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James Joyce (James Augustine Aloysius Joyce) Biography

(1882–1941), (James Augustine Aloysius Joyce), Stephen Hero, Chamber Music, Des Imagistes, Pomes Penyeach

Irish novelist, short-story writer, and poet, born in Dublin, educated, despite his father's declining fortunes, at Jesuit schools: Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, and Belvedere College, Dublin where he, in turn, considered the priesthood and rejected the Roman Catholic faith. Attending University College, Dublin, to read modern languages, he wandered from the curriculum, developed an aesthetic based upon his interpretation of Aquinas, and chose to have no part with either Irish nationalism or the Irish Literary Revival (though he later welcomed assistance from Russell (‘AE’), Yeats, and Lady Gregory). Instead, he looked to the writers of continental Europe for his influences; his first published work, ‘Ibsen's New Drama’, precocious and outspoken, attracted a warm response from the Norwegian playwright. Upon graduating in 1902, Joyce left for Paris where he lived in poverty, ostensibly studying medicine, actually reading his way through the literature section of the Bibliothèque Nationale. In April 1903, news of his mother's imminent death recalled him to Dublin. Supporting himself by teaching, he remained there for eighteen restless months and began to write short stories and an autobiographical novel, Stephen Hero (1944). He lived briefly with Oliver St John Gogarty in the Martello Tower at Sandycove, contemplated his failure as an artist, and then met Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he would share the rest of his life. Within months of their first walk together on 16 June 1904, they left Ireland for Europe from where they would seldom and, eventually, never, return. While they led an almost nomadic existence pursuing teaching positions in Zurich, Trieste, Pola, and Rome, their two children were born: Georgio in Trieste in 1905 and then Lucia in 1907, again in Trieste. The family managed to stay there until 1915, when the First World War forced them to move to Zurich.

Between 1904 and 1906 Joyce composed the majority of the love poems collected in Chamber Music (1907), his first published book; due to his loss of enthusiasm for the work, the final arrangement of the thirty-six poems was made by his brother Stanislaus. Dowland and Jonson are recalled by the exquisite lyrical refinement of the collection, the title of which reflects the proliferation of images relating to music; ‘I hear an army charging upon the land …’, the last of the sequence, was included in Des Imagistes (1914; see imagism). A later volume, Pomes Penyeach (1927), contained thirteen strikingly concentrated poems mostly composed in Trieste and Zurich between 1912 and 1918; predominantly in rhymed forms of great originality and flexibility, many of the poems form powerfully imaginative records of significant moments of autobiographical experience. Poems And Shorter Writings (edited by Richard Ellmann and others, 1991) contains the well-known ‘Ecce Puer’ and seventy-two ‘Occasional Poems’, many remarkable for their wittily brilliant informality; the volume also collects the ‘Epiphanies’, fragments of dialogue and description written from 1901 onwards.

In Dubliners, a collection of fifteen short stories, Joyce displayed the blend of lyricism and realism that was to remain characteristic of his work, even at its most experimental. The stories, which he began writing in Dublin in 1904, were completed with the final story, ‘The Dead’, in 1907, and published, after numerous rejections and difficulties, in 1914. By this time Joyce's work had attracted the attentions of Pound and Harriet Shaw Weaver, editor of The Egoist, who took up the cause of the exiled Irish writer and exerted a deciding influence in his favour.

The serialization of his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a more complex and ironic version of the previously abandoned Stephen Hero, in The Egoist (191415) led to its publication in New York in 1916. A play, Exiles (1918), was produced unsuccessfully in Munich in 1919 and did not reach a London stage until 1926. The effects of such disappointments, Joyce's financial insolvency, and his rapidly deteriorating eyesight were alleviated by the level-headed support of his brother, Stanislaus, and the generosity of friends. Through the efforts of Yeats and Pound to ensure recognition of his work, Joyce obtained a grant from the Royal Literary Fund in 1915 and from the Civil List soon afterwards. After the war, Joyce and his family left Zurich and returned to Trieste from where they moved to Paris in 1920. In Paris, Joyce became the centre of the expatriate literary community (see Lost Generation), which included G. Stein, Hemingway, R. McAlmon, and Pound, through whom he met T. S. Eliot and W. Lewis, an encounter amusingly described in Lewis's memoirs, Blasting and Bombardiering (1937).

