James Joyce

Dafato Team | Jul 1, 2023

Table of Content


James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (Dublin, February 2, 1882 - Zurich, January 13, 1941) was an Irish writer, poet and playwright.

Although his literary output is not very large, he was of fundamental importance to the development of 20th-century literature, particularly the modernist current. Especially in relation to the linguistic experimentation present in his works, he is considered one of the best writers of the 20th century and literature of all time.

His nonconformist character and criticism of Irish society and the Catholic Church shines through in works such as The Dubliners or People of Dublin (Dubliners, 1914)-evidenced by the famous epiphanies-and especially in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in 1917), also known in Italy as Dedalus.

His best-known novel, Ulysses, is a real revolution from nineteenth-century literature, and in 1939 the later and controversial Finnegans Wake ("The Finnegans' Wake" or more appropriately "The Wake for the Finnegans") is its extreme. He undertook many journeys through Europe during his lifetime, but the setting of his works, so firmly tied to Dublin, made him one of the most cosmopolitan and at the same time most local of Irish writers.

Childhood and adolescence

James Joyce was born in Rathgar, an elegant suburb of Dublin (in then-British Ireland), on February 2, 1882, into a deeply Catholic middle-class family, the eldest of the ten surviving children (two of his siblings in fact perished at a very young age from typhoid fever) of John Stanislaus Joyce, a native of Cork, and Mary Jane Murray. In 1887, his father, after leaving his job as a customs officer, was appointed tax collector by the Dublin Corporation and therefore the family moved permanently to Bray, a town about 20 kilometers south of Dublin. Here Joyce was bitten by a dog, an episode at the origin of his cynophobia; he also had an inordinate fear of thunderstorms because a very religious aunt told him they were a sign of God's wrath. Fears would always be part of Joyce's identity, and although he had the power to overcome them, he never did.

In 1891, when he was 9 years old, he wrote his first work, a pamphlet addressed to the figure of Irish nationalist Timothy Healy, a politician and journalist who was among the most controversial members of Parliament in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, guilty of abandoning in the midst of a scandal the leader of the autonomist party Charles Stewart Parnell, who died in 1891. With Parnell's death, Irish autonomy was further away, and John Joyce, a staunch autonomist, was infuriated by the affair, so much so that he had copies of his son's early work printed and even sent one to the Vatican Library. All copies were lost.

In November of that year John Joyce was suspended from his job and could no longer pay tuition at the prestigious Clongowes Wood College, which James had been attending since 1888. James studied for some time at home, then briefly at the Christian Brothers' school, until, thanks to excellent grades, he was accepted free of charge at Belvedere College, a Jesuit boarding school, also with the hope of a vocation. By the age of sixteen Joyce had already developed the nonconformist and rebellious character that would mark him in the future and rejected Christianity, although the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas would have a strong influence on his life. At Belvedere College he achieved excellent results and won more than one academic competition. In 1893 the family's already precarious economic situation worsened, and his father was forced to sell his family's property in Cork to pay off a debt. John's alcoholism and his mismanagement of finances soon led to the family's decline.

The college years

Joyce enrolled at University College Dublin in 1898, where he studied modern languages, particularly English, French and Italian. He soon manifested his nonconformist character by refusing to sign a protest against The Countess Cathleen, a play by William Butler Yeats that was defamatory of Ireland in some respects. In response to some of the provocations against Ibsen (an author at the time considered immoral), at one of the meetings of the Literary and Historical Society, a literary-historical circle of which Joyce was a member, on January 20, 1900, he gave a public speech on the subject of Theater and Life, proposing Ibsen himself as a role model, an author who was a real discovery for Joyce. By the same author he would shortly afterward publish in The Fortnightly Review a review of When We Dead Awake for which he received a letter of thanks from the Norwegian playwright.

With the compensation for the review, he went briefly to London with his father and, upon returning to Ireland, moved to Mullingar, where he began translating some of the works of German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann, with the hope that the Irish Theatre would agree to perform them, but the proposal was declined because Hauptmann was not an Irish author. From this experience Joyce drew inspiration to write the pamphlet The Day of the Fool, a denunciation of the provincialism of Irish culture.

