In Brief

The "Cousins" listed among Stephen's creditors in Nestor to the tune of "ten shillings" is James Cousins, a Dublin poet, critic, and Theosophist. He was nearly nine years older than Joyce, and at the time represented in the novel he was married and living in Sandymount. Joyce was friends with the couple. He attended evening gatherings at their house and very briefly lived with them in the summer of 1904.

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Born in Belfast in 1873, James Henry Cousins published a volume of poems in 1894 before moving to Dublin, where he associated with writers of the Irish Literary Revival and became friends with George Russell. In 1903 he married Margaret Elizabeth Gillespie, a women's rights activist born in 1878 who shared his strong commitments to Theosophy, socialism, and vegetarianism. Living at 22 Dromard Terrace, just off the seaside Strand Road in Sandymount, the Cousins continued working in the Dublin area until 1913, when they moved to Liverpool. In 1915 they permanently relocated to India, where James wrote a number of books and worked as the literary editor for New India, a journal founded by Theosophist Annie Besant. Margaret continued her energetic suffragist work until the late 1930s, and she preserved Rabindranath Tagore's song Jana Gana Mana, which in 1950 became the Indian national anthem.

Joyce seems to have gotten along well with both Cousins, and they treated him well. Ellmann records that in March or April 1904, when he needed a piano to practice for a singing competition, Margaret offered to let him use hers in the mornings (151). James lent him small sums, though Ellmann notes that he turned down his request for a very substantial £5 in 1904 (178). Both Cousins spouses secured small places in Joyce's fictions. In addition to the financial debt to James recorded in Nestor, Joyce honored Margaret, whose friends knew her as Gretta, by assigning her nickname to  Gabriel Conroy's wife in The Dead. (He appears to have based Gretta Conroy's character, however, mostly on the Galwegian Nora Barnacle.)

Ellmann records two separate instances in which James and Gretta gave the writer a place to stay. On 15 June 1904, when the McKernans asked him to vacate his room at their house until he could pay the rent, he went to his friends in Sandymount and "asked them to take him in"; they "hospitably turned over the spare room in their tiny house" (155). In late August or early September when Joyce was again staying with the McKernans they "went off on holiday and closed their house," and "At James Counsins's earnest entreaty he stayed two nights" at the Sandymount house (171). Apparently both of these emergency stops were brief. Joyce "disliked their do-good household" (171) and specifically objected to the vegetarian diet, "complaining of stomach trouble induced by a 'typhoid turnip'" (162).

In 1950, near the end of two accomplished and consequential lives, the Cousins published a jointly written co-autobiography, We Two Together.

JH 2022
Photographic portrait of Margaret Cousins and James Cousins, date unknown. Source:
Margaret Cousins in a 1931 or 1932 photograph. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
James Cousins painted by an unknown artist. Source: Wikimedia Commons.