Stephen Joyce, last direct descendant of James Joyce, dies aged 87

Former OECD employee was a controversial guardian of his grandfather’s writings

A 1992 file photograph of Stephen Joyce (centre) at the National Library with then taoiseach Albert  Reynolds (left) and Alexis Leon, a son of the Russian scholar and James Joyce associate, Paul Leon. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times.

A 1992 file photograph of Stephen Joyce (centre) at the National Library with then taoiseach Albert Reynolds (left) and Alexis Leon, a son of the Russian scholar and James Joyce associate, Paul Leon. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times.

 

The death has occurred of Stephen James Joyce, grandson and last direct descendant of writer James Joyce. He was 87 and had recently become an Irish citizen.

Born in Paris, Stephen Joyce spent much of his early life in France before the family moved to Switzerland in late 1940. He was brought up there by his father, George, and his grandmother, Nora.

After the second World War, he studied at Harvard University in the US and then worked for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, mainly in the area of African development.

On the death of his father, he became the principal trustee of the James Joyce Estate. In that role, his activities were highly controversial, with frequent legal actions, injunctions and threats, designed, he said, to protect the integrity of his grandfather’s writings.

In 1991, he retired from the OECD and thereafter lived on the Île de Ré, off the French Atlantic coast, near La Rochelle.

When copyright on James Joyce’s published work expired in most jurisdictions in 2012, Stephen Joyce’s activities were much curtailed, though he continued to exercise an active role in the running of the estate almost to the end.

His wife, Solange Raytchine, died some two years ago. Stephen Joyce had been in very poor health in recent months and was just short of his 88th birthday when he died.

President Michael D Higgins expressed his sadness Mr Joyce’s death, saying he was “our last direct connection with James Joyce”.

Mr Higgins said: “We had a number of discussions both before and after my visit to his grandfather’s grave in Zurich in June 2018. He was very grateful for the care and attention that had been paid to the grave of James Joyce by the public authorities in Zurich...

“He was deeply committed to what he saw was the special duty to defend the legacy of the Joyce family in literary and personal terms. This was not a task carried out in harmonious circumstances at all times with those seeking to engage with James Joyce’s life and works.

“Stephen had recently become an Irish citizen and in our last conversation he expressed his appreciation to all of those who had assisted in the processing of this. To his relatives and friends Sabina and I express our deepest sympathy.”