On October 31, 1902 he received his bachelor's degree. During his time at the university he also wrote other articles and at least two plays that have been lost. They were also the years of literary experimentation, to which Joyce himself gave the name epiphanies, which we will later find in Dubliners.

Mother's death and meeting Nora

A month later he moved to Paris. The idea was to become a doctor and he enrolled at the Sorbonne but, although he was helped by his family and wrote reviews for the Daily Express, he lived in poverty. After four months his mother fell ill with cancer and Joyce was forced to return to Ireland. His brief time in Paris ended here, but despite appearances it was not a complete failure. At a train station he made an important discovery: the novel Les Lauriers sont coupés by Édouard Dujardin, in which the author makes use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, widely used in Joyce's major novels.

On his deathbed, his mother, Mary Jane, concerned about her son's ungodliness, tried to persuade him to take communion and go to confession, but Joyce refused. When his mother died on August 13, after going into a coma, Joyce refused to kneel to pray at her bedside with other family members. After her mother's death, the family situation deteriorated further, although Joyce managed to scrape together something by writing reviews for the Daily Express, teaching privately and singing. His singing ability, inherited from his father, earned him a bronze medal at the 1904 Feis Ceoil. He was an esteemed tenor, so much so that he thought of devoting himself to singing as the main activity of his life.

1904 was the decisive year in Joyce's life. On January 7, Dana magazine rejected the first version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, titled Stephen the Hero at the time, thus completing the core of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to be published in 1916. That same year on Nassau Street he met Nora Barnacle, a Galway waitress who would become his lifelong companion. The date of their first date, June 16, 1904, is the same date on which Ulysses takes place. The same year The Holy Office, a collection of poems, came out. In mid-summer he wrote the verses that will be part of Chamber Music, and The Irish Homestead magazine published The Sisters, a short story that will later be part of Dublin People, and in the following months also Eveline and After the Race.

Exile from Ireland

On the evening of June 22, 1904, Joyce was walking with a friend, Vincent Cosgrave, at St Stephen Green. It was on that occasion that his word to a girl, apparently alone, triggered an attack by her companion on Joyce himself. Cosgrave remained motionless, and it was only the arrival of a carriage driven by Alfred H. Hunter that ended the scuffle. Hunter was a Jew who was the victim of gossip because he had been betrayed by his wife, and he became the prototype for Leopold Bloom.

Oliver St John Gogarty was a friend of Joyce's, a medical student and was the prototype for Buck Mulligan, another character in the novel who stays in a Martello tower, just like Gogarty in Sandycove.

Gogarty was skeptical about Joyce's affective abilities, and probably did not give much importance to the ìencounter between Joyce and Nora that took place on June 16, 1904. He writes in Intimations, "I always felt James out of place when it came to confrontation with love. There was something affected, tolerant and artificial about the few love songs he had sung."

Joyce stayed in Gogarty's Martello tower for a few days, starting on September 9, 1904, until the shooting incident occurred. After another guest, Samuel G. Trench, had awakened in the night shooting in the dark, shouting at an imaginary panther, Gogarty shot back, hitting several objects hanging around them, including pots and pans above Joyce's bed, who joined the family in Dublin that night. On October 8, 1904, Joyce and Nora left for the self-imposed exile that kept them away from Ireland for most of their lives.


Joyce managed to secure a teaching position at the Berlitz School in Zurich through some of his acquaintances, but once in Zurich he discovered that he had been tricked and the director sent him to Trieste, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even in Trieste, however, Joyce could not find an available position, and with the help of the director of Berlitz in Trieste Almidano Artifoni, he secured a place at Berlitz in Pula. He taught there until March 1905, when the deputy director of Berlitz again succeeded in having him transferred to Trieste. Despite the troubled period, Joyce completed some short stories that would later be part of Dubliners and the second draft of the verse collection Chamber Music.

