James Joyce Biography


Early Years and Education

James Augustine Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland. At the age of six and a half, he was enrolled at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit School for Boys in Ireland's County Kildare. Eventually his family withdrew him from Clongowes, lacking the tuition. From 1893 to 1898 Joyce studied at Belvedere College, another private boys' school, and in 1898 he enrolled at University College, Dublin. He graduated in 1902 with a degree in modern languages. During 1903 he studied medicine in Paris and published reviews; receiving a telegram saying that his mother was deathly ill, he returned to Dublin in time for her death. The following year he met Nora Barnacle, a country girl from the west of Ireland who would become his lifelong companion; their first date took place on June 16, 1904: the day on which Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, would be set.

Literary Writing

Also in 1904, while teaching school in Ireland, Joyce published stories in The Irish Homestead and began a novel, Stephen Hero, that would eventually metamorphose into A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Though unmarried to Nora Barnacle, he left Ireland with her and they traveled together to Europe, where he taught languages in the Berlitz School in Yugoslavia and then in Trieste, Italy, where their son Giorgio was born. In 1906 Joyce, Nora, and Giorgio moved to Rome, where he worked in a bank, and the following year his collected poems, called Chamber Music, were published in London. Also during this time, his daughter Lucia was born.

In 1909 Joyce visited Ireland, where he opened a movie theater in Dublin with the help of some European investors; he also signed a contract for the publication of Dubliners. In 1912 he visited Ireland again, this time with his family; the book would not be published until two years later, in London. Also in 1914, Joyce's first completed novel, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, was serialized in the London magazine The Egoist. He began writing Ulysses at this time.

The Joyces moved in 1915 to Switzerland. The following year, A Portrait was published in New York. In 1918, his poorly received play, Exiles, was published in London. It was also that year that chapters from Ulysses, his novel-in-progress, began to appear in the American journal The Little Review. Publication of the completed book would not occur until 1922. Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill were two of the first to buy the already famous new book.

The writer's Pomes Pennyeach was published in 1927; four years later, Joyce and Nora were married in London, already having lived together for over a quarter of a century. In 1933, a New York judge ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic; until that time, it had been banned in the United States as obscene. A year later, Random House published the novel, and five years after that, in 1939, Finnegans Wake appeared.

Joyce died at the age of 59 on January 13, 1941, in Zurich, where he was buried.

Honors and Awards

Though easily one of the most innovative and influential writers of the twentieth century, James Joyce was little rewarded during his lifetime for his achievements in literature. Upon the appearance of his first published stories, he received the kudos of his literary peers, giants like W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. With the publication of Ulysses in Paris — and its subsequent banning in the United States and other countries — he achieved worldwide fame and notoriety, appearing, for instance, on the cover of Time magazine. Formal recognition, in the form of honors and awards, was scant, however. Amazingly, he never received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Money was rarely forthcoming.

Unlike most other authors, whose status ebbs and flows, Joyce has never gone out of fashion. (In that way he is like his heroes, Shakespeare and Ibsen.) Stylistically, his influence can be seen in the work of literary giants who followed him, ranging from Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner to Ralph Ellison and Henry Roth. To many writers, scholars, and general readers, he is the very embodiment of the Modern in literature.

James Joyce continues to influence all writers at every level who strive to write about the ordinary, to tell the story of the little guy (or gal). In 1999 a panel convened by the Modern Library named Ulysses the most notable novel of the century, with A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man coming in third.

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