James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (Irish Séamus Seoighe; 2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish expatriate writer, widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his landmark novel Ulysses (1922) and its highly controversial successor Finnegans Wake (1939), as well as the short story collection Dubliners (1914) and the semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).
Although he spent most of his adult life outside Ireland, Joyce’s fictional universe is firmly rooted in Dublin, providing the settings and much of the subject matter for all his fiction. In particular, his tempestuous early relationship with the Irish Roman Catholic Church is reflected through a similar inner conflict in his recurrent alter ego Stephen Dedalus. As the result of his minute attentiveness to a personal locale and his self-imposed exile and influence throughout Europe, Joyce became simultaneously one of the most cosmopolitan and one of the most local of all the great English language writers.
Life and writing
In 1882, James Augustine Joyce was born into a Roman Catholic family in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar. He was the oldest of 10 surviving children; two of his siblings died of typhoid. His father’s family, originally from Fermoy in Cork, had once owned a small salt and lime works. Joyce’s father and paternal grandfather both married into wealthy families. In 1887, his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was appointed rate (i.e., a local property tax) collector by Dublin Corporation; the family subsequently moved to the fashionable adjacent small town of Bray 12 miles from Dublin. Around this time Joyce was attacked by a dog; this resulted in a lifelong canine phobia. He also suffered from a fear of thunderstorms, which his deeply religious aunt had described to him as being a sign of God’s wrath.
In 1891, Joyce wrote a poem, “Et Tu Healy,” on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father was angry at the treatment of Parnell by the Catholic church and at the resulting failure to secure Home Rule for Ireland. The elder Joyce had the poem printed and even sent a copy to the Vatican Library. In November of that same year, John Joyce was entered in Stubbs Gazette (an official register of bankruptcies) and suspended from work. In 1893 John Joyce was dismissed with a pension. This was the beginning of a slide into poverty for the family, mainly due to John’s drinking and general financial mismanagement.
James Joyce was initially educated by the Jesuit order at Clongowes Wood College, a boarding school near Sallins in County Kildare, which he entered in 1888 but had to leave in 1892 when his father could no longer pay the fees. Joyce then studied at home and briefly at the Christian Brothers school on North Richmond Street, Dublin, before he was offered a place in the Jesuits’ Dublin school, Belvedere College, in 1893. The offer was made at least partly in the hope that he would prove to have a vocation and join the Order. Joyce, however, was to reject Catholicism by the age of 16, although the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas would remain a strong influence on him throughout his life.
He enrolled at the recently established University College Dublin in 1898. He studied modern languages, specifically English, French and Italian. He also became active in theatrical and literary circles in the city. His review of Ibsen’s New Drama, his first published work, was published in 1900 and resulted in a letter of thanks from the Norwegian dramatist himself. Joyce wrote a number of other articles and at least two plays (since lost) during this period. Many of the friends he made at University College Dublin would appear as characters in Joyce’s written works. He was an active member of the Literary and Historical Society, University College Dublin, and presented his paper “Drama and Life” to the L&H in 1900.
Photograph of James Joyce taken by fellow University College student Constantine P. Curran in the summer of 1904.
Photograph of James Joyce taken by fellow University College student Constantine P. Curran in the summer of 1904.
After graduating from UCD in 1903, Joyce left for Paris to “study medicine”, but in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford. He returned to Ireland after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Fearing for her son’s “impiety”, his mother tried unsuccessfully to get Joyce to make his confession and to take communion. She finally passed into a coma and died on August 13, Joyce having refused to kneel with other members of the family praying at her bedside. After her death he continued to drink heavily, and conditions at home grew quite appalling. He scraped a living reviewing books, teaching and singing — he was an accomplished tenor, and won the bronze medal in the 1904 Feis Ceoil.
On 7 January 1904, he attempted to publish A Portrait of the Artist, an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, only to have it rejected from the free-thinking magazine Dana. He decided, on his twenty-second birthday, to revise the story and turn it into a novel he planned to call Stephen Hero. This was the same year he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Galway city who was working as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel in Dublin. On 16 June 1904, they went on their first date, an event which would be commemorated by providing the date for the action of Ulysses.
Joyce remained in Dublin for some time longer, drinking heavily. After one of his alcoholic binges, he got into a fight over a misunderstanding with a man in Phoenix Park; he was picked up and dusted off by a minor acquaintance of his father, Alfred H. Hunter, who brought him into his home to tend to his injuries. Hunter was rumored to be Jewish and to have an unfaithful wife, and would serve as one of the models for Leopold Bloom, the main protagonist of Ulysses. He took up with medical student Oliver St John Gogarty, who formed the basis for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. After staying in Gogarty’s Martello Tower for six nights he left in the middle of the night following an altercation which involved Gogarty shooting a pistol at some pans hanging directly over Joyce’s bed. He walked all the way back to Dublin to stay with relatives for the night, and sent a friend to the tower the next day to pack his trunk. Shortly thereafter he eloped to the continent with Nora.
1904–1920: Trieste and Zürich
Joyce and Nora went into self-imposed exile, moving first to Zürich, where he had supposedly acquired a post teaching English at the Berlitz Language School through an agent in England. It turned out that the English agent had been swindled, but the director of the school sent him on to Trieste, which was part of Austria-Hungary until World War I (today part of Italy). Once again, he found there was no position for him, but with the help of Almidano Artifoni, director of the Trieste Berlitz school, he finally secured a teaching position in Pula, then part of Austria-Hungary (today part of Croatia). He stayed there, teaching English mainly to Austro-Hungarian naval officers stationed at the Pula base, from October 1904 until March 1905, when the Austrians — having discovered an espionage ring in the city — expelled all aliens. With Artifoni’s help, he moved back to Trieste and began teaching English there. He would remain in Trieste for most of the next ten years.
Later that year Nora gave birth to their first child, George. Joyce then managed to talk his brother, Stanislaus, into joining him in Trieste, and secured him a position teaching at the school. Ostensibly his reasons were for his company and offering his brother a much more interesting life than the simple clerking job he had back in Dublin, but in truth, he hoped to augment his family’s meagre income with his brother’s earnings. Stanislaus and James had strained relations the entire time they lived together in Trieste, most arguments centering on James’ frivolity with money and drinking habits.
With chronic wanderlust much of his early life, Joyce became frustrated with life in Trieste and moved to Rome in late 1906, having secured a position working in a bank in the city. He intensely disliked Rome, however, and ended up moving back to Trieste in early 1907. His daughter Lucia was born in the summer of the same year.
Joyce returned to Dublin in the summer of 1909 with George, in order to visit his father and work on getting Dubliners published. He visited Nora’s family in Galway, meeting them for the first time (a successful visit, to his relief). When preparing to return to Trieste he decided to bring one of his sisters, Eva, back to Trieste with him in order to help Nora look after the home. He would spend only a month back in Trieste before again heading back to Dublin, this time as a representative of some cinema owners in order to set up a regular cinema in Dublin. The venture was successful (but would quickly fall apart in his absence), and he returned to Trieste in January 1910 with another sister in tow, Eileen. While Eva became very homesick for Dublin and returned a few years later, Eileen spent the rest of her life on the continent, eventually marrying Czech bank cashier František Schaurek.
Joyce returned to Dublin briefly in the summer of 1912 during his years-long fight with his Dublin publisher, George Roberts, over the publication of Dubliners. His trip was once again fruitless, and on his return he wrote the poem “Gas from a Burner” as a thinly veiled invective of Roberts. It was his last trip to Ireland, and he never came closer to Dublin than London again, despite the many pleas of his father and invitations from fellow Irish writer William Butler Yeats.
Joyce came up with many money-making schemes during this period of his life, such as his attempt to become a cinema magnate back in Dublin, as well as a frequently discussed but ultimately abandoned plan to import Irish tweeds into Trieste. His expert borrowing skills saved him from indigence. His income was made up partially from his position at the Berlitz school and from taking on private students. Many of his acquaintances through meeting these private students proved invaluable allies during his problems getting out of Austria-Hungary and into Switzerland in 1915.
One of his students in Trieste was Ettore Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo; they met in 1907 and became lasting friends and mutual critics. Schmitz was Jewish, and became the primary model for Leopold Bloom; most of the details about the Jewish faith included in Ulysses came from Schmitz in response to Joyce’s queries. Joyce would spend most of the rest of his life on the Continent. It was in Trieste that he first began to be plagued by major eye problems, which would result in over a dozen surgeries before his death.
