James Joyce (1882-1941)
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More has been written about James Joyce than about Shakespeare. The eldest son of a spendthrift who brought his large family from prosperity to poverty without relinquishing his standards, Joyce was educated by the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, one of the finest private schools in the country, until the money ran out. He was then offered a free place at Belvedere College in the centre of Dublin to continue his secondary education. He entered University College in 1898, having lost his Catholic faith and determined to devote his life to his art. Other students and his lecturers were amazed by the extent of his reading. At the age of eighteen he had a piece on Ibsen's latest play published in "The Fortnightly Review" and a personal letter of thanks from Ibsen convinced him that he was destined for great things.
Particularly impressed by the great European writers, Joyce found the current Irish Revival too parochial for his taste. Language, religion and nationality were seen by Joyce as nets cast at his soul. Determined to escape, he went to Paris in 1902 to study medicine and lived there in Bohemian poverty till the following year when he returned to attend his mother in her final illness.
1904 was a special year for Joyce. The first of his short stories were published and he began work on his book of peoms "Chamber Music" and on the autobiographical novel which was to become "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". He also stayed briefly with Oliver St. John Gogarty in the Tower in Sandycove where he later set the first chapter of "Ulysses".
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In June of that year he met his future wife Nora Barnacle and the couple left Dublin in October to spend the rest of their lives on the Continent. The Joyces at first lived in Trieste, where their two children were born. The money Joyce earned from teaching did not match up to his standards of extravagance and he become an expert borrower. One business venture involved a trip to Dublin in 1909 to set up Ireland's first cinema, The Volta in Mary Street. He also arranged with a Dublin publisher, George Roberts of Maunsel & Co, to publish his book of stories "Dubliners", but Roberts subsequently took exception to Joyce's mercilessly realistic picture of city life and stalled publication. When Joyce revisited Dublin in 1912 to sort things out, Roberts destroyed the entire first edition and Joyce left Dublin forever. "Dubliners" was published by Grant Richards in 1914.
Joyce's fortunes improved when he moved to Zurich in 1915. Grants from patrons-especially the generous Harriet Weaver and official funds enabled him to devote more time to writing and with the help of Ezra Pound, he had "A Portrait" published in 1916. The early chapters of "Ulysses" appeared in "The Little Review" in America but due to the frankness of its references to bodily functions, the book was banned in Britain and the USA.
Joyce took up residence in Paris in 1920 and found a publisher-Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company for "Ulysses". The novel, which appeared on his 40th birthday in 1922, is now regarded as one of the most significant works of modern literature. At the time, it was received with equal choruses of acclaim and hostility, while in Dublin, whose citizens, streets, shops and language formed the material of the book, it was greeted with embarrassment. It was not until 1934 that "Ulysses" could be published and sold in the United States and subsequently Britain. In Ireland, where it was never officially banned, it remained something of an underground masterpiece until the 1950s.
Joyce spent 17 years on his last and most complex work, "Finnegans Wake", which like "Ulysses" was entirely based on his native city. Plagued by illness and failing eyesight, he shunned publicity and spent his time with his family and a few close friends, of whom Samule Beckett was one. "Finnegans Wake" was published in 1939; within two years Joyce died of peritonitis in Zurich where he and his family had retreated from the terrors of war.
More than any other writer, James Joyce placed Dublin on the map of world literature. An exile for most of his life, he has become the world's most famous Dubliner and is celebrated annually on the 16th June, the day on which all the events of "Ulysses" take place and which is now known as "Bloomsday".