In the autumn of 1940, as the Nazis marched further into France, James Joyce desperately scrambled to procure the necessary paperwork so that he and his family could leave beleaguered Vichy and enter Switzerland. The saga that ensued—which Whittaker Chambers anonymously compiled for TIME magazine—was a bureaucratic and emotional nightmare. Visas were few and far between, even for renowned writers and their families. Joyce turned down the Irish citizenship he was offered, claiming that it would not be “honorable.” The Joyces at one point held exit visas, but no entrance visas. The Swiss government then refused to allow Joyce to enter the country because—after misunderstanding that Joyce and his Ulysses protagonist Leopold Bloom were not the same person—the Swiss believed Joyce to be a Jew. Then, Joyce and his wife Nora’s passports expired just as the extrance visas were procured. Finally, the Joyces were all given the proper documentation to enter Switzerland—though Joyce’s son Giorgio had to ride miles on his bicycle to procure the gallon of gasoline required to transport all the Joyces to the train station.
At one point in the process, the Swiss government demanded that Joyce prove his solvency by paying a fee of $3,000-$7,000 (about $50,000 to $120,000 today). With most of his money caught up overseas, Joyce was unable to secure the necessary payment and his friends in Switzerland and overseas took it upon themselves to raise the funds. Those friends (including Edmund Wilson, an editor here) appealed to the sympathies of readers of magazines like The New Republic in announcements such as the one below. The appeals worked, the money was raised, and the Joyces were permitted to stay in Switzerland. Cruelly, however, Joyce lived just one month in Switzerland. He died on January 13, 1941, from post-surgical complications.
To mark its 100th anniversary, The New Republic is republishing a collection of its most memorable articles. This week’s theme: Correspondence.
This piece originally appeared in The New Republic on December 9, 1940.
Mr. James Joyce has been obliged to leave Paris and he is at present, with his wife, his son and his grandson, in a little village in the unoccupied part of France, not far from Vichy. Due to the fact that he is a British citizen, his position in France is precarious. His daughter is seriously ill in a hospital on the coast near Nantes, which is under continual bombardment. Mr. Joyce has made application to be allowed to take his family to Switzerland; but the Swiss authorities, before granting residence, now require a substantial guarantee—in this case, the equivalent of over $7,000, to be deposited in a bank in Switzerland—that the visitor should not become a public charge. Present circumstances, cutting off foreigners in France from all outside sources of income, make the raising of this sum impossible other than through an appeal to friends abroad. Half of the amount has already been advanced and a committee has been formed to raise the remainder. Mr. Joyce is probably at the present time the greatest living writer in English, and it would be impossible to contribute more effectively to the cause of literature than by helping to get him to a place of safety. Those who are in a position to do so are asked to communicate with Robert N. Kastor, 52 Wall Street, New York City, who has consented to act as chairman of the committee. Other members are: Bennett Cerf and B.W. Huebsch, Mr. Joyce’s publishers in America, Padraic and Mary Colum, Eugene and Maria Jolas, James J. Sweeney, Thornton Wilder, Donald Adams, Irita Van Doren, Edmund Wilson and Franz Werfel.