James Joyce 1882-1941

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin, the eldest of ten children. His father who was from Fermoy in County Cork was appointed as a rate collector for Dublin in 1887. James was educated at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare but left in 1892 when his father could no longer afford the fees, transferring to another Jesuit school, Belvedere College. He went on to University College Dublin, graduating in 1902.

On leaving university he went to Paris to study medicine but he soon gave this up and scraped a living reviewing books, teaching and singing. On hearing that his mother was dangerously ill, he returned to Ireland in 1903 to be present at her death. The following year he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Galway who was working in Dublin as a chambermaid. In 1904 he and Nora left Ireland for Zurich where he worked there and then in Trieste as an English teacher for the Berlitz School of Languages. In 1905 Nora gave birth to their first child George. After a brief sojourn in Rome where he worked as a bank clerk they returned to Trieste in 1907 where his daughter Lucia was born.

During his time in trieste Joyce made a number of trips back to Dublin to try and get his book Dubliners published and to try and set up other business ventures but these attempts came to naught. Two of his sisters were later persuaded to join him in Trieste. In 1915 he moved to Zurich after most of his students were conscripted for service in WWI, living there for the rest of his life and dying of a perforated duodenal ulcer in 1941. Nora survived him by ten years.

His first published work was a volume of poetry, Chamber Music, in 1907, which consisted of 36 short lyrics. His novel, Dubliners was published in 1914, followed by the heavily autobiographical A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916. His only play, Exiles, came out in 1918, his masterpiece, Ulysses, in 1922 and Finnegan’s Wake in 1939. A compendium of his poetry, Collected Poems was published in 1936.

Joyce was a complex, restless, unconventional character whose bursts of intense activity were sometimes interspersed with bouts of heavy drinking. Both his prose works and his poetry are highly original in their experimental use of language and the exploration of new literary methods, exemplified by the action in Ulysses taking place all in one day. The theme of betrayal pervades some of his work but there is no doubt that he was a fine wordsmith who is regarded as one of Ireland’s literary giants whose work influenced many future writers. He is commemorated by a statue in Dublin and a celebration of Bloomsday (Leopold Bloom is the central character in Ulysses) in Dublin in June of each year.

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