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James Joyce

James Joyce

The fiction of the Irish author James Joyce (1882-1941) is characterized by experiments with language, symbolism, and use of the narrative techniques of interior monologue and stream of consciousness.

The modern symbolic novel owes much of its complexity to James Joyce. His intellectualism and his grasp of a wide range of philosophy, theology, and foreign languages enabled him to stretch the English language to its limits (and, some critics believe, beyond them in Finnegans Wake). The trial of his novel Ulysses on charges of obscenity and its subsequent exoneration marked a breakthrough in the limitations previously placed by social convention upon the subject matter and language of the modern English novel.

James Joyce was born on Feb. 2, 1882, in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin. His father, John, an amateur actor and popular tenor, was employed first in a Dublin distillery, then as tax collector for the city of Dublin. His mother, Mary Jane Murray Joyce, was a gifted pianist. Endowed with a fine tenor voice and a love for music (he once entered a singing competition against the noted Irish tenor John McCormack), James Joyce was described by his brother Stanislaus as tall, thin, and loose-jointed, with "a distinguished appearance and bearing." In spite of 10 major operations to save his sight, he was almost blind at the time of his death. He often wore a black patch over his left eye and dressed in somber colors, although his friends remember him as witty and gay in company.

Joyce was educated entirely in Jesuit schools in Ireland: Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare, Belvedere College in Dublin, and University College, where he excelled in philosophy and languages (he mastered Norwegian in order to read Henrik Ibsen's plays in the original). After his graduation in 1902, he left Ireland in a self-imposed exile that lasted for the rest of his life. He returned briefly in 1903 for his mother's last illness but left for Paris in 1904 after her death, taking with him Nora Barnacle, his future wife. Until 1915 he taught English in Trieste, then moved to Zurich with his wife and two children. In 1920 they settled in Paris, living in virtual poverty even after the successful publication of Ulysses in 1922. The intervention of literary friends such as Ezra Pound secured for Joyce some much-needed financial assistance from the British government.

Although his fame rests upon his fiction, Joyce's first published work was a volume of 36 lyric poems, Chamber Music (1907). His Collected Poems (including Poems Penyeach and Ecce Puer) appeared in 1938. Much of his fiction is lyrical and autobiographical in nature and shows the influence of his musical studies, his discipline as a poet, and his Jesuit training. Even though he cut himself off from his country, his family, and his Church, these three (Ireland, father, and Roman Catholicism) are the basis upon which he structured his art. The city of Dublin, in particular, provided Joyce with a universal symbol; for him the heart of Dublin was "the heart of all the cities of the world," a means of showing that "in the particular is contained the universal."

Early Fiction

Dubliners (1914) is a collection of 15 short stories completed in 1904 but delayed in publication because of censorship problems, which arose from a suspected slur against the reigning monarch, Edward VII. Joyce himself described their style as one of "scrupulous meanness" and said they were written "to betray the soul of that… paralysis which many consider a city." His characters are drawn in naturalistic detail, which at first aroused the anger of many readers. Among various devices such as symbolism, motifs (paralysis, death, isolation, failure of love), mythic journeys, and quests for a symbolic grail which is never there, Joyce employs his literary invention, the epiphany; this is a religious term he used to describe the symbolic dimension of common things—fragments of conversation or bits of music—moments of sudden spiritual manifestation in which the "soul" of the thing or the experience "leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance."

In the final story, considered one of Joyce's best, "The Dead," Gabriel Conroy, a careful and studious man surrounded by doting aunts and material comforts, discovers to his surprise that his wife has had a romantic love affair with a passionate young man who died for love of her. The story ends with snow falling softly over Ireland and the universe, an ambiguous symbol which could mean either life-giving moisture and preservation or the coldness of moral and spiritual death.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is a semi-autobiographical novel of adolescence, or Bildungsroman (development novel). A sensitive and artistic young man, Stephen Dedalus is shaped by his environment but at the same time rebels against it. He rejects his father, family, and religion, and, like Joyce, decides at the novel's close to leave Ireland. He states as the reason for his exile his mission "to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." The hero's symbolic name is drawn from Ovid's Dedalus, the artificer who made wings on which his son flew too near the sun, melting their wax and causing him to plunge into the sea.

For Joyce and others after him, Dedalus became a symbol for the artist, and the hero, Stephen, appears again in Ulysses (1922). Joyce's portrait of the artist in adolescence is like a painting, showing the hero in his immaturity, still seeking his identity. His major flaw, the failure to love, is shown by Stephen's isolation, his inability to immerse himself in life. The hero's declaration, "I will not serve," links him with another soaring figure, Lucifer, whose sin of pride also precluded the possibility of love, which for Joyce (always doctrinally orthodox) represented the greatest of all the Christian virtues and the most humanizing.

Ulysses

Ulysses (1922), generally considered Joyce's most mature work, is patterned on Homer's Odyssey. Each of the 18 chapters corresponds loosely with an episode in the Greek epic, but there are echoes of Joyce's other models, Dante's Inferno and Goethe's Faust, among other sources. The action takes place in a single day, June 16, 1904 (still observed as "Bloomsday" in many countries), on which the Irish Jew, Leopold Bloom (Ulysses), walks or rides through the streets of Dublin after leaving his wife, Molly (Penelope), at home in bed.

Through the stream-of-consciousness technique, Joyce permits the reader to enter the consciousness of Bloom and perceive the chaos of fragmentary conversations, physical sensations, and memories which register there. Underlying the surface action is the mythic quest of Leopold for a son to replace the child he and Molly have lost. He finds instead Stephen Dedalus (Telemachus), who, having rejected his family and faith, is in need of a father. At each of their chance encounters during the day, the mythic quest becomes more evident. The two are finally united when Bloom rescues the drunken Stephen from unsavory companions and the police; they share a symbolic communion over cups of hot chocolate in Bloom's home, a promise of future involvement for Stephen with Leopold, his spiritual "father," and Molly, the earth mother, who, with her paramours, represents fleshly involvement in the experience of life. Joyce's technical innovations (particularly his extensive use of stream of consciousness), his experiments with form, and his unusually frank subject matter and language made Ulysses an important milestone in the development of the modern novel.

Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake (1939) is the most difficult of all Joyce's works. The novel has no evident narrative or plot and relies upon sound, rhythm of language, and verbal puns to present a surface beneath which meanings lurk. Considered a novel by most critics, it has been called a poem by some, a nightmare by others. Joyce called his final book a "nightmaze." It concerns the events of a Dublin night, in contrast to Ulysses, which deals with a Dublin day.

The submerged plot centers upon a male character, H. C. Earwicker, the genial host of a Dublin pub, his wife, and their children, particularly the twins, Kevin and Jerry. Joyce once again employs myth in a more complex pattern than ever before, associating Dublin with the fallen paradise and the hero with a long séries of heroes beginning with Adam; he associates him also with a geographic landmark in Dublin, the Hill of Howth. His wife, Anna Livia Plurabelle, is associated with the river Liffey and with various female figures from history and legend. Snatches of Irish and universal history are blended with realistic details of world history and geography.

Working in the metamorphic tradition of Ovid, Joyce causes his characters to undergo a dazzling series of transformations. The hero, H. C. E. (his nickname, "Here Comes Everybody," indicates an Everyman figure), becomes successively Adam, Humpty Dumpty, Ibsen's Master Builder (all of whom underwent a fall of some kind in literature), Christ, King Arthur, the Duke of Wellington (all of whom are associated with rising). Mrs. Earwicker becomes Eve, the Virgin Mary, Queen Guinevere, Napoleon's Josephine, and other feminine characters (her initials, A. L. P., designate her as the alpha figure, the feminine principle and initiator of life). The twins become rival principles, Shem and Shaun, extrovert and introvert, representing opposing facets of their father's character; they merge into all the rival "brothers" of literature and history—Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Peter and Paul, Michael and Lucifer—and their quarreling gives rise to the famous battles of myth and cyclic history.

Geographic places around Dublin also take on symbolic significance; for example, the noted Dublin garden, Phoenix Park, becomes the Garden of Eden. The difficulties arising from the complicated symbolism and linguistic structure of verbal puns and double meanings become more complex with Joyce's introduction of unfamiliar foreign words which may have two, three, or more meanings in the various languages with which he was familiar (including Danish and Eskimo). Examples may be seen in the compression of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the writers of the New Testament Gospels, into "Mamalujo" the Garden of Eden appears in one of its many doubles in modern Ireland as "Edenberry, Dubblen, W.C."

