James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce (1882 – 1941) is famous for Ulysses, and for Finnegan’s Wake, which is a unique piece of literature. There are probably very few people who read Finnegan’s Wake from the beginning to end, because it is almost unreadable, but nevertheless, once you read a little bit, you always want to come back for more. Finnegan’s Wake is a reading experience like no other.
James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce (1882 – 1941)
Joyce was born in Dublin, where his father was a rates collector. He was educated at a Jesuit school and University College, Dublin where he studied philosophy and language. When he was still an undergraduate, in 1900, his long review of Ibsen’s last play was published in the Fortnightly Review. At this time he also began writing his poems which were later collected in Chamber Music, published in 1907.
In 1902 Joyce left Dublin for Paris, but returned the following year as his mother was dying. From 1904 he lived with Nora Barnacle, whom he married in 1931 (the year his father died), a son was born in 1905, and a daughter in 1918. Their home from 1905 to 1915 was Trieste, where Joyce taught English at the Berlitz school. In 1909 and 1912 he made his final trips to Ireland, attempting to arrange the publication of his first book Dubliners, which finally appeared in England in 1914. It was during this time that he was contacted by Ezra Pound, a leading champion of modernist writers who helped organise financial payments to keep Joyce writing during his most poverty-stricken periods.
Dubliners is a series of short, interrelated stories which deal with the lives of ordinary people, whose actions are invested with a symbolic profundity. Joyce explores what would become central themes in his work: youth, adolescence, adulthood and maturity, and how identify is affected by these different stages in life.
The following year, Joyce wrote Exiles, his only play, and went into permanent exile himself. He is taken, in fact, as the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it. The year 1914 was an intensely productive one for Joyce; he had two books in print and began work on his greatest achievement, Ulysses. In 1916 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man appeared (it had been published in serial form in The Egoist from 1914 to 1915), and established Joyce’s reputation as a writer of genius. The fullest and most accomplished product to have emerged from the modernist movement in European literature, it presented the world of Dublin solely through the consciousness of the narrator, and charted his growth from Catholic boyhood to an early adulthood defined by a yearning to be an artist.
It was in this year that Joyce and his family moved to Zurich, where they lived in great poverty while he worked on Ulysses, despite undergoing surgery on his eyes. It began to appear in serial form in the Little Review in 1918, but was suspended in 1920 following prosecution. It eventually appeared in book form in 1922 in Paris, where Joyce and his family had settled, in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, and was followed by an English edition of 2,000 copies, also printed in Paris. The first unlimited edition followed in 1924, again in Paris, but there was no American edition until ten years later, and no British edition until 1937.
The novel traces the experiences of Mr Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly (whose erotic reverie towards the book’s close is what caused most of the legal difficulties) and the poet Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist during a single day in Dublin in 1904. As its title suggests, however, the book is an epic, loosely analogous to Homer’s Odyssey, which is echoed in several episodes. Enormously long and complex, using a variety of styles – notably the ’stream-of-consciousness’ method – Ulysses is one of the great literary achievments of the century, and has been described as the greatest novel ever written.
Joyce’s other major novel, Finnegans Wake, is even more uncompromising than Ulysses, written in a language of his his own devising, a great mixture of linguistic fragments and borrowings. It was published in 1939, the year after the Joyces returned to Switzerland from France. Joyce died the following year. His reputation has grown immeasurably since his death, partly because of the growth in academia. He is the one novelist in whom we can be sure to place our absolute trust, the single figure we can also be sure will be remembered, if any are, in 1,000 year’s times. As one critic famously wrote: “James Joyce was and remains almost unique among novelists in that he published nothing but masterpieces.”
“He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul. Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy. If he could give expression to it in a book of poems perhaps men would listen.”
— Dubliners, “A Little Cloud”
One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.
— Dubliners, “The Dead”
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.
Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
— Dubliners, “The Dead,” ending.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the sufferer. Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause.
Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.
–It is a curious thing, do you know, Cranly said dispassionately, how your mind is supersaturated with the religion in which you say you disbelieve.
The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.
I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, and cunning.
Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.
It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.
Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy.
History, said Stephen, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying: — That is God. Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee! — What? Mr Deasy asked. — A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.
Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.
Come forth Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job.
DEAR DIRTY DUBLIN
Monsieur de la Palisse, Stephen sneered, was alive fifteen minutes before his death.
Unsheathe your dagger definitions.
It is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as to be born
Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery.
If others have their will Ann hath a way
Our national epic has yet to be written, Dr. Sigerson says. We are becoming important, it seems.
Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words. Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod, moonycrowned. And I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest. In painted chambers loaded with tilebooks. They are still. Once quick in the brains of men. Still: but an itch of death is in them, to tell me in my ear a maudlin tale, urge me to wreak their will.
