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.