Beneath the puzzling verbal surface of Finnegans Wake lie themes which have been the concern of traditional writers and philosophers of all ages—the process of renewal through division of opposites, rising and falling, the one in the many, permanence and change, and the dialectic emergence of truth from the opposition of antithetical ideas. Not unexpectedly, Finnegans Wake was not well received by the reading public, and Joyce was forced to seek financial help from friends after its publication. With the outbreak of World War II, he and his family fled, on borrowed money, from France to Switzerland, leaving a daughter in a sanatorium in occupied France. Joyce died in Zurich on Jan. 13, 1941.

Further Reading

Herbert Gorman's early biography of Joyce, James Joyce (1939), is still useful but has been superseded by the definitive work of Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959). Two good studies of Joyce's life and work are William York Tindall, James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the Modern World (1950) and A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (1959), which gives brief introductory notes to each of the major works in turn. Other informative introductory studies include Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction (1941; rev. ed. 1960); Marvin Magalaner, Joyce, the Man, the Work, the Reputation (1956); and A. Walton Litz, James Joyce (1966).

On specific novels, Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce's Ulysses (1930; rev. ed. 1952), is still the standard work on the Homeric structure of Ulysses, and Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (1934), supplies additional background on the novel. Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944), was the best of many "keys" to the novel until the appearance of William York Tindall, A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake (1969). Useful background on the period as it relates to Joyce can be found in Patricia Hutchins, James Joyce's Dublin (1950); William York Tindall, The Joyce Country (1960); and Chester G. Anderson, James Joyce and His World (1967). □

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Joyce, James

James Joyce, 1882–1941, Irish novelist. Perhaps the most influential and significant novelist of the 20th cent., Joyce was a master of the English language, exploiting all of its resources. His novel Ulysses, which is among the great works of world literature, utilizes many radical literary techniques and forms.

Life and Works

The eldest of ten children born in a Dublin suburb, Joyce was educated at Jesuit schools—Clongowes Wood College in Clane (1888–91) and Belvedere College in Dublin (1893–99)—and then attended University College in Dublin (1899–1902). Although a brilliant student, he was only sporadically interested in the official curriculum. In 1902 he lived briefly in Paris and returned to the Continent in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would eventually become his wife. For the next 25 years Joyce, Nora, and their children lived at various times in Trieste, Zürich, and Paris.

Joyce returned to Ireland briefly in 1909 in a futile attempt to start a chain of motion picture theaters in Dublin, and again in 1912 in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange for the publication of the short story collection Dubliners, which had to be abandoned due to fears of prosecution for obscenity and libel. Although the plates were destroyed, Dubliners was finally published in England in 1914. A short volume of poetry, Chamber Music, was his first published volume; it appeared in 1907. He published two subsequent volumes of poetry, Pomes Pennyeach (1927) and Collected Poems (1937).

Joyce and his family spent the years of World War I in Zürich, where he finished his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It first appeared in The Egoist, a periodical edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver, and was published in book form in 1916. In 1917, Joyce contracted glaucoma; for the rest of his life he would endure pain, periods of near blindness, and many operations. At this time he also wrote his only play, the Ibsenesque Exiles (1918).

Ulysses, written between 1914 and 1921, was published in parts in The Little Review and The Egoist, but Joyce encountered the same opposition to publishing the novel in book form that he had confronted with Dubliners. It was published in Paris in 1922 by Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate. Its publication was banned in the United States until 1933. For many years he lived mainly on money donated by patrons, notably Harriet Shaw Weaver.

From 1922 until 1939 Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake (1939), a complex novel that attempts to connect multiple cycles of Irish and human history into the framework of a single night's events in the family of a Dublin publican. In 1931 Joyce finally married Nora. Her practical, sometimes cynical response to Joyce's work provided a needed complement to his own self-absorption. Joyce and Nora had a turbulent relationship; both were profoundly affected by the progressive insanity of their daughter. Joyce died in Zürich in 1941 after an operation for a perforated duodenal ulcer.

