James Joyce 1882-1941
When James Joyce was born and when, eight years later, Parnell
fell from power, Dublin, the creation of Scandinavian invaders,
had been ruled for over seven hundred years by England. The fall
of Parnell with the concomitant failure to achieve Home Rule
set upon Ireland the status of a province, a province exploited
by its ruler and subjected to the immemorial forces of political
bonds and ecclesiastical influences.
James Joyce, born on February
2, 1882, to John and May Joyce, was the oldest surviving son.
The death of the older brother
in infancy placed James in the position of favoured child.
His guilt over this undeserved distinction is a constant undercurrent
in all his works. I have written a fuller account of this (Appendix:
The Vopiscan Complex) available at:
Joyce family, well if not brilliantly derived, flourished less
and less as John’s improvidence and the disadvantages
of his political loyalties acted against him. James, a gifted
and sometimes industrious scholar, began his education with
the Jesuits, Ireland’s most prestigious educators of
Catholic youth, at their school at Clongowes Woods. He was
not there long before he was withdrawn. Although the family
fortunes were already in peril, the withdrawal appears to have
been for reasons of James’ health. He received some education
apparently at a Christian Brothers’ school but his scholastic
ability was such that the Jesuits were happy to give him an
education, this time at Belvedere College. From Belevidere
he then went to University College Dublin, another Jesuit institution,
where he completed his formal education.
Such school exercises
in writing as have survived (‘Trust
Not Appearances’ 1896?) show the kind of glib fluency
that is within the scope of many students. They are otherwise
undistinguished but from 1900 to 1902 Joyce wrote essays more
expressive of the direction that he would take. In these essays
he ostensibly studied Ibsen and Mangan but really defined his
own intellectual stance. At the age of 22 (1904) he wrote an
essay with the prophetic title ‘A Portrait of the Artist’ and
the early version of the opening story of Dubliners, ‘The
These works, few in number, are abundantly interesting to
Joycean scholars and ‘The Sisters’ in its revised
form has independent literary value but the circumstances of
Joyce’s life were little conducive to writing. The circumstances
that surrounded the death of his brother George (1902) precipitated
an avowal of his rejection of Catholicism and his pursuit of
impractical career aims further dissipated his energies. He
made two brief sojourns in Paris. From the second of these
he was recalled in 1903 because his mother was dying.
June, 1904, almost a year after May Joyce’s death,
James and Nora Barnacle began a relationship that was to last
despite great difficulties until Joyce’s death in 1941.
his fiction James Joyce expressed through his alter ego, Stephen
Dedalus, many of his own experiences and problems.
That there was not absolute equivalence between James Joyce
and Stephen Dedalus is obvious but Stephen Dedalus as a broad,
if partial, sketch of James Joyce deserves serious consideration.
Stephen is gauche and sensitive about his ramshackle family.
He adopts a haughty demeanour to disguise his lack of social
ease. When James finds himself emotionally involved with Nora
- maid in a hotel, an uneducated woman of no particularly exalted
family and from a countrified background - he sees the relation
as a misalliance, a union unacceptable to his family and friends.
His solution, since he cannot give her up, is to give up Ireland
instead, in many ways a typically Joycean (solipsistic) decision.
were influences other than his attachment to Nora that induced
him to take this step. He had already renounced the
Celtic Revival as provincial, Nationalism as essentially revolutionary
and violent and Catholicism as repressive and inhuman. These
were potent forces in Ireland and, although they were not in
any way congruent parts of a unified program, it was impossible
for a young man like Joyce to have a place in Ireland if he
denied each and all of these entities. He left Ireland with
Nora on October 8, 1904. He wrote for subsequent distribution
the first of his satirical poems ‘The Holy Office’ and
the first of his ventures in scoring off those who in one way
or another had not pleased him.
Although he left Dublin he also
took it with him in the same way that he rejected Catholicism
but remained for his entire
life entranced - often perversely - with its teachings, lore
and rituals. Dublin was the background of his short stories
with a very constant possibility of becoming foreground. In
Ulysses Dublin became a holy city and in Finnegans Wake, a
If Joyce’s relationship to Dublin was of unusual intensity,
so was that of Dubliners to Joyce. Towards Joyce Dubliners
have shown a traditional indifference edged with dislike. Dubliners
have resented Joyce’s specificity about Dublin persons.
To the rest of the literate world these very persons have appeared
almost always as particularly endearing, not as the victims
of a shameless libel.
Nora and James fled to Zurich but the
expected position did not exist, a cause for panic to the improvident
Joyce who was
little able to consider or provide for contingencies. With
great difficulty they made their way to Pola, a backwater city
on the Adriatic. In March of 1905 Joyce was transferred to
the Berlitz school in Trieste. But Trieste bored him and he,
Nora and their son Giorgio (born July 27, 1905) left Trieste
for Rome where Joyce worked at a bank. He had induced his brother
Stanislaus to come to Trieste. Both in Trieste and in Rome
they depended on Stanislaus’ assistance and generosity.
quickly grew weary of Rome and, after a stay there of nine
months, returned to Trieste. Here he wrote the fifteenth,
the last and greatest, story of Dubliners, ‘The Dead’ (Spring,
1907.) Grant Richards of Maunsel and Company, a Dublin publisher,
had already accepted Dubliners for publication early in 1906.
Encouraged by this, Joyce began to convert the unwiedy Stephen
Hero to the more subtle and artful A Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man. But Richards suddenly brimmed over with difficulties
and made Joyce miserable by his demands for changes and suppressions.
Joyce had been in Ireland on non-literary business in 1909.
He returned again in 1912 to confront Richards. He came away
defeated. This was his last visit to Ireland and, as with his
departure in 1904, he accompanied this one with a satirical
poem, ‘Gas from a Burner.’
In the following year
he had a brief but intense flirtation with an unidentified
woman in Trieste. The product of this
encounter was the short lyric work Giacomo Joyce.
began to be some improvements in his situation. William Butler
Yeats put Joyce in contact with the American
writer Ezra Pound and the latter worked so well on Joyce’s
behalf that Dora Marsden, editor of the Egoist, took notice
of him. Through Pound, Joyce also became known to H.L. Mencken,
editor of the Mercury.
These attentions induced second thoughts
in Grant Richards and, whatever reasons or influences had before
he published Dubliners (1914) as Joyce had written it (barring
misprints which Richards, with characteristic disregard of
his author, had not allowed Joyce to correct.) Joyce now finished
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, began Ulysses but
set it aside to write his play Exiles. A Portrait was serialized
in the Egoist and Harriet Shaw Weaver of that publication began
her patronage of Joyce. From 1917 to 1941 Harriet Shaw Weaver
gave Joyce, it is estimated, around a million dollars.
good fortune continued. Although the authorities interned Stanislaus
for the duration of the war, Joyce was
not disturbed and was allowed to leave Trieste for Switzerland
when the economic conditions in Trieste made a longer stay
undesirable. The Royal Literary Fund gave him a monetary gift
in 1915 and in 1916 he received a grant from the British Treasury
Fund. But eye problems subjected him in 1917 to the first of
many eye operations. In the following year Mrs. Harold McCormick
gave him a monthly stipend. This continued for nine months
until Joyce refused to let Carl Jung psychoanalyse him.
1918 Joyce participated in the English Players. This group
performed English and Irish plays in Switzerland. The
demands of one of the actors, a consular employee, impaired
the usefulness of the group by the resulting furor and the
alienation of the British consulate. Between March and October
of this year the Little Review (New York) serialized the first
seven chapters of Ulysses.
The war over, the Joyce family -
James, Nora, Giorgio and Lucia (born in Trieste in 1907) -
returned to Trieste but,
at Ezra Pound’s urging and because post-war Trieste was
no longer the city that it had been, they left Trieste in 1920
for Paris. Originally regarded as a temporary move, the Joyce
family spent the next twenty years in Paris. In this same year
the Society for the Prevention of Vice lodged a complaint against
the Little Review for its serial publication of Ulysses. The
court decision in 1921 was against Ulysses but was fairly mild.
Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, editors, were enjoined against
publishing further installments of Ulysses and were fined fifty
dollars each. The defense of Ulysses by John Quinn was less
than ideal and strayed from joining over any of the larger
issues involved. The real importance of the decision was that
it constituted a bar to publication of the completed work in
either the United States or England. As a result Shakespeare
and Company of Paris undertook its publication and a special
first edition appeared in February 1922. It would be eleven
years before Ulysses appeared legally in the United States
and fourteen years before it would appear in England.
Joyce began work on what was to prove his last work. Finnegans
Wake. The history of his last years is mostly identified
with his work on Finnegans Wake but his eye problems persisted
and required operation after operation. His reputation continued
to grow and he continued to be a selfcentered spendthrift with
a somewhat cold personality and a tendency to manipulate those
who fell within his influence. His friends recognized his shortcomings
but liked him despite his faults.
So special was the language
of Finnegans Wake (the title of which Joyce concealed from
everyone except Nora until publication)
that many of Joyce’s supporters expressed doubts about
the book. Joyce, influenced by this, in 1927 even considered
abandoning the book.
In 1930 Joyce became obsessed with opera
tenor John Sullivan and did all in his power to promote his
career. This obsession
continued until 1934 when Joyce recognized the futility of
his activity and the decline in Sullivan’s vocal powers.
In 1930 Giorgio, himself a gifted singer, married Helen Kastor
Fleischmann. In 1932 they would have their only child, Stephen
James Joyce. Shortly before this, in late 1931, John Stanislaus
Joyce died at the age of eighty-two. Into this mixture of family
joys and sorrows intruded the tragedy of Lucia’s madness
which became unmistakeable shortly after the birth of Stephen.
From now until the end of his life Joyce would undertake everything
in his power to cure his schizophrenic daughter. He was reluctant
to admit her illness and employed pathetically conceived methods
towards her improvement. Joyce’s graceless coldness to
Harriet Shaw Weaver sprang from his conviction that she considered
Lucia as incurably deranged and that she had reservations concerning
And Finnegans Wake was sufficiently complete
that Joyce could have a bound copy for his birthday celebration
2, 1939. The book was not available to the public until May.
reception was disappointing. Many had already read each of
the installments as they appeared and most readers found
it too difficult and of less import than the coming war. The
Joyces again needed to seek refuge in Switzerland. They did
so without Lucia who had not been transferred to unoccupied
country quickly enough. Joyce had been ill for some time but
the seriousness of his complaint was not recognized in time.
In Zurich he was operated on for a perforated ulcer and he
died on Friday, 13 January, 1941.
James Joyce: The Works
Joyce imposed such demands upon himself that
his major works are of exceptionally high quality but not all
of his works
are major. The poetry and his play Exiles are works with special
and not entirely admirable characteristics. It is possible,
despite the high quality of a few pieces, to discuss the works
of Joyce without discussing the poetry at all.
Exiles is a failure
although not perhaps a hopeless one. In many of Joyce’s other works much takes place in Joyce’s
head and the reader can intuit or do research to find out what
it is but this can be dangerous with a drama, by definition
requiring unhampered immediacy. As with many works Joyce creates
imaginatively what his life would have been like had he remained
or returned to Dublin. Joyce labored under great disadvantages
caused by inner torments but made his pain meaningful in his
other works. In Exiles Richard Rowan’s pain is an unexplained
Dubliners gave Joyce or so he said little satisfaction.
He had not, he wrote, posed himself sufficient problems to
This reflects the dissatisfaction of an artist who had gone
on to other things and is not a fair assessment. Much of the
revolutionary freshness of these stories now requires imaginative
reconstruction since the best stories blazed a trail that through
imitation by subsequent authors has created a highway and sometimes
a parking lot.
