La Baule and Pornichet: James Joyce and family

3 September 2011

Since Antiquity sea water has been renowned for its curative qualities. Like elsewhere the sea resorts of La Baule and Pornichet soon developed a reputation offered by the heated natural sea waters of the thalassotherapy and re-education centres. Their effect for treating rheumatics and post-accident trauma has become well established with use of baths, jets and pools of filtered sea water, with no chemical processes, heated to 34 degrees.

In the Loire-Atlantique region of France a short distance west of Saint Nazaire the bay of Pornichet stretches along the coast amid the pine trees almost running into La Baule, its long standing rival. Its two distinct parts are Old Pornichet where the locals live and Pornichet-les-Pins which comes to life in the summer when the tourists arrive to enjoy the mild climate of the so-called …‘Cote d’Amour’ or … ‘Coast of Love’.

Until 1860 Pornichet was a small village of fisherman and salt pan workers. Then a few artists and editors of Parisian publishing houses discovered its peace and tranquillity and built houses. A rich clientele soon followed and Pornichet became the foremost resort along this stretch of coast, some twenty years before La Baule. Its Chateau des Tourelles dates from 1868. It has become a popular family tourist resort where a new deep water marina has been built while its countryside remains undulating and wooded.

The first trains arrived in Pornichet in 1879 that opened the resort to rapid development with the construction of villas and properties owned by wealthy merchants and industrialists, men of science, medicine, literature and many artists that included Sarah Bernhardt. The young Queen of Madagascar was there and Queen Victoria is chronicled in local literature from when she bathed in the sea at La Baule in a specially constructed chair.

James Joyce and family

James Joyce and Nora were in La Baule and Pornichet for brief visits during 1939 and 1940 linked to an arranged war-time evacuation of their mentally ill daughter, Lucia, from a psychiatric institution near Paris. They had come to reassure Lucia but she was so upset from the bombing raids that they were not allowed to see her.

She wrote in 1959 … “I nearly died of fear as the noise of the thunder was so terrific”. Though she did not know it, Lucia would never see her parents again.

James Joyce died in Zurich from a perforated ulcer on 13 January 1941.

Ita Marguet

Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a visit to La Baule and Pornichet, August 2011. It relates to the text by author titled Lucia Anna Joyce: Nora and James Joyce, September 2011, and other texts about James Joyce.