Technique and Vision

Joyce's career displays a consistent development. In each of his four major works there is an increase in the profundity of his vision and the complexity of his literary technique, particularly his experiments with language. Dubliners is a linked collection of 15 short stories treating the sometimes squalid, sometimes sentimental lives of various Dublin residents. The stories portray a city in moral and political paralysis, an insight that the reader is intended to achieve through a succession of revelatory moments, which Joyce called epiphanies. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an autobiographical account of the adolescence and youth of Stephen Dedalus, who comes to realize that before he can be a true artist he must rid himself of the stultifying effects of the religion, politics, and essential bigotry of Ireland.

Ulysses recreates the events of one day in Dublin—June 16, 1904; widely known as "Bloomsday" —centering on the activities of a Jewish advertising-space salesman, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and the aforementioned Stephen Dedalus, now a teacher. The fundamental design of Ulysses is based on Homer's Odyssey; each chapter in the novel parallels one in the epic and is also associated with an hour of the day, color, symbol, and part of the body. Attempting to recreate the total life of his characters—the surface life and the inner life—Joyce mingles realistic descriptions with verbal representations of his characters' most intimate and random thoughts, using techniques of interior narration.

Interspersed throughout the work are historical, literary, religious, and geographical allusions, evocative patterns of words, word games, and many-sided puns, all of which imbue the ordinary events of the novel with the copious significance of those in an epic. Despite its complexities, Ulysses is an extraordinarily satisfying book, a celebration of life unparalleled in its humor, characterization, and tragic irony. A new edition of Ulysses, edited by H. Gabler, appeared in 1986, claiming to correct more than 5,000 errors that had been discovered in previous editions; it was itself flawed, and the publisher has subsequently reissued the 1961 edition in tandem with Gabler's.

Joyce's last work, Finnegans Wake, presents the dark counterpart of "Bloomsday" of Ulysses. Framed by the dream-induced experiences of a Dublin publican, the novel recapitulates the cycles of Irish history, and in its multiple allusions almost reveals a universal consciousness. In order to present this new reality Joyce manipulated and distorted language that pushed the work to the furthest limits of comprehensibility.

Because of its complexity Finnegans Wake is perhaps more talked about than read, and despite the publication of the manuscripts and drafts of the novel in 1978, probably will never be completely understood. Other posthumous publications include part of an early version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man called Stephen Hero (1944). In June, 1962, a Joyce museum, containing pictures, papers, and first editions of Joyce's books, was opened in Dublin.

Bibliography

Joyce's works have acquired a small army of scholars, patiently unraveling their numerous textual obscurities. Many of their articles appear in the James Joyce Quarterly. See his letters (Vol. I ed. by S. Gilbert, 1957; Vol. II and III ed. by R. Ellman, 1966); biographies by C. H. Peake (1977), R. Ellman (1959, rev. ed. 1982), C. J. Anderson (1986), B. K. Scott (1987), E. O'Brien (1999), and G. Bowker (2012); biographies of periods in Joyce's life by P. Costello (1992) and J. McCourt (2000); biography of Nora Joyce by B. Maddox (1989, repr. 2000); studies by A. Burgess (1968), A. W. Litz (1964, 1972), R. Ellman (1977), H. Kenner (1978, 1987), D. Attridge (1990), D. Pierce (2008), and K. Birmingham (2014); bibliographies by J. J. Slocum and H. Cohoon (1953, repr. 1972) and T. F. Staley (1989).

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Joyce, James

James Joyce

Born: February 2, 1882
Rathgar, Ireland
Died: January 13, 1941
Zurich, Switzerland

Irish author

James Joyce was an Irish author who experimented with ways to use language, symbolism (having one thing to stand for another), interior monologue (characters talking to themselves), and stream of consciousness (the uninterrupted, continuous flow of a character's thoughts).

Early years

James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Rathgar, Ireland, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. His father had several jobs including a position as tax collector for the city of Dublin. His mother, Mary Jane Murray Joyce, was a gifted piano player. James's father was not very successful, and the family had to move fourteen times from the time James was born until he left Ireland.

Joyce was educated entirely in Jesuit (a Catholic religious order) schools in Ireland. He did very well in the study of philosophy (the study of humans and their relationship to the universe) and languages. After his graduation in 1902, he left Ireland for the rest of his life. After that he lived in Trieste, Italy; Zurich, Switzerland; and Paris, France, with his wife and two children.