After the birth of Giorgio, Joyce and Nora's eldest son, the family needed more money and, under the guise of homesickness and the offer of a position as a teacher, Joyce invited his brother Stanislaus to Trieste, who accepted. Their cohabitation, however, was not easy because the frivolity with which Joyce spent their money and his condition as an alcoholic did not please Stanislaus.

In 1906 the desire to travel brought Nora and Joyce to Rome, with their son George. There he found a clerical position at Nast, Kolb & Schumacher Bank. They stayed at 52 Via Frattina from August to December of that year, but soon, disappointed with the city, returned to Trieste. However, in the little time off from his banking job, Joyce wrote the last story of Dubliners, The Dead.

In 1907 he wrote a few articles for Il piccolo della sera and offered himself as correspondent in Ireland for Corriere della Sera, an offer that was declined. In early May of that year, Chamber Music was published. Soon after publication, Joyce's health took a hit. In addition to heart problems, nightmares and iritis, he contracted a form of rheumatic fever that debilitated him for many months, initially reducing him almost to paralysis. On July 27, Lucia, Joyce and Nora's second daughter, was born.

In Trieste Joyce often gave private lessons, during which he hung out with children of the local nobility and met Italo Svevo, another prototypical Leopold Bloom, so much so that many of the details about Judaism included in Ulysses were referred to him by Svevo himself.

In August 1908 they lost their third child to miscarriage. At the same time Joyce took voice lessons at the Trieste Conservatory of Music and the following year took part in Richard Wagner's opera The Master Singers of Nuremberg.

In 1909 Joyce returned briefly to Dublin to introduce George to the family, work on the publication of Dubliners and meet Nora's family. The next month he was in Dublin again on behalf of a movie theater owner with the aim of opening a movie theater in the city named Volta. He succeeded, but what was initially a success turned out to be a failure. He returned to Trieste with his sister Eileen, who would spend the rest of her life outside Ireland.

In April 1912 he went to Padua to take the examinations to qualify to teach in Italian schools, but despite being successful his degree was not recognized in Italy. In the summer of the same year he returned to Dublin once again for the publication of People of Dublin, but did not get the results he had hoped for. Despite repeated invitations from William Butler Yeats, he would not set foot in Ireland again.

The following year he met Ezra Pound in the Adriatic city, thanks to whom he serialized Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in The Egoist magazine. In 1914 the short stories of Dubliners came out in volume form and he began work on Ulysses (he composed the first three chapters in Trieste), Exiles, Joyce's only drama (which would see the light of day in 1918) and the prose poem Giacomo Joyce (his only work set entirely in Trieste).

During that period, Joyce began to frequent the city's cultural circles assiduously: among other things, he became a regular guest at the San Marco Café, then a gathering place for Trieste's intellectuals, where he sometimes went to work on his works.

After the outbreak of World War I, some middle-class friends from Trieste helped him escape to Zurich, where he met Frank Budgen, who became a consultant in the writing of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and, again thanks to Pound, the publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver, who allowed him in later years to devote himself solely to writing, thus abandoning teaching.

In 1918 the U.S. magazine Little Review published several chapters of Ulysses. In 1920 Ezra Pound invited him to Paris. Joyce had returned to Trieste the year before, but found the city much changed and relations with his brother were still very strained; so he did not hesitate to travel to Paris. Initially he was to stay there for a week, but then he stayed for twenty years.

Paris and Zurich

In 1921 he finished writing Ulysses, which was published by publisher Sylvia Beach on February 2, 1922, Joyce's fortieth birthday. The following year he began drafting Work in Progress, which occupied the next sixteen years and was published in 1939 under the title Finnegans Wake. In 1927 he published the collection Penny Poems and the following year underwent eye surgery. In 1931 Joyce's father died and, for testamentary reasons, he married Nora.

During these years Lucia manifested the first symptoms of schizophrenia. Lucia became Joyce's muse in the writing of Finnegans Wake, and Joyce himself would try to keep her with him as much as possible.