The stories are not arranged in the order of
their composition although interestingly the first and last
written stories are
also first and last in arrangement. They are grouped by the
age of their protagonists and by - towards the end - public
rather than private life. The picture of Dublin is bleak in
all but the last story, a Dublin with little gaiety or good
fellowship such as that of Ulysses. Although many have tried
to make much of "paralysis," "scrupulous meanness" and "epiphanies" -
all terms used by Joyce regarding Dubliners - that much actually
amounts to very little. It is more meaningful to examine the
structure of the stories and the subtle relationships that
The original of the first story (‘The Sisters’)
was 1,719 words long. It contained much tepid material. Joyce
eliminated this but the story grew to 2,969 words. This additive
tendency remained characteristic of Joyce.
The best stories
are the longest ones and the ones that have the greatest number
of off-stage persons (persons not present
but referred to by those that are.) This contributes a richness
of texture that has much to do with Joyce’s basic conception,
a construction of layer after layer of details more like the
methods of French Symbolist poets than of most practitioners
of the short story.
Joyce was dissatisfied with ‘After the Race’ and ‘A
Painful Case.’ In the first too much was based on characters
from outside the Dublin ambiance, a situation in which Joyce
was incurably and fatally uncomfortable. In the second story
- another imagined example of a Joyce who stayed in Dublin:
either James or Stanislaus - Joyce had not made his own thoughts
final regarding his intentions in the story and this leaves
the reader at a great disadvantage.
Fortunately for the integrity
of 'Two Gallants' Joyce's ill-advised trick ending falls flat.
is worth mentioning the magnificence of ‘The Boarding
House.’ It has an opening of which any writer would be
proud. "Mrs Mooney was a butcher’s daughter" and
from that beautifully blunt opening Joyce unfolded the whole
story of lust entrapped by craft. In keeping with her parentage
Mrs. Mooney, the time being ripe, deals with her problem "as
a cleaver deals with meat."
‘ A Mother’ may be too unrelieved to be altogether
satisfactory but William York Tindall made a very funny comparison
between the unpleasant Mrs. Kearney and the Catholic Church.
She slips "the doubtful items between the old favorites" (in
making up a concert program); she offers bread (biscuits) and
wine to visitors whom she dominates; she insists on being paid;
and she excommunicates people who disagree with her but they
‘ The Dead’ is the odd story
out. It is twice as long as the next longest story and it presents
a jollier Dublin.
The talk is good, the gaiety is real and the food, lovingly
described by a Joyce starving in Trieste, is glorious.
Conroy - another image of the author who stayed in
Ireland - makes the painful discovery that his wife had a lover
before him, a lover that died of love for her. He sees his
own love as a poor thing but as the snow falls he finds himself
as part of the union of the living and the dead. By this union,
much like the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints,
he can escape the crushing sense of his own limitations.
the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (hereafter
referred to as A Portrait) are the places and dates "Dublin,
1904, Trieste, 1914." Thus Joyce includes as part of his
work on A Portrait the work he had done on its earlier incarnation,
Stephen Hero. One may with some reason be uneasy about this
since Stephen Hero, to judge from the surviving fragments,
is a very different work. For all its virtues, Stephen Hero
would have been an ungainly successor to Dubliners and a troublesomely
conventional predecessor to Ulysses. A Portrait, unless we
mislead ourselves with knowledge gained after the fact, is
a seamless fit. It is modern as Stephen in the somewhat unmodern
Stephen Hero defines modernism - as vivisection rather than
A Portrait has five chapters each of which is
subdivided into anywhere from three to seven parts. With the
chapters there are twenty-five interruptions. Joyce uses these
breaks to bridge intervals of time, place and alterations of
experience. It follows the example of Dubliners in this and
uses this device to replace the cruder ones (e.g., "After
a few days . . .") of Stephen Hero.
A Portrait begins boldly.
An unnamed child is the focus of a narrative that is expressed
in terms of his understanding.
