BORN: 1882, Dublin, Ireland
DIED: 1941, Zurich, Switzerland
GENRE: Fiction, poetry, drama
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
Finnegans Wake (1939)
James Joyce is considered the most prominent English-speaking literary figure of the first half of the twentieth century. His short-story collection and three novels redefined the form of modern fiction and have inspired countless writers in his wake.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
One Child among Many in Dublin, an Irish Exile in Paris James Augustus Aloysius Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland, to John Stanislaus
Joyce and Mary Jane Murray Joyce. He was the eldest of what his father estimated as “sixteen or seventeen children,” only ten of whom survived infancy.
After graduating from University College Dublin in 1902, Joyce left Ireland for medical school in Paris. He viewed the flourishing Irish literary revival with a mixture of anxiety and indifference. Both the strong nationalism, with its emphasis on the revived Gaelic language, and the accompanying mysticism were unacceptable to him. Unlike many Irish writers of the period, who rejected the literature of England, Joyce was sensitive to the major achievement of the English literary tradition that spanned the eight centuries in which Ireland was under English rule and the accomplishment of William Shakespeare within that tradition. He also cautiously accepted the necessity of writing in the tongue of the conquerors in order to broaden his intellectual perspectives. In his home country, the Irish, persecuted for centuries by the British, were pushing aggressively for independence from British rule. Many fellow Irish writers chose to dramatize this quest for freedom in their work. Joyce, however, was determined to establish himself in the European mainstream, believing that he could not function as an artist in Ireland and that the only suitable response he could make was to be an exile.
Teaching English in Italy His mother's serious illness caused his return home in 1903. When he left Ireland permanently in 1904 for Italy, Joyce took with him a young woman, Nora Barnacle. She would remain his companion for the rest of his life on the Continent and they would have two children together, although he refused to marry in a religious ceremony. (They eventually legalized their marriage in a civil ceremony in 1931.) In the decade between 1904 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Joyce and Nora lived principally in Trieste, Italy, where he taught English.
Success in a Shattered World For James Joyce, the year the world was thrown into turmoil was also the beginning of his success as a writer, with the publication of his short-story collection Dubliners—which examines the middle-class Irish Catholics known to himself and his family—and the completion of his first novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), as well as his beginning to work on Ulysses. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is at once a portrayal of the maturation of the artist, a study of the vanity of rebelliousness, and an examination of the self-deception of adolescent ego. It is often considered a study of the author's early life. As Joyce was writing and finding some appreciative readers, the world around him was falling apart. The Great War, as World War I was initially known, meant that he and his family were now enemy aliens in Italy.
At Work on a Masterpiece In 1915 the Joyces were granted permission to leave Trieste for neutral Zurich, Switzerland. Soon thereafter, back in Ireland, the Irish Republican Brotherhood staged what became known as the Easter Rising during Easter week of 1916. They seized key Dublin facilities and declared an independent Irish republic, but were put down by British forces after six days of fighting. Three years later, a full-scale guerilla war, known as the Irish War of Independence, broke out, which eventually compelled the British to make some concessions to the Irish and led to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.
Most of Ulysses (1922), the novel for which Joyce is most enduringly remembered, was written during the war years in Zurich. In 1920, Joyce and his family moved to Paris. Among the expatriate Americans living there between the wars was Sylvia Beach, who published Ulysses under the imprint of her bookstore, Shakespeare and Co. Using Homer's Odyssey as a framework, Joyce depicts in Ulysses the events of a single day in Dublin—June 16, 1904. Seedy details of urban life caused the novel to be banned from the United States until December 1933, when Judge John M. Woolsey delivered the legal verdict that Ulysses was not obscene; it was published in the United States in early 1934, twelve years after Sylvia Beach's Paris edition had appeared.
Finnegans Wake and the Dark Years Following Following the international praise heaped on Ulysses, Joyce gained the financial patronage of heiress-activist-editor Harriet Shaw Weaver and afterward was able to devote himself exclusively to writing. He spent nearly all of his remaining years composing his final work, Finnegans Wake (1939). Meant to be the subconscious flow of thought of H. C. Earwicker, a character both real and allegorical, Finnegans Wake is literally a re-creation of the English language. In this masterpiece of allusions, puns, foreign languages, and word combinations, Joyce attempted to compress all of Western culture into one night's dream.
