JAMES JOYCE (1882 – 1941)
James Joyce is recognised as one of the most important writers of his century. Born at 41 Brighton Square in Rathgar, he was the eldest son of a spendthrift who brought his large family from prosperity to poverty. His education at Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College and University College, Dublin is recalled in his autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As a student he resolved to devote his life to his art. Impressed by the great European writers such as Ibsen and Hauptmann, he found the Irish literary movement too parochial for his taste. Language, religion and nationality were seen by Joyce as nets cast at his soul, and he escaped to Paris in 1902 to study medicine, only to return the following year to attend his mother in her final illness.
1904 was a special year for Joyce. The first of his short stories were published in The Irish Homestead and he began work on his book of poems, Chamber Music, and on his auto-biographical novel. In June of that year he met his future wife Nora Barnacle, and the couple left Dublin in October to spend the rest of their lives on the Continent. The Joyces lived at first in Trieste, where their two children Giorgio and Lucia were born. The money Joyce earned from teaching did not match up to his standards of extravagance, and he became an expert borrower. He revisited Dublin in 1909 and 1912, but after the refusal by Maunsel’s to go ahead with the publication of his book of short stories, Dubliners, he never returned again. Dubliners was published instead by Grant Richards in London in 1914.
Joyce’s fortunes improved when he moved to Zurich in 1915. Grants from patrons – especially the generous Harriet Weaver – and official funds enabled him to devote more time to writing, and with the help of Ezra Pound he had A Portrait published in 1916. The early chapters of Ulysses were published in serial form but due to the frankness of its references to bodily functions the book was banned in Britain and the USA.
Joyce took up residence in Paris in 1920 and found a publisher – Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company – for Ulysses. On its appearance in 1922 the novel was received with equal choruses of acclaim and hostility, while in Dublin, whose citizens, streets, shops and language formed the material of the book, it was greeted with embarrassment. It was not until 1934 that Ulysses could be published and sold in the USA and subsequently Britain. In Ireland, where it was never officially banned, it remained something of an underground masterpiece until the 1950s. Joyce spent seventeen years on his last and most complex work, Finnegans Wake, which like Ulysses was entirely based on his native city. Plagued by illness and failing eyesight, he shunned publicity and spent his time with his family and a few close friends, including Paul Leon who acted as his secretary and handled his business affairs. Finnegans Wake was published in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war. Tired and ill, Joyce took his family to refuge in Vichy and arranged their exit visas for Switzerland. On 13th January 1941 he died in Zurich of peritonitis.