I know that Ulysses is the greatest book ever written because, even with the help of all the stimulants that college life has to offer, I still could not get through one chapter a day without having to reread it for sheer enjoyment. The last chapter with the non-punctuated soliloquy by Molly is just the best writing on the planet.

However, as for Finnegans Wake, that would have taken too much acid to understand. I really didn't want a life of padded cells just to read a book.

Did you know that Joyce, when out drinking with his friends (as he did often), would write down little phrases and funny words as the conversations went on? He would stuff these little pieces of paper in his coat jacket. (This is how many of you come up with your writeup ideas, isn't it?) When he got home, he'd get them out and use what he needed. Imagine what he could have done with a Palm Pilot.

Joyce made famous the stream of consciousness style of writing, most notably in Ulysses, which was actually pioneered by French author Eduard Dujardins, in his book "We'll to the Woods No More."

BTW, Ulysses becomes much easier to read with Stuart Gilbert's companion piece ("James Joyce's Ulysses"). Gilbert was the French translator of Ulysses, and actually worked fairly closely with Joyce while he was still working on the book in Paris.

One of Joyce's biggest literary admirers was Anthony Burgess (of Clockwork Orange infamy), who actually wrote a few books on the matter (Joysprick and ReJoyce, and he may have had something to do with the Skeleton's Key to Finnegan's Wake, I'm not sure).

The poor bastard had wretched vision, having had to suffer through 19 eye operations in his life. As such, he had certain very strong opinions about diacritical marks (he hated 'em--considered them an offence to the eye).

Joyce was also well-known for his beautiful singing voice, and when he was living in Italy people would stop in the streets to listen when he sang. He might have made a living as a singer if only he knew sight singing. This lack caused him to lose an important competition when he was young, and the loss of that competition apparently put him off that path.

Good thing, too. How many Irish tenors does the world need?

Things you didn't know about James Joyce:

-his father was a raging alcoholic

-he frequented Dublin's red-light district from an early age, and lost his virginity to a prostitute when he was 14

-not surprisingly, he contracted syphilis, which may have caused the chronic eye trouble he suffered in later years

-his wife was an uneducated chambermaid who resented his writing, but the relationship proved to be an enduring one

-his first work was a volume of poetry in 1907

-when Ulysses was first published, Ernest Hemingway thought it was "a most wonderful goddamn book," although D.H. Lawrence thought it was an obscene piece of crap

-his wife once claimed that Joyce tried to convince her to sleep with other men so that he could write about it (apparently, it didn't work)

-he once consumed an entire barrel of pickles in one sitting (ok, this one is a complete lie, but you I had you going there, didn't I?!)

The alter-egos of James Joyce:

It's not so odd for a writer to use an alter-ego, but Joyce almost always seemed to include it in his longer works.

James Joyce was a novelist. The greatest novelist of all time.

James Augustine Joyce was born the first of ten children in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland on February 2, 1882. He came from pretty meager stock, his family being poor Roman Catholic. His father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was a “collector of rates” and his mother, Mary Jame Joyce nee Murray, was a housewife (naturally for 19th century Ireland).

Joyce received much education at home, but was formally taught in Jesuit schools, Clongowes Wood College being the first in 1888. At Clongowes, he received his first communion and took “Aloysius” as his saint name. Insert segue…

In 1889, Charles Parnell, MP, the leader of the Irish Home Rule Party was accused of adultery with the wife of a police officer. One year later he was forced out of the party all together. This prompted Joyce to make his first foyer into writing. He penned “Et, Tu, Healy” in 1891, associating Parnell’s lieutenant (Tim Healy) as the mastermind behind the treasonous fall of Parnell and the Home Rule Party.

The year of “Et, Tu, Healy” was also the last year Joyce would see at Clongowes. His father lost his job in 1891, and the family could not afford to send young James to private school. By this time, they had eight mouths to feed anyway. James Joyce would be schooled at home for the next 2 years.

In 1893, the Joyce family, supported by John Joyce’s pension, moved to the heart of Dublin, where the younger Joyces would attend Christian Brothers School. However, James and another brother entered Belvedere College for high schooling, their fees having been waived. A year later, Joyce read Lamb’s Adventures of Ulysses, something which changed his life forever. He recounted Ulysses as his “favorite hero.”

In 1895, James Joyce entered the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and promptly lost his virginity to a prostitute a year later at age 14.

Joyce left Belvedere in 1898 for University College in Dublin (then called Royal University). This year he also began to read Ibsen, an author of immense influence on Joyce. During his time at University, he was only slightly interested in his formal studies in Latin, and preferred rather writing reviews, poetry, plays and dissertations on English. While in college, Joyce also took the opportunity to renounce Roman Catholicism. In 1900, he wrote a review of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken to which Ibsen personally responded.

He earned his degree in Latin at the university in 1902, and in that same year one of his brothers died. Perhaps prompted by this death, Joyce registered briefly to study medicine at Royal University. He then decided to go to Paris for medical school, but was sidetracked when he met W.B. Yeats in London.

Joyce got a job in London reviewing books for Dublin Daily Express late in 1902, and returned to Paris but gave up on medical school. In 1903, his mother became deathly ill, so Joyce returned to Dublin to comfort her. To no avail, Mary Jane Joyce died in August of 1903.

1904 was the beginning of Joyce’s career as a novelist. He penned Portrait of the Artist and Stephen Hero, later to become the foundation for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This year he also began work on what would become Dubliners, three short stories of which were published in the Irish Homestead. In addition to that, he wrote much of the poetry that would later be collected and published as Chamber Music.

