James Joyce (1882-1941)

This image of James Joyce originally appeared in a printed subscription order form for his novel ULYSSES, which was published in Paris in 1921.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The Dead, from Dubliners (1914)


Irish novelist, short-story writer, and poet, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce is regarded as one of the greatest literary talents of the 20th century and is known for his revolutionary innovations in the art of the novel. Joyce’s technical innovations include an extensive use of the interior monologue and other experimental narrative techniques; the use, in Finnegan’s Wake, of a unique language of invented words, puns, and complex allusions; and the use of a complex network of symbolic parallels drawn from mythology, history, and literature. Joyce is also famous for his detailed rendering of Dublin life, his objective presentation of organic functions, his extraordinary psychological penetration, his robust humor, and his sensitivity to auditory impressions (he had a lifelong passion for vocal music). Before other writers had imitated his techniques and critics had explained his methods, his books were denounced as obscure, unintelligible, nonsensical, and obscene.

Joyce was raised in the kind of environment that might be least expected to produce a revolutionary genius. Son of an ordinary, chronically insolvent civil servant and a conventionally pious mother, and eldest of a family of ten children, Joyce’s youth was marked by poverty and the struggle to maintain solid middle-class respectability. He was educated at a succession of excellent Jesuit schools, where he received a thorough training in Catholic and scholastic doctrines and in several languages. Joyce’s rebellion against his family background, against Catholicism, and against Irish nationalism are described in his largely autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).
“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe,” says the hero, Stephen Dedalus, “whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.”

In 1902 the twenty-year-old Joyce left Dublin to spend the rest of his life in exile in Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zurich, with only an occasional brief visit to Ireland. But the world he had rejected remained basic to all his writing. From the short stories in Dubliners to Finnegans Wake, his subject matter is the city of Dublin, its streets, topography, history, and residents, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, biographical details of his own childhood and youth. The Catholicism he had rebelled against remained so ingrained in him that its doctrines and methods of thought, its symbolism and scholasticism, strongly color all his writings.

James Joyce

Joyce was always an admirer of Ibsen: his earliest publication was an essay, “Ibsen’s New Drama,” in the fortnightly Review of 1900. He also wrote two collections of poems, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927), and a play, Exiles.

Joyce had a difficult life. In 1904 he ran away to Trieste with Nora Barnacle, a Dublin chambermaid, whom he met on June 16 of that year -- the same day on which the action of Ulysses (1922) takes place. On account of his antireligious principles they were not married until many years later. With their two children they wandered about Europe, while Joyce earned an inadequate living teaching languages and doing clerical work; he earned almost nothing from his writings until his last years. His poor eyesight deteriorated until he was almost blind; like Milton, he had to depend in his work on memory and secretarial help of friends. His books were banned by censors, pirated by publishers, and misunderstood by the public. His much-loved daughter became insane and had to be confined in n institution.

A perfectionist who sought to fill his mature work with a network of complex internal echoes and allusions, Joyce toiled long hours at his writing and repeatedly revised and polished his work.
Ulysses required seven years to complete (1914-1921), and Finnegans Wake, which was known until its publication as 'Work in Progress,' took seventeen years (1922-1939).

Bust of Joyce on St Stephen's Green in Dublin

I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what
I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality.

Works by James Joyce at Project Gutenberg

An Audio tour of the history of James Joyce's writings

James Joyce Bibliography (Dubliners, Portrait, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake + introductory texts)

James Joyce from Dublin to Ithaca Exhibition from the collections of Cornell University

The James Joyce Scholars' Collection from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center

How to Read Joyce, a seminar by Cambridge University Press

Music in the Works of James Joyce

James Joyce Centre (Dublin)

Works read by James Joyce from Ubunet

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