In 1915 he moved to Zürich in order to avoid the complexities of living in Austria-Hungary during World War I, where he met one of his most enduring and important friends, Frank Budgen, whose opinion Joyce constantly sought through the writing of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It was also here where Ezra Pound brought him to the attention of English feminist and publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver, who would become Joyce’s patron, providing him thousands of pounds over the next 25 years and relieving him of the burden of teaching in order to focus on his writing. After the war he returned to Trieste briefly, but found the city had changed, and his relations with his brother (who had been interned in an Austrian prison camp for most of the war due to his pro-Italian politics) were more strained than ever. Joyce headed to Paris in 1920 at an invitation from Ezra Pound, supposedly for a week, but he ended up living there for the next twenty years.
1920–1941: Paris and Zürich
He traveled frequently to Switzerland for eye surgeries and treatments for Lucia, who according to the Joyce estate, suffered from schizophrenia. In her 2003 work, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, Carol Loeb Shloss alleges that there may have been incest between Lucia and her father and quite possibly between Lucia and her brother Georgio. She cites the admission of the current heir of the Joyce estate, Stephen Joyce, that he burned thousands of letters between Lucia and her father that he received upon Lucia’s death in 1982. There is much correspondence of Joyce’s showing that Lucia was his muse in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. All three works include a voyeuristic father with a libidinal interest in nubile pre-pubescent and adolescent girls—very often his own daughter. Finnegans Wake ends with a father having sex with his daughter. There is correspondence from Joyce proving that he spoke with Lucia in a language similar to that of the fragmented multi-language style in Finnegans Wake. There is much evidence that Lucia was not diagnosed with schizophrenia by several doctors. In fact, she was analyzed by Carl Jung who was of the opinion that her father was a schizophrenic after reading Ulysses. Jung noted that she and her father were two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that he was diving and she was falling.
In Paris, Maria and Eugene Jolas nursed Joyce during his long years of writing Finnegans Wake. Were it not for their unwavering support (along with Harriet Shaw Weaver’s constant financial support), there is a good possibility that his books might never have been finished or published. In their now legendary literary magazine “transition,” the Jolases published serially various sections of Joyce’s novel under the title Work in Progress. He returned to Zürich in late 1940, fleeing the Nazi occupation of France. On 11 January 1941, he underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. While at first improved, he relapsed the following day, and despite several transfusions, fell into a coma. He awoke at 2 a.m. on 13 January 1941, and asked for a nurse to call his wife and son before losing consciousness again. They were still en route when he died 15 minutes later. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery within earshot of the lions in the Zürich zoo. His wife Nora, whom he finally married in London in 1931, survived him by 10 years. She is buried now by his side, as is their son George, who died in 1976.
Joyce’s Irish experiences constitute an essential element of his writings, and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. His early volume of short stories, Dubliners, is a penetrating analysis of the stagnation and paralysis of Dublin society. The final and most famous story in the collection, “The Dead,” was directed by John Huston as his last feature film in 1987.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a nearly complete rewrite of the abandoned Stephen Hero novel, the original manuscript of which Joyce partially destroyed in a fit of rage during an argument with Nora. A Künstlerroman, or story of the personal development of an artist, it is a biographical coming-of-age novel in which Joyce depicts a gifted young man’s gradual attainment of maturity and self-consciousness; the main character, Stephen Dedalus, is in many ways based upon Joyce himself. Some hints of the techniques Joyce was to frequently employ in later works — such as the use of interior monologue and references to a character’s psychic reality rather than his external surroundings — are evident in this novel. Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1977 starring Luke Johnston, Bosco Hogan, T.P. McKenna and John Gielgud.
Exiles and poetry
Main articles: Pomes Penyeach and Chamber Music (book)
Despite early interest in the theatre, Joyce published only one play, Exiles, begun shortly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and published in 1918. A study of a husband and wife relationship, the play looks back to The Dead (the final story in Dubliners) and forward to Ulysses, which was begun around the time of the play’s composition.
Joyce also published a number of books of poetry. His first mature published work was the satirical broadside “The Holy Office” (1904), in which he proclaimed himself to be the superior of many prominent members of the Celtic revival. His first full-length poetry collection Chamber Music (referring, Joyce explained, to the sound of urine hitting the side of a chamber pot) consisted of 36 short lyrics. This publication led to his inclusion in the Imagist Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound, who was a champion of Joyce’s work. Other poetry Joyce published in his lifetime includes “Gas From A Burner” (1912), Pomes Penyeach (1927) and “Ecce Puer” (written in 1932 to mark the birth of his grandson and the recent death of his father). It was published in Collected Poems (1936).
Main article: Ulysses (novel)
Announcement of the initial publication of Ulysses.
Announcement of the initial publication of Ulysses.