After the release of Finnegans Wake, both because of harsh criticism of the novel and the Nazi invasion of Paris, the depression from which Joyce was already suffering deepened. He also had to undergo additional eye surgeries for the onset of cataracts and glaucoma. In late 1940 he moved to Zurich, where on January 11, 1941, he underwent surgery for a duodenal ulcer.

The next day he went into a coma and died at 2 a.m. on January 13, 1941. Her body was cremated and her ashes lie in Fluntern Cemetery, as do those of Nora and her son George. Lucia died in 1982 at St. Andrews Hospital in Northampton, England, where she had spent most of her life.

In 1985, the James Joyce Foundation of Zurich, an archive, documentation center with specialized library and literary museum, was established to keep alive the memory of the Irish writer's life and work, with special emphasis on his close connection to the city of Zurich.

L.A.G. Strong, William T. Noon and others have argued that Joyce, as an adult, became reconciled with the faith he had repudiated as a young man, that this separation from the faith followed a not-so-obvious reconciliation, and that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are essentially expressions of their author's Catholicism.

Similarly, Hugh Kenner and T.S. Eliot saw between the lines of Joyce's work the manifestation of an authentic Christian spirit and beneath the appearance of the positions of his works the survival of a Catholic belief and attitude. Kevin Sullivan argues that rather than being reconciled with the faith, Joyce actually never abandoned it. Critics who advocate this thesis insist that Stephen, the protagonist of the semi-autobiographical Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, does not represent Joyce.

Somewhat cryptically, in an interview given after completing Ulysses, in response to the question "When did he abandon the Catholic Church," Joyce replied, "It is for the Church to say." Eamonn Hughes notes that Joyce maintained a dialectical approach, both absenting and denying, saying that Stephen's famous saying "non serviam" is clarified with "I will not make myself a servant of what I do not believe," and that the "non serviam" is always balanced by Stephen's saying "I am a servant..." and Molly's "yes."

Umberto Eco compares Joyce to the ancient episcopi vagantes of the Middle Ages. They left us a discipline, not a cultural heritage or a way of thinking. Like them, the writer thinks that in blasphemy is contained the meaning of a liturgical ritual. In any case, we have first-hand accounts coming from the youngest of the Joyces, his brother Stanislaus, and his wife:

When preparations were being made for Joyce's funeral, a Catholic priest offered to conduct a religious rite, which Joyce's wife, Nora, refused, saying, "I can't do that to him." However, several critics and biographers shared their opinion with these words of Andrew Gibson:


The famous collection of short stories is a summary of his experiences in Dublin, of which he makes a ruthless and penetrating analysis highlighting, through the famous epiphanies (a term used by the writer to identify particular moments of sudden insight present in the minds of his characters; it is a moment when an experience, buried for years in memory, rises to the surface in the mind bringing back all its details and all its emotions. In other words, it is an event that awakens a now buried and forgotten memory), the stagnation and paralysis of the city.The most famous short story, The Dead, became a film in 1987, directed by John Huston.

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the result of a difficult elaboration. The story is autobiographical in nature and chronicles the growth of a young man through his childhood and boarding school years until he leaves Ireland. The young man initially has a religious calling, then rejects religion to follow his artistic calling. His inner maturation coincides with the maturation of style in the work.

Exiles and poetry

Although he was initially interested in theater Joyce published only one play, Exiles, in 1917. The story revolves around the relationship between a husband and wife and draws inspiration from The Dead, the last story in Dubliners, but also from the courtship that a childhood friend of James's, Vincent Cosgrave, was attempting on Nora.

Joyce's first published collection of poetry is The Holy Office, a harsh attack on his contemporaries, including Yeats, from which his pride in his own diversity shines through. His second collection of poems is Chamber Music (1907), consisting of 36 poems, in 1912 he published Gas From a Burner, and in 1927 the famous Penny Poems. In 1932 he wrote, in memory of his father and to celebrate the birth of his grandson, Ecce Puer.


