James Joyce

Portrait of James Joyce by unknown photographer. <a href="http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/">Public Domain</a>.
James Joyce by unknown photographer. Public Domain.


James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in West Rathgar, Dublin, in 1882, one of the ten children of May and John Joyce and her husband John, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. James Joyce attended Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries meant they could no longer afford to send him there. Joyce was temporarily home-schooled and spent a short while at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school, run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood was influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891, was a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defended Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr Casey, crying loudly with a ‘sob of pain’, ‘Poor Parnell! … My dead king!’.

Joyce attended University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studied modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he went to Paris with a view to studying medicine, but discovered, on arrival, that he did not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggled for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound. He returned to Ireland in 1903 after his mother fell ill; she died in August 1903. Joyce refused to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later felt is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On 16 June 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spent the rest of his life. By autumn, Joyce was convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuaded Nora to travel with him; they arrived in Paris on 9 October 1904. Joyce would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivated a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zurich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 was the poetry collection Chamber Music. When Joyce sent Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranged for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but was also published in 1914.

Joyce then began work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel was serialised between 1918 and 20, but full publication was delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work was finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles was first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

Having suffered from deteriorating eye sight and bouts of colitis for much of his life, Joyce died of a perforated duodenal ulcer in Zürich in 1941, where he is buried at Funtern Cemetery.

Further information about the life of James Joyce can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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