Relatively free to work, Joyce came near to finishing the novel that would make his name. Ulysses was serialized in The Egoist in 1919 and continued in The Little Review in 1920 until it was prosecuted by a US court for obscenity. The scandal meant that no publisher in the English-speaking world would touch the complete book. In the end, Ulysses was published in 1922 by Sylvia Beach under the imprint of her Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Co., but the first UK edition did not appear until 1936. It was Joyce's honest depiction of sexuality and some of the more mundane of human functions that upset the sensibility of the day. He had developed the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique to such a degree that no detail was spared, no thought omitted from the minds of his characters. The reaction from other writers was mixed: Eliot, for example, welcomed the use of The Odyssey to draw meaning from modern life and acknowledged its influence on The Waste Land (1922); Woolf was less impressed, believing Ulysses to be ‘the book of a self-taught working man’; Stein felt her own position as arch-experimentalist challenged by Joyce's success. Samuel Beckett, with whom Joyce had become friendly during this period, undertook the French translation of part of the novel.

During the seventeen years he spent on his next novel, Joyce released fragments of what he called ‘Work in Progress’ to a small, expectant, and frequently puzzled audience, which included Ford, W. C. Williams, and Beckett. Finnegans Wake, as the work was eventually titled, moved from the waking consciousness of Ulysses to a world of dream and nightmare. Though again set in Dublin, the streets evoked so particularly in previous works were now unrecognizable. Completed in 1932 but not published in its final form until 1939, Finnegans Wake remains one of the greatest and most uncompromising works of the Modernist period. With The Waste Land and Pound's Cantos, the book epitomizes what M. Bradbury has described as ‘an émigré art of linguistic pluralism’, reflecting the fragmentation and discontinuity of the post-war era. ‘I have put the language to sleep’, Joyce wrote of Finnegans Wake in a letter to Harriet Weaver; as he explained to Max Eastman, ‘In writing of the night, I really could not … use words in their ordinary connections … When morning comes of course everything will be clear again … I'll give them back their English language. I'm not destroying it for good.’

The influence of Joyce's work on his contemporaries, such as Woolf and Beckett, and on subsequent literature (in the work of writers as diverse as S. Bellow, J. Updike, T. Pynchon, J. Barth, and A. Burgess) has been enormous. His books have given rise to a vast body of critical commentary and disputes over authorial intention. One example was the controversy surrounding the ‘Corrected Text’ of Ulysses, edited by Hans Walter Gabler, Professor of English at Munich University, which was published in 1986 as a ‘new copyright’ version. This supposedly corrected many of the mistakes and corruptions of the earlier (1961) edition, but in 1988 an American academic, John Kidd, of the University of Virginia, claimed in an article in the New York Review of Books that the revised version was inaccurate and introduced errors not present in the 1961 edition.

Joyce and Nora Barnacle were married during a visit to London in 1931. Their lives, however, continued to be troubled. Joyce suffered from iritis and glaucoma; and their daughter, Lucia, who had been mentally unstable since her teens, was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1932. In 1939 the family was once more compelled to move away from war. They returned to Zurich where Joyce failed to recover from an operation on a duodenal ulcer. He is buried in Fluntern Cemetery. There is a biography by R. Ellmann (1959; 2nd edition 1982). Also of interest are The Letters of James Joyce, published in three volumes: vol. i, edited by S. Gilbert (1957), vols. ii and iii, edited by R. Ellmann (1966); and Selected Letters, edited by R. Ellmann (1975).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tama Janowitz Biography to P(atrick) J(oseph Gregory) Kavanagh Biography