June 2006 Newsletter - James Joyce

June 2006 Newsletter - James Joyce


James Joyce - Life and Works

One of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, James Joyce is one of Ireland's most prominent authors, whose works include the Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

James Joyce is closely linked with Ireland's capital city Dublin, where the writer was born and lived as a young man and where most of his novels are set, though Joyce spent most of his life outside Ireland.

James Joyce was born in 1882, in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar. He was the eldest of ten surviving children in an educated middle class Catholic family. After moving to the fashionable Dublin area of Bray in 1887, the family's prosperity fell into decline, due to the father's alcoholism and they were declared bankrupt by 1893.

Initially Joyce enjoyed a prestigious education at a boarding school in County Kildare, until 1892, when his father could no longer afford the fees. Joyce was then schooled at the Christian Brother's school on North Richmond Street, Dublin, before being enrolled at the Jesuit Belvedere School in 1893, with the hope of joining the Order. However Joyce was later to renounce Catholicism. In 1898, Joyce enrolled at the recently established University College Dublin, where he studied English, French and Italian and took an active role in Dublin's theatrical and literary circles.

After graduating from UCD in 1903, Joyce headed to Paris to study medicine, but returned to Ireland after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. After her death Joyce began drinking heavily, scraping a living teaching and reviewing books. He had a draft of A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man turned down in 1904 and later in that same year met the woman he would later marry, - a young chambermaid from Connemara, in Co. Galway named Nora Barnacle. Their first date together was 16th June 1904, a date that would be later commemorated in Joyce's most famous work Ulysses.

Shortly after they met James and Nora eloped to Europe, where Joyce planned to teach English. The couple moved first to Zurich, then to Trieste where they remained for the next ten years. During World War One, Joyce moved back to Zurich, where he met Ezra Pound, who brought him into contact with his future publisher and patron Harriet Shaw Weaver. Joyce then moved to Paris in 1920, where he would live for the next 20 years until returning to Zurich to escape Nazi occupation in 1940. In 1941 Joyce underwent surgery on a perforated ulcer, but following complications died on 13th January. James Joyce is buried in Zurich's Fluntern Cemetery along with his wife Nora, whom he married in 1931 and their eldest son George.

At the time Joyce's writings were both praised and derided for adopting stream of consciousness, internal monologue and other literary features that were new for the time. Joyce's subject matter also courted controversy, and were criticised as vulgar and obscene.

Nevertheless James Joyce is heralded as one of the most influential writers of his generation and a doyen of modernist literary thought. His work has influenced a range of writers from William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess and Irish born playwright Samuel Beckett, who was a close friend and colleague of Joyce, assisting him on Finnegan's Wake.

Joyce's major works include the Dubliners, published in 1914. This collection of short stories, where according to Joyce, ‘epiphanies' and a detailed analysis of Dublin society. The most famous story, The Dead was made into a film in1987, the last to be directed by John Huston. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is a largely autobiographical, coming of age novel surrounding the main character Stephen Dedalus - Joyce's self-depiction. Joyce's final novel was Finnegan's Wake, (1939) which was published as a series in literary magazine Transition under the title Working Project. The book draws on a range of languages and word plays and is regarded as Joyce's most difficult work.

Joyce's most famous novel, regarded as his masterpiece is Ulysses (1922). The story developed from an original idea for a short story to appear in the Dubliners. Set over 18 chapters, the story revolves around a day in the life of Jewish advertising canvasser, Leopold Bloom. Each chapter represents an hour of that day, as Bloom traverses Dublin's diverse social landscape, in a parody of Homer's Odyssey (Ulysses being the Latinised name for Odysseus). The day is 16th June 1904 and begins with young writer Stephen Dedalus living inside the Martello tower at Dublin Bay. The narrative shifts to the main character Leopold Bloom as his day takes him on a meandering tour th rough the streets of Dublin stopping Davy Byrne's Pub, the National Library, and various pubs dotted around Dublin's red light district.

When Ulysses was first serialized in the New York literary journal The Little Review, it led to a prosecution for obscenity. When the book was published in its entirety in Paris it caused outrage and was banned in the US and the UK and blacklisted by Irish customs. This failed to diminish its popularity however and the book is now regarded as a masterpiece of modernist literature and the archetypal Irish novel. In 1999 the Modern Library listed Ulysses as the best English language novel of the 20th Century.

Ulysses is celebrated in Dublin and by fans throughout the world, on 16th June with Bloomsday. The event boasts a range of cultural activities from live recitals and street theatre bringing to life the characters from the novel, in full Edwardian costume. If there is ever a time for James Joyce fans to visit Dublin Bloomsday on the 16th June is most certainly it.

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