James Joyce



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James Joyce was born in Dublin on 2 February 1882, into a Catholic lower-middle class family. His father, John Joyce, had inherited some property and for a time the family was fairly prosperous.
Unfortunately, gradually he lost his properties, until the family collapsed into poverty.
Joyce was sent to a prestigious boarding school run by the Jesuits and then he attended another famous Jesuit day-school, Belvedere College. In both he received an excellent education.
The atmosphere of these experiences is rendered in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, even if, unlike the weak and timid boy of the book, Joyce was a cheerful and lively boy, nicknamed “Sunny Jim” by his family.
At this stage of his life Joyce was a devout Catholic. But after a period of spiritual doubt and unrest he began to lose his faith in the Church, rejected Catholicism and transferred his vocation to the sphere of artistic achievement. He continued his studies at University College, here he specialized in modern languages and began to reveal his extraordinary talent writing literary articles.
The possession of a fine tenor voice and a strong musical talent encouraged him towards the musical profession, and after his graduation in 1902 he decided to pursue medical studies. He could not afford to do so in Dublin, so he went to Paris with the intention of studying medicine and supporting himself by teaching English, but after a few months he was called back to Dublin because his mother was dying .
He remained in Ireland for a year after his mother’s death during which period he wrote book reviews and made his first steps as an author: he began to work on a collection of poems, some short stories and an autobiographical novel. He also left the family home, and moved between rented rooms and friend’s houses. One day in 1904 Joyce met Nora Barnacle. With Nora he left once again for the Continent, where he was to spend the rest of his life in voluntary exile as a wanderer.
Joyce developed a love-hate relationship with Dublin, and it was Dublin the central substance of his work.
After the attempt to find a job in Zurich, Joyce found a position as a teacher at the Berlitz school in Trieste in 1905 and except for a short stay in Rome and some visits to Ireland Trieste remained the Joyce’s home until 1915.
These ten years were marked by poverty, and Joyce often had to depend on gifts from friends and on the help of his brothers Stanislaus. However, there were also positive events: two children were born to him, Giorgio and Lucia Anna; he met and became a friend of Italo Svevo; the poem Chamber Music was published in 1907 and Dubliners was published in 1914.
Joyce was not an easy writer for publishers to handle.
In 1914 Joyce started Ulysses.
In 1915 the Joyces moved to Zurich, where their financial situation improved. The Portrait was published in book form in New York in 1916 and in London in 1917.
The only cloud on this happy period was the deterioration of his eyesight, which obliged him to several operations.
By this time Joyce became known in literary circles.
In 1920 the writer decided to move to Paris.
Joyce’s first years in the cosmopolitan city were serene, and concentrated on Ulysses, which was
completed in 1921 and published in 1922.
Joyce had always been fascinated by the myth of Ulysses, and chose to represent him in the person of Leopold Bloom, a modest advertising agent, a Jew who lives in Catholic Dublin. The agonies of Ulysses’ years of wanderings and separation from Penelope find daily business while his wife entertains her lover at home. Homer’s Ulysses wandered for long years; in Joyce novel the whole of the action is confined to a single day, 16 June 1904, the day when Joyce and Nora took their first evening walk together.
Ulysses was an immense artistic achievement, and made Joyce internationally famous. However, the book was banned as obscene in England and in America. In 1923 Joyce began to work on Finnegans Wake. His magnum opus was published in 1939.
By this time Joyce and Nora had been married. The last years of the writer’s life were troubled by personal worries: he was almost blind and his daughter suffered from schizophrenia. In 1940 the Joyces moved to Zurich and Joyce died there of a perforated ulcer in 1941.
The collection of fifteen autobiographical short stories Dubliners is a study of Irish life and types, and reveal the indecision, frustrations that paralyse the wills and limit the lives of the inhabitants of Dublin.
Joyce coined the word “epiphany” to indicate this breaking in of light, using the word of Catholic tradition for the revelation of Christ’s divinity to the Magi.
The stories are usually grouped into four categories: stories of childhood, stories of adolescence, stories of mature life, stories of public life.
The Dead is the last and the longest story of the collection and it can be considered a section by itself and must be accounted one of the greatest short stories in English literature.
The Portrait is a spiritual autobiography and sets the action as far as possible inside the consciousness of the hero: what Stephen thinks is the heart of the book.
Joyce interweaves dialogue with narration and description so that the reader has the outer scene, what people are saying and what they are thinking.
A very interesting feature of this novel is the evolution of the language, which is constantly adapted to the age of the hero.
Ulysses first appeared in serial form and, a few years later, it was published as a book. The absolute realism which led Joyce to transcribe every thought that passed through the minds of his characters caused the novel to be banned as obscene.
The 20th century Odyssey appears to be a prosaic affair confined to the actions of a single day, 16 June 1904.
The author stations himself within the consciousness of three people and through their consciousness builds up a Dublin which is a microcosm of the universe.
His Ulysses is Leopold Bloom, an Irish Jew who has lost his infant son; he is a kind, simple man, and represents the average individual. Like Ulysses, Bloom suffers from separation from his wife because they drifted apart after the baby’s death and because she has taken a lover. Telemachus is the intellectual Stephen Dedalus – the hero of the portrait – in search of fatherhood because he has broken all links with home, fatherland and church. His bitterness and his pride isolated him from his fellows. The paths of these two men, cross and recross through the day. Linking their two words by her desires is Molly, Bloom’s wife, whose nocturnal meditations form the subject of the final part of the book. She is the Penelope figure.
The main characters are Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, the hero from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. They are intended to be modern counterparts of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope.