discover. I hope that those in the photo, and the man who took it, would be happy to know that the original photo has now been donated to the James Joyce Tower & Museum in Sandycove. It can be viewed there from today, Bloomsday 2024, exactly 75 years to the day the photo was taken.

Clare McAfee is an occasional writer and designer of neurodivergent-friendly spaces. She has “too many” books and vinyl records, is an enthusiast of Hans Zimmer and EDM, an avid player of 90s LucasArts games, and is the owner of Daisy, the naughtiest mini sausage dog in Ireland.

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