As he was completing work on Dubliners in 1906, Joyce considered adding another story featuring a Jewish advertising canvasser called Leopold Bloom under the title Ulysses. Although he did not pursue the idea further at the time, he eventually commenced work on a novel using both the title and basic premise in 1914. The writing was completed in October, 1921. Three more months were devoted to working on the proofs of the book before Joyce halted work shortly before his self-imposed deadline, his 40th birthday (2 February 1922).
Thanks to Ezra Pound, serial publication of the novel in the magazine The Little Review began in 1918. This magazine was edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, with the backing of John Quinn, a New York attorney with an interest in contemporary experimental art and literature. Unfortunately, this publication encountered censorship problems in the United States; serialization was halted in 1920 when the editors were convicted of publishing obscenity. The novel remained banned in the United States until 1933.
At least partly because of this controversy, Joyce found it difficult to get a publisher to accept the book, but it was published in 1922 by Sylvia Beach from her well-known Rive Gauche bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. An English edition published the same year by Joyce’s patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, ran into further difficulties with the United States authorities, and 500 copies that were shipped to the States were seized and possibly destroyed. The following year, John Rodker produced a print run of 500 more intended to replace the missing copies, but these were burned by English customs at Folkestone. A further consequence of the novel’s ambiguous legal status as a banned book was that a number of ‘bootleg’ versions appeared, most notably a number of pirate versions from the publisher Samuel Roth. In 1928, a court injunction against Roth was obtained and he ceased publication.
1922 was a key year in the history of English-language literary modernism, with the appearance of both Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. In Ulysses, Joyce employs stream of consciousness, parody, jokes, and virtually every other literary technique to present his characters. The action of the novel, which takes place in a single day, 16 June 1904, sets the characters and incidents of the Odyssey of Homer in modern Dublin and represents Odysseus (Ulysses), Penelope and Telemachus in the characters of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, parodically contrasted with their lofty models. The book explores various areas of Dublin life, dwelling on its squalor and monotony. Nevertheless, the book is also an affectionately detailed study of the city, and Joyce said that “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book”. In order to achieve this level of accuracy, Joyce used the 1904 edition of Thom’s Directory — a work that listed the owners and/or tenants of every residential and commercial property in the city. He also bombarded friends still living there with requests for information and clarification.
The book consists of 18 chapters, each covering roughly one hour of the day, beginning around about 8 a.m. and ending sometime after 2 a.m. the following morning. Each of the 18 chapters of the novel employs its own literary style. Each chapter also refers to a specific episode in Homer’s Odyssey and has a specific colour, art or science and bodily organ associated with it. This combination of kaleidoscopic writing with an extreme formal, schematic structure represents one of the book’s major contributions to the development of 20th century modernist literature. The use of classical mythology as a framework for his book and the near-obsessive focus on external detail in a book in which much of the significant action is happening inside the minds of the characters are others. Nevertheless, Joyce complained that, “I may have oversystematised Ulysses,” and played down the mythic correspondences by eliminating the chapter titles that had been taken from Homer.
Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1967 starring Milo O’Shea, Barbara Jefford and Maurice Roëves. Sean Walsh directed another version released in 2004 starring Stephen Rea, Angeline Ball and Hugh O’Conor.
Main article: Finnegans Wake
Having completed work on Ulysses, Joyce was so exhausted that he did not write a line of prose for a year. On 10 March 1923 he informed a patron, Harriet Weaver: “Yesterday I wrote two pages — the first I have since the final Yes of Ulysses. Having found a pen, with some difficulty I copied them out in a large handwriting on a double sheet of foolscap so that I could read them. Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio, the Italians say. The wolf may lose his skin but not his vice or the leopard cannot change his spots”. Thus was born a text that became known, first, as Work in Progress and later Finnegans Wake.
By 1926 Joyce had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas who offered to serialise the book in their magazine transition. For the next few years, Joyce worked rapidly on the new book, but in the 1930s, progress slowed considerably. This was due to a number of factors, including the death of his father in 1931, concern over the mental health of his daughter Lucia and his own health problems, including failing eyesight. Much of the work was done with the assistance of younger admirers, including Samuel Beckett. For some years, Joyce nursed the eccentric plan of turning over the book to his friend James Stephens to complete, on the grounds that Stephens was born in the same hospital as Joyce exactly one week later, and shared the first name of both Joyce and of Joyce’s fictional alter-ego (this is one example of Joyce’s numerous superstitions).