Though free from poverty, these years were darkened by the worsening insanity of Joyce's daughter Lucia and by several surgical attempts to save his own failing eyesight. After the publication of Finnegans Wake in 1939, the year war once more broke out in Europe, Joyce fled Paris and the approaching turmoil of World War II. A stay in the south of France eventually led to the Joyces being admitted into Switzerland again, once Lucia was hospitalized and the rumor that Joyce was a Jew was dismissed. Three weeks after arriving in Zurich in 1941, however, Joyce died on the operating table during surgery on a perforated ulcer.
Works in Literary Context
The Quintessential Modernist Critics have come to see the year 1922, with the appearance of Joyce's Ulysses, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and German poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, as the
culminating moment of modernism. Although James Joyce avoided association with artistic groups or literary movements, the characteristics distinguishing his works—dislike of institutions devoted to preserving the status quo, faith in the humanity of individuals, and a deep interest in stylistic experimentation—reflect the concerns animating the works of all the major artists of the period. He is, and was even for many readers of his own moment, the quintessential modernist.
An Irish Home Seen from—and as—“Away” A striking characteristic of Joyce's different novels and short stories is their near-obsession with Dublin, perhaps the more striking given Joyce's own long expatriation. In dealing with a world fractured by WWI and then the onset of the WWII, Joyce certainly could have been forgiven for seeking comfort in memories of childhood and home—if that were what he had done. Instead, Joyce's returns to Dublin are famously unsentimental, even mocking, and his depictions of his own family are outright cruel at times. In a sense, he looks back to Dublin and a home life there not as “home,” a place of familiarity and comfort, but as “away,” a place that may be clearly, even coldly, seen in a more or less objective light. Perhaps, though, it is Irish culture that has the last laugh here, since the ironic portrayals of Dublin and of family life that strike some readers as cold or cruel are, after all, representatives of a grand Irish tradition of sharp-tongued, even ferocious self-mockery.
Joyce's influence has been immense. Elements within the styles of authors as different from one another as Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett, modern American novelist William Faulkner, English fiction writers Malcolm Lowry and John Fowles, and contemporary American novelists Thomas Pynchon and John Irving identify them as some of those most overtly shaped by Joyce's works. But no author today can begin to compose without confronting in some way the impact on modern literature exerted by Joyce's new methods of composition, and, consequently, no reader today can take up a work of modern fiction without feeling the effects and echoes of Joyce's influence.
Works in Critical Context
Few writers have as secure a claim to be the major figure of the modernist period in literary history as James Joyce does. Richard Ellmann summarizes the author's impact on twentieth-century letters: “We are still learning to be James Joyce's contemporaries, to understand our interpreter.” Critics are unanimous in their praise for Joyce's artistry while acknowledging the difficulty of his works. Eloise Knowlton comments about Dubliners: “The stories … take a coldly objective, scrupulously true view of their objects, accomplish a vivid and swift capturing of a single, seemingly accidental moment, and lack an explanatory authorial voice (a caption) that might pin down a specific meaning: a lack that perpetually frustrates students who expect a definite, readable meaning to a tale.”
Similarly, Keith Cushman writes about Ulysses: “It is odd that a novel with such a reputation for consummate artistic design should also be universally recognized to be formally problematic. Every serious reader of Ulysses must grapple with the apparent divergence of matter and manner, of surface and symbol…. Our image of Joyce almost requires that we equip Ulysses with a grand design, but any such design is apt to leave out the sheer exuberant messiness of the novel.”
Ulysses Responses to Ulysses have been as varied as the different facets of the novel itself, although the antihero figure of Leopold Bloom is so universally beloved that a day named for him (June 16) is celebrated by Joyce enthusiasts around the world (and especially in Dublin, Ireland, where the novel takes place): Bloomsday. Attempting to trace Joyce's effects on the development of a “world modernism,” literary critic César Augusto Salgado notes several “central Joycean themes—the interplay between the Homeric and the Orphic, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, death and resurrection.” Salgado also describes Ulysses as “an anarchical avant-garde work” driven by a “realist imperative to represent a plurality of characters with technical conciseness by filtering their representation and characterization through their own language.”
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Joyce's famous contemporaries include:
Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916): Boccioni was an Italian artist, who was influential in the futurist artistic movement, which rejected the past and focused on speed and technology.