Joyce would also find his love in 1904. On June 16 of that year, he went for a walk with Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid; the woman who Joyce spent the rest of his life with. (James would later chose this date for the subject of his book Ulysses.) Together they would live in Paris, Zurich and Trieste, and bear two children out of wedlock. They remained unmarried until 1932, nine years before Joyce’s death. A year after meeting, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle moved to Trieste, Italy, where James proceeded to submit his works (unsuccessfully) to publishers across Europe. Grant Richards contracted to publish Dubliners, but backed out due to obscenity and the threat of a possible libel suit. A year later, in 1906, the Joyces would move again, this time to Rome. James supported the family by receiving some writing grants, but mostly by a job he procured in a bank.

Over the next eight years, Joyce reworked and edited and reworked much of his writing. He also tried repeatedly to get his work published, but did not succeed. In 1914, just prior to the Great War, he got Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man published, after his own battles with publishers. However, this publication was only as a serial in the magazine Egoist. This year he also began work on Ulysses, a project he told his father about more than eight years ago.

When Italy entered the war in 1915, the Joyces fled Trieste for Zurich, Switzerland, but not before James’ father, Stanislaus, was interned. In Zurich, he underwent the first of many operations for glaucoma. The eyepatch seen in many of Joyce’s pictures was not mere eccentricity, as many believe.

When 1916 came around, publishers in New York finally agreed to take on Joyce, publishing Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Two years later, Ulysses was also serialized, this time in New York, but printing was halted in 1920. It wasn’t until Sylvia Beach read Ulysses that there was an offer to publish it in its entirety. In 1922, after accepting Beach’s offer, Ulysses was published in full by Shakespeare and Company publishing house.

From 1922 until 1939 Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake, the hardest book in the history of books to read. Finnegans Wake attempts to tell all of human history in a single night, with an Irish tint. That sentence doesn’t do it nearly enough justice, but no one sentence ever could. Joyce died in Zurich in 1941 after an operation for a perforated ulcer. He was a hoopy frood.


Joyce, James, Dubliners. Oxford World Classics.

My father was a fan of James Joyce, and so I learned about Joyce at a young age, in 2nd or 3rd grade. And since I developed an interest in literature myself, I started reading James Joyce as a teenager. Before I was sixteen, I had read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners and Ulysses. I have reread since then, but I admit that I have probably not read Joyce with the maturity that I should have. And one of the major problems with my reading of Joyce is that I read his biography in the forewords of books and got the basics of James Joyce 101: James Joyce, raised to a middle class family fallen upon hard times, rebels against his Roman Catholic education and flees the backwater of Ireland to be an avante-garde artist and the star of fashionable literary Paris. Recently, I read the excellent (and weighty) Richard Ellman biography of Joyce, which corrected me in both tone and factual detail on the life of Joyce.

James Joyce was seen as a literary protege at a young age. At the age of 20 (an age at which I was, as the stereotype goes, playing video games in my mother's basement), Joyce was invited for literary conversations with William Butler Yeats, the foremost writer in his nation. Imagine yourself at an age when you are trying to scrape together a 2 page reflection paper about The Red Badge of Courage for English 101, and then imagine that the most celebrated author in your country is having you over for lunch. But despite the fact that Joyce was praised and recognized at such a young age, he did not immediately catapult himself into the Paris high life. In fact, after spending the first 22 years of his life in Dublin, he then moved to Trieste, a town that is now in Italy but was at the time part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and which was surrounded by what we would now call Yugoslavia. It was, like Dublin, somewhat of a provincial town. Here, Joyce worked as a language teacher for the next 16 years to support his family while writing three books. Joyce was habitually bad with money and given to bad planning and flights of fancy, but also viewed the welfare of his family quite seriously.

It was only at the age of 38 when Joyce moved to Paris and begin to regularly associate with the literati of the day, including Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett, amongst many others. Yet even while enjoying his newfound fame and (relative) prosperity, Joyce had many troubles to deal with, including repeated eye surgery that left him nearly blind and the mental illness of his daughter. Over the next decade and a half of his life, he wrote Finnegans Wake, a book that would be published shortly before his death.

This biography of Joyce brought to light many of the things I have noticed before in his writing, but which I perhaps didn't explore fully because of the simplified notion I had of him in my head. James Joyce was an ex-Catholic who wanted a secular, modern future for Ireland, yet he also had a mystical bent and an appreciation for the legend and lore of his country. James Joyce was an outgoing and charming man who was the toast of Paris society --- but spent most of his adult life in an unfashionable small town on the Adriatic. James Joyce grew up in a family that had advocated for Irish home rule, but Joyce didn't think much of Ireland when it gained its indepedence. Joyce wrote embittered social criticism in Dubliners, but buoyant fantasy in Finnegans Wake. Joyce desired political and social reforms, hated war, militarism and aristocracy, yet avoided making direct political statements in his work. He wrote the greatest experimental novel in the world (possibly twice), yet he also liked to dash off simple poems and humorous limericks full of gossip.

One of the most telling quotes from Joyce about his own position comes from this quote:

"..the more I hear of the political, philosophical, ethical zeal and labors of Pound's big brass band the more I wonder I was ever let into it 'with my magical flute'"
meaning that he didn't view himself as a principled rebel or systematic reformer like many of his modernist colleagues, but rather as someone who just wanted to tell stories. I will keep this in mind for future readings of his writings.

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