Joyce, James (1882–1941)

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JOYCE, JAMES (1882–1941)


Irish writer.

James Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, the first son of John Stanislaus Joyce. His father, having helped the Liberals to victory in the general elections of 1880, had been rewarded with the post of collector of rates, or taxes, for Dublin, earning the substantial salary of £500 per year. When the post was given to someone else in 1892, he was pensioned off with £132 per year, a sum further reduced in subsequent years. From birth to age ten, Joyce grew up in a comfortable middle-class environment; thereafter he lived in a world of sham gentility and genuine poverty, as his father's shrinking pension, improvidence, and alcoholism made life increasingly unstable for a family that now included ten children.


After attending Clongowes Wood College (a distinguished Jesuit establishment) and Belvedere College (another Jesuit school), Joyce went to University College, a Catholic institution struggling for distinction. An admirer of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), Joyce was already writing poems, essays, and impressionistic sketches. After graduating, he went to Paris briefly to study medicine (1902), then returned to Dublin (1903). On 10 June 1904 he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Galway. They were still unmarried when the two left Ireland to move to the Continent (their marriage would take place only much later, in 1931). Their new home was Trieste, a city that, although part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was populated largely by Italians. Teaching English at the local Berlitz school, Joyce would reside there until 1915.

Almost immediately he began writing the short stories that would make up Dubliners, a milestone in short prose fiction. Its intensely accurate apprehension of the detail of Dublin life was brilliant and brutal, and Joyce also developed numerous devices for interweaving the stories to make them more than the sum of their parts. In 1907 he completed "The Dead," the last and longest of the stories. The book was accepted for publication by Grant Richards but was soon engulfed in interminable delays as first publishers and then printers demanded that Joyce delete or alter words, phrases, and proper names to accord with conventional decorum. While still engaged in protracted negotiations over Dubliners, Joyce began work on what would become his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, a work that was far advanced by 1913, when Dubliners had still not appeared in print. A Portrait uses a highly developed symbolism to give ordinary incidents new resonance, layering associations around a scene or incident to make them evoke much deeper meanings, so that an ordinary pool of water, say, becomes suggestive of baptism.

Joyce's life changed irrevocably in late 1913, when he received a letter from the American poet, critic, and editor Ezra Pound (1885–1972), who had asked William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) to name younger writers who might have new materials to contribute to an anthology. Joyce sent him Dubliners and the first chapter of Portrait. As Joyce's great biographer Richard Ellmann wrote, "In Ezra Pound, as eager to discover as Joyce was to be discovered, the writings of Joyce found their missionary."

Pound arranged for serial publication of Portrait in the Egoist, a monthly journal devoted to the philosophical tenets of "egoism," a school of radical individualism derived from the writings of the German philosopher Max Stirner (1806–1856). The journal had some two hundred subscribers and was supported chiefly by subsidies from Harriet Shaw Weaver, an Englishwoman who had a deep sense of her duty to contribute to bettering the world. In 1915, after considerable prodding by Pound, Dubliners was at last published. In 1917 A Portrait of the Artist was issued by the Egoist Press, the book-publishing wing of Harriet Weaver's enterprise. By then Joyce was already at work on Ulysses—recognized today as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century—and living in Zurich, where he had moved with his family a year after the outbreak of World War I.


Though he was paid for each installment of Ulysses, the sums were too little to make ends meet, and in 1916 Harriet Shaw Weaver began to act as Joyce's patron, sending him small but essential sums ever more frequently. Joyce never found the money to be enough, but it freed him to work with extraordinary energy on Ulysses. He had decided that each chapter would be written in a different style, but with episode 7, "Aeolus," this ambition became even more pronounced. Joyce was clearly fascinated by the idea of having an audience (he probably did not know just how small it was), and he was determined to dazzle. Each episode now became the occasion for a bravura performance, and Joyce became ever more determined to startle and provoke. The book, in effect, was becoming three books: a work of hyperbolic realism that minutely recounted the doings and thoughts of Leopold Bloom in the course of a single day in 1904; a work of richly textured symbolism, in which incidents in Bloom's day "correspond" with incidents recounted in Homer's Odyssey, or significant details became endowed with immense resonance; and a work that was increasingly preoccupied with the workings of language, chains of displacements, repetitions, and substitutions that go into fictional worldmaking. From the tenth to the eighteenth episodes, Joyce carried his experiments further and further, creating radically disparate styles and inventing new narrative conventions, or even departing entirely from storytelling in any ordinary sense.