Mina Loy (1882–1966): Loy was a British artist and writer, as well as a creator of three-dimensional collages. She turned away from futurism toward modernism.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971): Stravinsky was a Russian composer who collaborated with ballet choreographers, including Sergei Diaghilev and George Balanchine. He is well-known for his works The Firebird and The Rite of Spring.
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941): Woolf was an English author well-known for her modernist novels and a member of the influential Bloomsbury literary group in London.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man David Daiches argues that in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man “Joyce … has given us one of the few examples in
English literature of autobiography successfully employed as a mode of fiction. As autobiography, the work has an almost terrifying honesty; as fiction, it has unity, consistency, probability, and all the other aesthetic qualities we look for in a work of art…. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is perhaps the most flawless of all Joyce's work. The welding of form and content, the choice of detail that seems inevitable once it has been made, the brilliant yet unobtrusive style, these and other qualities give the work a wholeness, a unity, and a completeness possessed by hardly a handful of works in our literature.” Looking back at initial responses to the piece, literary scholar Brandon Kershner suggests that in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man “Joyce's technique was so convincing that the [early] reviewers had to admit that something beyond conventional realism was at work.”
Responses to Literature
- Joyce wrote about Ireland and the Irish, although he lived abroad for almost all his adult life. What stylistic features of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man do you think can be attributed to this expatriation? That is, how did being outside of Ireland affect the way Joyce saw and wrote about his native land? Explore a thesis through detailed analysis of concrete passages in Joyce's text.
- Ulysses is famously patterned on Homer's Odyssey, replacing the ancient Greek hero of that epic poem with a modern antihero. Research the emergence of the “antihero” in literature, and suggest several reasons why that figure may have emerged and gained popularity when it did. What are some possible cultural impacts of an embrace of the antihero?
- James Joyce decided to write in English at a time when many Irish writers chose to write in Gaelic instead. Write an essay analyzing his reasons for writing in English, seen by many Irish of the period as the language of the colonizer.
- Many readers see Ulysses as the epitome of modernist style. What ways of seeing the world are reflected in the emergence of this style, and how does this manner of experiencing reality differ from that associated with modernism's literary predecessors? Explore a thesis through detailed analysis of concrete passages in Joyce's text.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
According to Marvin Magalaner's Time of Apprenticeship, James Joyce explained his choice of setting to his friend, Arthur Power: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” Here are some other works in which a specific city plays an important, universally revealing, role.
City of God (2002), a film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. This Academy Award–nominated movie follows a boy growing up in a slum of Rio de Janiero, Brazil; it is based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Paolo Lins.
Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), a novel by George Orwell. This debut novel is heavily autobiographical, chronicling an artistic life lived in poverty in two great European cities.
Palace Walk (1988), a novel by Naguib Mahfouz. The first story in the “Cairo Trilogy” by the Nobel Prize–winning novelist, this novel examines the life of a middle-class family in Cairo just after World War I.
A Private Life (2004), a novel by Ran Chen. Written by one of China's leading female authors, this coming-of-age novel traces a girl's maturation in Beijing during the 1980s and 1990s.
Tales of the City (1976), a novel by Armistead Maupin. This novel, originally published as a newspaper serial, tells the story of a group of neighbors in San Francisco, with its thriving alternative culture.
Beeretz, Sylvia. Tell Us in Plain Words: Narrative Strategies in James Joyce's “Ulysses” New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Benstock, Bernard, ed. Critical Essays on James Joyce. New York: G. K. Hall, 1985.
Corcoran, Neil. After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Daiches, David. “Ulysses and Finnegans Wake: The Aesthetic Problem.” In The Novel and the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Fargnoli, A. Nicholas, and Michael Patrick Gillespie. James Joyce A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1995.
McCourt, John. James Joyce: A Passionate Exile. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2001.
Nolan, Emer. James Joyce and Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Quick, Jonathan. Modern Fiction and the Art of Subversion. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Riquelme, John Paul. Teller and Tale in Joyce's Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Salgado, César Augusto. From Modernism to Neobaroque: Joyce and Lezama Lima. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2000.
Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce. New York: Noonday, 1959.
