James Joyce

From New World Encyclopedia

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce
Joyce oconnell dublin.jpg
Irish novelist, short-story writer and poet
February 2, 1882
Rathgar, Dublin, Ireland
January 13, 1941
Zürich, Switzerland

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (Irish name Séamas Seoighe; February 2, 1882 – January 13, 1941) was an Irish writer and poet, regarded as one of the seminal figures of modernism. Comparable to Pablo Picasso in visual arts and Igor Stravinsky in music, Joyce revolutionized the novel as an artistic medium to explore the complexities and psychological dissonance of modern life. His experimental use of language and frank exploration of consciousness in such works as Ulysses (1922) and Finnegan's Wake (1939), although greeted with rejection from publishers, suppression by censors, and incomprehension by readers, influenced twentieth-century literature perhaps more than any other novelist's works.

Joyce pushed the limits of the "stream-of-consciousness" technique pioneered by writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Knut Hamsun, erasing any vestige of the conventional narrative voice. The unfiltered access to a character's thought processes, presented as mere phenomena, was a milestone in the advance of postmodern literature that presumed the loss of meaning and the relativity of all beliefs and experience. Following Joyce, novelists such as Jean Genét and Louis-Ferdinand Céliné, and countless minor writers, dramatists, and filmmakers, would find authorization to explore dark and even depraved aspects of human consciousness, turning the artistic enterprise away from the ennobling role recognized since Aristotle to a starkly indifferent and often hostile posture toward essential values.

As an Irish national who lived most his life in cosmopolitan Paris and Switzerland, Joyce, much like Henry James, retained great interest in his homeland and the plight of Irish people. While composing Ulysses, Joyce famously wrote to friends living in Dublin, where the novel is set, asking for such details as how high (in inches) the curb of the city's sidewalks rose up from the ground.

Joyce's increasingly complex writings, particularly his late novel Finnegan's Wake, presented human experience as fragmentary and episodic. His experiments with language, use of puns and foreign words, and difficult historical and religious allusions present nearly insurmountable obstacles to ordinary readers. While some critics consider the work a masterpiece, it is among the most challenging, and thus unread, contemporary works. "The only demand I make of my reader," Joyce once told an interviewer, "is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works."

Life and Writings

Dublin, 1882-1904

James Augustine Joyce was born into a Catholic family in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar in 1882. He was the eldest of ten surviving children; two of his siblings died of typhoid. His father's family, originally from County 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 collector by Dublin Corporation; the family subsequently moved to the fashionable new suburb of Bray. Around this time Joyce was attacked by a dog, an event which caused a lifelong fear of dogs, in addition to his fear of thunderstorms, which his deeply religious aunt had described as a sign of God's wrath.

In 1891, James wrote a poem, "Et Tu Healy," on the death of the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell. His father had it 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 was suspended from work. In 1893 he was dismissed with a pension. This was the beginning of a slide into poverty for the family, mainly due to the elder Joyce's drinking and general financial mismanagement.

James Joyce was initially educated by Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, a boarding school in County Kildare, which he entered in 1888 but had to leave in 1892 when his father could no longer afford the tuition. Joyce then studied at home and briefly at the Congregation of Christian Brothers school on North Richmond Street, Dublin, before he was offered a place in 1893 at the Jesuits' Dublin school, Belvedere College. The offer was made at least partly in the hope that he would discover a vocation and join the Order. Joyce, however, was to reject Catholicism by the age of 16, although the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas would remain a strong influence on him throughout his life.

He enrolled at the recently established University College Dublin in 1898, where he studied modern languages, specifically English, French and Italian. He also became active in theatrical and literary circles in the city. His review of Henrik Ibsen's New Drama 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 would appear as characters in Joyce's written works.

After graduating from University College in 1903, Joyce left for Paris; ostensibly to study medicine, but in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford to lose. He returned to Ireland after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Joyce refused to pray at her bedside but this seems to have had more to do with Joyce's agnosticism than antagonism for his mother. After she died he continued to drink heavily, and conditions at home grew quite appalling. He scraped a meager living reviewing books, teaching, and singing.

On January 7, 1904, in a single day he wrote “A Portrait of the Artist,” an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, only to have it rejected by 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. The same year he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Connemara, County Galway who was working as a chambermaid. On June 16, 1904, they went on their first date, an event that 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 these drinking 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's, Alfred H. Hunter, who brought him into his home to tend to his injuries. Hunter was rumored to be a Jew and to have an unfaithful wife, and would serve as one of the models for Leopold Bloom, the main protagonist of Ulysses. He moved in with a 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 in which Gogarty apparently shot a pistol in his direction. 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 Europe 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 Joyce to Trieste, the Italian-speaking port city then located in Austria-Hungary. 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 Pola, then part of Austria-Hungary (today part of Croatia). He stayed there from October 1904 through March 1905, when the Austrians discovered an espionage ring in the city and expelled all aliens. With Artifoni's help, he moved back to Trieste and began teaching English. He would remain in Trieste for most of the next ten years.

Later that year Nora gave birth to their first child, (Georgio). Joyce then talked his brother, Stanislaus, into joining him in Trieste, securing him a position teaching at the school. Ostensibly he wished to have his brother's company and to offer him a much more interesting life than the simple clerking job in Dublin. In truth, Joyce hoped to augment his family's meager income with his brother's earnings. Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations the entire time they lived together in Trieste, most arguments centering on Joyce's 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 Georgio, in order to visit his father, show off his son and work on getting Dubliners published. He visited Nora's family in Galway, meeting them for the first time. It was a successful visit, much to his relief. When preparing to return to Trieste he decided to bring one of his sisters, Eva, back with him 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 fell apart quickly in his absence, and he returned to Trieste in January 1910 with another of his sisters, 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 a Czech bank cashier, Frantisek Schaurek.

Joyce returned to Dublin briefly in the summer of 1912 concerning 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 directed against Roberts. It was his last trip to Ireland, and he never again came closer to Dublin than London, despite the many pleas of his father and invitations from fellow Irish writer William Butler Yeats. Joyce would spend much of the rest of his life on the continent.

Joyce came up with many moneymaking schemes during this period of his life, such as his attempt to become a cinema magnate back in Dublin, as well as an always-discussed but never-accomplished plan to import Irish tweeds into Trieste. His penchant for borrowing money from his friends kept him from ever becoming completely destitute. His income was made up partially from his position at the Berlitz School, and partially from taking on private students. Some of his private students' acquaintances proved invaluable allies during his difficulties 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 a Jew, 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. While in Trieste Joyce 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. In Zürich he met one of his most enduring and important friends, Frank Budgen, whose opinion Joyce constantly sought during 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. In addition his relations with his brother, who had been interred in an Austrian prison camp for much of the war due to his pro-Italian politics, were more strained than ever. Joyce headed to Paris for a week in 1920 following an invitation from Ezra Pound, but ended up living there for the next 20 years.

1920-1941: Paris and Zürich

He traveled frequently to Switzerland for eye surgeries and treatments for his daughter Lucia, who suffered from schizophrenia. 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 endless 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 serially published various sections of Joyce's novel under the title Work in Progress. He returned to Zürich to live after the Nazi occupation of France in 1939, where he lived quietly for the next two years. On January 11, 1941, he underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. While he improved at first, he relapsed the following day, and despite several transfusions, fell into a coma. He awoke at 2 A.M. on January 13, 1941, and asked for a nurse to call his wife and son before losing consciousness again. They were en route when he expired 15 minutes later. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery nearby the lions' den at the Zürich zoo. His wife Nora, whom he finally married in London in 1931, survived him by ten years. She is buried by his side, as is their son Georgio, who died in 1976.

The life of Joyce is celebrated annually on June 16, Bloomsday, in Dublin and in an increasing number of cities worldwide.

Major works

Bust of James Joyce at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland


Joyce's indelible Irish heritage and experiences are essential to his writings and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. The early volume of short stories, Dubliners, is a penetrating analysis of the stagnation and paralysis of Dublin society. The stories incorporate epiphanies—a word used particularly by Joyce—by which he meant a sudden consciousness of the "soul" of a thing. Although many of Joyce's works illustrate the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, his short story "Araby" displays his disaffection and loss of faith. The final and most famous story in the collection, "The Dead," was adapted for the screen and directed by John Huston as his last feature film, completed 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 was partially destroyed in a fit of rage during an argument with Nora. A künstlerroman, or story of the development of an artist (a type of bildungsroman, or coming of age novel), it is largely autobiographical, showing the process of attaining maturity and self-consciousness by a gifted young man. The main character is Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's representation of himself. In this novel, some glimpses of Joyce's later techniques are evident, in the use of interior monologue and in the concern with the psychic rather than external reality.

Exiles and Poetry

Despite early interest in the theater, 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. The other poetry Joyce published in his lifetime consists of "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).


In 1906 as he was completing work on Dubliners, Joyce considered adding another story featuring a Jewish advertising canvasser called Leopold Bloom under the title Ulysses. The story was not written, but the idea stayed with Joyce and in 1914 he started work on a novel using both the title and basic premise, completing the writing in October 1921. It was to be another three months before Joyce would stop working on the proofs of the book; he halted on the cusp of his self-imposed deadline, his 40th birthday (February 2, 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 serialization ran into censorship problems in the United States, and in 1920 the editors were convicted of publishing obscenity, resulting in an end to the serial publication of the novel. The novel remained banned in the U.S. 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 Left Bank 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 five hundred copies that were shipped to the U.S. were seized and possibly destroyed. The following year, John Rodker produced a print run of five hundred 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.