In 1919 the Egoist ceased publication, but Ulysses continued to enjoy serial publication in the Little Review, an American journal with which Pound had also been involved. In early 1920 Joyce, now with two children (Lucia and Giorgio), moved to Paris, largely at Pound's urging, and he now contemplated the final episodes of his epic work. But because the Little Review was charged in October that year with publishing obscenity when it issued episode 13, "Nausicaa," the prospects for book publication grew clouded both in the United States and Britain. The Little Review editors were convicted in February 1921 and agreed not to publish further episodes of Ulysses. Two months later, Sylvia Beach, an American who owned an English-language bookshop in Paris, offered to take on the novel, promising to publish it as a limited and deluxe edition to be issued in one thousand copies.

Joyce, meanwhile, worked frantically on the book's final episodes, simultaneously writing these while he also revised all the earlier ones as they went through proof, a process that enabled him to layer in ever more detailed and subtle connections throughout the entire work. It has been estimated that as much as one third of Ulysses was written in the margins of the proofs. He completed the last writing on 30 October 1921, though proofs for the later episodes were still coming in and being revised as late as December. Finally, on 2 February 1922, the first copies of Ulysses arrived in Paris. Within eighteen weeks the edition was sold out, and in September 1922 copies that had originally sold at £3 3s (or $15), were selling in London and New York for as much as £40 (or $200). Beach published a second edition the next year and another each year until 1935, when a celebrated court ruling in the United States declared the book not indecent and hence publishable. Random House, under the guidance of Bennett Cerf, became the U.S. publisher of Ulysses.

Weaver, meanwhile, had settled £23,000 on Joyce, a sum that meant his annual income from it was £1,050 per year, then a sizable figure. Joyce now adopted the lifestyle of a middle-class family man, shunning the doings of expatriate and bohemian Paris and restricting himself to a small circle of admirers and collaborators. Meanwhile, he turned his attention to Finnegans Wake, a project that would consume the next seventeen years of his life. Published under the title Work in Progress in avant-garde journals such as Transition, which was edited by Eugene Jolas, the book became an unprecedented construction of a new language, one discernibly grounded in English but incorporating and punning on words from as many as seventeen other languages. Even when it was still incomplete and known only through the portions published serially, the work prompted extensive debate about Joyce's aims and procedures. Some charged that Joyce was becoming too obscure and losing all contact with reality and ordinary storytelling; others thought that he was charting the future of experimental writing. Even today there is sharp disagreement about the nature of Finnegans Wake: forsome its obscurity conceals a hidden narrative or even a systematic mythology; for others its insistent punning entails forms of play inimical to the very ideas of character, plot, and story.

With the outbreak of World War II, Joyce and his family fled first to southern France, then to Zurich, where he had written so much of Ulysses. When he died a few months later in early 1941, all of Weaver's money had disappeared. Joyce had consumed not just the income but also the principal.

See alsoBeach, Sylvia; Ireland; Pound, Ezra.


Primary Sources

Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. New York, 1958.

——. Ulysses. Prepared by Hans Walter Gabler with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior. New York, 1984.

——. Dubliners. Edited by Jeri Johnson. Oxford, U.K., 2000.

Secondary Sources

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York, 1982.

Kenner, Hugh. Joyce's Voices. Berkeley, Calif., 1978.

Sherry, Vincent. James Joyce: Ulysses. Cambridge, U.K., 1994.

Lawrence Rainey

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Joyce, James (1882–1941)

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