Vanderham, Paul. James Joyce and Censorship: The Trials of “Ulysses”. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Cushman, Keith. Review of The Book as World: James Joyce's “Ulysses”. Modern Philology 76 (1979): 435–38.
Knowlton, Eloise. “Showings Forth: Dubliners, Photography, and the Rejection of Realism.” Mosaic 38 (2005): 133.
The International James Joyce Foundation. Ohio State University, Department of English. Retrieved April 24, 2008, from http://english.osu.edu/research/organizations/ijjf.
The James Joyce Centre. Retrieved April 24, 2008, from http://www.jamesjoyce.ie.
The James Joyce Society. Retrieved April 24, 2008, from http://joycesociety.org.
Sunphone Records. Music in the Works of James Joyce. Retrieved April 24, 2008 from http://www.james-joyce-music.com.
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."
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 (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 (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.
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). □
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
Joyce knew his family was not safe in France when it was taken over by the Germans during World War II (1939–45; 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.
O'Brien, Edna. James Joyce. New York: Viking Penguin, 1999.
Arguably the most important English-language writer of the twentieth century, James Joyce (1882–1941) was born into a family of some wealth that spiraled down into economic misery during his youth. Raised in various locations in Dublin and its environs, Joyce was educated principally by the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College. He earned his university degree from University College, Dublin, in 1902, after studying modern languages, particularly French and Italian. Joyce left Ireland permanently in 1904—returning only for visits thereafter—with Nora Barnacle, whom he married in 1931 and with whom he had two children, Giorgio and Lucia. He lived on the Continent, writing primarily in Trieste, Rome, Zurich, and Paris. He was helped by patronage from and association with such writers as W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound; he was lionized by the avant-garde literary circles of Paris and supported economically by his longterm benefactor Harriet Shaw Weaver. Other patrons included Mrs. Harold McCormick and Sylvia Beach, who arranged the publication of Ulysses.
Written in a style described in his letters as "scrupulous meanness," Joyce's first major work was Dubliners (published in 1914). Using covert Irish-language symbolism, Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories purporting to be "a chapter of the moral history of [his] country" and to show Dublin as "the centre of paralysis" in Ireland. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), a semiautobiographical symbolist narrative, is a landmark of varied perspective. Joyce welds together form, style, and content even as he demonstrates that the Irish artist has a dual heritage and identity, comprised of both Gaelic and English elements. Ulysses (1922) is Joyce's masterpiece, one of the central modernist narratives of the twentieth century, enormously influential on all of Western literature because of its stream-of-consciousness technique as well as its experiments with style and its merging of symbolist and realist aspects. Following the experiences of three principal characters in Dublin on a single day (16 June 1904), Ulysses challenges the canonical form of the novel, in part through the deployment of narrative techniques drawn from early Irish literature. Although Joyce had experimented with mythic substructure and Irish symbolism in his earlier narratives, in Ulysses his mythic technique became a major focus, intertwining principally Greek and Irish sources, and using the myth armature itself to convey political and ideological stances.
Drawing on Giambattista Vico's theory of history, Finnegans Wake (1939), a sui generis encyclopedic work, meshes history, myth, popular culture, and Dublin placelore, to name just a few strands. Here Joyce's syncretism extends to language itself, with the text a stream of puns, portmanteau words, and other types of wordplay, all drawing on dozens of languages, among which Irish ranks highly. Structured around the collective and personal dreamwork of a household near Dublin during a single night, Finnegans Wake was begun in 1922, during the Irish Civil War, and published on the eve of World War II. A thread of conflict, from the local to the global, lends a somber basso continuo to the text, emphasized by the circular structure whereby the first line of the book completes the last line.
Joyce's other works include two volumes of poetry, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927); a play, Exiles (1918); Stephen Hero, a preliminary form of A Portrait of the Artist, which was published after Joyce's death; and numerous critical essays, lectures, and reviews.
Hailed as both modernist and postmodernist, Joyce created a new narrative type with each of his major works. He was a postcolonial writer before such a critical category existed, writing his nation's history, culture, language, and literature into all of his texts. Though in his youth he criticized the Irish Literary Revival, in many ways his works are a fulfillment of the revival's literary project. His influence is patent on writers ranging from Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett to William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison.
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Kenner, Hugh. Joyce's Voices. 1978.
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Tymoczko, Maria. The Irish "Ulysses." 1994.