This understanding is solipsistic but is not equal to the task
of self-identification. The reader is well into the story before
the protagonist’s name, Stephen, appears and it is not
until part two of Chapter I that the reader learns the full
name, Stephen Dedalus. As we will see at the end solipsism
is not only a simple manifestation of childhood, it can also
be the state of the dedicated artist.
As the story progresses
the expression broadens from the narrow focus of the child
to the student, the adolescent and the young
man. But Joyce does not tie himself to the limitations that
such a scheme, rigorously pursued, would dictate. In the famous
Christmas dinner scene, for one example among many, Joyce forsakes
young Stephen’s limited consciousness and narrates objectively.
development projects an upward curve that is in opposition
to the downward curve of the family fortunes.
As a result he is unsure and protectively reserved in his social
relations. As an outsider he grows away from and out of sympathy
with the world that he inhabits. At puberty he exploits sexual
opportunities early and, as he is intimidated by a horrendous
hellfire and brimstone sermon, he repents violently.
situation has much concealed humor that is too seldom and too
little observed. As he repents, everything has a cosmic
significance and he envisions a world destroyed by flood because
of his sins. This is a comic reversal of the sinless savior
who died for the sins of all. For Stephen’s sins everybody
The temptation -
T.S. Eliot almost described it
as an obligation - to look for foundation in Joyce’s own life for what
happens to Stephen should be pursued cautiously. Ironically
and instructively the conversation with Father Darlington (the
scene in which the priest lights the fire in the school lecture
room) took place between Father Darlington and John Francis
Byrne (the model for Cranly) and Byrne was displeased that
his innocent conversation had, in the words of Ellmann, "been
converted into a reflection of Stephen’s strained relations
with the Church."
The closing pages of A Portrait consist of excerpts from Stephen’s
diary. It is a mature mirror image of the solipsistic opening,
jaunty in tone with a hard edge to its wit. The last words
Stephen writes are in the voice of Icarus.
In style and concept
A Portrait, like Dubliners, has no relevant predecessors. The
energy of Dubliners sometimes met serious
obstacles, inappropriate attempts outside Joyce’s natural
scope, limitations of scale for a writer at his best with a
generous boundries, but A Portrait is efficient and suitable
to his genius. Eclipsed by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, it has
the very serious advantage of economy of expression.
period between 1904 and 1914 Joyce produced poetry, a play,
fifteen short stories and a novel. In the next eight
years he would produce Ulysses.
In Ulysses Joyce carried a step
further his refusal to coddle the reader. He does not recognize,
as most other authors do,
any obligation to keep his readers informed. He is solely concerned
with keeping his characters informed so that they, not the
reader, will be able to negotiate the fictional world that
he creates for them. The informed reader of most novels really
navigates an artificial world with a consciousness of events
that is unlike reality. Joyce establishes for his readers an
experience very like life itself. It follows necessarily that
re-reading is essential. The extraordinary popularity of Ulysses,
while no guarantee by itself of merit, certainly attests to
the durable satisfactions that the book provides.
by motifs and indirections. Bloom’s
concern, for example, with the advertising account for Keyes
and with keys in general is never more poignant than when he
returns home at night and cannot get in because he has left
his house keys in another pair of pants.
Most chapters involve
an organ of the human body, a special technique, a color, a
parallel with an incident in The Odyssey
and who knows what. Most of this is transparent to the reader
who decides to ignore it and only somewhat relevant to the
reader who decides to search it all out. As with prior works
the fascination is or should be with connections, relationships
and subtle layering of detail.