Ulysses was originally supposed to be a Dubliners' Folk story, but the idea was abandoned. In 1914 Joyce began a novel that he would finish seven years later, in October 1921. After another three months devoted to revision Ulysses was released on February 2, 1922.

The novel is divided into eighteen chapters, each of which has distinctive features in style, occupies a particular time of day, and parallels the Odyssey, as do the characters themselves, who nevertheless remain parodies. Each chapter is also associated with a color, an art or science, and a body part. Joyce will also use the stream-of-consciousness technique (it consists of the free representation of a person's thoughts as they appear in the mind, before being logically reorganized into sentences) and makes use of many historical and literary allusions and quotations, thus combining kaleidoscopic writing with the extreme formality of the plot.

The plot is very simple, recounting the day and thoughts of an Irish publicity agent, Leopold Bloom, around Dublin, of which Joyce succeeds in giving a precise toponymic and topographical description, dwelling mainly on the squalor and monotony of Dublin life.

Among the greatest novels of the 20th century, Ulysses is universally recognized as one of the greatest contributions to the development of literary modernism.

Finnegans Wake

Having completed Ulysses Joyce was exhausted and did not write a single line of prose for a year. In March 1923 he began writing Work in Progress, first in serial form in the periodical Transition and then in volume form on May 4, 1939 under the title Finnegans Wake. On March 10, 1923 he informed one of his supporters, Harriet Weaver, with these words, "Yesterday I wrote two pages, the first after writing the last "Yes" of "Ulysses." With some difficulty I copied them in broad handwriting on a double protocol sheet so that they were legible. "A leopard can't change its spots," say the Italians, or "The leopard can't change its spots," as we say." Thus was born a text that became known, first, as Work in Progress, and then as Finnegans Wake. By 1926 Joyce had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas, who offered to serialize the novel in their magazine called Transition. In the following years Joyce worked briskly on the new book, but in the 1930s he began to slow down significantly. This was due to several factors, including the death of his father in 1931, as well as his daughter Lucia's mental illness and his own personal health problems, including failing eyesight. Much of the work was accomplished with the assistance of young admirers, including Samuel Beckett. For some years Joyce cultivated the bizarre project of entrusting the book to his friend James Stephens to complete, in view of the fact that Stephens was born in the same hospital as Joyce exactly one week later, and they both shared the same name as Joyce and his literary alter ego (this is an example of the many superstitious cabals to which Joyce was a victim). Reactions to the work were varied, including some negative comments from early supporters of Joyce's work, such as Ezra Pound and the author's brother, Stanislaus Joyce. To counterbalance this hostile reception, a collection of essays by some supporters of the new work, including Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams and others, was organized and published in 1929. At his 57th birthday party, Joyce revealed the work's final title, and so Finnegans Wake was published as a book on May 4, 1939. Later, further negative comments emerged from physician and writer Hervey Cleckley, who disputed the meaning that others had found in the work. In his book, titled The Caricature of Common Sense, Cleckley refers to Finnegans Wake as "a 628-page collection of erudite drivel indistinguishable, to most people, from the familiar word salad produced by hebephrenic patients between the wards of any public hospital." Joyce's style, between stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations, was pushed to the limit in Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all

The novel is a stylistic extreme of Ulysses; here, too, we find stream of consciousness and literary allusions, but the use of as many as forty languages, the creation of neologisms through the fusion of terms from different languages, and the abandonment of the conventions of plot and character construction (in an approach similar to that used by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky) make it difficult both to read and to translate. Criticism of the novel was fierce, even from Ezra Pound, who until then had always supported Joyce's work.

In one respect it can be considered a continuation of Ulysses, which, in fact, deals with the day and the life of a city, while Finnegans Wake is about the night and participation in the logic of the dream. From a linguistic point of view, on the other hand, Joycian scholar Giulio De Angelis has pointed out that the germ of the upheaval wrought in Finnegans Wake is already present and cultivated in the mini-epic of the English language brought forth in the fourteenth chapter of Ulysses: "The poet-artist must begin by fashioning for himself a new instrument, his own language, to express the new world he carries within him, his individual message that must and can be said only in certain words. Not just new vocabulary, but a new grammar, a new syntax. In short, Finnegan's Vigil."