As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.
His own image to a man with that queer thing genius is the standard of all experience, material and moral.
The mocker is never taken seriously when he is most serious.
You know Manningham’s story of the burgher’s wife who bade Dick Burbage to her bed after she had seen him in Richard III and how Shakespeare, overhearing, without more ado about nothing, took the cow by the horns and, when Burbage came knocking at the gate, answered from the capon’s blankets: William the conquerer came before Richard III.
A father, said Stephen, battling against hopelessness, is a necessary evil.
Paternity may be a legal fiction.
Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the opposite of that that is really life. — What? Says Alf. — Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.
But oblige me by taking away that knife. I can’t look at the point of it. It reminds me of Roman history.
— Stephen to Bloom
His attention was directed to them by his host jocosely and he accepted them seriously as they drank in jocoserious silence Epp’s massproduct, the creature cocoa.
O Jamesy let me up out of this
This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By epiphany — a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or gesture, or in a memorable phrase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that the themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.
— Stephen Hero
My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire.
— Giacomo Joyce
Remarks by Joyce
I have met you too late. You’re too old for me to help you.
–A young Joyce to the 37 year-old Yeats
I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.
I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.
One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.
–About Finnegans Wake; Letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 24 November 1926
You’d better translate ALP into French now, because if you wait any longer, I won’t be able to remember what it means.
–Joyce to Soupault
Whatever spark of gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia, and has kindled a fire in her brain.
–About his daughter, who was suffering from schizophrenia
Remarks about Joyce
I guess the man’s a genius, but what a dirty mind he has, hasn’t he?
When a young man came up to him in Zurich and said, “May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?” Joyce replied, somewhat like King Lear, “No, it did lots of other things too.”
Is there any reason why your Ashplant shall not be made the centre of the collection in the “National Joyce Museum, Cabra?”
— Oliver St. John Gogarty (“Buck Mulligan”) writing to Joyce in jest, 1908
In respect to the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of his characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.
–Judge M. Woolsey writing on the “obscenity” in Ulysses, 1933
The 40 pages of non stop run in the end [of Ulysses] is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil’s grandmother knows so much about the psychology of women, I didn’t.
–Carl Jung in a letter to Joyce
It’s a miserable ritual, a magical procedure. . . a homunculus of the consciousness of the new world — our world passed away and a new world has arisen.
–Carl Jung on Ulysses, in the Europaeische Revue
If our society should go to smash tomorrow (which, as Joyce implies, it may) one could find all the pieces, together with the forces that broke them, in Finnegans Wake. The book is a kind of terminal moraine in which lie buried all the myths, programmes, slogans, hopes, prayers, tools, educational theories, and theological bric-a-brac of the past millenium. And here, too, we will find the love that reanimates this debris . . . Through notes that finally become tuneable to our ears, we hear James Joyce uttering his resilient, all-enjoying, all-animating ‘Yes’, the Yes of things to come, a Yes from beyond every zone of disillusionment, such as few have had the heart to utter.
–Joseph Campbell, A Skeleton Key
I would only like to know have I been strichnine by my illnest white wresting under my warm Coverlyette that I am as they say in my neightive land ‘out of the mind gone out’ and unable to combprehen that which is clear or is there really in your work some ass pecked that is Uncle Lear?
–Vladimir Dixon, from “Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incaminaton of Work in Progress”
My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest, stewed in the juice of deliberate journalistic dirty-mindedness — what old and hard-worked staleness, masquerading as the all-new!
–DH Lawrence on “Work in Progress.” (Later Finnegans Wake.)
Ulysses towers over the rest of Joyce’s writings, and in comparison to its noble originality and unique lucidity of thought and style the unfortunate Finnegans Wake is nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room, most aggravating to the insomniac! I am. Moreover, I always detested regional literature full of quaint old-timers and imitated pronunciation. Finnegans Wake’s façade disguises a very conventional and drab tenement house, and only the infrequent snatches of heavenly intonations redeem it from utter insipidity. I know I am going to be excommunicated for this pronouncement.
–Vladimir Nabokov, interview 1967
Joyce might as well, in his last great dense book, have left us twenty pages of possible titles (perhaps he did; I must look again).
That James Joyce is indeed a black Irishman, wreaking a vengeance, even wilder than the I.R.A.’s, on the English language from within, invading the territory of its sanitary ego-presumptions with a flood of impure, dark languages flowing from the damned up sources of collective speech, savagely drowning the ego of the traditional speaker and depositing the property of words in everybody, in the total human community of those who speak and have spoken and shall speak.
–Carlos Fuentes, American Review, 1975
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Joyce entry from Modern World
- Joyce Center in Dublin
- James Joyce Page on Amazon