In Pula, an Italianate harbour town in northern Croatia, I found James Joyce seated on a terrace beside a ruined Roman arch. The bronze is outside Uliks (‘Ulysses’), a little Art Nouveau cafe in what was once the Berlitz school. The 22-year-old spent five months teaching English there to Austro-Hungarian naval officers in 1904–5, living with Nora Barnacle – with whom he had just eloped – in a tiny flat across the street.
The young couple found their stay tedious. In letters home Joyce dismissed Pula, at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula, as a ‘back-of-God-speed place – a naval Siberia … swarming with faded uniforms’. Istria, with its vines and olive trees, was a ‘long boring place wedged into the Adriatic, peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear red caps and colossal breeches’. Yet before hastening 70 miles north to Trieste, he wrote several chapters of Stephen Hero – some of which he adapted into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – in a cafe on Pula’s seafront. The novel’s serialisation began in 1914. One hundred years later, it strikes me that Stephen Dedalus’s vow not to serve home, fatherland or church but to fly past the