Reaction to the work was mixed, including negative comment from early supporters of Joyce’s work, such as Pound and the author’s brother Stanislaus Joyce. In order to counteract this hostile reception, a book of essays by supporters of the new work, including Beckett, William Carlos Williams and others was organised and published in 1929 under the title Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. At his 47th birthday party at the Jolases’ home, Joyce revealed the final title of the work and Finnegans Wake was published in book form on 4 May 1939.
Joyce’s method of stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns. This approach is similar to, but far more extensive than, that used by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky. If Ulysses is a day in the life of a city, then Wake is a night and partakes of the logic of dreams. This has led many readers and critics to apply Joyce’s oft-quoted description in the Wake of Ulysses as his “usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles” to the Wake itself. However, readers have been able to reach a consensus about the central cast of characters and general plot.
Much of the wordplay in the book stems from the use of multilingual puns which draw on a wide range of languages. The role played by Beckett and other assistants included collating words from these languages on cards for Joyce to use and, as Joyce’s eyesight worsened, of writing the text from the author’s dictation.
The view of history propounded in this text is very strongly influenced by Giambattista Vico, and the metaphysics of Giordano Bruno of Nola are important to the interplay of the “characters”. Vico propounded a cyclical view of history, in which civilisation rose from chaos, passed through theocratic, aristocratic, and democratic phases, and then lapsed back into chaos. The most obvious example of the influence of Vico’s cyclical theory of history is to be found in the opening and closing words of the book. Finnegans Wake opens with the words ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.’ (‘vicus’ is a pun on Vico) and ends ‘A way a lone a last a loved a long the’. In other words, the book ends with the beginning of a sentence and begins with the end of the same sentence, turning the book into one great cycle. Indeed, Joyce said that the ideal reader of the Wake would suffer from “ideal insomnia” and, on completing the book, would turn to page one and start again, and so on in an endless cycle of reading.
See also: Postmodern literature
Statue of James Joyce on North Earl Street, Dublin.
Statue of James Joyce on North Earl Street, Dublin.
Joyce’s work has been subject to intense scrutiny by scholars of all types. He has also been an important influence on writers and scholars as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O’Brien, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Salman Rushdie, Robert Anton Wilson, and Joseph Campbell.
Some scholars, most notably Vladimir Nabokov, have mixed feelings on his work, often championing some of his fiction while condemning others. In Nabokov’s opinion, Ulysses was brilliant; Finnegans Wake, horrible (see Strong Opinions, The Annotated Lolita or Pale Fire), an attitude Jorge Luis Borges shared. In recent years, literary theory has embraced Joyce’s innovation and ambition. Jacques Derrida tells an anecdote about the two novels’ importance for his own thought; in a bookstore in Tokyo,
“ …an American tourist of the most typical variety leaned over my shoulder and sighed: “So many books! What is the definitive one? Is there any?” It was an extremely small book shop, a news agency. I almost replied, “Yes, there are two of them, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. ”
Joyce’s influence is also evident in fields other than literature. The phrase “Three Quarks for Muster Mark” in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is often called the source of the physicists’ word “quark”, the name of one of the main kinds of elementary particles, proposed by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida has written a book on the use of language in Ulysses, and the American philosopher Donald Davidson has written similarly on Finnegans Wake in comparison with Lewis Carroll. Additionally, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan used Joyce’s writings to explain his concept of the sinthome. According to Lacan, Joyce’s writing is the supplementary cord which kept him from psychosis.
The life of Joyce is celebrated annually on June 16, Bloomsday, in Dublin and in an increasing number of cities worldwide.
Each year in Dedham, Massachusetts, USA literary-minded runners hold the James Joyce Ramble, a 10K Road Race with each mile dedicated to a different work by Joyce. With professional actors in period garb lining the streets and reading from his books as the athletes run by, it is billed as the only theatrical performance where the performers stand still and the audience does the moving.
Much of Joyce’s legacy is protected by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, which houses thousands of manuscripts, pieces of correspondence, drafts, proofs, notes, novel fragments, poems, song lyrics, musical scores, limericks, and translations by Joyce.
Not everyone is eager to expand upon academic study of Joyce, however; Stephen Joyce, James’ grandson and sole beneficiary owner of the estate, has been alleged to have destroyed some of the writer’s correspondence, threatened to sue if public readings were held during Bloomsday, and blocked adaptations he felt were ‘inappropriate’. On June 12, 2006, Carol Shloss, a Stanford University professor, sued the estate for refusing to give permission to use material about Joyce and his daughter on the professor’s website.