The phrase Three quarks for Muster Mark, found in the novel, is the origin of the term given by physicist Murray Gell-Mann to quarks, a type of subatomic particle. The word "quarks" itself is a contraction of the expression "question marks" ("question marks").

The works have had an important influence on writers and scholars such as Samuel Beckett, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Salman Rushdie, and Joseph Campbell.

Some writers expressed mixed opinions about his works. Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges, for example, argued that Ulysses was a brilliant work, while Finnegans Wake horrendous. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who also wrote a book on Ulysses, told of a tourist who asked him in a bookstore in Tokyo which of all those books was the definitive one, and he replied that it was Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

According to Oliver St John Gogarty, the eternal friend-enemy, Finnegans Wake was just "a colossal trip."

Joyce's influence goes outside the realm of literature. The phrase "three quarks for muster mark" in Finnegans Wake is often considered the origin of the word "quark," the name of an elementary particle discovered by physicist Murray Gell-Mann. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, according to whom writing kept Joyce away from psychosis, uses Joyce's writing to explain his concept of the symptom. In 1992 Umberto Eco, while working on Finnegans Wake, coined finneghisms, linguistic inventions consisting of the ironic union of different terms (such as oromogy = a clock that rings only the sad hours).

Significant of Joyce's style is an anecdote reported by Stephen King: "One day, on visiting him, a friend would find him lying on his desk in an attitude of deep despair. "James, what's wrong?" the friend would ask. "Is it the work?" Joyce would have assented without even lifting his head and looking at his friend. It was, of course, work; wasn't it always? "How many words did you write today?" the friend would have asked. And Joyce (always in desperation, always with his face resting on the desk): "Seven." "Seven? But, James, that's great for you!" "Yes," Joyce would have replied, finally raising her head, "I suppose so, but I don't know in what order they go!"

Joyce's life and works are celebrated on Bloomsday (June 16) both in Dublin and in a growing number of cities around the world, and in Dedham, Massachusetts, where a ten-mile race is held in which each mile is dedicated to one of Joyce's works.

Not everyone is eager to expand Joyce studies. The writer's grandson, the sole beneficiary of the estate, destroyed much of his grandfather's correspondence and threatened to sue those who held public readings of his grandfather's works on Bloomsday and blocked the adaptation of the works by branding it as inappropriate. On June 12, 2006, Carol Shloss, a Stanford University professor, sued Stephen for permission to use material about Joyce and his daughter on her website.


Joyce published only one collection of short stories, Dubliners (Dubliners, 1914), including the following 15 short stories:


  1. James Joyce
  2. James Joyce
  3. ^ Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. p. 514
  4. ^ Ellmann, p. 530 e 55
  5. (en) John McCourt, The years of Bloom : James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920, Dublin, Le Lilliput Press, mai 2001, (ISBN 1901866718).
  6. Britannica CD '97. Single-user version. Art. James Joyce-Assessment.
  7. Richard Ellmann : James Joyce, p. 43.
  8. Asked why he was afraid of thunder when his children weren’t, „‚Ah,‘ said Joyce in contempt, ‚they have no religion.‘ His fears were part of his identity, and he had no wish, even if he had had the power, to slough any of them off.“ (Ellmann, S. 514).
  9. Richard Ellmann: James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1983, ISBN 0-19-503381-7, S. 132.
  10. Ellman, p. 505, citing Power, From an Old Waterford House (London, n.d.), pp. 63–64
  11. Britannica CD '97. Single-user version. Art. James Joyce-Assessment.
  12. Ellmann (1982), p. 514, citando Power, From an Old Waterford House (Londres, n.d.), p. 71
  13. Robert Anton Wilson (2002). Cosmic Trigger II. Down to Earth. páginas 58/59 8 ed. Estados Unidos: New Falcon Publications. 281 páginas. ISBN 1-56184-011-4

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?