Ulysses is often summarized as
Telemachus (Stephen) in search of his father, the father being
the Odysseus of Ulysses, Leopold
Bloom. This requires careful and special amendment for it to
mean anything relevant. Stephen has a father, Simon, and Simon
is a bit more than he can deal with. He so little wants a father
of any sort that in the Scylla and Charybdis section he applies
abundant mental energy to dissolving the notion of fatherhood
entirely. But the work does turn on Stephen’s meeting
Bloom and the kindness with which Bloom treats him. It fulfills,
in other words, the Homeric pattern but it was obviously never
Joyce’s intention to deal on this level with any more
than patterns. There are not the emotional resonances or physical
consequences that Homer attached to the union of his father
The book begins with difficulties - where are we, who
is the clownish figure cavorting blasphemously about the dour
moody Stephen? The text clears these matters up as it progresses
but each clarification is solidly lodged into another difficulty
and the unpatterned alternation between objective narrative
and stream of consciousness produces some difficulties of its
own. Questions arise and the answer will be several lines or
several pages later. An inattentive reader will be lost but
there is yet light enough for the attentive reader, one who
ideally will read the book again.
It is at the midway that the
book changes. Each chapter will then have a different pattern
from anything that has preceded
it. Some of these will be more difficult than others although
to the hardened Joycean the more difficult the chapter the
more fun it will be. And this is the key to Ulysses, it is
fun. It is much more fun for example than A Portrait, the humor
of which runs somewhat deeply below the surface.
outlived the drama of its bad reception by the censors and
by many critics. It has proved itself by persistence
and by the close attention that it has received from devoted
readers and scholars. Unintelligent overpraise is more of a
threat to it now than anything else although one still reads
affectations of dislike by those who cultivate singularity.
Wake is the ultimate test of reader endurance. It is over 600
pages of puns, riddles and puzzles with a generous
amount of languages other than English. Joyce spent much of
the years between 1923 and 1938 in its construction. In form
it is a dream and in content it is the history of the world.
As with Ulysses, many pages of which seem like a premonition
of Finnegans Wake, chapters employ different approaches.
readers devote themselves to exegetics and attempt to track
down every nuance of meaning. But it is a book to be
read not a code to be broken. The immediate compensations for
its difficulties are the wit and the poetry that float very
accessibly on most of the surface. The poetry is especially
notable, a poetic work of high quality by a writer whose deliberate
poetry was not nearly as good.
The hero of the book is Humphrey
Chimpden Earwicker whose HCE initials occur on almost every
page. He committed an indecent
act, was observed and is disgraced. But those that would disgrace
him cannot do without him. Faulty as he is, civilization depends
on him. This is the story and the book unfolds in one place
with one aspect after another of the basic theme. There is,
in other words, no plot in the conventional sense and the personages
are more types than characters. The book ends with the death
of Anna. She is HCE’s wife as well as the River Liffey
and her death is the passage of the river out to the sea. Joyce’s
works often ended with emphasis on the woman and here he reaches
the height of his eloquence in brilliant, sustained and moving
pages. Anna’s last words reintroduce the book. The last
word she utters is "the" and the first word of the
book is the uncapitalized "riverrun." They connect
but, as one must expect with Joyce, not mechanically since
it is obviously somebody other than Anna that says "riverrun."
not a book for everyone but the only book for those who have
become entranced by its beauty and wit.
One of the interesting
omissions in Joycean literature is an appreciation of his position
and accomplishments. Among
Joyceans this is all an accepted thing but in the introduction
to Joyce A - Z the editors A. Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael
P. Gillespie remedy this defect. It is too long to quote in
its entirety but this portion is specially relevant and fitting
as a conclusion to this brief study:
" In every respect, James Joyce is probably the most influential
writer of the twentieth century - and not only on those who
read and write in English. Though acknowledged as a ‘difficult’ writer,
Joyce is now very likely the most widely read, studied and
taught of all modern writers.
" To read the work of James Joyce is to commit oneself
to a world of brilliant artifice, a ‘chaosmos’ (FW
118.21) of poetic mystery, that few writers have achieved.
Not to read at least some of his work is to deprive oneself
of the life-enhancing (to use an old-fashioned phrase) richness
of a body of work that has radically altered the character
of literature. Joyce’s writings place demands upon the
reader that can be difficult and even upsetting at times, but
the rewards are well worth the effort."