Early fiction

Most of Joyce's fiction is autobiographical, that is, it is based on his own life experiences. Even though he left his native country, his work is based mainly on Ireland, family, and Roman Catholicism.

Joyce's Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories. He finished writing the work in 1904, but it could not be published until ten years later because the British government thought it contained things that offended the king. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is a semi-autobiographical (based on the author's own life) novel of adolescence (the teenage years). It is the story of Stephen Dedalus, a young writer who rebels against the surroundings of his youth. He rejects his father, family, and religion, and, like Joyce, decides at the novel's close to leave Ireland. His name comes from Greek mythology (stories that tell of gods or explain natural occurrences). In the myth Dedalus made a maze to hold the Minotaur (a monster that was half man and half bull). He was jailed in the labyrinth with his son, Icarus. In order to escape, he made wings of feathers and wax, but Icarus flew too near the sun, which melted the wax causing him to die when he plunged into the sea. For Joyce and others after him, Stephen Dedalus became a symbol for all artists. Stephen appears again in Ulysses, perhaps Joyce's most respected novel.

Ulysses

Joyce published Ulysses in 1922. Many consider it Joyce's most mature work. It is patterned after Homer's Odyssey. Homer was a Greek poet who produced his works around 850 b.c.e. Each of the eighteen chapters is related to a part of the original Greek epic (long poem that tells a heroic story), but there are other sources, too. The action takes place in a single day, June 16, 1904. It tells the story of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, and how the actions of each person touches the others during that day. Ulysses is considered one of the most important books in the development of the modern novel. To tell this story, Joyce used what he called the stream of consciousness. Using this technique Joyce permits the reader to enter the consciousness (thoughts) of his characters, listen to parts of conversations, experience what the characters feel, and relive their memories.

Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake is the most difficult of all of Joyce's works to understand. It was published in 1939. The novel has no real plot. Instead, it relies upon sound, rhythm of language, and puns (word jokes). These parts create a surface and the meanings are under that surface. Most people consider Finnegans Wake to be a novel, but others have called it a poem. The novel was not well-received, and Joyce relied on the help of friends for financial assistance after it was published.

Late life

Joyce knew his family was not safe in France when it was taken over by the Germans during World War II (193945; a war in which Germany, Japan, and Italy fought against France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States). He borrowed money and fled to Switzerland with his family. Joyce died in Zurich, Switzerland, on January 13, 1941. He is considered one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century.

The modern novel owes much to James Joyce. His understanding of philosophy, theology (religious studies), and foreign languages enabled him to use the English language in exciting new ways. His novel Ulysses was brought to trial on charges of obscenity (being offensive) in the United States, but Joyce was found innocent. This marked a breakthrough on how subject matter and language could be used in the modern English novel.

For More Information

Anderson, Chester G. James Joyce and His World. London: Thames & Hudson, 1967.

Beja, Morris. James Joyce: A Literary Life. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.

Burgess, Anthony. Re Joyce. New York: Norton, 1965.

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

O'Brien, Edna. James Joyce. New York: Viking Penguin, 1999.

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Joyce, James

Joyce, James (1882–1941). High priest of modernism and most uncompromising of novelists. The short stories of Dubliners (1914) chapter the moral history of his country ‘in a style of scrupulous meanness’. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) he set an ironical distance between himself and the catholicism and aestheticism of his youth before escaping to a life of cunning and exile on the continent. The major work, Ulysses (1922), chronicles a single day in June 1904 but was eight years in the writing and passed the censors only in 1933. An encyclopedic obsession with language in all its aspects does not exclude comedy, warmth, and humanity, but in the still more experimental Finnegans Wake he goes where few readers follow. Though he died in Zurich, in his writing he had never really left his native Dublin.

John Saunders

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Joyce, James

Joyce, James (1882–1941) Irish novelist. In 1904 Joyce renounced Catholicism and left Ireland to live and work in Europe. Joyce's experiments with narrative form place him at the centre of literary modernism. His debut was the short-story collection Dubliners (1914). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) was a fictionalized autobiography of Stephen Daedalus. His masterpiece, the novel Ulysses (1922), presents a day (June 16, 1904) in the life of Leopold Bloom. Finnegan's Wake (1939) is an allusive mix of Irish history and myth.

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