The year 1922 was a landmark in the history of English 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, June 16, 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 claimed that if Dublin were to be destroyed in some catastrophe, it could be rebuilt brick by brick using his work as a model. 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 color, art or science, and bodily organ associated with it. This combination of kaleidoscopic writing with an extremely formal, schematic structure represents one of the book's major contributions to the development of twentieth-century modernist literature. Other contributions include the use of classical mythology as a framework and the combination of near-obsessive focus on external detail while much of the significant action is happening inside the minds of the characters. Nevertheless, Joyce complained that, "I may have oversystematized Ulysses," and played down the mythic correspondences by eliminating the chapter titles that had been taken from Homer.

Finnegans Wake

Having completed work of Ulysses, Joyce felt he had finished his life's work, but soon undertook an even more ambitious novel. On March 10, 1923, he began work on a text that was to be known, first, as Work in Progress and later Finnegans Wake. By 1926 he had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas, who offered to serialize it in their magazine transition. For the next few years Joyce worked rapidly on the new book, but in the 1930s progress slowed considerably 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 failing eyesight and health problems. 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 as both Joyce and his fictional alter-ego (just one example of Joyce's numerous superstitions).

Reaction to the early sections that appeared in transition was mixed, including negative comments 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 organized 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 May 4, 1939.

Joyce pushed to the limit his use literary allusions, stream-of-consciousness method, and free dream associations in Finnegans Wake, abandoning all conventions of plot and character construction. The novel 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, the Wake is a night and partakes of the logic of dreams, leading many readers and critics to apply Joyce's oft-quoted description in the Wake of Ulysses, referring to Finnegan's Wake as his “uselessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles.” 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 puns that 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, 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 civilization 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 sentences 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….” (with vicus a pun on Vico) and ends, “A way a lone a last a loved a long the.” In other words, the first sentence starts on the last page and the last sentence on the first, 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.

Joyce's legacy

With his experimental novels Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, Joyce changed the literary landscape. The nineteenth century novel was dominated by the English Romantics and the French and Russian realists, but with the rise of modernism in the twentieth century writers began to experiment with new techniques. In particular, modernism led to a change in emphasis from focus on character and plot to the elements of the language itself, in the same way that modern painters like Claude Monet began to experiment with color and texture.

Joyce's work has been subject to intense scrutiny by scholars. He has also been an important influence on writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O'Brien, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Robert Anton Wilson, and Joseph Campbell. The French philosopher and deconstructionist 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.

Numerous critics over the past century have argued that Joyce's work has had a harmful effect on modern and post-modern fiction, creating generations of writers who have eschewed storytelling, standard grammar, and coherence and thus diminishing the accessibility of fiction as an art. Some scholars, most notably Vladimir Nabokov, have championed some of his works while condemning others. Nabokov esteemed Ulysses greatly, listing it with Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis as one of the twentieth century's greatest prose works. However, Nabokov was less than satisfied with Finnegans Wake (see Strong Opinions, The Annotated Lolita or Pale Fire), an attitude which Jorge Luis Borges shared.

In 2004, a single letter penned to Nora Barnacle sold at auction for $445,000. The erotic love letter written in 1909 was purchased by an anonymous bidder at the highest price ever reached for an autographed letter of the twentieth century.


  • Stephen Hero (written 1904-1906, published 1944)
  • Chamber Music (1907)
  • Dubliners (1914)
  • Exiles (1915)
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  • Ulysses (1922)
  • Pomes Penyeach (1927)
  • Finnegans Wake (1939)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

General (print)

  • Burgess, Anthony. Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce. Harcourt Brace, 1975. ISBN 0156465612
  • Burgess, Anthony. Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (1965); also published as Re Joyce. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0393004457
  • Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1983. ASIN: B000LTV8WY
  • Ferris, Kathleen. James Joyce and the burden of disease. University of Kentucky Press, 1994. ISBN 9780813118932
  • Igoe, Vivien. A Literary Guide to Dublin. Methuen Publishing Ltd., 2000. ISBN 0413691209
  • Levin, Harry, (ed. with introduction and notes). The Essential James Joyce. [1948]. Revised ed. Penguin in association with Jonathan Cape, 1969. ISBN 0140020098
  • Quillian, William H. Hamlet and the new poetic: James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983. ISBN 0835714225
  • Read, Forrest. Pound/Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound's Essays on Joyce. New York: New Directions, 1967.

Online Sources

all links Retrieved September 3, 2008.


  • Dan Schneider In depth review of Dubliners with emphasis on James Joyce's syphilis as an explanation for the disintegration of structure and language in his novels.


Finnegans Wake (print)

  • Beckett, Samuel, William Carlos Williams, et al. Our Exagmination Round His Factification For Incamination Of Work In Progress. Shakespeare and Company, 1929.
  • Burgess, Anthony (ed.) A Shorter 'Finnegans Wake', 1969.
  • Campbell, Joseph, and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, 1944.
  • McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
  • Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake. Syracuse University Press, 1996 (First published 1969).

Finnegans Wake (web)

Poems and Exiles

External links

All links retrieved March 18, 2018.


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